Sharp
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. These women are united 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 twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slanging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books as well as a considered portrayal of how these women came to be so influential in a climate where women were treated with derision by the critical establishment.Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is an enthralling exploration of how a group of brilliant women became central figures in the world of letters despite the many obstacles facing them, a testament to how anyone not in a position of power can claim the mantle of writer and, perhaps, help change the world.

Sharp Details

TitleSharp
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 10th, 2018
PublisherGrove Press
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Feminism, History, Biography, Womens

Sharp Review

  • Tess
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Marissa
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Kate Klassa
    January 1, 1970
    Sharp is an exceptionally well written exploration of some of the most influential women writers of the last century. Almost every chapter explores a different woman's writing, giving details of their childhood and adolescent years as well as the intimate details of their writing careers. Dean differentiates this book from other collections of short biographies through two methods:(1) She considers the writers' impacts on each other, rather than writing about them in isolation. Several chapters Sharp is an exceptionally well written exploration of some of the most influential women writers of the last century. Almost every chapter explores a different woman's writing, giving details of their childhood and adolescent years as well as the intimate details of their writing careers. Dean differentiates this book from other collections of short biographies through two methods:(1) She considers the writers' impacts on each other, rather than writing about them in isolation. Several chapters are taken up just to relate the relationships between some of the women and how they influenced each other's writing and were often subjects of each other's words (for better or for worse).(2) She covers these writers through the lens of feminism, not as a strict modern definition, but rather in their attitudes towards the mainstream feminist thought in their day and how they thought about and related to other women in their field. Dean grapples with the idea that many of these women wrote brilliantly and broke gender stereotypes yet did not have a high opinion of other women writers. The only thing I was disappointed in was the utter lack of women writers of color. There's a short half chapter devoted to Zora Neale Hurston, but otherwise there's not a single mention of one in the whole book, which is a shame for an otherwise excellent work.I received a free copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Alex Sarll
    January 1, 1970
    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."
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  • Victoria Sadler
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Claudia Tessier
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting exploration of 10 "sharp" women of the 20th century, all writers and feminist influencers in one way or another. The author does an excellent job of not only discussing each woman but also demonstrating links among them. Of value in relation to understanding each woman and the world in which she confronted herself, her admirers, her critics, her obstacles, and how each used her literary style to influence society and survive.
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  • Mara
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Annarella
    January 1, 1970
    A really interesting books about really interesting women. Strongly recommended.Many thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic
  • Emi Bevacqua
    January 1, 1970
    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!
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  • Kathleen Collins
    January 1, 1970
    Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (Grove Press, 2018) is not a collection of truncated biographies of celebrated writers Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Lillian Hellman, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm. It’s a skillful and compulsively readable narrative of these women in relief, set against the often bumpy terrain of their time and their relationship to femi Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (Grove Press, 2018) is not a collection of truncated biographies of celebrated writers Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Lillian Hellman, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm. It’s a skillful and compulsively readable narrative of these women in relief, set against the often bumpy terrain of their time and their relationship to feminism and to each other. Dean observes elements of and relates deep-dive tales of these writers' careers that are not written about elsewhere, at least not with such rich context. These are not odes or hagiographies, but honest portraits that cleverly reveal the breadth of the iconoclasm and humanity of the women. Rather than deliver a discrete set of linear narratives, Dean discovers surprising and telling ways their paths parallel and cross.
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  • Alexia Polasky
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the ARC and the opportunity to review this book!The premise of this book sounded interesting, especially in the era of female empowerment we are living right now. I found the selection of women to talk about perfect. However, the writing style and it felt like reading a textbook for school on a subject that interests me and bores me at the same time, because of the pacing.Full review on my blog.
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  • Kristina Reads - Books. Blogs. Memes.
    January 1, 1970
    Honestly, this just felt like reading a textbook.
  • Sarah Perchikoff
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Rhonda Lomazow
    January 1, 1970
    A book about strong mouthy woman writers.a wonderful look at their writing their books story behind the books,.
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