A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. A 2019 NPR Staff Pick.
"Malcolm is always worth reading; it can be instructive to see how much satisfying craft she brings to even the most trivial article." --Phillip Lopate, TLS
Janet Malcolm’s previous collection, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, was “unmistakably the work of a master” (The New York Times Book Review). Like Forty-One False Starts, Nobody’s Looking at You brings together previously uncompiled pieces, mainly from The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.
The title piece of this wonderfully eclectic collection is a profile of the fashion designer Eileen Fisher, whose mother often said to her, “Nobody’s looking at you.” But in every piece in this volume, Malcolm looks closely and with impunity at a broad range of subjects, from Donald Trump’s TV nemesis Rachel Maddow, to the stiletto-heel-wearing pianist Yuju Wang, to “the big-league game” of Supreme Court confirmation hearings. In an essay called “Socks,” the Pevears are seen as the “sort of asteroid [that] has hit the safe world of Russian Literature in English translation,” and in “Dreams and Anna Karenina,” the focus is Tolstoy, “one of literature’s greatest masters of manipulative techniques.” Nobody’s Looking at You concludes with “Pandora’s Click,” a brief, cautionary piece about e-mail etiquette that was written in the early two thousands, and that reverberates—albeit painfully—to this day.
Malcolm (Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers) assembles an eclectic group of essays, mainly culled from the New Yorker and New York Review of Books, most of them from the past decade, into this outstanding collection. Varied and witty, the book includes profiles of such people as fashion designer Eileen Fisher, with her "aesthetic of elegant plainness" and concert pianist Yuja Wang, "whose tiny dresses and spiky heels" draw attention to the contrast between her petite frame and the "forcefulness she achieves at her instrument." Several essays are literary critiques, touching on, among other points, New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell's ability to "bend actuality to artistic will" and how Tolstoy follows the "deep structures" of dream logic in Anna Karenina. Malcolm also explores the differing ways millennials and baby boomers view sexual harassment, email etiquette, and the high-stakes drama of John Roberts's Supreme Court nomination hearings, where little was learned about his judicial philosophy, but revelations about character emerged. With no weak selections and several strikingly prescient ones, this collection shows its author as a master of narrative nonfiction.