New book: My 1980s & Other Essays, by Wayne Koestenbaum *88 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The author: A poet and cultural critic, Koestenbaum is the author of Jackie Under My Skin, a meditation on Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Humiliation, about the meaning of humiliation in people’s lives, among other books. His essays and poetry have appeared in such anthologies as The Best American Essays and The Best American Poetry, and in magazines including The New Yorker and The Paris Review. He is a Distinguished Professor of English at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
The book: In this collection of essays, Koestenbaum exposes what entrances him in a literary gallery of his infatuations, quirks, and fears. There are personal pieces, including the title essay; riffs on art, music, sex, and celebrity; playful pieces like “Assignments” in which he lists a series of unorthodox writing instructions for his students; and more critical essays in which he wrestles with major cultural figures.
Opening lines: “I met Tama Janowitz once in the 1980s. (Was it 1987?) She probably doesn’t remember our encounter. She was a visiting fellow at Princeton, where I was a graduate student in English. At a university gathering, Joyce Carol Oates complimented the ostentatious way that Tama and I were dressed. Seeking system, I replied, ‘Tama is East Village. I’m West Village.’”
Reviews: “Notions of high and low dissolve in Koestenbaum’s passionate engagement with culture and in his palpable urgency to unpack the mechanics of desire,” wrote Kirkus Reviews. The magazine called it “a challenging, rich, aesthetic autobiography and intellectual high-wire act that rarely falters.” David Keymer of Library Journal called Koestenbaum “a deeply serious man whose writings inspire a fresh way of thinking.”
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