Synopses & Reviews
“Wendy Lesser's extraordinary alertness, intelligence, and curiosity have made her one of Americas most significant cultural critics,” writes Stephen Greenblatt. In Why I Read
, Lesser draws on a lifetime of pleasure reading and decades of editing one of the most distinguished literary magazines in the country, The Threepenny Review
, to describe her love of literature. As Lesser writes in her prologue, “Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it.”
Here the reader will discover a definition of literature that is as broad as it is broad-minded. In addition to novels and stories, Lesser explores plays, poems, and essays along with mysteries, science fiction, and memoirs. As she examines these works from such perspectives as “Character and Plot,” “Novelty,” “Grandeur and Intimacy,” and “Authority,” Why I Read sparks an overwhelming desire to put aside quotidian tasks in favor of reading. Lessers passion for this pursuit resonates on every page, whether she is discussing the book as a physical object or a particular works influence. “Reading literature is a way of reaching back to something bigger and older and different,” she writes. “It can give you the feeling that you belong to the past as well as the present, and it can help you realize that your present will someday be someone else's past. This may be disheartening, but it can also be strangely consoling at times.”
A book in the spirit of E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel and Elizabeth Hardwick's A View of My Own, Why I Read is iconoclastic, conversational, and full of insight. It will delight those who are already avid readers as well as neophytes in search of sheer literary fun.
“In this elegantly meandering narrative, critic and editor Lesser (Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen String Quartets), founder of the Threepenny Review, takes us through her expansive reading life. This is not so much a memoir of reading as it is about the craft of literature — the merits of both grandeur and intimacy, the double-edged sword of novelty, the ways character and plot are inextricably linked....Lesser's idiosyncratic reading list and her wealth of insights will speak to booklovers of all types.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Wendy Lesser is the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, which Adam Zagajewski has called “one of the most original literary magazines not only in the U.S. but also on the entire planet.” She is the author of eight previous books of nonfiction and one novel. Her most recent book is the prizewinning Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen String Quartets. She has written for The New York Times Book Review, the London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. She divides her time between Berkeley, California, and New York City.
Table of Contents
Foreword: Why I Read
1. Character and Plot
2. The Space Between
5. Grandeur and Intimacy
8. Afterword: The Book as Physical Object
9. A Hundred Books To Read for Pleasure