Reviews for Essays of Leonard Michaels

Kirkus Reviews 2009 May #2
A collection of articles by celebrated author Michaels (The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels, 2007, etc.).Divided into two distinct halves, the volume serves as an assemblage of the author's nonfiction work, much of which was published late in his life. "Critical Essays" includes several free-flowing, loosely constructed entries on a variety of big, important topics like love, death, art and literature. Despite their seemingly heroic ambitions, most of these pieces are brief and playful in their approach--this unassuming manner makes for entertaining reading. In "Some Examples of Murder," Michaels selects great moments from the Bible, Nabokov, Bellow and Kafka and props them up next to each other in an effort to unearth connections and underlying truths. The second section, "Autobiographical Essays," is less successful, mainly because it reflects a more conventional form and style. While many of these nostalgic stories of youth and adulthood are well-written, few are revelatory. At a mere five pages, "The Abandoned House" stirringly captures the inherent fear and recklessness of prolonged adolescence, while "Kishkas" provides a droll assessment ozf the film adaptation of The Men's Club. The best essay is "The Zipper," which centers on Rita Hayworth's role in Gilda and the emotional reaction it caused in the teenaged Michaels. The story successfully synergizes the book's two halves, ably combining the critical eye of the first section with the self-reflection of the second.Contains weaknesses, but largely enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 March #1

In this definitive collection of short nonfiction essays by Michaels (1933-2003), author of Sylvia and The Men's Club, we find two smaller collections of essays--critical and biographical. Michaels analyzes story parts and the origins of the word relationship and its deeper meaning in literature; he pays tribute to an anonymous author, all the while philosophizing and quoting Sartre, Genet, Plato, Joyce, Montaigne, and the Bible. The author writes of being the son of Jewish Polish immigrants, learning English from a neighbor, and growing up in New York City, and he describes his time spent in Michigan, California, and France, among other places. Although the literary references can be overwhelming, there is no arguing that Michaels is an intelligent author, philosopher, and critic of popular culture. Michaels explains that we write about ourselves to learn about ourselves, and he acknowledges that trying to write nonfiction is an act of insanity. This collection, edited by Michaels's widow, is recommended for academic and larger public libraries.--David L. Reynolds, Cleveland P.L.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 May #2

These essays, spare and elegant as Michaels alights on a range of subjects, follow the late writer's own precept: "I think we name ourselves, more or less, whenever we write, and thus tend always to write about ourselves." This pungent collection, by a quizzical New York Jew who never quite assimilated, divides into two sections: critical essays and autobiographical essays. Many of these works first appeared in the Threepenny Review, among other publications. The first part includes a brilliant essay "On Love" and another on "Having Trouble with My Relationship." The latter breezily covers figures as diverse as Pope, Larkin, Heidegger and Kafka. Other figures and subjects blowing through these pages include Bellow, Nabokov, Kubrick, Edward Hopper, Wallace Stevens Rita Hayworth, and how to watch a movie. The best and most penetrating essays come in the second section, as Michaels gives a wincing account of family bedtime stories--on pogroms--a happier set of epiphanies on his father, a wise Yiddish-speaking barber; and yet another describing fish-out-of-water experiences at Berkeley. All told, these are soul-baring occasional pieces by a writer's writer and a master stylist. (July)

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