Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
"Wendy Lesser's extraordinary alertness, intelligence, and curiosity have made her one of America's 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. Lesser's passion for this pursuit resonates on every page, whether she is discussing the book as a physical object or a particular work's 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.
the story of the boy he once was. That is the gap Wolff must get us to leap over if we are to believe he is telling us the truth. Some of us may do it unconsciously, and that is fine. If you give this book to a thirteen-year-old boy, especially one who has had a troubling stepfather, he will take it into his room and not emerge until he has finished it. He does not care about authorial doubt; he cares only, for the moment, about the great, well-told story. But as one reads and rereads the book
Cleopatra’s stature) makes her seem winningly personal. It is part of her infinite variety, no doubt, that she can sometimes seem as tiny and mortal as we are. You can find passages like this in Shakespeare’s other great tragedies—in King Lear, for instance, in the scenes between Lear and Edgar, where the real madman treats the fake madman with unusual kindness; or in Macbeth, when Macduff has trouble taking in the news that his family has been slaughtered, and so keeps repeating himself in
make me see life as it is. It is only there, on the page with him, that I can slow experience down enough to grasp it fully. It is only there that I can begin to perceive how many sides every personality has, or see how degradation and exaltation can be paired in a single human soul. * * * If Christianity was Dostoyevsky’s religion, art was Henry James’s. His prevailing attitude toward this source of grandeur was a very typical mixture (typical of him, I mean) of doubt and faith, and he
they are more frequent than I imagine), the palpable and self-confessed presence of an author is itself the signal of a move toward transcendence or grandeur. It is at such moments that the roof lifts off the novel, and we are suddenly rocketed up to the capacious heights of the author’s own viewpoint. I’m thinking now of a passage that occurs in The Family Mashber, the marvelous Yiddish novel by the Russian-Jewish writer who called himself Der Nister. That pen name, which means “The Hidden One”
affair between me and the Friends of Webster Groves Public Library. (I still have no idea where Webster Groves is. It sounds like something Thornton Wilder would have made up, and I prefer to keep it that way.) In that first note, Ann informed me that she thought the one they had was the four-volume edition, but she couldn’t be sure until she checked it on Tuesday. I thanked her and wished her a happy Memorial Day. A few hours later, still on the holiday, I got another email: Hi, Wendy. I was