It took me a while to warm up to The Hare with the Amber Eyes, but once I'd adjusted my ears and expectations, I was utterly beguiled.
This is a complIt took me a while to warm up to The Hare with the Amber Eyes, but once I'd adjusted my ears and expectations, I was utterly beguiled.
This is a complex book, but if pressed I'd say that superficially it concerns a family's rise and dispersal in tandem with the art objects they collected and were ultimately forced to part with. One set of objects, two hundred and sixty-four netsuke, were all that remained and subsequently bequeathed to the author. His graceful reflections on his family and its possessions provides the premise for deeper questions of identity, loyalty, love, and loss.
Particularly impressive is the author's restraint. I fondly imagine his pottery exhibits a similar quality, a willingness to let the viewer or owner experience beauty on his or her own terms. This restraint is not to be confused with a lack of emotion or depth. On the contrary, de Waal's book is much more than a family memoir, though by necessity it is filled with family recollection. There's a rare imagination at work in de Waal's account or should I say "exploration." He channels distant family members and seems to understand and sympathize with them in a peculiarly resonant way. Thus the reader is truly transported. And this reader is grateful.
I should mention that while I was listening to this book that at the same time I was reading The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War by Alexander Waugh. Though superficially dealing with much of the same time period, class, and dilemma -- non-observant Viennese Jews caught up in the tide of Nazism -- the differences between the two books was striking. While de Waal's book is infused with love and tenderness, the "war" referred to in Waugh's book is as much an internal family one as it is the world war. As in any good moral tale, de Waal's family seems to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, providing emotional support for each other despite their tragic losses. Meantime, the Wittgensteins, who suffered less financially, tore at each other's souls to the bitter end. It made for an instructive contrast.
A note on the reader: Michael Maloney did an outstanding job, I thought, though at times I had a little trouble hearing him, which was largely my fault for listening while banging things around as I cooked dinner. There was a dreamy quality to his rendition that paired nicely with the book, but it took me an hour or so to get used to it. Patience paid off. I only wish I'd had access to a printed copy of the book so that I could have seen photos of the family, the netsuke, and so on. Still, on the whole I prefer to listen to this sort of book than to read it. It has, for me, more emotional resonance when I enjoy the reader as much as I did in this case. ...more
Edward Dolnick prefaces The Forger's Spell with an intriguing quote by Anatole France: "It is in the ability to deThe "True Story of a Colossal Hoax"
Edward Dolnick prefaces The Forger's Spell with an intriguing quote by Anatole France: "It is in the ability to deceive oneself that the greatest talent is shown." Ostensibly a tale of art forgery, Dolnick's book is most fascinating when examining what makes us believe something, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that what we believe is not true.
Why did so many experts assert that the forged paintings of Han van Meegeren were the genuine article? The author offers another interesting quote by magician Teller to provide some insight into how this occured: "When you're certain you cannot be fooled, you become easy to fool." Dolnick's analysis of how van Meegeren deftly exploited the vanities, petty jealousies, self-interests, and hubris of a handful of experts, dealers, and wealthy patrons is fascinating stuff. This is, ultimately, a tail of human frailties. We want to believe something and are, therefore, disposed to believe it, especially when in the process we can burnish our own egos.
Van Meegeren, a second-rate artist, was a first-rate con artist who knew, above all, how to select a mark. Once taken in, Dolnick notes, "The experts have to believe because, if they dared admit the possibility of fraud, the consequences would be too grim to contemplate." Ultimately, several of van Meegeren's fake Vermeers were snatched up by that acquisitive but not very discerning Nazi, Hermann Goering, and it was this fact, perhaps, that not only spared van Meegeren the death penalty but also made him something of a folk hero in post WWII Holland: he thoroughly duped the Nazis.
Part WWII saga, part psychological profile of a forger and his victims, and part examination of the world of art experts and restorers, The Forger's Spell casts a fairly ambitious net. If at times the book sounds the same themes a bit more than might be necessary, it still makes insightful points about human credulity.
This is the third book by Edward Dolnick that I've read. I enjoyed this tale more than I did another book by Dolnick on a famous art theft (The Rescue Artist), but not quite as much as I did his account of John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River, Down the Great Unknown. It strikes me that Dolnick, who has recently written a book on Isaac Newton and the Royal Society, has a broad-ranging curiosity that bears interesting fruit in his books. ...more
An interesting blend of art history and detective story, author Jonathan Harr focuses on the handful of scholars, including two students, who found evAn interesting blend of art history and detective story, author Jonathan Harr focuses on the handful of scholars, including two students, who found evidence of the lost painting in question, Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ." He concentrates most of all on Francesca Capelletti, who along with another art history, Laura Testa, was most responsible for doing the tedious legwork of tracking what had happened to the lost painting. Another man, an art restorer working at the National Gallery in Dublin, was ultimately responsible for finding the painting, where it had languished for years in plain sight in a small Jesuit monastery, but it is Francesca who is at the center of this tale.
Harr's approach is novelistic, and at times it seems he is attempting cast Francesca in the role of a heroine in a thriller. Unfortunately, this technique doesn't really mesh very well with the actual events, which involved a lot of long, hard digging through dusty archives of a decrepit palazzo and various libraries. The book seems to at one moment be constructing "scenes" between the characters, describing their interactions and personality with verve, then lapsing into rather dry sections detailing the actual research being done and the state of Caravaggio scholarship in general. Interspersed throughout the book is a condensed biography of the artist himself, who was a romantic figure, a rebel and a bit of a brawler.
On the whole, the author manages to weave a fairly compelling narrative from these disparate parts, but I have to confess I felt a bit impatient when he seemed to be constructing "scenes" of what took place among the major "characters."
I listened to an audio version read by Campbell Scott, whose delivery was a rather bland, hushed monotone. I suppose the best thing that can be said for his reading is that it wasn't distracting and that he was able to pronounce all the Italian names and phrases fairly competently. I did wonder, though, if I would have enjoyed this book more if I'd read rather than listened to it. ...more
This lavishly illustrated, compact history works better as a visual guide than a historical one. I found the historical narrative to be sketchy and atThis lavishly illustrated, compact history works better as a visual guide than a historical one. I found the historical narrative to be sketchy and at times hard to follow. Each page has marvelous illustrations, but the notations for the illustrations break up the text in a distracting way. There is some discussion of art and architecture, but not as much as I'd hoped. On the whole, the book suffered a bit from being neither fish nor fowl -- neither a proper history or an art history. ...more
I'm a big fan of the Eyewitness Travel Guides. The format is appealing -- a lavishly illustrated introductory section expounding on the history and keI'm a big fan of the Eyewitness Travel Guides. The format is appealing -- a lavishly illustrated introductory section expounding on the history and key features of the city followed by color-coded sections, each devoted to a different area. As might be expected, particular attention is given to San Francisco's rich architecture, best explored on the recommended short walks detailed in most sections. The "street by street" pages provide more detailed looks at particularly noteworthy areas of the city.
The rear of the book is devoted to practicalities such as transportation, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment. Since it heavily relies on pictures rather than words, it's easy to pick up a guide, thumb through it, and let a striking photo serve as inspiration for where to go or what to do. The text on even the major sights is succinct, so if it's the full monty you're after, supplement this guide with something more substantial like a Blue Guide. However, if you want to get a quick sense of what a destination has to offer, an hour or so spent with one of these guides is probably one of the most effective ways to do background research.
One quibble is that since the Eyewitness Guides are printed on nice, heavy stock, they're not that light. Perhaps in the future another format - digital? - will get around this problem....more
Gulley Jimson is one of the great literary creations, and as many times as I've read this novel, Gulley still appears as unique and unpredictable as hGulley Jimson is one of the great literary creations, and as many times as I've read this novel, Gulley still appears as unique and unpredictable as he did the first time I read it. Joyce Cary's novels aren't as popular as they once were, but his First Trilogy remains a timeless masterpiece. I read the series backwards, it seems, for this is the third (and my favorite) novel. It's one of the finest descriptions of an artist and the artistic process ever written, in my opinion.
Oh, and as an aside, it was my introduction to William Blake. ...more
Got this book in the gift shop at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in Santa Fe after being impressed with an exhibit of Pablita Verlarde's workGot this book in the gift shop at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in Santa Fe after being impressed with an exhibit of Pablita Verlarde's work there. I've been interested in Pueblo Indian culture for some years, and Verlarde's colorful images, done in casein or hand-mixed pigments, document rituals and ways of life that survive today. I was especially interested as she's from the Santa Clara Pueblo, and we'd briefly stopped at the Feast Day there earlier in the week.
Aside from gorgeous reproductions of many of Verlarde's paintings, the book simply and elegantly tells her story -- that of some adversity but also of good fortune as her talent was recognized at an early age and then supported through various people and organizations. The author spent a great deal of time interviewing Verlarde, and while the book's first-person narrative, while not the artist's words verbatim, is engaging and (I think) gives a suitable "voice" for the artist.
I was surprised to learn that Pablita encountered prejudices not just from the outside world but from her own people, who objected to her marrying an outsider and to her writing down some of the stories passed on by oral tradition. The book presents the adversities and tragedies of her life in a straightforward and unsentimental way, while it builds on the theme that Velarde regards her life as a fortunate one. She notes that her grandmother made prayers and asked for blessings on Pablita's naming day and that "All of her prayers for me have come true."
This book is written in a simple style that make it suitable for children, but the message is equally effective for adults. ...more
"A brief and much-too-frivolous view of human habitation inside and out in word and picture -- from Stonehenge to Manhattan." So says the front cover"A brief and much-too-frivolous view of human habitation inside and out in word and picture -- from Stonehenge to Manhattan." So says the front cover blurb. What it doesn't tell you is that this is vintage Osbert Lancaster, illustrator par excellance. While not widely known today, he made quite a splash in British magazines as a cartoonist in post-war Britain. Something of an authority on architecture, here he does an admirable job of illustrating the evolution of domestic architecture. Sound dry? Well, it's not. It's Lancaster, so it's quite witty. ...more
Lancaster on yet another architectural foray in a made-up town. This slim volume chronicles the architectural evolution of Pelvis Bay, your prototypicLancaster on yet another architectural foray in a made-up town. This slim volume chronicles the architectural evolution of Pelvis Bay, your prototypical English seaside town. You have to know a bit about what a typical English seaside town is to get the in-jokes in the illustrations. ...more
Less intriguing than the title infers, this is a district-by-district compilation of all the places associated with G&S and the Savoyards, with paLess intriguing than the title infers, this is a district-by-district compilation of all the places associated with G&S and the Savoyards, with particular emphasis on buildings. Historical notes on the various places go broader than G&S, with particular attention to what went on during the Victorian era. As you can imagine, the notes on the theatre district are quite extensive. Plenty of B&W illustrations. I just wish the book had taken a lighter (more Gilbertian?) tone and hadn't been so hell-bent on faithful scholarship. ...more
Sometimes I think that urban planners must surely have one of the most fascinating careers; or if not urban planners, then surely chroniclers of urbanSometimes I think that urban planners must surely have one of the most fascinating careers; or if not urban planners, then surely chroniclers of urban development. London's physical history -- the actual construction of sewers, tunnels, bridges, embankments, subways, and utility tunnels -- makes fascinating reading. The story of the construction of the Embankment alone is a riveting account, especially for those who, like myself, have spent quite a bit of time strolling along it. And, of course, the story of London's sewers is in large part the history of a social crusade. Not to mention all the buried rivers -- such as the Fleet and Tyburn, the legacy of which is seen mostly now in the names of streets and districts. There's a great deal here about such pivotal figures as the Brunels and Sir Edward Watkin, too. In short, this account makes one thing clear -- there's almost as much behind the history under the city's street's as there is to the history above them.
Okay, so I'm addicted to these simplistic illustrated Eyewitness books written for youngsters. No shame there. Fact is, for a general overview this woOkay, so I'm addicted to these simplistic illustrated Eyewitness books written for youngsters. No shame there. Fact is, for a general overview this works on an adult level, too. The approach is a little scatter-shot, with the various themes not connected at any deep level, but, hey, given that this was written primarily for grades 3-5, I suppose I'm off the mark in expecting a deeper analysis. ...more