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For nearly 50 years, Lillian Ross has been writing remarkable literary journalism for The New Yorker. Her unerring Talk pieces and her incisive profiles have won her a legion of admirers. Many credit The New Yorker for inspiring the refinement of literary journalism, and Ross was an integral part of that effort. Her books Picture and Portrait of Hemingway were recently listed as two of the 20th century's 100 best works of journalism, and Hemingway himself called Picture much better than most novels.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lillian Ross's contributions to the Talk of the Town and to the full-length piece are estimable, but she was never one of great talents at the magazine. She has a real flair, though, for recycling her old work. The more you reread it, the thinner it becomes.
Once upon a time I used to revere Lillian Ross for her acerbic portrait of Hemingway and her up and down account of the making of John Huston's film of The Red Badge of Courage. Now when I read her work, in the New Yorker or in omnibuses like this one, I see she is not a great writer, but am ordinary one, and in REPORTING BACK a woman who cannot stop herself from patting herself on the back till it hurts. Don't think I've ever read such a self-congratulatory work. How do people stand her? She says she doesn't like to write about people unless she likes them, but from her writing, one gets the impression she feels superior to everyone, always quoting the little non sequiturs people make by mistake, to make them look stupid. The idol has feet of clay.
The title references `journalism'. Maybe, but this is not weighty journalism. These are nothing more than puff pieces regarding (mainly) pop culture icons of the past and present. There is certainly nothing wrong with that - but call it what it is. I also felt cheated. It appears the original articles are not reprinted in whole, but are abridged, and only utilized as examples of journalistic writing styles by Ms. Ross. That's OK too - but I was fooled. (And if they are reproduced in whole - then I feel doubly cheated). And I was disappointed. I was repeatedly reminded that Ms. Ross is a great writer and journalist. Yet I find her writing to be clumsy and stilted. E.B. White she is not. Fine. Each writer has his or her own style. But a `great' writer? I have been let down. I'm really not trying to slam Ms. Ross or her book. My dissatisfactions may be that since I don't read "The New Yorker" often, I am not so intimate with `The Talk of the Town' section. I guess the column is merely...
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