cover image Near-Death Experiences... and Others

Near-Death Experiences... and Others

Robert Gottlieb. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-37421-991-8

In this sterling essay collection, Gottlieb (Avid Reader), an influential editor and critic, wields words skillfully and insightfully, with razor-sharp wit and precision. He is erudite but never stuffy, and is a master of the well-placed and hilarious side comment (on criticisms that James Joyce’s Ulysses wouldn’t be understood by its own “mass man” protagonist, Leopold Bloom, he comments, “By this standard, we would condemn Lassie Come-Home because Lassie couldn’t appreciate it”). Composed mostly of critical essays for the New York Review of Books, plus a selection of dance reviews for the Observer, the collection puts notable names from a number of different artistic fields front and center, including movie star Mary Astor, author Wilkie Collins, singer Ethel Merman, choreographer Twyla Tharp, and conductor Arturo Toscanini. (The title essay is one exception, exploring books about “going to heaven” experiences, and how science might explain the near-death phenomenon; a newly relevant look at the Trump family, originally written in 2000, is another.) Gottlieb’s standards are exacting, but he gives praise where due. He’s particularly passionate about the state of dance, and makes the reader share his enthusiasm. Perhaps Gottlieb’s greatest achievement is that he inspires one to want to learn more about his subjects; his restless curiosity becomes the reader’s. (June)