Cover image for Nothing remains the same : rereading and remembering
Nothing remains the same : rereading and remembering
Lesser, Wendy.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 234 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Z1003 .L54 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Z1003 .L54 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Wendy Lesser's new book is "an inspired intellectual romp: part memoir, part criticism, though actually a bracing, larkish reinvention of them both" (Lawrence Weschler). Revisiting her favorite books after the passage of twenty or thirty years, Lesser is stirred by the changes she finds--in the books, in herself, and in the wider world. If NOTHING REMAINS THE SAME is a book about reading, it is also a book about time, with rereading as a special form of time travel.
From classic novels such as ANNA KARENINA and THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY to a charming tale for young adults called I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, from nonfiction by George Orwell and Henry Adams to poetry by Wordsworth and Milton, from the deeply American HUCKLEBERRY FINN to works in translation like DON QUIXOTE and THE IDIOT, Lesser covers the whole literary spectrum. NOTHING REMAINS THE SAME is a witty and humane exploration of what books can mean to our lives and vice versa, by a writer who "has the gift of enabling a reader to grasp the deeper workings of art forms, both high and low, in the act of describing how they affect her" (James Shapiro, New York Times Book Review).

Author Notes

Wendy Lesser was born in California and educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and Berkeley. A former Guggenheim fellow and senior fellow of Columbia University's National Arts Journalism Program, Lesser has also received the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She writes frequently on books, television, dance, and film for the New York Times and other national publications, and she is the founding editor of the Threepenny Review. Lesser lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and their son

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lesser is the founding editor of the Threepenny Review and author of Pictures at an Execution: An Inquiry into the Subject of Murder and His Other Half: Men Looking at Women Through Art (among other titles). She defines herself here as a "self-employed, self-designated arbiter of cultural taste," but few of these 15 short essays match the intensity of her best work. Lack of enthusiasm repeatedly becomes the point here: one essay begins: "I was never very fond of either Pope or Wordsworth," while another notes "it was only when I found that both Anna Karenina and Middlemarch had failed to work their magic on me, this time around, that my diminished reaction took on a potential interest." James Joyce's Ulysses fails to compel. The tone throughout is unrelievedly personal ("Antony and Cleopatra was my favorite for a long time, and I still think it is one of Shakespeare's greatest plays"), which works well when the subject is close to home, as with Hitchcock's Vertigo, set in her home city: "My own ghost, in relation to this movie my own Carlotta, if you will is San Francisco.... Like Scotty, I am mourning a beloved who never really existed." Essays on John Milton, Henry Adams and George Orwell aim middle-to-low on the brow, sometimes with a dash of odd coyness: in a chapter on modern British novelist Ian McEwan, Lesser mentions a decade-old review she wrote of one of his books, stating, "I will spare you the entire review" and then goes on to quote a page and a half of it. Potential readers would do well to stick to the prolific Lesser's fresher and more enthusiastic The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Critic Lesser writes with confidence and elan, the very qualities that enabled her to found her own literary magazine, The Threepenny Review. A free spirit, Lesser loves her calling, and her pleasure and autonomy are palpable in her latest book. A seemingly insouciant blend of autobiography and criticism, it is in fact an acutely observant and wonderfully supple inquiry into the mutability of literature and the disconcerting peculiarities of the aging process. Closing in on 50, Lesser decided to reread selected works to see how different her response is now than it was years ago, to determine, for instance, what her 11-year-old self gleaned from Don Quixote, and what strikes her today. This simple but amazingly fecund premise allows Lesser to reflect deeply and candidly on how a reader's life experiences alter her perceptions of literature, and she has truly fascinating and original things to say about a compelling assortment of writers, including George Orwell, George Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Dostoyevsky, and Shakespeare. See "Works in Progress" [BKL Mr 1 02] for more about Lesser. Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Lesser, the founding editor of Threepenny Review and the author of five previous books, including The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters, joins memoir with literary criticism in this unusual work. From the perspective of middle age, she examines a few of her favorite books after the passage of 20 or 30 years and reflects on how her reactions to them have changed. Choosing works ranging from such classic novels as Don Quixote, Anna Karenina, and The Idiot to nonfiction by Henry Adams and George Orwell and poetry by Wordsworth and Milton, she presents literary criticism in an approachable, meaningful way. One of her most insightful essays reveals how age and theater experience have deepened her understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare's The Tempest and The Winter's Tale. Some works do not fare as well: maturity has not altered Lesser's impatience with the female characters in Eliot's Middlemarch, for instance. Lesser writes with intelligence, humor, and grace. Her contagious love of reading will encourage readers to take a new look at some of their favorite works. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



ReflectionsIt began, as things often do for me, with Henry James. I had nothing new in the house to read (a recent spate of bad fiction having destroyed my appetite for buying new books), so I searched my shelves and idly chose The Portrait of a Lady, a book I hadnt picked up in twenty years. Rereading it turned out to be an astonishing experience. I had first read this novel as an undergraduate, and had gone through it again as a graduate student of English literature. Both times I was too close in age to Isabel Archer to appreciate her properly, and both times I read largely for the plot. The fact that I already knew the plot the second time around did not deter me: at the age of twenty-six, I still zoomed, suspense-driven, toward the final pages, as if only the ending counted. But in your forties the journey begins to matter more than the arrival, and it is only in this frame of mind that you can do justice to Henry James. (I say this now, but just watch me: Ill be contradicting myself from the old-age home, deploring my puerile middle-aged delusions about James.) At forty-six, no longer in competition with Isabel, I could find her as charming as her author evidently did. Moreover, having had a life, with its own self-defined shape and structure, I was more sympathetic with Isabels wish to acquire one. As a young person, I only wanted her to marry the lord and get it over with. Now I understood that nothing ends with such choices-there are always additional choices to be made, if ones life is to remain interesting. I cared less, this time through, about what decisions Isabel made than about how and why she made them. And this, in turn, gave me far more patience with the length and complexity of Jamess sentences. Once, perhaps, I had viewed them as pointlessly extended or merely ornate; now they were useful keys to the pace and method of Isabels subtly complicated mind-so that whereas I used to be tempted to skip ahead, I now wanted to saunter through the commas, linger at the semicolons, and take small contemplative breaks at the periods. The book was much better than I had remembered it. More to the point, I was a much better reader of it. Both pleasure and understanding came more easily to me. The idea that a simple rereading could also be a new reading struck me with the force of a revelation. It meant that something old wasnt necessarily outdated, used up, or overly familiar. It offered an escape route, however temporary, from problems that were both personal and cultural-my own creeping middle age, the prevailing fin- de-sicle tone of fashionable irony, and above all the speeded-up, mechanized, money-obsessed existence that had somehow become our collective daily life. Like many others before me (including, I noted wryly, Henry James), I felt menaced by too-sudden change, as if something I held dear were about to be taken away from me, or perhaps had already been taken away when I wasnt paying attention. I felt.. Excerpted from Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering by Wendy Lesser All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Reflectionsp. 1
The First Novelp. 9
Adolescencep. 28
Recollected in Tranquillityp. 44
An Educationp. 60
A Young Woman's Mistakesp. 75
All Kinds of Madnessp. 92
A Small Masterpiecep. 112
The Face Behind the Pagep. 125
Late Shakespearep. 141
The Tree of Knowledgep. 159
McEwan in Timep. 174
The Strange Case of Huck and Jimp. 186
A Literary Careerp. 201
Hitchcock's Vertigop. 213
Indexp. 229