This is a book about beauty. It features fourteen people from different walks of life who talk about the impact of their encounters with beauty. Though we talk about beauty all the time, we don't discuss its effects on our private lives. The media and our consumer culture is fixated on outward beauty, and in response our schools fear that beauty and aesthetic judgment reinforces hierarchies and lead to exclusion. The conversations in this book offer a different perspective, as a waitress, an auto restorer, a ballet teacher, an exotic dancer, a labor organizer, a choir director, and others discuss how it feels to be in the presence of something beautiful: what in life prepared them for these encounters; whether beauty makes them feel part of a community, affects their morality, and can be described as religious or spiritual. These conversations describe a vital part of contemporary life that remains unexplored, until now. The people in this book speak about beauty as an indispensable blessing that provides re-creation, restoration, affirmation, and in many cases community and social engagement that a meaningful life requires. They confirm what Simone Weil once observed: "beautiful things are like tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space."
"Harvey Teres understands that honing a sensibility for the beautiful helps each of us craft of daily life a kind of personal cathedral. And that we all do it, and it rescues us all from banality, from boredom. These conversations--riveting and moving--should be required reading, because these folks are anything but ordinary, and the process of finding beauty makes every human being a marvel maker."
- Mary Karr, author of The Liars' Club
"A timely, entertaining, and inspiring book that takes on a vital truth: a culture lives or dies by its understanding of, and engagement with, beauty. Teres is a truly insightful and compassionate interviewer, and brings out the best in his subjects with a winning combination of warmth, rigorous preparation, and genuine curiosity."
- George Saunders, New York Times bestselling author of Tenth of December: Stories
"Beauty has become unfashionable in English departments. Beauty, it is said, is relative; race, class and gender are empirical. Conversations About Beauty with Ordinary Americans makes the case, in a unique way, that beauty still prevails outside the ivory tower. Ordinary Americans--diverse in ethnicity and class background--still find meaning in the sublime. This book is a spectacular embodiment of the Elizabeth Bishop line that is this book's subtitle: somebody loves us all. Teres is that rare English professor who will venture outside of the campus and remind us, eloquently, that, out in the streets, we need beauty more than ever. We also need this wonderful book."
- David Yaffe, author of the recent Restless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown