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?

The author declares early on that “vertigo” is perhaps the best word to describe her new encounters with old literary friends from Don Quixote to A Hazard of New Fortunes, so it’s only appropriate that she ends this engaging volume with an essay about Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which she has seen many times and greatly admires. In a tone that varies from playful to pedantic, earnest to nostalgic to analytical, Lesser proceeds to reread and react to works she selected by applying several criteria: it must be “strong”; she must remember her first reading of it; and she must derive from it some sort of fresh insight or experience. Some books do not surprise by their appearance here (The Education of Henry Adams, The Tempest, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Paradise Lost); others do (I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, and Black Dogs, by Ian McEwan). Lesser declares that neither Anna Karenina nor Middlemarch retains its magic for her; she decides not to reread Catcher in the Rye, and she now finds Caliban more appealing than she once did, Prospero less so. Some of her observations are riveting, as when she says that Don Quixote and Huck Finn are in fundamental ways more alive for us than either Cervantes or Twain, and her thoughts on The Winter’s Tale are illuminating. But not every insight is a revelation. Lesser labels Richard II “relatively obscure” and flaunts her résumé like a nervous job applicant, making certain we notice her years at Harvard, Cambridge, Berkeley, and the Columbia School of Journalism. Oh, by the way, she’s read Howells in the bathtub in a Venice hotel.

Uneven, but with enough stunning moments to make this a must for avid readers.

Pub Date: May 7, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-08293-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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