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Here is a dazzling collection from Joan Acocella, one of our most admired cultural critics: thirty-one essays that consider the life and work of some of the most influential artists of our time (and two saints: Joan of Arc and Mary Magdalene).
Acocella writes about Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor and chemist, who wrote the classic memoir, Survival in Auschwitz; M.F.K. Fisher who, numb with grief over her husband’s suicide, dictated the witty and classic How to Cook a Wolf; and many other subjects, including Dorothy Parker, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Saul Bellow. Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints is indispensable reading on the making of art—and the courage, perseverance, and, sometimes, dumb luck that it requires.
“[An] elegant collection. [Acocella’s] passionate and penetrating endorsements of other works make you want to discover their pleasures firsthand–the best service a critic can render.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Critic Acocella’s deep knowledge of and organic feel for dance infuses her fleet-footed and witty prose. Like a dancer, she makes her art look easy, which it certainly is not, and what poise and range she evinces. She has now collected 30 of her stellar artist profiles, electrifying portraits that seamlessly pair biography and criticism and draw authoritatively on psychology and history. How agile these firmly rooted yet whirling essays are, and how very enlightening.”—Booklist (starred review)
“So subtle, cogent, and pellucid are Joan Acocella's essays, so penetrating and direct, that each one is a revelation. And collected together they are testament to courage and persistence by a writer of tensile strength and sharp-eyed moral conviction. A pleasure from start to finish.”—Brenda Wineapple, author of Hawthorne: A Life
“Joan Acocella's essays are more than a window into the heart of modern Europe. They are urgent and fresh bulletins written with the exquisite brilliance of a pen that is at once profound, uncompromising, and inspired. Joan Acocella doesn't just know Europe; she sees through it. She knows its ins and outs, spells out its genius, and as always brings luminous insights into a continent that continues to beckon, to mystify, and to elude.”—André Aciman
“A hefty collection of profiles and essays centered around the question of what allows genius to flower in the face of often gargantuan difficulties. The galvanizing force in an artist’s success is tenacity, concludes critic Acocella . . . specifically “the ability to survive disappointment.” These 31 pieces–most originally appearing in The New Yorker, others from the New York Review of Books–reveal the author to be terrifically attracted to the underdog. Acocella’s obsessively detailed essays on dancers and choreographers are the book’s most enthralling. The emphasis here is on iconic lives, and these beautifully researched pieces provide riveting insights into the nature of creativity. Tight, intriguing and astute: Acocella is a critic with staying power.”—Kirkus starred review
“Joan Acocella writes brilliantly about a lot of brilliant artistic creators and a couple of saints. She admires patience, tenacity, and courage. She appreciates candor, resilience, and imagination in the figures she so lovingly evokes, and these qualities also characterize her own work, which is not only lucid and insightful but also generous and even noble. She is one of our finest cultural critics.”—Edward Hirsch