Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books

Wendy Lesser. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-28920-1
In this elegantly meandering narrative, critic and editor Lesser (Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen String Quartets), founder of the Threepenny Review, takes us through her expansive reading life. 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. Lesser’s pleasure comes through in erudite, beautiful passages on the authors (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Henry James, Henning Mankell, and many others) and books she loves, as well as plays, poems, and essays. Lesser likens the book to a spiraling conversation exploring what literature can truly offer us, and why we read even when we know the ending, as with Milton’s Paradise Lost. “We undergo their fates with them, as if in real time,” Lesser writes of Milton’s characters, “or perhaps a stretched-out version of real time, a version that mimics eternity.” She investigates the “eerily bridgeable gap between the ‘you’ and the ‘me’ of a literary work” and describes the “terrific, inconsolable hunger” that comes after finishing a great novel. Lesser’s idiosyncratic reading list and her wealth of insights will speak to booklovers of all types. Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins/Loomis Agency. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/21/2013
Release date: 01/07/2014
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