web site hit counter Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion

Availability: Ready to download

The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work. These ten The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work. These ten women—Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm—are united by what Dean calls “sharpness,” the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit. Sharp is a vibrant depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slugging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books. It is also a passionate portrayal of how these women asserted themselves through their writing in a climate where women were treated with extreme condescension by the male-dominated cultural establishment. Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is a celebration of this group of extraordinary women, an engaging introduction to their works, and a testament to how anyone who feels powerless can claim the mantle of writer, and, perhaps, change the world.


Compare

The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work. These ten The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work. These ten women—Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm—are united by what Dean calls “sharpness,” the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit. Sharp is a vibrant depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slugging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books. It is also a passionate portrayal of how these women asserted themselves through their writing in a climate where women were treated with extreme condescension by the male-dominated cultural establishment. Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is a celebration of this group of extraordinary women, an engaging introduction to their works, and a testament to how anyone who feels powerless can claim the mantle of writer, and, perhaps, change the world.

30 review for Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Mary McCarthy saw Susan Sontag at a party, where else, and said to her “I hear you’re the new me.” **** This account of the careers of Dorothy Parker, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm with walk-on parts for Rebecca West and Zora Neale Hurston was kinda interesting and I must also confess kinda just a little bit boring too. I have read biographies of three of them already and am a big fan of Janet Malcolm already but th Mary McCarthy saw Susan Sontag at a party, where else, and said to her “I hear you’re the new me.” **** This account of the careers of Dorothy Parker, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm with walk-on parts for Rebecca West and Zora Neale Hurston was kinda interesting and I must also confess kinda just a little bit boring too. I have read biographies of three of them already and am a big fan of Janet Malcolm already but the others are mostly just names. Like, I know that Joan Didion wrote The White Album but I have no idea what she thought of Rocky Raccoon. Big points go to Michelle Dean for wrangling a vast amount of information and squishing it all down into 300 pages but this means that some of it is a breathless dash. I must take some of those points back, though, for a dull pedestrian no-style of writing, and also for some real clunkers which have you rereading in bafflement : To the extent it reflected her own experiences, she was clearly standing outside them, evaluating them and evaluating herself, and then fictionalising events according to the judgements she made. Er, does that actually mean anything? And because a lot of these women had very similar zigzag careers in journalism & then writing novels & living in New York & having bad marriages & becoming alcoholic & so forth it got a bit samey, to tell you the truth, sometimes it seemed to be about one person with ten heads rather than ten people with one head each. Like, they all wrote for lotsa magazines and newspapapers, which sounded completely interchangeable to me. No doubt the editors of the said rags would have shot me dead on the spot if I said such a thing back then, but the New York Review of Books sounds a lot like the New York Book Review to me, and Esquire and Vanity Fair and the New Yorker were all the same thing weren’t they and if they weren’t, no one cares anymore. But throughout this book it’s a big deal getting fired from this magazine and hired by that one. Those pages, and they are not infrequent, are a yawwwwwwwwwwwn. ( NB - Hannah Arendt was nothing like the rest of them. She wrote enormous tomes like The Origins of Totalitarianism and why she is in this book alongside Pauline Kael who wrote Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a head scratcher; it’s like inviting Mother Theresa to an all-night poker party; but it’s true the others knew of her and kind of worshipped her from afar.) Michelle Dean’s main point here, I think, and it’s an uneasy one, is that these intellectual women who were fierce and original and successful had only the most reluctant relationship with feminism, at the very time when it had come back ragingly. Hannah Arendt for one seems to have hated the very word. Eventually some of the others coughed to being feminist but only in latter years. They were conflicted. I wanted to know exactly why in each case but I think that would have expanded the book to 400 pages. It was complicated, as they say. The jacket designer by the way should stand in the corner with the dunce’s cap on for the sheer dopiness of including seven photos of these writers without identifying who is who. And any way, come on, a few photos inside the book too wouldn’t have killed you, Little Brown Book Group trading as Fleet, you mean people! Your budget wouldn't stretch that far? That's not because they're women writers by any chance?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    What a disappointment. This is a book about women who built careers on criticism, yet does very little to really, truly delve into the minefield of what it means to be a person whose very existence is “critical” (Living While Female) while turning the mirror around on the societies that deemed them critical in the first place. The writing is light and easy to absorb, and the women discussed are interesting figures, which makes it all the more impressive that I was in no way *excited* about this What a disappointment. This is a book about women who built careers on criticism, yet does very little to really, truly delve into the minefield of what it means to be a person whose very existence is “critical” (Living While Female) while turning the mirror around on the societies that deemed them critical in the first place. The writing is light and easy to absorb, and the women discussed are interesting figures, which makes it all the more impressive that I was in no way *excited* about this book. It honestly just felt like a collection of Wikipedia articles written by a Women’s Studies undergrad. And while I understand the reasoning for the an absence of racial diversity (you can’t talk about WOC critics if society didn’t allow them to exist), half a chapter on Zora Neale Hurston—presented in the context of a white woman—is not enough. Either include a chapter criticizing Criticism (and don’t hide it in the introduction, that’s cheap and cowardly), or expand the concept of your book to be about critical women, even if they weren’t capital-C Critics, in order to represent multiple voices. As it stands, this book just feels like one more piece of self-congratulatory White Girl feminist history. For a book about criticism, “Sharp” feels uncomfortably dull and blunt. Such a wasted opportunity.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tess

    Gobbled this book up in a few sittings. Loved reading more about women I already admired, and learning a lot about a few I didn't know much about. A beautifully written and well researched book. Gobbled this book up in a few sittings. Loved reading more about women I already admired, and learning a lot about a few I didn't know much about. A beautifully written and well researched book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marissa

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. A recent trend in nonfiction revolves around anthologies of great women. Across ages and genres, notable women of the past are being highlighted in collections of their lives and works. When I saw the cover for SHARP, I knew immediately I wanted to read about its female writers and intellectuals, some familiar and others less familiar to me. I really enjoyed this book and its careful approach to the Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. A recent trend in nonfiction revolves around anthologies of great women. Across ages and genres, notable women of the past are being highlighted in collections of their lives and works. When I saw the cover for SHARP, I knew immediately I wanted to read about its female writers and intellectuals, some familiar and others less familiar to me. I really enjoyed this book and its careful approach to these icons of the written word. I admired Dean's writing style and the way she approached each woman from both her triumphs and their flaws. The book wasn't afraid to criticize its subjects or to reveal perhaps less honorable elements of their work. The transitions between each chapter - linking each separate writer to the subject of the next chapter - was a clever and interesting way to see how all these icons were connected. I learned a lot about women I already admired (Sontag, Didion, Ephron) and women who I now want to read more from (Parker, McCarthy, Kael). One criticism I have is that I wish each chapter included photos and/or letters of the writer. I could totally see this becoming a series, with subsequent books highlighting women from other eras and/or featuring more diverse and lesser-known voices.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (2.5) “People have trouble with women who aren’t ‘nice,’ … who have the courage to sometimes be wrong in public.” In compiling 10 mini-biographies of twentieth-century women writers and cultural critics who weren’t afraid to be unpopular, Dean (herself a literary critic) celebrates their feminist achievements and insists “even now … we still need more women like this.” Her subjects include Rebecca West, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron and Renata Adler. She draws on the wome (2.5) “People have trouble with women who aren’t ‘nice,’ … who have the courage to sometimes be wrong in public.” In compiling 10 mini-biographies of twentieth-century women writers and cultural critics who weren’t afraid to be unpopular, Dean (herself a literary critic) celebrates their feminist achievements and insists “even now … we still need more women like this.” Her subjects include Rebecca West, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron and Renata Adler. She draws on the women’s correspondence and published works as well as biographies to craft concise portraits of their personal and professional lives. You’ll get the most out of this book if a) you know nothing about these women and experience this as a taster session; or b) you’re already interested in at least a few of them and are keen to learn more. I found the Dorothy Parker and Hannah Arendt chapters most interesting because, though I was familiar with their names, I knew very little about their lives or works. Parker’s writing was pulled from a slush pile in 1914 and she soon replaced P.G. Wodehouse as Vanity Fair’s drama critic. Her famous zingers masked her sadness over her dead parents and addict husband. “This was her gift,” Dean writes: “to shave complex emotions down to a witticism that hints at bitterness without wearing it on the surface.” Unfortunately, such perceptive lines are few and far between, and the book as a whole lacks a thesis. Chance meetings between figures sometimes provide transitions, but the short linking chapters are oddly disruptive. In one, by arguing that Zora Neale Hurston would have done a better job covering a lynching than Rebecca West, Dean only draws attention to the homogeneity of her subjects: all white and middle-class; mostly Jewish New Yorkers. I knew too much about Sontag and Didion to find their chapters interesting, but enjoyed reading more about Ephron. I’ll keep the book to refer back to when I finally get around to reading Mary McCarthy. It has a terrific premise, but I found myself asking what the point was. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nick Imrie

    I wrote this book because this history has never been as well-known as it deserves to be, at least outside certain isolated precincts of New York. Biographies had been written of all of them and devoured by me. But as biographies do, each book considered these women in isolation, a phenomenon unto herself, missing the connections I felt I could see. The forward march of American literature is usually chronicled by way of its male novelists: the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, the Roths and B I wrote this book because this history has never been as well-known as it deserves to be, at least outside certain isolated precincts of New York. Biographies had been written of all of them and devoured by me. But as biographies do, each book considered these women in isolation, a phenomenon unto herself, missing the connections I felt I could see. The forward march of American literature is usually chronicled by way of its male novelists: the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, the Roths and Bellows and Salingers. There is little sense, in that version of the story, that women writers of those eras were doing much worth remembering. Even in more academic accounts, in 'intellectual histories', it is generally assumed that men dominated the scene. Certainly, the so-called New York intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century are often identified as a male set. But my research showed otherwise. Men might have outnumbered women, demographically. But in the arguably more crucial matter of producing work worth remembering, the work that defined the terms of their scene, the women were right up to par - and often beyond it. The title suggests a broader scope, but as the preface makes clear, Dean has chosen to select her subjects from a very small circle: 20th century women who wrote for a number of New York magazines with interchangeable names New York Review of Books, New Yorker, New York Book Review, Books Reviewed by New Yorkers etc. etc. etc. They reviewed and were reviewed in turn, often attending the same parties, in what was a very small incestuous world. In one way, this leads to some strange differences between the women featured: Hannah Arendt was a great philosopher; Pauline Kael wrote movie reviews. Can they be meaningful united by sharpness? But in another way, unfortunately, it makes for about a dozen samey biographies: all these women were white, middle-class, mostly Jewish, often alcoholic, nervous or driven, frequently from broken families or in bad marriages, sharing the same self-conscious hunger for fame or intellectual influence as their male counter-parts. Of course, one good reason to select all her subject from the same circle is to highlight the connections between them. Dean's aim to show that women were fully integrated members of the New York intelligensia is admirable - but perhaps not perfectly executed. With over a dozen biographies to get through, there isn't really space to explore the connections between all these women. This is a short, gossipy book: it's a great introduction if you don't know any of these writers, but it doesn't have the depth to cover all their relationships. In some places this is because the relationships just aren't there. Renata Adler may have had an opinion on Pauline Kael's style, but if they had any relationship beyond one bad review Dean doesn't mention it. At the other end of the scale, it turns out that Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy were great friends for much of their lives! This is wonderful, and I had no idea! But there just isn't space to go into depth, so we have to take Dean's word for it when she reassures us: Many thought McCarthy wasn't a thinker on the level of her friend. But Arendt didn't find her friend's intellect so obviously minor. She sent McCarthy manuscripts to consider and edit, as well as to "English" and their letters are laced not only with gossip and household reports but with arguments about what constitutes fiction, about the reach of Fascism, about individual morality, and common sense. This is so tantalising. I immediately wanted a whole book about McCarthy and Arendt, and a collection of their correspondence, and a much deeper analysis of their friendship than the scant few lines we get: 'Neither McCarthy nor Arendt would have accepted a definition of their friendship that took it as 'feminist'. They disliked other women in their set. They were eager to talk as women but would never have wanted to speak of their gender as a defining characteristic. Some of that had to do with the time they lived in. Some of it was the fact that neither fit in particularly well with anyone but the other. The bond between them was not built on a traditional sense of sisterhood. They were allies who often thought 'so much alike' as Arendt remarked at the outset of their friendship. And that common way of thinking simply thickened into armor they could jointly use, whenever the world seemed to be against them.' Dean clearly considers herself a feminist, and her work in compiling this book a feminist act: preserving women's history and championing women's achievements. But none of these women considered themselves feminist. Like most ambitious outsiders, they were far too awkward and solitary to be enthusiastic about anything like 'sisterhood', and as iconoclasts and trail-blazers, they were mostly baffled at the idea that sexism could stop them. As intellectuals, they were constantly feuding with other intellectuals. And as critics they spared no-one, male or female. A woman harshly criticising another woman can look a lot like feminine bitchiness - Dean doesn't always a good job of highlighting that this is intellectual bitchiness and knows no gender! And yet, at the other end of the scale, she gushes about how impressive it is that women were writing at all: They came up in a world that was not eager to hear women's opinions about anything. It can be easy to forget that Dorothy Parker began publishing her caustic verse before women even had the vote. Now, the vote is good for many things, but it is not necessary for writing. Indeed, writing is one of the few careers that has been acceptable for women for centuries, even if men aren't always happy about what they write. Men are conspicuously absent in this book. On one hand, this is rather funny. Carl Bernstein features primarily as an adulterer. Norman Mailer is constantly blundering into disputes he doesn't understand, issuing stupid attention-seeking statements, and then blundering out again. It's an excellent illustration of how our perspective effects our judgements. Norman Mailer isn't the centre of attention here, so we only see his reactions, not his actions, and he seems marginal. I wonder how many women in history seem marginal to us because we only ever encounter them as secondary figures in books that centre men? On the other hand, Dean fails in her aim to prove that these women defined their scene and produced great works at the same level as the men in their circle. This is not to say that they didn't, only that Dean never makes any comparison between the work of women and men, so no judgement can be made. Now I'd be the first person to throw Hemingway's entire oeuvre into the sea - but it would take a much bigger, deeper work than this one to show that the acknowledged great literature of the 20th century was not quite so great as the book, film, and theatre reviews that responded to it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week: As part of the Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker established her reputation as one of the most brilliant wits in New York and came to epitomize the liberated woman of the 1920s. Mary McCarthy As both a novelist and a critic McCarthy was noted for bitingly satiric commentaries on marriage, sexual expression and the role of women in contemporary urban America. Susan Sontag Susan Sontag was a brilliant essayist - inquisitive, analytical, fearlessly outspoken. Her From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week: As part of the Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker established her reputation as one of the most brilliant wits in New York and came to epitomize the liberated woman of the 1920s. Mary McCarthy As both a novelist and a critic McCarthy was noted for bitingly satiric commentaries on marriage, sexual expression and the role of women in contemporary urban America. Susan Sontag Susan Sontag was a brilliant essayist - inquisitive, analytical, fearlessly outspoken. Her work is characterised by a serious philosophical approach to modern culture including the ground-breaking "Notes on Camp" and the personal and liberating "Illness as Metaphor." Pauline Kael The immensely influential critic of the New Yorker magazine from 1968 to 1991, Pauline Kael's biting, highly opinionated and sharply focused reviews espoused opinions often contrary to those of her contemporaries. She was one of the most influential American film critics of her day. Nora Ephron Nora Ephron was a journalist, blogger, essayist, novelist, playwright, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and film director. She brought her sharp New York wit to all her work and in particular to the romantic comedies Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally. Dean's book builds a picture of the social and political progress of women through the twentieth century from Dorothy Parker to Nora Ephron. Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael and Nora Ephron -these brilliant women are the central figures of Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion. They are united by their 'sharpness', the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit. The world would not have been the same without Dorothy Parker's acid reflections on the absurdities of her life. Or Mary McCarthy's fiction which is noted for its acerbity in analysing the finer nuances of intellectual dilemmas. Or Susan Sontag's ideas about interpretation, or Pauline Kael's energetic swipes at filmmakers. Or Nora Ephron's biting wit and strong female characters. Together they define the cultural and intellectual history of twentieth century America. Michelle Dean is a journalist, critic, and the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle's 2016 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, and Elle. abridged by Sara Davies read by Alexandra Mathie produced by Gaynor Macfarlane. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b0...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    Enormously enjoyable and informative group biography of women who never shrank from voicing their opinions at a time when women were rarely encouraged to do so. From Hannah Arendt to Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West to Susan Sontag, the book covers a lot of ground and is an excellent introduction to these always interesting and often controversial women. Highly recommended.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anatl

    The book follows the lives and careers of several female writers, critics and thinkers: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Zora Neale Hurston, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Lillian Hellman, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm. Some of them these authors were more familiar to me, namely Sontag, Ephron, Parker and Arendt, however, i think the strength of the book lies in the lesser known ones (at least to me) which I would like to learn more about like J The book follows the lives and careers of several female writers, critics and thinkers: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Zora Neale Hurston, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Lillian Hellman, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm. Some of them these authors were more familiar to me, namely Sontag, Ephron, Parker and Arendt, however, i think the strength of the book lies in the lesser known ones (at least to me) which I would like to learn more about like Janet Malcolm and Pauline Kael. I found rare enjoyment learning about their lives, their politics and the polemics that haunted them. I also loved how each chapter segued into each other by showing how these women interconnected. My only complaint is that Zora Neale Hurston has gotten too brief a treatment compared to most of the other writers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    A collection studying various female writers who at least began in the 20th century, all of whom were at one or another time called 'sharp' - which may seem a bit of a stretch, as premises go, but it stands for a whole constellation of qualities: women who because they weren't 'nice' were sometimes considered destructive, but who also tended to have at least somewhat vexed relationships to the feminist movement one might have expected to welcome them. I requested it from Netgalley principally be A collection studying various female writers who at least began in the 20th century, all of whom were at one or another time called 'sharp' - which may seem a bit of a stretch, as premises go, but it stands for a whole constellation of qualities: women who because they weren't 'nice' were sometimes considered destructive, but who also tended to have at least somewhat vexed relationships to the feminist movement one might have expected to welcome them. I requested it from Netgalley principally because I’m a fan of the first and last of them, Dorothy Parker and Janet Malcolm; in between lie others of whom I've read bits (Susan Sontag, Hannah Arendt), but also several inhabiting that New Yorker-y expanse of post-war America which I've always tended to bounce off. Its male writers too, I should add - yes, I've managed a novel each by eg Bellow and Roth, but they remain nearly as shadowy to me as the likes of Joan Didion, Pauline Kael and Mary McCarthy herein. And Renata Adler I'm not sure I've ever heard of before, nor do I much wish to again; Dean notes, as how could she not, the oft-remarked 'likability problem' for women in public life, but she certainly doesn't go out of her way to allay it, and in Adler's case it seems like it would be a pretty perverse and Herculean task even to try. There is an attempt to create a sort of intellectual relay race, one woman handing on the baton to the next as each chapter gives way to its successor; the link might be a shared interest, a review, a meeting. This comes off better on some occasions than others, and in particular the Zora Neale Hurston section seems a little crowbarred in and - unintentionally, I'm sure - almost insulting in its brevity. Dean’s introduction notes that her selection might seem a little white, but it feels as if it might have been better to examine that, and ask whether America could sort-of handle intellectuals who were female or black, but maybe not both. Or else make a stronger case for Hurston as parallel to the other women here (I’m not familiar with her work, so can’t comment as to whether such a case exists), or perhaps tie in a whole companion volume on the different ways in which black female intellectuals were sidelined, putting Hurston in a lineage with Angelou, Morrison, Butler…I don’t know. The instinct to diversify was commendable, but this section doesn’t feel like it came off. Still, on the whole it’s a very interesting read. Perhaps the attempts to find parallels don’t always stick, but even considered simply as a collection of brief lives, well, many of these lives are not that widely known, and collecting them was always going to at least offer a certain prismatic approach to a truth. The connections to the modern day are seldom stressed, being left instead for the reader themselves to note, as when the initial response to Arendt’s now standard line about the 'banality of evil’ prefigures a modern Twitterstorm, right down to the bit where some of those outraged by it were responding more to their own jumped conclusions than what was actually written. Dean has done her research – this seems especially fruitful when she compares collected journalism to pieces the same writers chose not to republish, thus deducing the ways in which they sought to tilt and construct their public personae – and more than that she’s assimilated her material, which is the bit enabling arresting insights such as “It can be easy to forget that Dorothy Parker began publishing her caustic verse before women even had the vote."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christine Henneberg

    1 star (audio version)--with the caveat that I read only about 3/4 of the book. I found these essays on smart and opinionated ("sharp") women writers to be dry and unimaginative. The writer's own voice was completely missing; I didn't know why she cared (or wasn't convince that she did care) about these women, and I found myself not caring, either. I will also say that she offers an almost offensively inadequate explanation for the homogeneity of her chosen sample of women writers. "In a more pe 1 star (audio version)--with the caveat that I read only about 3/4 of the book. I found these essays on smart and opinionated ("sharp") women writers to be dry and unimaginative. The writer's own voice was completely missing; I didn't know why she cared (or wasn't convince that she did care) about these women, and I found myself not caring, either. I will also say that she offers an almost offensively inadequate explanation for the homogeneity of her chosen sample of women writers. "In a more perfect world... a black writer like Zora Neale Hurston would have been more widely recognized as part of this cohort, but racism kept her writings at the margin of it." It would seem that one of the main purposes of a book like this one should be to correct the "imperfections" of a racist history by including a deserving writer like Hurston in this cannon. To fail to do so is a good example of what I mean by the author not caring enough about her subject matter to write a meaningful book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    This wasn't precisely what I had expected, but seeing as this turns out to be an intellectual history of notable 20th century female public thinkers, I was quite happy with what I got. Michelle Dean has a real talent for picking choice quotes and events from her subjects, and I was delighted that she takes us through how these brilliant women were socially and professionally collected. This book made me want to drop everything and pick up all the collections of writings from these women that I c This wasn't precisely what I had expected, but seeing as this turns out to be an intellectual history of notable 20th century female public thinkers, I was quite happy with what I got. Michelle Dean has a real talent for picking choice quotes and events from her subjects, and I was delighted that she takes us through how these brilliant women were socially and professionally collected. This book made me want to drop everything and pick up all the collections of writings from these women that I could get my hands on, and I feel like that is quite high praise. The Arendt sections were the stand outs for me, but then I'm rather fond of her to start off with. I appreciated how this book contextualized the "anti-feminist" criticisms I've heard about these women over the years, and would recommend to anyone who enjoys intellectual history or feminist history.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Megan Abbott

    An outstanding, must-read book--lovers of Didion, Sontag, Dorothy Parker or all the other brilliant women explored here: this is for you. A gift to the discussion of 20th-century arts and letters. And a lovesong to smart women.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    Sharp brings together a dozen women authors and critics from the twentieth century—Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, Janet Malcolm, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lillian Hellman—who were, in various ways, professionally opinionated. Michelle Dean has an excellent eye for pulling quotations both from the work of these women and from the other literary figures with whom they interacted, and that was one of the Sharp brings together a dozen women authors and critics from the twentieth century—Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, Janet Malcolm, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lillian Hellman—who were, in various ways, professionally opinionated. Michelle Dean has an excellent eye for pulling quotations both from the work of these women and from the other literary figures with whom they interacted, and that was one of the principal pleasures of this book. It's a decent primer to the careers of most of the women depicted here, many of whom should be better known than they are. However, Sharp doesn't really cohere as a book. What threads bring this group of women together, what argument can be made about them, beyond the fact that they were all once described (or critiqued as being) "sharp"? This was then, and is now, just another way of saying "being a woman in public." A brief aside in the introduction also shows that Dean is aware that she's chosen to focus largely on middle-class white women, most of whose careers centered on New York. She also doesn't seem to care very much about that. After all, Zora Neale Hurston can only be called a "marginal" literary figure if you've got very determined ideas as to where the centre lies.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lauren LoGiudice

    This book was gathered together some of the most important female writers of the 20th century and let you know how they got on that list. It's not exhaustive, of course. And it wasn't overly light. It was a great mix of stories and descriptions of their work and why it was notable. I especially liked to hear about how many of these women knew of each other and worked together, or actively disliked one another. This book was gathered together some of the most important female writers of the 20th century and let you know how they got on that list. It's not exhaustive, of course. And it wasn't overly light. It was a great mix of stories and descriptions of their work and why it was notable. I especially liked to hear about how many of these women knew of each other and worked together, or actively disliked one another.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Perchikoff

    Before reading Sharp by Michelle Dean, I wasn't under the impression that the women in this book were going to become some kind of role models for me, but I guess I expected them to be a little more together, maybe a little less petty. Now, don't get me wrong, I love some petty. Especially nowadays, petty can get you through the day, but I guess I was expecting more elegance from these women who were such trailblazers in their day. They cheated on their husbands (and were cheated on by their hus Before reading Sharp by Michelle Dean, I wasn't under the impression that the women in this book were going to become some kind of role models for me, but I guess I expected them to be a little more together, maybe a little less petty. Now, don't get me wrong, I love some petty. Especially nowadays, petty can get you through the day, but I guess I was expecting more elegance from these women who were such trailblazers in their day. They cheated on their husbands (and were cheated on by their husbands), traded insults back and forth (to people's faces, behind their backs, and in the media), and were just all around sassy ladies. At least half of the women in the book doubted themselves and their abilities, at least two attempted to kill themselves, and most just had some terrible shit happen to them in their lives despite being famous writers (duh, right?). But let's get into the book a little bit more. Synopsis: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm—these brilliant women are the central figures of Sharp. Their lives intertwine as they cut through the cultural and intellectual history of America in the twentieth century, arguing as fervently with each other as they did with the sexist attitudes of the men who often undervalued their work as critics and essayists. Okay, let's start off with the good. This book is incredibly well-written. I usually have a tough time getting through non-fiction books, especially biographies, but I sped through this book. Each woman's story is, of course, different, but the way Dean includes specific details of their lives really allows the reader to feel like we're getting to know them personally. I never thought this would be a page-turner, but it was for me. I was so interested in what these women had to deal with during the times they lived in that I was halfway through it before I knew it. And as I said before, these women were far from perfect, some of them blatantly fighting against the feminism that would have fought to make their lives easier and a few of them (I'm betting more, it just wasn't mentioned) were racist as well (which should be a surprise to no one). A few of the women are just barely likeable but the way Dean describes the events of their lives and their relationships makes the reader want to know more despite that. But that is not to say this book doesn't have its flaws. It has one major one. There are no women of color in this book. Okay, Zora Neale Hurston gets barely half a chapter, but nothing beyond that. Most of the women in this book are white, from affluent families, and highly privileged despite the times they lived in. You can't tell me there were no women of color writing influential pieces during this time period that could have been included in this book. And if they weren't recognized at the time, dig them up. That information, those stories would be a lot more beneficial and interesting than another Dorothy Parker or Joan Didion story. I didn't know who everyone was in this book before I started reading, so I was hoping there would be a least one (full) chapter about a woman of color (I know, low expectations), but the farther I got, the realization that there wasn't going to be one set in more and more. There were even a couple of times when I couldn't remember which stories belonged to which women because they all started to blend together. Overall, Sharp is a good book. Like I said, it's very well-written and the stories it does tell are interesting and intriguing to read. It's the stories it doesn't tell, the lack of diversity in the stories, that is the major problem I have with this book. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars. I would love to hear any thoughts from anyone else who's read this book or reads it once it comes out. Sharp: The Woman Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean comes out April 18, 2018. Thank you, NetGalley and Grove Atlantic/Grove Press for this free copy in exchange for my honest review.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    This is so thorough & patient, doing the work & contextualizing & drawing connections. I suspect a lot of people who didn't dig it expected feminist coffeetable kitsch, which this decidedly isn't. I listened to this on audio, which I'm glad of because I don't think I have the eyes for this type of nonfiction right now. If you're on the fence, maybe consider a format switch? This is so thorough & patient, doing the work & contextualizing & drawing connections. I suspect a lot of people who didn't dig it expected feminist coffeetable kitsch, which this decidedly isn't. I listened to this on audio, which I'm glad of because I don't think I have the eyes for this type of nonfiction right now. If you're on the fence, maybe consider a format switch?

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    I loved the profiles of each of the women and how they made their mark on criticism and essaying. That said, I wish that they had covered a group that was a little more diverse (Zora Neale Hurston is the only author of color mentioned, and she has to share a chapter) and that a little less of the focus was spent on trying to show how all of these women interconnected and influenced one another - sometimes they really didn't, other than writing in overlapping timeframes in different venues/areas I loved the profiles of each of the women and how they made their mark on criticism and essaying. That said, I wish that they had covered a group that was a little more diverse (Zora Neale Hurston is the only author of color mentioned, and she has to share a chapter) and that a little less of the focus was spent on trying to show how all of these women interconnected and influenced one another - sometimes they really didn't, other than writing in overlapping timeframes in different venues/areas of focus.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Emi Bevacqua

    I love the way Michelle Dean structured and titled this brilliantly researched collection of female writers, beyond mere bios to highlight contradictions and parallels, intrasections and stances on issues as far-reaching as politics, feminism, and culture. These women may have been described as tough, elegant, glamorous, beautiful... and not always in a complimentary sense; Dean humanizes them, to a degree that is at times poignant. I learned so much from this book about the Woman Problem, war h I love the way Michelle Dean structured and titled this brilliantly researched collection of female writers, beyond mere bios to highlight contradictions and parallels, intrasections and stances on issues as far-reaching as politics, feminism, and culture. These women may have been described as tough, elegant, glamorous, beautiful... and not always in a complimentary sense; Dean humanizes them, to a degree that is at times poignant. I learned so much from this book about the Woman Problem, war history, feminist ideology, and plain old gossip about some of my all-time favorites like Dorothy Parker, Susan Sontag and Nora Ephron; and I've been introduced to some new names to look into and up to, like Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, and Pauline Kael. In a sense it's great to see how much progress womankind has made in the last century, and yet it's also infuriating, witness Sontag's piece from 43! years! ago! urging readers of America's most popular fashion magazine to consider that "the way women are taught to be involved with beauty encourages narcissism, reinforces dependence and immaturity... for the ideal of beauty is administered as a form of self-oppression". Gah!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nanette

    A who’s who of NYC white female 20th century writers & their foibles, especially romantic ones. Anyone of color is snubbed. Men are still the movers & shakers—the women are allowed to enter their orbit, or so it would seem from the narrative. This is NOT a scholarly book nor does it seem to have been either thought through or edited very deeply. The last paragraph had me writing “HUH?!” next to it as it was a sexist summation and prescription for women. Had the book been written about male autho A who’s who of NYC white female 20th century writers & their foibles, especially romantic ones. Anyone of color is snubbed. Men are still the movers & shakers—the women are allowed to enter their orbit, or so it would seem from the narrative. This is NOT a scholarly book nor does it seem to have been either thought through or edited very deeply. The last paragraph had me writing “HUH?!” next to it as it was a sexist summation and prescription for women. Had the book been written about male authors, it would have taken a different tack, I’m guessing. For example, the romances wouldn’t have been front & center & more of their actual accomplishments would have instead taken center stage. The name dropping was likewise annoying. Did I like anything? The intention might be commendable, but it falls far short. Significantly, the title is arrogant and disappointing in its exclusion of so many real women who actually paved the way...a, let’s start with Eve? 🤔😉. To have identified these 15 women in a vacuum is insulting, especially by giving Ida B. Wells a 1-line mention. Really?! Such oversight or irresponsible ignorance. Can’t recommend.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christen

    Conflicted is how I feel about this book. I enjoyed reading about Dorothy Parker; I had a hard time with the other writers. Perhaps it is because the author went to the pettiness and the criticism of each of the females authors had with each other. She threw in a good measure included the criticism of the women by men who were also critics as well. I guess a book about women writers who were critics would be full of criticisms, but it felt like just a diatribe of complaining that had a textbook Conflicted is how I feel about this book. I enjoyed reading about Dorothy Parker; I had a hard time with the other writers. Perhaps it is because the author went to the pettiness and the criticism of each of the females authors had with each other. She threw in a good measure included the criticism of the women by men who were also critics as well. I guess a book about women writers who were critics would be full of criticisms, but it felt like just a diatribe of complaining that had a textbook feel. The book could have been edited down and would have felt less bogged down. It felt like a textbook, but a textbook that a professor would only make you read a section or selected pages. I received and D/ARC from Netgalley and Gove Press for an honest review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This is a gossipy and sensationalized view of the intimacies of notable women writers of the 20th century under the guise of being a serious study of their professional achievements. Admittedly, it is hard to put down--like a bag of chips you know are not good for you. Michelle Dean's genius is subtle titillation coupled with faux innocence of the salacious nature of her expose. Perhaps her goal is to imitate the "sharp" women she profiles, but there is a fine line between "sharpness" and "meann This is a gossipy and sensationalized view of the intimacies of notable women writers of the 20th century under the guise of being a serious study of their professional achievements. Admittedly, it is hard to put down--like a bag of chips you know are not good for you. Michelle Dean's genius is subtle titillation coupled with faux innocence of the salacious nature of her expose. Perhaps her goal is to imitate the "sharp" women she profiles, but there is a fine line between "sharpness" and "meanness"--she crosses it more often than I'm comfortable accompanying her. It is book of and for the times. BTW The somber black and white photograph of the author is a too obvious simulacrum of her subjects--it is as if she is a latecomer to a party that has already dispersed.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Sadler

    Loved this. Sharp by Michelle Dean gives insights into the lives and work of some of the 20th century’s most influential women writers. Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion Nora Ephron Renata Adler & Janet Malcolm... It doesn’t deify these women at all. Michelle really examines their politics and outlook, but also considers the context of their work.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    If this book does nothing more than get the next generations reading its subjects, it will have done enough. But it does a whole lot more. Michelle Dean is a treasure. Here, she gives us chewy, arguable opinions and rigorous research. I’m jealous of the deep reading she did for this. History and criticism in a selective history of criticism. Delicious.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Parker, Didion, Sontag, and Ephron were the only names I’d easily recognized from this list of notable writers, and I enjoyed learning more about them all. It was not only fascinating but inspiring to explore the ups and downs of the lives of these women who refused to be pigeon-holed.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jenn Burk

    I really wanted to like this book. It’s thoroughly researched but ultimately boring.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    I enjoyed learning about these women, some who I already knew well like Nora Ephron, some who I was just getting to know like Mary McCarthy. I also loved the title of this book; I thought it was smart and catchy. I admire Dean's intent (as mentioned in her preface) to explore the "connections" between these famous writers of the twentieth century. I found these connections between the women, who I primarily knew as Dean herself stated in "isolation," interesting. I also respected the personal in I enjoyed learning about these women, some who I already knew well like Nora Ephron, some who I was just getting to know like Mary McCarthy. I also loved the title of this book; I thought it was smart and catchy. I admire Dean's intent (as mentioned in her preface) to explore the "connections" between these famous writers of the twentieth century. I found these connections between the women, who I primarily knew as Dean herself stated in "isolation," interesting. I also respected the personal intent Dean "cops" to when saying, "there is something valuable about knowing this history if you are a young woman of a certain kind of ambition." I couldn't agree more. However, the rest of the preface and afterword of this book put me off to this collection for several reasons, and thus it seemed Dean could have been more direct in her aims for this book. Minor gripes: The repeated emphasis of the reticence and ambivalence around the word "feminism" from some of these authors made it seem as if the book was going to heavily explore and question this topic. What's more, it also repeated similar ideas around sisterhood, commenting that sisterhood doesn't have to mean unwavering acceptance but could, of course, include criticism and altercations. These ideas did come up throughout the book, but it didn't seem to be the primary intent. Thus, I questioned why she repeated these notions in the afterword again; it seemed unnecessary. The preface's tone also seemed rather outdated for a book published in 2018: "These women were received as proof positive that women were every bit as qualified to weigh in on art, on ideas, and on politics as men." Yes, I know. "Some of [the] criticism [of these women] came from bald sexism." You don't say? Such criticisms are minor and perhaps even more showing my personal bias or background as someone coming to the book with more of a background on feminism, but considering how much wasn’t clear or direct in the preface (as noted below), making cuts of what is noted above would give more space for concepts I still had questions on. Which brings me to the bigger issue with the book: The book seemed to specifically focus on female critics from New York. She had a heavy emphasis on film and book reviews—which is fine but it didn’t seem to be about that type of writing only since fiction was also mentioned. However, I kept questioning: did Dean only choose women who wrote reviews? And why not explore other types of writing that provide the commentary and criticism, which could also define someone as sharp? Her aims clarified in the preface as noted above in intentions directly led with lines like "I wrote this book because" or "my second motive was." Thus, I kept questioning if reviews in certain publications based from New York were really how she selected who to include in the book. She did note that "certainly, the so-called New York intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century are often identified as a male set," but this seemed more like a passing remark or broad context rather than her through-line for the book. Because these choices weren't as direct as her purpose of general connections between women writers of the twentieth century, I was then disappointed that the book focused so heavily on white, middle class women. She does make a quick note of this, too: saying her selection is not "perfect" since most of the women are "white, and often Jewish, and middle-class," but this seemed to be a bit of a cop out. It made how she included Zora Neale Hurston an odd choice. Hurston is only titling a chapter alongside another writer. What's more, that chapter was one of the shorter ones, and the background and attention on Hurston was no where near as extensive as other writers discussed in the book. Even more striking: in that chapter she brought up another powerhouse writer of Ida B Wells. How would she not be in her own chapter? I get that not all books can tackle all the great voices in the such a large time span, but I found it off putting that in 2018 the author didn't make an effort to be more inclusive. If she explored some other magazines aside from heavily focusing on the same white few, she would have had more voices to connect and learn the history of, which she said was her original intent. I would have loved to see the connections and comparisons between more diverse writers here. Again, this mostly comes down to the poor writing and ill-conceived notions set out in the preface. If Dean specifically said she was examining specific New York publications and those who wrote for them (which at the time would, of course, be white), then this book probably wouldn't have rubbed me the wrong way so much. However, because Dean's preface’s main objective for the book was to simply show women are smart too and their history's connections should be explored too, then not only is such a premise outdated but then then this book also falls short of reaching that aim as effectively as it could.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jill Elizabeth

    I am fascinated by the "early" woman thinkers - those women who developed a reputation for intellectual rigor and originality in a time (the early 1900s) when such domains were considered the exclusive property of men. I was familiar with nearly all of the phenomenally talented women in this collection - some more than others - but had no idea of the details of most of their lives, and was fascinated to see how the developed intellectually, creatively, and in their perspectives toward art, polit I am fascinated by the "early" woman thinkers - those women who developed a reputation for intellectual rigor and originality in a time (the early 1900s) when such domains were considered the exclusive property of men. I was familiar with nearly all of the phenomenally talented women in this collection - some more than others - but had no idea of the details of most of their lives, and was fascinated to see how the developed intellectually, creatively, and in their perspectives toward art, politics, and their place in the world. The more contemporary women were also quite interesting to read about (Nora Ephron has long been a favorite of mine, going back to Heartburn), but I think the most intriguing (and surprising - although in hindsight perhaps it shouldn't have been so surpisinng) part of the entire collection for me was reading about the clashes between so many of the women. I suppose it was inevitable - these were women stepping outside of the gender norms of the time, women who expressed strong opinions and did so with flair and sass and more than a few teeth. It shouldn't come as any surprise that they would butt heads with people - their contemporaries as well as their "opposition". The details were entertaining and often quite unexpected, and thoroughly enjoyable to read. This was an exceptionally written and thoroughly well-presented collection and I really enjoyed it! My review copy was generously provided by Edelweiss.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Tiede

    Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion is a biography-cum-reckoning about the legacy of ten extraordinary women: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Nora Ephron, Susan Sontag, Renata Adler, Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, and Zora Neale Hurston. Occasionally Michelle Dean gets off zingers every bit as cool and cutting as those of her subjects, but usually her writing style is warm and nuanced, making Sharp feel like a meaningful conversation about these women r Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion is a biography-cum-reckoning about the legacy of ten extraordinary women: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Nora Ephron, Susan Sontag, Renata Adler, Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, and Zora Neale Hurston. Occasionally Michelle Dean gets off zingers every bit as cool and cutting as those of her subjects, but usually her writing style is warm and nuanced, making Sharp feel like a meaningful conversation about these women rather than a mere tribute. It’s a choice I’m glad she made; the effect is more conversation than biography, which perhaps explains why Sharp is more readable than any biography has rights to be. While nothing could eclipse the women themselves, cameos from other literary greats–F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, H.G. Wells (along with his open marriage), and others–are charming and add a fun “cocktail party tidbit” touch to a book that is otherwise deep and thoughtful. As a writer, I also loved this book for selfish reasons: I’ve been going through a rough patch in my own creative writing (i.e., writer’s block), and reading about these incredible women cured it. The fact that they also went through periods of massive output and no output, periods of astonishingly good work and shockingly bad work, made me feel like writing is something I can accomplish after all. If you’re in need of that sort of pep talk, Sharp is just what the doctor ordered.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charlene

    This book only has an average of 3.4 stars. After skimming the reviews, it seems like some didn't think it an in depth enough portrait of these important women. Some thought it was too critical of women who broke the glass ceiling. But, I loved every page. I had not read so much about Dorothy Parker, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, Rebecca West, Zora Neale Hurston (way too short when it came to Hurston), and Janet Malcolm. So, hav This book only has an average of 3.4 stars. After skimming the reviews, it seems like some didn't think it an in depth enough portrait of these important women. Some thought it was too critical of women who broke the glass ceiling. But, I loved every page. I had not read so much about Dorothy Parker, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, Rebecca West, Zora Neale Hurston (way too short when it came to Hurston), and Janet Malcolm. So, having a small biography of each was really a treat. Each story was filled with just the right amount and quality of detail for a book that included so many women. Some of it was salacious, some of it was shocking, and some it merely informative. All of it was incredibly interesting.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.