Books by Wendy Lesser

Released: May 5, 2020

"Perfect for any die-hard fan of Scandinavian mysteries and culture."
An enthusiastic guide to the mysteries and the countries. Read full book review >
JEROME ROBBINS by Wendy Lesser
Released: Oct. 9, 2018

"A breezy and inviting biography from a self-described 'zealot.'"
A compact and incisive portrait of the great dancer and choreographer. Read full book review >
YOU SAY TO BRICK by Wendy Lesser
Released: March 14, 2017

"A splendid biography that penetrates the inner lives of Kahn's buildings as well as the inner life of their creator."
A new, in-depth biography of the noted American architect. Read full book review >
TABLE TALK by Wendy Lesser
Released: Jan. 13, 2015

"An invigorating collection of passionate, spirited voices."
Pithy literary musings on art, culture, politics and life selected from the Threepenny Review's Table Talk section.Read full book review >
WHY I READ by Wendy Lesser
Released: Jan. 7, 2014

"A gift of pleasure from one reader to another."
A lover of books reflects on her abiding passion. Read full book review >
ROOM FOR DOUBT by Wendy Lesser
Released: Jan. 9, 2007

"A personality-driven, authoritative, sometimes circuitous work."
Three loosely connected essays by Threepenny Review founder and author Lesser (The Pagoda in the Garden, 2005) explore her concern with the connection between art and experience. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 11, 2005

"A self-conscious but deft literary triptych; rarefied amusement."
A trio of conceptually overlapping narratives spans Anglo-American relations and matters of head and heart across the 20th century. Read full book review >
Released: July 27, 2004

"Sometimes fun and often instructive, though occasionally sluggish."
Fifteen original essays of varying quality from writers who learned English as a second language and now employ it more or less full-time. Read full book review >
Released: May 7, 2002

"Uneven, but with enough stunning moments to make this a must for avid readers."
Now nearing 50, literary critic Lesser (The Amateur, 1999, etc.) revisits books she loved in her youth and asks: What kind of person was I then? What have I become? To what extent—if any—did literature contribute? Read full book review >
THE AMATEUR by Wendy Lesser
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

A collection of slyly humorous essays—more personal than political—about the evolution of a critic who will stop at nothing to pursue her chosen mÇtier. Lesser, founder and editor of the Threepenny Review and author of four previous books (A Director Calls: Stephen Daltry and the Theater, 1997, etc.), has decided now to reflect on her growth as a writer, intellectual, and obsessive connoisseur of the arts. In so doing, she reveals much about herself and her approach: Lesser seems to take in as much as she can, in as many different forms as possible, from literature and theater to dance and opera. In that respect, she's truly "an eighteenth-century man of letters, though one who happens to be female and lives in twentieth-century Berkeley." That self-description conveys something of the humanism of her critical perspective, though it doesn't reveal much about the attendant personal journey required. Fortunately, Lesser fills in the gaps. Her essays address her formation at Harvard, Cambridge University, and the University of California, Berkeley, as well as her determined (and occasionally hysterical) journalistic pursuit of interview subjects. All of her pieces, even those with little bearing on literature, make for distracting reading: Lesser's keen wit doesn't shy from self-ridicule. Anyone who has spent too much time in academia, struggling to reconcile its internecine power struggles with their own idealism, may risk side ache here from too much laughter. Which isn—t to say that she means merely to entertain. Instead, Lesser also spends considerable time reflecting on the artists whose work has galvanized her, including choreographer Mark Morris and poet Thom Gunn. Although she doesn't have the zaniness of, say, Beryl Bainbridge, Lesser does cast herself as a character in her own work, thereby making the life of a critic seem both nutty and joyous. Read full book review >
A DIRECTOR CALLS by Wendy Lesser
Released: Nov. 13, 1997

Lesser, editor and publisher of the Threepenny Review, probes the workings of British director Stephen Daldry and, through him, of the theater. Lesser says she had no particular interest in theater directors prior to attending Daldry's 1993 British revival of the J.B. Priestly warhorse An Inspector Calls. She found herself ``being spoken to . . . by a voice I understood.'' She was also intrigued as a literary critic by the idea of theater as the ultimate example of literary interpretation: work brought to ephemeral life by a team of artists, never affecting—or being affected by—its changing audiences in precisely the same way. Lesser spent months watching Daldry at work and talking to the writers, actors, and designers with whom he collaborates. She sat through multiple rehearsals and performances of several plays, including Daldry's hit 1995 restaging of An Inspector Calls in New York City. Her goal, she says, was to write a book that would ``fill the gap between the professor's scrutiny of a frozen script and the reviewer's response to a frozen performance,'' and ``to render into words the experience that takes place implicitly in the mind of the attentive theater goer.'' She falls short of her goal, for the same reason she is so intrigued by theater: Its experience can never be the same as a description of the experience. As hard as Lesser tries, her words can get no closer to the moments she depicts than Priestly's script gets to the magic of an actual performance of the play. But while Lesser's book is less than she intended about what theater is, it is filled with fascinating information about how it is done. Her piece-by-piece deconstruction of the directing process and her backstage revelations will be especially intriguing to people involved in the theater, in particular those playwrights naive enough to think their words are more than raw material to be thrown into the creative pot. Read full book review >