Review by Booklist Review
Among this collection of the 48 weekly blog posts Lopate composed for The American Scholar in 2016 is a post titled "The Enigma of Literary Reward," in which he reflects on his status as a mid-list writer. While this may be strictly true according to certain metrics, Lopate is an institution: he has edited influential collections, won prestigious grants, and directed the nonfiction writing program at Columbia University. Most writers would kill for the assignments included here, for example, interviews with Catherine Deneuve and Gong Li. The pieces are timely, but not dated, and he handles the 2016 election deftly. There are tributes to famous friends, including Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, and a wonderful meditation on "The Missing Friend," Peter, whom Lopate knew for 45 years. There are also essays about travel, dating, married life, vacation, his lifelong obsession with film, and his late-life fascination with Montaigne. During his year as a blogger, Lopate may have had in mind Flaubert's dream of a book about nothing. A critic's life was lived instead.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review
Weary of many blogs that offer what he calls "sloppy prose and self-involved twaddle," essayist, critic, editor (The Contemporary American Essay), and writing professor (Columbia Univ.) Lopate agreed in May 2016 to write a weekly blog for online publication The American Scholar; each entry is between 400 and 1,000 words. Forty-seven of the weekly essays were selected for this collection, covering travel, international films, jazz, literature, and daily life. In his essays, Lopate expresses his concerns about the 2016 presidential election, with a few entries dwelling on Donald J. Trump, including "Resisting Thinking About Mr. T****," and on Hillary Clinton in "What Our Politicians Can't Bring Themselves To Say." The post "Trapped in a Domestic Universe" focuses on Lopate's New York City life with his wife and adult daughter, offering comments on how there are days when he feels like a Ken doll, or Godzilla, or the Wise Man as he and his family manage shoddy home repairs, medical tests, aging, and memory. VERDICT Lopate's essays set an example for bloggers who want to provide quality posts. Recommended for journalism and writing students, and bloggers who want to polish their entries so they shine.--Joyce Sparrow
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A collection of 47 essays written in the course of one year. Lopate has long been established as an exemplar of the personal essay as well as a critic, poet, and, occasionally, fiction writer. In 2016, he took on a less formal task, producing a weekly blog for the American Scholar. The resulting collection of these posts, penned with a generally light touch, affords Lopate greater freedom of movement and a wider range of subject matter even as it limits cohesiveness. The author employs a pleasantly conversational, self-effacing tone as he explores an array of topics, including the randomness of literary renown, the paradox of urban density, Montaigne as an essayist's touchstone, the conundrum of censorship in China, marrying a widow, Jewish culinary staples, his "obscurantist tastes" in film, roads not taken, lecturing in Shanghai, and growing up in New York's jazz clubs of the late 1950s and '60s. There are also reminiscences of three eminent figures who have passed from the scene--Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, poet/academic Cynthia Macdonald, and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers--as well as notes on the precarious nature of friendship, the compensations of middle age, and a concluding piece on the actual value (if any) of experience. Lopate, director of the graduate writing program at Columbia, says the challenge was to fill each 500-word post "with improvised filigree, like a jazz pianist playing block chords while waiting for the star saxophonist to return onstage." The author holds the stage quite well alone, though one would be mistaken to compare these posts to his fully realized essays. Mainly, they are diversions and momentary ruminations, but some have considerable meat on their bones, and they harbor much the same meld of "skepticism, self-mockery and doubt" embodied by the best essays. A master of short-form discourse succeeds with highly individualized and candid observations. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.