See What Can Be Done: Essays, Criticism and Commentary

Rare is the writer with talent enough to imbue the first line of a book review or critique with the same trademark wit and linguistic gymnastics found in her acclaimed short stories and novels. In See What Can Be Done: Essays, Criticism and Commentary, Lorrie Moore (Birds of America) does so as she delivers a thoughtful, often humorous collection of 60 prose pieces spanning the past 35 years.

They include commentaries both personal ("On Writing") and political ("Election 2016: A Postscript"); profiles of uber-prolific authors (hi, Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood); pop culture perspectives from the '80s, '90s and into the present day; and plenty of book reviews that read as if they were one of Moore's short stories. ("There is something about the killing of a pretty little rich girl that disorganizes everybody.") Many selections first appeared in the New York Review of Books; Moore recalls fondly how former NYRB editor Robert Silvers would forward a potential book with a casual note: see what can be done.

Moore's attempts more than succeed; this chock-full collection represents solid writing with the pleasant surprise of occasional small glimpses of Moore's life tucked into the pages. "Certainly it is in the work that one comes to know an author--his best and essential self--without being able to extricate or explain him," she writes of the legendary John Cheever. She might as well be referring to herself.

See What Can Be Done will make bibliophiles add more titles to their bursting book lists based on Moore's balanced reviews. This is an delightfully indulgent collection, one worth savoring at one's leisure or consuming in huge gulps. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

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