Reviews

The Amateur, An Independent Life of Letters

Patty Osborne

Halfway through The Amateur, An Independent Life of Letters by Wendy Lesser (Pantheon Books), I stopped reading long enough to tell a few people that this was a great book of essays. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut because from that point on I enjoyed Lesser's essays less and less, and even though I persisted to the end of the book, I could not recapture the sense of intense engagement I had enjoyed during the first half. Lesser was born the same year I was, 1952, so I got right inside her essay on that year's vocabulary. According to the OED on CD ROM, hallucinogenic and Ms. entered our lexicon in 1952, well before the Summer of Love or Ms.magazine. Lesser writes, "It was as if the house we were collectively to occupy had been built at the time of our birth and had waited—completely furnished, not a speck of dust in sight, every appliance fully operational—for us to move in years later, as we grew to adulthood." Other words, like auto¬mate and tee-off, seem like they must have arrived much earlier than 1952; still others—megaton—shouldn't have arrived at all. In the first half of the book, Lesser also looks at the imagination of suburbia, the language of consulting (degree of support, person-hours, low-income population) and the founding of a small magazine—all worth reading, and all at the front. This seems like a good book to borrow from the library, or to pick up from a half-price table.

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