Life in Culture: Selected Letters of Lionel Trilling

Edited by Adam Kirsch. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-374-18515-2
Poet and critic Kirsch (The Global Novel) has done a fine job culling the thousands of letters written between 1924 and 1975 by famed literary critic Trilling—at least 600 a year, by the writer’s own estimation—down to a manageable 270. Trilling’s correspondence is undoubtedly valuable for the presence of many other notable names, even if the letters reveal only light emotional engagement. In his early courtship with his future wife, Diana, he strikes an analytically detached note, musing, “I have been wondering... why I find so much satisfaction in your being away.” Later, when student Allen Ginsberg proposes friendship, Trilling draws back coldly: “[The] right condition is... student and teacher.” Decades later, he writes to Diana from England: “for me too the being alone has been a great experience.” Trilling needed his space, and because of it, the reader is rewarded by his engagement in literature and culture, ranging from being “enormously impressed” with an early Bellow novel to acidly rebutting a New York Review of Books essay implying he “played a decisive part in the sad fate of Lenny Bruce.” Trilling also shows generosity toward those needing his help, and outspoken honesty throughout. For those qualities and more, the letters are well worth reading. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 05/14/2018
Release date: 09/25/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-1-250-23470-4
MP3 CD - 978-1-5159-3490-5
Compact Disc - 978-1-63015-322-9
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