Portrait Inside My Head: Essays

Phillip Lopate. Free Press, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9586-1
Meandering merrily along in the footsteps of the great classical essayists Montaigne and William Hazlitt, acclaimed cultural critic Lopate traipses breezily through family life and literary, cultural, social, and political matters in this collection of mostly previously published essays. With his typical elegance and peripatetic curiosity, Lopate ranges over topics from the adventures of parenting, his enduring love of baseball, and changing one’s mind about a movie to a thoughtful mediation on the conflict between city planner Robert Moses and city champion Jane Jacobs along with meditations on James Agee, Thomas Bernhard, and Allen Ginsberg, among others. In a hilarious and tender essay, he describes taking his young daughter to tea at the Plaza Hotel, simply because he and his wife wanted to provide their daughter with a quintessential Manhattan event: “We were bound and determined to give her all the social graces and sophisticated experiences that befit her, if not our, station in life.” Lopate describes the terror and despair of their daughter’s unexplainable illness and their relentless stays in the hospital, and he affirms the beleaguered sense of gratitude that shines through the fear: “If because of her I was obliged to enter the Kingdom of Anxiety, such is the lot of all parents, and a small price to pay for the plenitude of her being.” Lopate praises the design of the High Line park in New York “as good as things get these days,” and he expresses his happiness with “any new public space that worked, in this era of relentless privatization.” Throughout these essays, Lopate admits jauntily and gracefully that he writes to exist and that taking “the most provocative positions that clash with conventional morality is child’s play next to the difficulty of getting through daily domestic life.” Agent: Wendy Weil, the Wendy Weil Agency. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 02/12/2013
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