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Why I Read Hardcover – 1 Feb 2014

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374289204
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374289201
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,174,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


The rare and marvelous pleasure of meeting a fellow reader, the sort of person who, in childhood, automatically turned the cereal box so her eyes could rest on words at all times, is here given new form. Wendy Lesser is candid, democratic, brisk, passionate, stubborn, fiercely exact; as in all memorable conversations, I found myself sometimes wishing to debate, and often bursting into private festivals of concurrence. This is a book of rich provocations and rich delights. More than most contemporary critics, Lesser trusts her instinct: what a joy it is to listen, through these pages, to her bold assessments and charismatic opinions. --Louise Gluck, 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. It's like joining the book club of your dreams, one in which you don't have to do any of the work or think up intelligent things to say, but can simply enjoy reading about books you've read or want to read. --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. Rather than attempting anything ponderously encyclopedic, she follows her hunches, asking good, probing questions, voicing cultivated, intelligent opinions and surprising judgments, and doing it all with humor, dash, and skeptical humility. The result is a treat for all who love reading. --Phillip Lopate, author of To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction Wendy Lesser's extraordinary alertness, intelligence, and curiosity have made her one of America's most significant cultural critics. --Stephen GreenblattAn intellectual of unflinching dignity and gravitas, founder of The Threepenny Review and author of nine previous books--including literary memoir, cultural criticism --Various

About the Author

Wendy Lesser is the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, which Adam Zagajewski has called one of the most original literary magazines not only in the U.S. but also on the entire planet. She is the author of eight previous books of nonfiction and one novel. Her most recent book is the prizewinning Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen String Quartets. She has written for The New York Times Book Review, the London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. She divides her time between Berkeley, California, and New York City.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
'Every character springs from and belongs to his own specific world.' You don't say, Sherlock? Or this, at random from page 122. 'Intimacy in lterature can.. be wordless, but it relies on words to set it up.' Pretty cover, but too bland for words. Does she even define what she means by literature? Her 'hundred books to read for pleasure' is so random. As opposed to what? A hundred books you'll really loathe? As well say 'a hundred foods to eat because.. well, because you'll enjoy the taste - or at least I did'. Including as it does poetry, memoir and non-fiction, the list could easily have been a thousand, and one senses she is most at home with 'a good read' like Dostoevsky or the scarcely readable Henry James. Proust, though, she has the impudence to omit. Lesserphiles don't come much bigger than me (Room for Doubt, or as editor of The Genius of Language) but this is self-indulgence
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Author Wendy Lesser is the founding editor of The Threepenny Review, an American literary magazine. Having spent her life working in the world of books, this contains an analysis of why she loves reading and what it means to her. As an avid reader, I found the introduction of this book very enjoyable. Having mused on what reading means to her, she then investigates many of the themes of reading – such as character and plot, grandeur and intimacy, literary authority, truth and imperfections.

Although much of this book has a scholarly feel and Lesser has an obvious admiration for Russian literature, she does not only examine reading from the viewpoint of the classics. Modern novels, such as “Wolf Hall,” are used as examples; as are Scandinavian crime fiction, science fiction and poetry. Other issues close to the heart of readers, such as translations and, of course, the advent of the paperless book, are all covered. Lastly, there is a list of 100 books recommended by the author.
This was an enjoyable read and it has led me to add many books and authors to my wish list.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the book, why we read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 32 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unconventional list but good reasons for reading 19 Feb. 2014
By Parke Muth - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Lesser has written books that are much more geared to academic research. This book is quirky is good ways. She writes well about the need for reading and the results that accrue from doing so. I found her list of her best books to be a mix of te usual suspects and a few that I would never have thought about. I have put on a few of these on my 'to read' list as she makes a good case that books talk to us both in general ways that are useful but also in ways that whisper to our own quirky selves in ways that are mysterious, rich, and strange.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't put it down 20 Mar. 2014
By Thomas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Loved this book. This is especially strange since Lesser is "annoyed" by "Ulysses" by James Joyce, a book I have gained more pleasure from than any other. Nevertheless, it was wonderful reading about her takes on many of my favorite books and many that I have never read. By the way, I read it on the iPad and was never without having it close at hand.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Led Me to Other Books 23 Mar. 2014
By Timothy Haugh - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A dose of honesty up front: I am well disposed towards Ms. Lesser. As editor of The Threepenny Review, she published a poem of mine in the journal some years ago. As this is not a common occurrence for me, I remain grateful for her show of excellent literary judgment. I expected much the same from this book—excellent literary judgment—and, for the most part, I was satisfied.

Since I’m being honest here, a second dose: I am well disposed towards books about books no matter who the author is. Having few people in my life who like to discuss books as much as I do, I enjoy having this, granted, one-sided conversation with someone who clearly loves reading. She has decided to frame her conversation around topics like “character and plot”, “novelty”, “authority”, and “grandeur and intimacy”. Though there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about this, it works well enough and gives her views some depth.

Of course, what I’m really after here is what books make a reader tick. Ms. Lesser covers quite a bit of ground but it’s also clear that she’s got certain books on her radar right now (as she admits). In particular, she seems enamored of the classic Russian writers as well as Henry James, who gets a lot of talk time. Though I’ve dipped into these writers over the years, I can’t say they rank as personal favorites but that’s just as well. One thing I am always looking for in a book is that it will lead me to another book that I might not have decided to read. Ms. Lesser does that for me here.

Ironically, despite her passion for the Russians and James, the book she has led me to is Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. After being left fairly cold by my previous experiences of Lawrence—The Lost Girl and Lady Chatterley’s Lover—I decided to give Sons and Lover a try. Now, a little over halfway through the novel, I have finally found a Lawrence that moves me and speaks to his reputation as a great writer. And, as I read, Ms. Lesser’s words come back to me: “But wait—never trust the artist, trust the tale. David Herbert Lawrence the person may have had it in for his father, but the novel Sons and Lovers knows enough to allow for our sympathy for Walter Morel. The book wouldn’t work without it.” (p. 107) From what I’ve read so far as I devour this novel, she’s right on target.

I expect I will try some other of her suggestions that I haven’t read yet. Hopefully, they will work out as well as the Lawrence. In the end, I couldn’t ask for much more.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My motives remain obscure to me because reading is, to a certain extent, a compulsion." 24 Feb. 2014
By Amelia Gremelspacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Like all great writing, this book compels the writer to enter the mind of the author. The experience in this book is luxurious in its exact and literate explorations of the author's favorite books. I am always struck with awe when a piece of writing captures my vague or ill formed thoughts into cogent and startling insight. Sharing a compulsion is deep pleasure that is multiplied by glimpses into unknown terrain. This book contains both and can take its place as a great work with literature.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Courageous 10 Mar. 2014
By J.D. Hunley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent and highly personal reflection. Lesser supports clarity and the idea of truth in literature, which she defines broadly to include non-fiction. She says she cannot define truth in literature but illustrates it throughout the book. She has the courage to say she does not like James Joyce's _Ulysses_ and did not finish reading _Finnegan's Wake_. But she offers insightful comments about many books she does like. She obviously does not support postmodern skepticism, but nowhere in the book is the term even mentioned.
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