MixedThe Wall Street JournalA lot of what Sondheim said was familiar to people who know and love his work, but there were also some poignant new insights, like how much trouble he was having finding words and music for the Buñuel ... The implicit promise of Finale is that there’s plenty more great stuff where that came from. Alas, the nearly 9,000 words in the magazine were enough to soak up just about all of Mr. Max’s top-shelf material. Which is not to say that the book, which is about five times longer, lacks surprises—some pleasant, some less so ... Mr. Max keeps popping up to tell us how his experiment is unfolding, and what his next move will be. At times, the effect is like watching a narrated nature documentary ... If you have affection for Sondheim, this voiceover is likely to run afoul of your sympathies. Not to get all Janet Malcolm about it, but it’s hard to watch a journalist try again and again to cajole a subject into giving access he doesn’t want to give ... This book does make some facts about Sondheim newly clear. That he was—at the end, as at the beginning—too smart and self-protective to....be disarmed by a genial journalist genially quoting his lyrics back to him.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... an awfully bold undertaking—a provocation, even. There is endless material to unpack in this deliciously intricate novel, one of the masterpieces of modernism ... if you can read the novel a little more analytically, if you seek instruction on how it works and why, then this new edition will tell you all that you wish to know—and more. Still, there’s one situation when only the annotated edition will serve, even for this reader. Among its many illustrations, it includes a selection of maps, tracing the paths that Clarissa, Septimus and the other characters might have walked that day in 1923. The next time I’m in London with a few hours to spare, this is the \'Mrs. Dalloway\' for me.
PositiveWall Street JournalThe mix is remarkably eclectic, though with Ms. Orlean, that goes without saying. Does any prominent nonfiction writer range more widely? ... Ms. Orlean conveys the absurdity of the quest as well as its poignancy, relating the whole story with a tone of deadpan whimsy ... I tend to like Ms. Orlean’s writing best at the length of a long magazine piece, not a full-length book, but the international flavor of many of these pieces gives this collection a hybrid pleasure. The vivid snapshots add up to a broad cumulative impression.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalNo doubt the lively cynicism of these pieces will be familiar if you know Wilder’s movies ... It’s funny—charming, even—to learn that such a worldly-wise observer of humanity started his journalism career on a naive note ... it’s delightful to watch him seek bigger tips, upgrading his beauty routine—he was like a shark in pomade—and deploying pretty lies ... Mr. Isenberg seems to recognize how good the series is. He gives it pride of place at the front of the volume ... in spite of running scarcely 200 pages, the book feels padded. A whole section is devoted to Wilder’s reviews, which offer surprisingly little insight into plays and movies. They aren’t even much fun to read ... The book’s limitations are really Wilder’s limitations, and those are understandable enough: If 21-year-olds had mature styles and polished critical lenses, what hope would there be for the rest of us? Besides, journalism had plenty of competition for his time and focus ... The brightest moments here let you watch a little more of the human comedy through Billy Wilder’s eyes. Few saw it as clearly he did or had more fun writing it down.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe appeal of The Letters of Cole Porter,the first collection of his correspondence, is the chance to experience his effervescent life, sometimes day by day, the way Porter himself experienced it ... The book is most revealing about Porter’s working habits—and most entertaining ... the book’s editors...stretch the bounds of what belongs in a volume of correspondence. For this, they deserve profound thanks. They were remarkably resourceful in finding both letters and supplemental materials, and admirably thoughtful in selecting, arranging and explaining them ... They write in their introduction that the book does not aspire to be another biography of Porter: The goal is to present as much of his correspondence as possible. Yet they’re so thorough about the job that they leave you feeling that you’ve had a full and satisfying account of Porter’s professional and personal lives all the same...
Arthur Gelb & Barbara Gelb
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...the best and worst you can say of the Gelbs’ book — stolid, overlong, but wielding a peculiar power — is that they have written about O’Neill O’Neill-ishly ... The skipping around in time, as well as the weaving back and forth between real life and the plays, gives the book a weird, woozy quality ... The book’s appeal doesn’t lie in its stupendous aggregation of facts about his life (which are too plentiful) or its fresh insights into the plays (which are too scarce) — it’s how the book came to be written, and by whom. Arthur and Barbara Gelb spent their lives 'obsessively and permanently entangled with the tormented, enigmatic O’Neill' ... I can imagine a more penetrating biography of O’Neill, but not a more poignant one. It is a haunted book about a haunted man.