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A gift of pleasure from one reader to another.

A lover of books reflects on her abiding passion.

More than a decade ago, Threepenny Review founder and editor Lesser (Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets, 2012, etc.) wrote about the pleasures and insights gained from rereading (Nothing Remains the Same, 2002). Now, in a kind of prequel to that book, the author steps back to ask a broader question: Why read at all? “I am not really asking about motivation,” she admits, but rather about what “delights” and “rewards” she gets. Her responses, thoughtful as they are, offer few surprises. She reads “for meaning, for sound, for voice—but also for something I might call attentiveness to reality, or respect for the world outside oneself.” For Lesser, literary characters are more alive than actual people, and she sometimes finds it “hard to keep in mind” that authors “were all living, once.” Literature functions as a “time-travel machine of sorts”: Faulkner has taken her to the South, Dostoevsky to 19th-century Russia, Rohinton Mistry to the slums of Bombay. Her quest to discover why she reads is inseparable from the question of how she reads, which includes noting characterization and plot, as well as the quality of a writer’s voice, authority and empathy. She uses the term “grandeur” to refer to “panoramic or telescopic” views of reality that allow an author “to get at some kind of massive truth that is hidden behind the facades of daily existence.” Lesser has clear favorites among writers, with Henry James at the pinnacle. She prefers Thornton Wilder’s innovative plays to the self-aggrandizing fiction of James Joyce. Among D.H. Lawrence’s works, Sons and Lovers, she believes, is far greater than Lady Chatterley’s Lover. She has read books on an iPad and iPhone but loves the feel, smell—the solidity—of bound pages. She ends her celebration of books with 100 titles, culled through “excruciating excisions and hesitant substitutions.”

A gift of pleasure from one reader to another.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-28920-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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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

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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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