"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 little magazines in the country, The Threepenny Review, to describe a life lived in and through literature. As Lesser writes in her foreword, "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. 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.
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"Starred Review. 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." - Publishers Weekly
"A gift of pleasure from one reader to another. " - Kirkus
"This work will stimulate conversation for reading groups, while it will also appeal to an academic readership and literary types." - Library Journal
"This is a book of rich provocations and rich delights. More than most contemporary critics, Wendy Lesser trusts her instinct: what a joy it is to listen, through these pages, to her bold assessments and charismatic opinions." - Louise Glück, author of Poems 1962 - 2012
"Reading Why I Read delivers all the pleasure of discussing one's favorite books with a marvelously articulate, intelligent, opinionated friend." - Francine Prose, author of Reading Like a Writer
"Wendy Lesser has read just about everything, and proves a wonderfully companionable guide to books high and low...The result is a treat for all who love reading." - Phillip Lopate, author of To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction
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Wendy Lesser was born in 1952 in California, where she grew up. She attended Harvard University, Cambridge University, and UC Berkeley, earning a PhD in English from Berkeley in 1982. Though she has taught on occasion (at UC Santa Cruz, Princeton University, and Hunter College, among other places), she has mainly supported herself over the years as a writer, editor, and consultant. From 1976 to 1980 she and her friend Katharine Ogden worked as public policy consultants through their firm Lesser & Ogden Associates. In 1980 Lesser founded The Threepenny Review, which she still edits; it has become one of the most respected and long-lasting literary magazines in America. She is the author of nine books (including one novel, two memoirs, several works of literary or cultural studies, and a biography of Shostakovich) and the editor of two. She also writes book, dance, art, and music reviews for a variety of publications in this country and abroad, dividing her year between Berkeley and New York so as to cover cultural activities on both coasts. Lesser is married to Richard Rizzo and has one son, Nick Rizzo.
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