Cover image for Near-death experiences ... and others / Robert Gottlieb.
Title:
Near-death experiences ... and others / Robert Gottlieb.
ISBN:
9780374219918
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.
Physical Description:
vi, 350 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Abstract:
This new collection from the legendary editor Robert Gottlieb features twenty or so pieces he’s written mostly for The New York Review of Books, ranging from reconsiderations of American writers such as Dorothy Parker, Thornton Wilder, Thomas Wolfe (“genius”), and James Jones, to Leonard Bernstein, Lorenz Hart, Lady Diana Cooper (“the most beautiful girl in the world”), the actor-assassin John Wilkes Booth, the scandalous movie star Mary Astor, and not-yet president Donald Trump.The writings compiled here are as various as they are provocative: an extended probe into the world of post-death experiences; a sharp look at the biopics of transcendent figures such as Shakespeare, Molière, and Austen; a soap opera-ish movie account of an alleged affair between Chanel and Stravinsky; and a copious sampling of the dance reviews he’s been writing for The New York Observer for close to twenty years. A worthy successor to his expansive 2011 collection, Lives and Letters, and his admired 2016 memoir, Avid Reader, Near-Death Experiences displays the same insight and intellectual curiosity that have made Gottlieb, in the words of The New York Times’s Dwight Garner, “the most acclaimed editor of the second half of the twentieth century.”
Holds:
Copies:

Available:*

Copy
Library Branch
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
1 Bob Harkins Branch 791.09730904 GOT Book Adult General Collection
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

This new collection from the legendary editor Robert Gottlieb features twenty or so pieces he's written mostly for The New York Review of Books, ranging from reconsiderations of American writers such as Dorothy Parker, Thornton Wilder, Thomas Wolfe ("genius"), and James Jones, to Leonard Bernstein, Lorenz Hart, Lady Diana Cooper ("the most beautiful girl in the world"), the actor-assassin John Wilkes Booth, the scandalous movie star Mary Astor, and not-yet president Donald Trump. The writings compiled here are as various as they are provocative: an extended probe into the world of post-death experiences; a sharp look at the biopics of transcendent figures such as Shakespeare, Molière, and Austen; a soap opera-ish movie account of an alleged affair between Chanel and Stravinsky; and a copious sampling of the dance reviews he's been writing for The New York Observer for close to twenty years. A worthy successor to his expansive 2011 collection, Lives and Letters, and his admired 2016 memoir, Avid Reader, Near-Death Experiences displays the same insight and intellectual curiosity that have made Gottlieb, in the words of The New York Times's Dwight Garner, "the most acclaimed editor of the second half of the twentieth century."


Author Notes

Robert Gottlieb has been the editor in chief of Simon and Schuster; the president, publisher, and editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf; and the editor of The New Yorker. As a writer, he contributes frequently to The New York Review of Books and is the author of Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens, George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker, Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt, and, most recently, Avid Reader: A Life. In 2015, Gottlieb was presented the Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this sterling essay collection, Gottlieb (Avid Reader), an influential editor and critic, wields words skillfully and insightfully, with razor-sharp wit and precision. He is erudite but never stuffy, and is a master of the well-placed and hilarious side comment (on criticisms that James Joyce's Ulysses wouldn't be understood by its own "mass man" protagonist, Leopold Bloom, he comments, "By this standard, we would condemn Lassie Come-Home because Lassie couldn't appreciate it"). Composed mostly of critical essays for the New York Review of Books, plus a selection of dance reviews for the Observer, the collection puts notable names from a number of different artistic fields front and center, including movie star Mary Astor, author Wilkie Collins, singer Ethel Merman, choreographer Twyla Tharp, and conductor Arturo Toscanini. (The title essay is one exception, exploring books about "going to heaven" experiences, and how science might explain the near-death phenomenon; a newly relevant look at the Trump family, originally written in 2000, is another.) Gottlieb's standards are exacting, but he gives praise where due. He's particularly passionate about the state of dance, and makes the reader share his enthusiasm. Perhaps Gottlieb's greatest achievement is that he inspires one to want to learn more about his subjects; his restless curiosity becomes the reader's. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

IN 2016, Robert gottlieb published "Avid Reader," a legacy-solidifying memoir recapping his long career in the enchanted forest of hardcovers and best-seller lists as editor in chief of Simon & Schuster and, later, Alfred A. Knopf - a marathon glory run during which he coaxed, cajoled, shaped, trimmed and talcum-powdered a pantheon of American and British authors, including John Cheever, John le Carré, Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, Edna O'Brien and so many other luminati. In 1987, answering destiny's call, Gottlieb succeeded the inscrutable William Shawn as the editor and witch doctor of The New Yorker, where he was welcomed with folded arms by many of the old faithful; he retired from the magazine in 1992, turning the franchise over to Tina Brown, who rode in on Jet Skis. As industrious a writer as he was an editor (John McPhee marveled that Gottlieb once read an 80,000-word article of his overnight, with cogent suggestions for improvements), Gottlieb has published biographical treatments of Sarah Bernhardt, Charles Dickens's children and the choreographer George Balanchine. Given that he turned 87 in April, the title of his new book, "Near-Death Experiences... and Others," might suggest a meditation on impending mortality, a midnight reflection on the exit sign hanging at the end of the hall. Nothing of the sort. It's a miscellaneous collection of reviews and essays that takes up where his previous collection, "Lives and Letters" (2011), left off. The title chapter is a thematic roundup of personal memoirs by near-death experiencers, who report floating out of their stricken bodies into radiant heaven or some mistier quadrant of the afterlife before returning to their earthly shells to share their special sneak preview of life eternal. While understandably skeptical of such astral flights and their pastel visions, Gottlieb is careful not to mock the credulous believers, reserving his disdain for the right-wing huckster and felon (now presidentially pardoned) Dinesh D'Souza, whose "Life After Death: The Evidence" tries to annex eschatology as another battlefield in the culture wars, where the Christian righteous smite the atheist rabble. Another omnibus review, "In the Mood for Love" (originally published in the Book Review), finds Gottlieb measuring the tumescent advances in romance fiction, where swashbuckling euphemisms and maidenly sentiments have been cast aside to make way for the raw mambo. "Bodices no longer need to be ripped - your bosom happily meets his abs halfway." The amount of dreck Gottlieb must have read to produce a piece so abundant with equanimity beggars the mind. Geniality prevails through "Near-Death Experiences," at least when it comes to prose merchandise. Nothing here is as barbed with asperity and exasperation as his review of Renata Adler's "Gone" (reprinted in "Lives and Letters"), in which he corrects the factual errors and misspelled names of her "part wacky, part unpleasant" account of his tenure at The New Yorker. As with any assortment pack of articles written for different outlets on different topics, "Near-Death Experiences" rewards dipping in and out rather than chugging straight through. The best pieces - on Wilkie Collins, the demi-divinity Lady Diana Cooper and the histrionic Booth brothers Edwin and John Wilkes - are suffused with bookworm passion and urbane ease, handsomely framed and informatively filled out, rather than crackling with fresh discovery or bold assertion. As a major inside player, Gottlieb is able to identify the hollow core of Boris Kachka's "Hothouse," a libido-laced history of the publishing house Barrar, Straus & Giroux: "Kachka really doesn't grasp what things used to be like in publishing, what the relationships and struggles and personalities were - he lacks context. This is feature journalism masquerading as history." Gottlieb never lacks context when it comes to his own pet subjects; it's at fingertip command. His enthusiasms run to classic Hollywood (appreciations of Mary Astor and that gleaming dolphin, Esther Williams), the halcyon days of old Broadway (the lyricist Lorenz Hart, the buglevoiced Ethel Merman), the wayward fortunes of American literary figures who once loomed so high (Dorothy Parker, Thomas Wolfe), and midcentury geysers of creative gusto (Leonard Bernstein). One of the running subthemes in the book is the many-splendored ways contemporary movies mangle literature, biography and history, casting the tall "Nicole Kidman at her frostiest" as Thomas Wolfe's warm, plump lover and muse Aline Bernstein in "Genius"; reducing Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky in the film of the same name to a pair of rutting clotheshorses; and smothering the emotional tempests of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre": "The new film version of 'Jane Eyre' isn't all bad, but it's all wrong." The cinematic tramplings that bother and bewilder Gottlieb the most are the ones that drag Terpsichore through the back alley. "What did ballet ever do to the world to deserve the way it's always been represented by writers and filmmakers?" What repulses him about the movie "Black Swan" and the short-lived Starz series "Flesh and Bone" is the garbaging-up of ballet for sado-psychodrama. With its stigmata and stabbing shock-cuts, "Black Swan" is "Grand Guignol with pretensions to class," and "Flesh and Bone" ups the ante with incest, self-mutilation, Russian mobsters and fancy-ass pole-dancing, reducing the ballerina to a tormented butterfly pinned by the Male Gaze. It's all agony and no ecstasy, unless death spasms qualify. Filmmakers who debauch ballet know not what they doeth, but there's no excuse for those inside the dance world to pimp the notion that ballet is a vale of martyrdom, and not just for the dancers. Heavy hangs the crown on choreographers, too, burdened by the romantic cliché of "the Anguish of the Tormented Artist," as Gottlieb dubs it in his angry review of Boris Eifman's biographical ballet "Musagete," a Ken Russell-size vulgarization of the preeminent ballet genius of the 20th century, George Balanchine, which dishonored the stage of the New York City Ballet in 2004. Although Balanchine was among the least anguished and tormented of creative artists, "Eifman's Balanchine suffers, suffers, suffers," while a dancer portraying the polio-stricken ballerina Tanaquil LeClerq (Balanchine's wife) is shown being dragged off the stage on a long piece of black cloth. "People in the audience whom I recognized as old Balanchine hands were gasping in disbelief.... I found it as painful a moment as I've ever spent in the theater." This is a declaration that carries heft since Gottlieb has been parking his seat at New York City Ballet since 1948 (70 years on the beat!), watching, reviewing, kibitzing at intermission and serving for a time on the company's board. (See "My New York Ballet" in "Lives and Letters" for the full history.) As might be deduced by now, "Near-Death Experiences" is far more dance-centric than its predecessor. Gottlieb explains in the preface: "The main difference between this book and 'Lives and Letters' is the inclusion in it of 20-odd of the 300 or so dance reviews I've published in The Observer since 1999. ... My great friend Janet Malcolm has been urging me to reprint these for years, which is both flattering and unnerving - doesn't she like the rest of my work? If you don't appreciate their appearance here, blame Janet - it's that girl's fault." I understand Gottlieb's hedging tone. Ballet and modern dance are a minority taste, enthusiasm and devotion - and getting more minority by the minute. In my memoir "Lucking Out," knowing how skippable many readers might find a chapter on my initiation into balletomania, I coupled it in the same chapter with a reverie on the Times Square porn scene, hoping to snare and hold the unsuspecting - a devilishly clever tactic that probably fooled nobody. Less devious than I, Gottlieb tucks his dance reviews for The New York Observer in the book's caboose, where they occupy the last 74 pages. He is quite funny on the beefcake bombast of the visiting Bolshoi Ballet's "Spartacus" ("Stalwart men leap and leap and leap, brandishing swords and muscles"), suitably repelled by the chic, misogynist Cruella de Ville aesthetic of Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" and stoic in the face of the New York City Ballet's slow fade to gray under the sturdy but uninspiring leadership of Peter Martins, who retired under pressure in January, amid allegations of physical abuse and sexual harassment. (An internal inquiry by the company was unable to corroborate the allegations.) Even so, the quality of analysis and evocation in these pieces isn't up to the level of the legendary dance writers Edwin Denby and Arlene Croce; there are no epiphany highs or extended rolls. The Observer reviews, fortified with others, might have been better reserved for a separate e-book for fellow bunheads and followers of the art rather than appended here. Then there'd be no reason for anybody to go around blaming Janet. james wolcott is a columnist at Vanity Fair and author of the memoir "Lucking Out."


Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Near-Death Experiencesp. 3
Lives
A Trio of Go-Getter Trumpsp. 25
"The Most Beautiful Girl in the World": Diana Cooperp. 31
Showing Off: John Wilkes Booth and His Brother Edwinp. 47
The Lyricist: Lorenz Hartp. 60
The Belter: Ethel Mermanp. 77
Letters
The Wit: Dorothy Parkerp. 84
The Genius: Thomas Wolfep. 97
The Sensationalist: Wilkie Collinsp. 111
A Russian Classic Revisitedp. 124
Just for the Fun of It: Fifty Books of the Twentieth Centuryp. 127
In the Mood for Love: Romance Novels Todayp. 132
The Book of Books: American Musicalsp. 141
The Writer: Sebastian Barryp. 146
Anatomy of a Publisher: The Story of Farrar, Straus and Girouxp. 157
Music
The Maestro: Arturo Toscaninip. 171
Lenny! Leonard Bernsteinp. 182
At the Top of Pop: Clive Davisp. 195
Sizing Up Sinatrap. 207
Dance
American Ballerina: Maria Tallchiefp. 213
Russian Ballerina: Maya Plisetskayap. 218
The Coach: Elena Tchernichovap. 223
Dancing in the Dark: Flesh and Bonep. 234
A Star on Pointe: Black Swanp. 240
Movies
Brilliant, Touching, Tough: Mary Astorp. 243
Liquid Asset: Esther Williamsp. 254
Tame Jane: Jane Eyre in the Moviesp. 259
Monstres Sacrés in Love: Stravinsky and Chanelp. 263
An Actress Like No Other: Setsuko Harap. 267
Observing Dance
The Magic of Ashtonp. 273
The Triumph of the Trocksp. 277
Twyla Tharp Takes Over Broadwayp. 279
Robert Altman at the Balletp. 283
The Disgrace of New York City Balletp. 286
Farrell and Don Qp. 289
Cunningham's Boundless Oceanp. 294
The Bolshoi Wows Its Fansp. 296
The French on a Vivaldi Spreep. 301
Peter Martins's Efficient Swan Lakep. 305
A New Sleeping Beauty, a Great Aurorap. 308
Romeo +Juliet Stripped Cleanp. 312
Can Martha Graham Be Kept Alive?p. 314
Bourne's Male Swans Are Back at the Lakep. 318
A New Nutcracker Hits BAMp. 320
The Glory of the Young Paul Taylorp. 324
Thirty Years of Peter Martinsp. 326
One Big Bugp. 329
Paul Taylor's Diamond Jubileep. 330
The Mariinsky-a Giant Question Markp. 332
Alice in Lovep. 335
The Red Army Assaults Lincoln Centerp. 339
Michelle Dorrance: Tapping for Joyp. 341
City Ballet: Act IIIp. 343
Acknowledgmentsp. 349

Google Preview