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  4. Nothing Remains the Same by Wendy Lesser
  5. 'Nothing Remains the Same' by Wendy Lesser

In a chapter about D. We should be willing to allow our personal and historical responses to flood in and out of the books we read She grew up in Palo Alto with her divorced mother, Millicent Dillon, who later wrote novels and a biography of writer Jane Bowles. Her father worked as an engineer for IBM but wrote on the side about computers and sailing. She went to Harvard and was about to go to law school at Yale but took a detour to study English at Cambridge, which led to a PhD at Berkeley. In , while still a graduate student, she started the Threepenny Review in her apartment.

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The review is still published from the same apartment--a block away from the house she eventually moved into. The review is a small but revered publication. The current issue of the quarterly tabloid features a symposium on W. Every once in a while we find a terrific writer. For the first decade, Lesser supported the review with second jobs. In recent years the journal, which in a good year has 10, subscribers, breaks even, with about half of its revenue coming from grants from institutions such as the National Endowment for the Arts. In a good year, the review will pay half of my income.


When Lesser had her Henry James epiphany and began seriously rereading books, she even tackled some authors who had left her cold the first time around. As an undergraduate she had trudged through William Wordsworth and Alexander Pope without much enthusiasm.

There were, as well, disappointments. I irrationally want her to have lived through the intervening quarter-century with me, to have grown older and possibly wiser, to have learned what it takes to keep a marriage going. She met a fellow Berkeley bibliophile in a cafe and they married. Her husband, Richard Rizzo, is a professor at Sonoma State.

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Their son Nick goes to high school in Berkeley and works as an editorial assistant on the review and in his spare time recently drew up a redistricting plan that he submitted to the City Council. During the chapter where Isabel looks into the fire, my hair stood on end. So I strongly recommend rereading.

What will Marx be like, read at a moment when Marxism has mostly retreated into the tropical jungles and into the past? Will he seem a misunderstood genius? A fraud, a stylist, a wit, a bore? The suspense mounts Di Piero, poet, author of Skirts and Slacks About rereading.

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The books I go back to regularly because of some mysterious writerly tropism are the Homeric poems, certain of Shakespeare's plays Coriolanus among them, so it's not always a great play I return to , and The Charterhouse of Parma. But those are pretty much gimmes. I've been reading Thomas Hardy's poems for a long time, and the more I go back to them, the better the good ones get. Same words in the same orders, but different strains of boldness and grace come out on different readings, and his poems are adult in that you mature into them and they into you.

I couldn't say the same of Crane, for instance, or Whitman, or even Auden. And this. I had just been through a big change in my life, and though the book has nothing to do with anything in my own experience it's about Levi-Strauss's beginnings as an anthropologist and his early field work in Brazil it seemed a kind of metaphoric graph of my experience. It fortified me and clarified things. Since the mids I've preferred the unabridged translation of Jon and Doreen Weightman.

Somewhere along the way I gave away my old turquoise pocket edition of the Russell. Who knows where it ended up? I reread it a few years ago and was completely baffled by why I'd enjoyed this turgid historical melodrama so much when so young. I have read D. Lawrence at many periods, and have come through a decade or two of finding him sexist to regarding him as a writer of great though uneven genius. When I first read Anna Karenina , I identified with young Kitty, next time I moved on to the adulterous Anna, and the time after that I was rather taken with the stoical Dolly.

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Time to read again, perhaps. I'm terrified each time that Eliza and Darcy won't get together. In the last five readings, however, I've realized that 1 Darcy is something of a himbo sexy though , and 2 Austen is, no revelation here, a terrific snob. But less so here than in the rest of her novels. Here the bourgeois class gets to penetrate society's upper ranks though of course that's only because Elizabeth is truly an aristocrat at heart, right? Wells's science fiction, especially The Island of Dr.

Today its grim philosophy of progress made on the grindstone of pain and necessity chills me. This still enchants me, but I have become aware of the dark shadow of social injustice and sexual terror in the novel, and my opinion has risen. Maureen Howard, novelist and memoirist Drawing up a reading list for a course rather grandly titled "The Writer in the World," I recalled Mr. Gradgrind's dreadful schoolroom lessons: "In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!

The endearing circus folk of Sleary's "horse-riding," the outrageous caricature of Mr. Bounderby, the melodramatic death of the maligned coal miner were all as I remembered. I was moved, as always, by the grand casting, though I had never noted how language took center stage in this short for Dickens novel written in serial form.

Bombast, lies, riffs of self-adulation and self-denigration, the lisp of Mr. Sleary which makes it difficult to construe his wise words, the dialect of Stephen Blackpool's muddled eloquence. On this reading I was aware of silence, the breaking off of speech between false friends and true, the silence which evokes a dreamscape of words for Louisa Gradgrind and Stephen, words in a phantasmagoric spill.

And wondering how my students would take the writer's asides, little taps on the shoulder as well as the master's flourishes of instruction to counter the deadly schoolroom, I took a cab up Broadway. It was September 11, our first class.

Nothing Remains the Same by Wendy Lesser

So the next week we gave ourselves to the writer in whatever world, to the problems of imagining this story of a distant time, in almost another language, noting that the title of Dickens's novel is, in full, Hard Times for These Times. And as we read and reread the last paragraph, it seemed entirely appropriate that we should be included in Dickens's despairing peroration: Dear reader! It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be! We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn grey and cold.

David Lehman, editor of annual Best American Poetry anthologies As it happens I'm an ardent advocate of rereading, and have written several times about that particular pleasure.

'Nothing Remains the Same' by Wendy Lesser

Perhaps I was eleven when I saw it last, maybe thirteen, but now I only remember that I came to it after Tom Sawyer and was disappointed. I couldn't really follow The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The character of Tom Sawyer, whom I had liked so much in the first book, was altered, and did not seem nice anymore. Huckleberry Finn was altogether beyond me.

Later, I recollect being surprised by the high regard nearly everyone who taught American lit lavished upon the text, but that didn't bring me back to it. Obviously, I was waiting for an assignment from the New York Times. Let me offer assurances. It may have been worth the wait. I suppose I am the ten millionth reader to say that Huckleberry Finn is an extraordinary work. Indeed, for all I know, it is a great novel. I had the most curious sense of excitement. After a while, I understood my peculiar frame of attention. The book was so up-to-date! I was not reading a classic author so much as looking at a new work sent to me in galleys by a publisher.