Joan Acocella is a staff writer for The New Yorker. Her most recent book is Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints. She is writing a biography of Mikhail Baryshnikov. (July 2019)


‘The Work of Becoming No One’

Salvatore Scibona, New York City, May 2019

The Volunteer

by Salvatore Scibona
Salvatore Scibona’s new book, The Volunteer—this is his second novel—ranges over about a hundred years, from the mid-twentieth century to the mid-twenty-first, and over four generations: an Iowa farm couple; their son, Vollie; Vollie’s ward, Elroy; and Elroy’s son, Janis. Not in that order, however. The structure of the book …

Crotch Shots Galore

Bob Fosse filming Sweet Charity at Universal Studios, Los Angeles, 1969

Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical

by Kevin Winkler

All That Jazz: The Life and Times of the Musical “Chicago”

by Ethan Mordden
When people think of the work of Bob Fosse, Broadway’s foremost choreographer-director in the 1960s and 1970s, what they are likely to see in their minds is a group of dancers, in bowler hats and white gloves, standing in a stiff configuration and bobbing up and down in a cool sort of way. The dancers may rotate their wrists or splay their fingers, but they don’t stick out too many parts of themselves at one time, and they generally don’t travel around the stage much. They are often dressed in some combination of panties and garters and sheer silks; and even in the live shows, not to speak of the films, they offer you crotch shots galore. Not that they’re planning to do much with their crotches. Most of them would as soon knife you as go out with you. The sex is not sexual but satirical. It’s there to show us that every word we speak is a lie, that every promise will be broken.

‘Fuck’-ing Around

‘Posing with Trump,’ Paris, November 2016; photograph by Richard Kalvar

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves

by Benjamin K. Bergen

In Praise of Profanity

by Michael Adams
Obscene language presents problems, the linguist Michael Adams writes in his new book, In Praise of Profanity, “but no one seems to spend much time thinking about the good it does.” Actually, a lot of people in the last few decades have been considering its benefits, together with its history, its neuroanatomy, and above all its fantastically large and colorful word list.

Mixing It Up

Audra McDonald with Brandon Victor Dixon at the piano in Shuffle Along

Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

a musical written and directed by George C. Wolfe, with songs by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, at the Music Box Theatre, New York City, opened on April 28, 2016
In the arts big changes are often wrought not by the person who introduced the new thing but, sadly, by a person who came after, and copied it, and, thanks to greater luck or talent, made of it something that a lot of other people, too, wanted to try, thus …

A Ghost Story

Joseph Brodsky and Mikhail Baryshnikov, New York City, 1985


a theater piece written and directed by Alvis Hermanis
Many emotions are entwined in the theater piece Brodsky/Baryshnikov, which had its premiere at the New Riga Theater in October and will open at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York in March. Its subject is Joseph Brodsky, who was born in Leningrad in 1940 and died in Brooklyn in 1996.

The Elmore Leonard Story

John Travolta, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito in the film version of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty

Four Novels of the 1980s: City Primeval, LaBrava, Glitz, Freaky Deaky

by Elmore Leonard, edited by Gregg Sutter

Four Novels of the 1970s: Fifty-Two Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man No. 89, The Switch

by Elmore Leonard, edited by Gregg Sutter
Elmore Leonard became famous as a crime novelist, but he didn’t like being grouped with most of the big names in that genre, people such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett or, indeed, any of the noir writers. He disapproved of their melodrama, their pessimism, their psychos and nymphos and fancy writing. He saw in crime no glamour or sexiness but, on the contrary, long hours and sore feet.

The Ecstasy of a Modern Romantic

In her youth Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) more or less created what we now call American modern dance, and she soon became famous for it. She was also a beauty, leaving behind her a trail of glamorous lovers. But by 1927, when she was fifty, all that was over. Duncan was living in a rented studio in Nice. She was barely performing any longer, and years of hard living—above all, heavy drinking—had coarsened her looks. She had no money. She went to parties in order to eat the canapés. Partly, no doubt, to improve her financial situation, she decided to do something that she had talked about for years: write her memoirs.