Synopses & Reviews
A National Book Critics Circle Finalist for Criticism
A deeply Malcolmian volume on painters, photographers, writers, and critics.
Janet Malcolms In the Freud Archives and The Journalist and the Murderer, as well as her books about Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein, are canonical in the realm of nonfiction—as is the title essay of this collection, with its forty-one “false starts,” or serial attempts to capture the essence of the painter David Salle, which becomes a dazzling portrait of an artist. Malcolm is “among the most intellectually provocative of authors,” writes David Lehman in The Boston Globe, “able to turn epiphanies of perception into explosions of insight.”
Here, in Forty-one False Starts, Malcolm brings together essays published over the course of several decades (largely in The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books) that reflect her preoccupation with artists and their work. Her subjects are painters, photographers, writers, and critics. She explores Bloomsburys obsessive desire to create things visual and literary; the “passionate collaborations” behind Edward Westons nudes; and the character of the German art photographer Thomas Struth, who is “haunted by the Nazi past,” yet whose photographs have “a lightness of spirit.” In “The Woman Who Hated Women,” Malcolm delves beneath the “onyx surface” of Edith Whartons fiction, while in “Advanced Placement” she relishes the black comedy of the Gossip Girl novels of Cecily von Zeigesar. In “Salingers Cigarettes,” Malcolm writes that “the pettiness, vulgarity, banality, and vanity that few of us are free of, and thus can tolerate in others, are like ragweed for Salingers helplessly uncontaminated heroes and heroines.” “Over and over,” as Ian Frazier writes in his introduction, “she has demonstrated that nonfiction—a book of reporting, an article in a magazine, something we see every day—can rise to the highest level of literature.”
One of Publishers Weekly's Best Nonfiction Books of 2013
"Bringing together a quarter-century's worth of subtle, sharply observed essays on artists and writers, this collection chronicles not just life events and artistic influences, but also the amorphous subjectivity of biography itself. The cleverly structured title essay presents Malcolm's 'false starts' for a profile of postmodern painter David Salle: the '1950s corporate-style' sofa in his Tribeca loft, the mess of ripped-out magazine pages and illustrations on his studio table, the things critics say about him, what he says about himself. Its fragments mirror the appropriated pictorial scraps in Salle's work. In another highlight, 'A Girl of the Zeitgeist,' first published in 1986, Malcolm (In the Freud Archives) tracks the fresh but controversial direction Artforum took under then-editor-in-chief Ingrid Sischy. She returns to photography in a number of essays, profiling Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian-era amateur whose portraits mix the ridiculous with the inspired; Diane Arbus, who snapped pictures of tramps, freaks, and transvestites; and Edward Weston and Irving Penn, photographers who produced very different types of nudes. She traces the history of the Bloomsbury Group, reassesses a favorite childhood novel by Gene Stratton-Porter, and defends J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey from the criticisms of his contemporaries. These unstinting essays investigate how a consensus forms relating to a body of work or an artistic movement, how attitudes toward art change over time, and how artistic legacies are managed or mismanaged by children and heirs. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“No living writer has narrated the drama of turning the messy and meaningless world into words as brilliantly, precisely, and analytically as Janet Malcolm . . . Her influence is so vast that much of the writing world has begun to think in the charged, analytic terms of a Janet Malcolm passage.” —Katie Roiphe, The Paris Review
“Bringing together a quarter-centurys worth of subtle, sharply observed essays on artists and writers, this collection chronicles not just life events and artistic influences, but also the amorphous subjectivity of biography itself . . . These unstinting essays investigate how a consensus forms relating to a body of work or an artistic movement, how attitudes toward art change over time, and how artistic legacies are managed—or mismanaged—by children and heirs.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review and pick of the week)
“No living writer has narrated the drama of turning the messy and meaningless world into words as brilliantly, precisely, and analytically as Janet Malcolm . . . Her influence is so vast that much of the writing world has begun to think in the charged, analytic terms of a Janet Malcolm passage.”
—Katie Roiphe, The Paris Review
"Palace of Books is a great pleasure to read. It is disarming, deceptively modest, and so beyond any question of fashion, of trying to seem like the latest thing, that to me it seems wholly new. Greniers learning is vast; and it is all handled with great ease, as a cook might rummage familiarly in his cupboard, pulling down now this jar of spices and now that. Who, now, has the depth and range of literary culture that Grenier does? Who now lives so much in books? And yet people do, or at least they want to. The Web is paradoxically full of them. Young aspiring writers should take these essays as a kind of model, not for their own writing so much as for their own reading, a lesson in how to stock the shelves of the mind."
"Reading Roger Grenier, you feel as if you're joining him in an inviting library, both of you seated in comfortable leather chairs and sipping calvados. He's read all the books in the room--how he has the time, you're not quite sure--and with a gentle and astounding ease, he recites countless lines from myriad texts and pieces them together into playful discussions of such grand topics as love, memory, death, and, naturally, writing. . . Subtle observations fill this slim volume, giving us a glimpse into the mind and life of this most sensitive of readers. While it may not leave you with many profound truths, I dare you not to fall in love."
"A charming series of freeform meditations. . . . An added pleasure of Grenier's essays is that, no matter how much he has read and retained, he writes of literature as an unending pursuit."
As a book editor for five decades and himself a prolific author, Roger Grenier has known some of the twentieth centurys greatest writers, from his mentor Albert Camus to Romain Gary and Jean-Paul Sartre. Here, in Palace of Books, he offers a witty and profound set of essays around the question of literature in the broadest sense of the term. Teeming with anecdote and elegant flashes of insight, the essays reflect on the ways we hold our favorite writers dear, almost like members of the family. Like a modern Montaigne, Grenier wears his vast culture lightly and with a sense of humor, and discusses the craft of writing with disarming modesty. He addresses writers anxieties, such as the perennial Do I Have Anything Left To Say?” while also taking on related themes, like the experience of waiting, be it in the army, before eternity, or in the dentists office. Grenier brings the reader closer to all the writers he evokes, and they are many:, Rousseau, Stendhal, Flaubert, Camus, Proust, Beckett, Barthes, Conrad, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, OFlannery, Tolstoy, and Musil. It is like a wonderful literary party hosted by Roger Grenier and to which we have all been invited.
For decades, French writer, editor, and publisher Roger Grenier has been enticing readers with compact, erudite books that draw elegant connections between the art of living and the work of art. Under Greniers wry gaze, clichés crumble, and offbeat anecdotes build to powerful insights.
With Palace of Books, he invites us to explore the domain of literature, its sweeping vistas and hidden recesses. Engaging such fundamental questions as why people feel the need to write, or what is involved in putting ones self on the page, or how a writer knows shes written her last sentence, Grenier marshals apposite passages from his favorite writers: Chekhov, Baudelaire, Proust, James, Kafka, Mansfield and many others. Those writers mingle companionably with tales from Greniers half-century as an editor and friend to countless legendary figures, including Albert Camus, Romain Gary, Milan Kundera, and Brassai,.
Grenier offers here a series of observations and quotations that feel as spontaneous as good conversation, yet carry the lasting insights of a lifetime of reading and thinking. Palace of Books is rich with pleasures and surprises, the perfect accompaniment to old literary favorites, and the perfect introduction to new ones.
About the Author
Janet Malcolm is the acclaimed author of many books, including In the Freud Archives; The Journalist and the Murderer; Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial; Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (for which she received the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography); and Burdock, a volume of her photographs of a “rank weed.” Malcolm writes frequently for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.
Table of Contents
Introduction by Ian Frazier
Forty-One False Starts Depth of Field A House of Ones Own The Woman Who Hated Women Salingers Cigarettes Capitalist Pastorale The Genius of the Glass House Good Pictures Edward Westons Women Nudes Without Desire A Girl of the Zeitgeist Advanced Placement The Not Returning Part of It William Shawn Joseph Mitchell Thoughts on Autobiography from an Abandoned Autobiography