The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion
By Michelle Dean
Sharp tells the riveting stories of the fiercely intelligent, glamorous and iconoclastic twentieth-century women who made their way to Manhattan to forge spectacular literary careers, from Dorothy Parker to Joan Didion.
From journalist Michelle Dean, winner of the National Book Critics Circle's 2016 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, Sharp combines biography, original research, and critical reading into a powerful portrait of ten writers who managed to make their voices heard amidst a climate of sexism and nepotism, from the 1920s to the 1990s.
Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, Renata Adler, Pauline Kael, and Nora Ephron-these are the main characters of Sharp. Their lives intertwine. They enable each other and feud, manufacture unique spaces and voices, and haunt each other. They form a group united in many ways, but especially by what Dean terms as 'sharpness', the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit, a claiming of power through writing rather than position. Sharp is a vibrant and rich depiction of the intellectual beau monde of New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slanging-matches in the pages of publications like the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books, as well as a carefully considered portrayal of the rise of feminism and its interaction with the critical establishment.
Sharp is for book lovers who want to read about their favorite writers, lovers of New Yorker lore, aspiring writers in New York, those interested in the history of ideas, and of the fray of 20th century debate-and it will satisfy them all.
Michelle Dean is a journalist, critic and the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle's 2016 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. A contributing editor at the New Republic, she has written for the New Yorker, Nation, New York Times Magazine, Slate, New York Magazine, Elle and BuzzFeed. She lives in New York City.
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- Publication date:
23 Apr 2018
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There can't be enough cultural histories which make the point that a woman intellectual must represent her own mind, and not the collective mind of all her 'sisters.' Sharp is a brisk, entertaining, well-researched reminder that it's impossible to write - or think - without making life very messy for oneself, but to do so is an achievement well worth the pains — Sheila Heti, author of How Should A Person Be?
I have to recommend Michelle Dean's Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, a delicious cultural history that comes out in April. It brings together some of the most influential social critics of the 20th century, including Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Joan Didion, and shows how these glamorous iconoclasts forged their singular careers. Dean makes the convincing argument that women's voices--if not necessarily feminist ones--did far more to define the last century's intellectual life than we realize — Michelle Goldberg, New York Times
[A] stunning and highly accessible introduction to a group of important writers — Publishers Weekly
Michelle Dean has delivered an exquisite examination - both rigorous and compassionate - of what it has meant to be a woman with a public voice and the power to use it critically. This book is ferociously good — Rebecca Traister, New York Times-bestselling author of All the Single Ladies
This is such a great idea for a book, and Michelle Dean carries it off, showing us the complexities of her fascinating, extraordinary subjects, in print and out in the world. Dean writes with vigor, depth, knowledge and absorption, and as a result Sharp is a real achievement — Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion
This is a great and worthy project: a primer for those for whom these names are new; a sustaining reminder for those already familiar with them. You put it down feeling steadier, more determined — Rachel Cooke, Observer
Michelle Dean's Sharp, a portrait of 10 female writers and thinkers, is a bracing tribute to the life of the iconoclastic mind: a reminder, in our age of flashy hot takes, of the matchless power of sustained and elegant argument — Pankaj Mishra, Guardian