Also of creative quests

Forty-one False Starts; The Ordinary Acrobat; Daily Rituals; A Grand Complication

Forty-one False Starts

by Janet Malcolm (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27)

Journalists who profile artists often forget that making things is hard work, said Pamela Erens in Not New Yorker contributor Janet Malcolm. In this collection of profiles of various painters, photographers, and authors, process always matters more than personality. It’s a “very refreshing” approach, even after Malcolm discovers that J.D. Salinger, Diane Arbus, and several other legends all apparently believed that they never created work as great as they’d hoped to.

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The Ordinary Acrobat

by Duncan Wall (Knopf, $27)

Duncan Wall was a circus skeptic before he became an aficionado, said Elizabeth McCracken in The Washington Post. In this “lovely” new book, the young lecturer at the National Circus School of Montreal covers an “astonishing” amount of circus history while recounting how a kid bored by circus acts eventually chose to learn acrobatics, juggling, and clowning. Those first-person chapters lack drama, but Wall is terrific at explaining why each act is an art, a way to get audiences dreaming.

Daily Rituals

by Mason Currey (Knopf, $25)

Gertrude Stein stared at cows. Igor Stravinsky did headstands. In this “lean, engaging volume,” former blogger Mason Currey surveys the work habits of history’s great creative minds and shows us there’s no right way to get one’s juices flowing, said John Wilwol in There’s “something reassuring” about watching so many heroes battling the challenges of the daily grind. But while none discovered a way that anyone could produce good work, “all greats have their way.”A Grand Complication

A Grand Complication

by Stacy Perman (Atria, $26)

Relentless one-upmanship sometimes has its benefits, said Robert H. Frank in The New York Times. In the 1920s, automobile magnate James Ward Packard and Wall Street scion Henry Graves Jr. drove the art of watchmaking to new heights by commissioning what were then the two most elaborate personal timepieces ever made. In Stacy Perman’s “artfully told” account, the contest’s wastefulness remains ever in sight, but so too does the salve such battles provide for the psyches of the super-rich.

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