Cover, After the End of Art (courtesy, Princeton University Press)
As promised earlier this week, this book review from my 2013 reading list looks at Professor Arthur C. Danto’s series of lectures on fine art (part of the Mellon series), Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, published as part of the Bollingen Series by Princeton University Press as After The End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History.
I go to some lengths here to describe this book’s genesis and development because many who read this will have had (or have chosen to have) little truck with scholarly writing. That’s a shame, because there are marvelous scholars who write well and whose ideas about art, culture, history, politics, science, etc., deserve wider reading – and considering. That is certainly the case with this book. Danto, professor emeritus of philosophy at Columbia University as well as long time art critic for The Nation, is both an engaging writer and a prodigious scholar. Those are credentials that make for rich, readable prose. Continue reading
Another “now appearing in relief” review here as I finish the complex and engrossing After the End of Art by Arthur C. Danto – a book that I will review this weekend and that is proving in its reading that good scholarly writing is as much its own reward in the way it stretches our thinking as bad scholarly writing is – well, too ubiquitous to discuss in this forum.
Cover for Douglas Coupland’s The Gum Thief (Courtesy Wikimedia)
So here is a piece on another book that I finished last fall not so long before I compiled the 2013 reading list and began this project of blogging all my reading for this year. The book is by an author I’d been meaning to read for a long time, one who is, at least to outsiders like Boomers and Millenials (I know – oh, dear lord, not that generational crap again) if not the, certainly one of the premier spokespersons for Generation X: Douglas Coupland. Coupland’s most famous work is called Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture and gave us both the term now used to denominate the post-Boomer cohort as well as another important term now in the vernacular: McJob, used to describe the sorts of dead-end retail and service jobs in which many in his age group found themselves stuck.
That work certainly established his reputation as generational spokesperson. But I happened upon one of his later works, The Gum Thief (bought, ironically enough, in one of the sorts of places where McJobs are found – a Dollar Tree), a novel that explores the relationships between Gen Xers and the cohort who’ve succeeded them, the Millenials. In the course of the work (told, as are most of Coupland’s works, in a series of journal entries, letters, emails, and other ephemera of the way we live now) we learn that Roger, the aging, alcoholic Xer going through an ugly divorce, and Bethany, the dispirited Millenial playing at being a Goth and trying to do something “big” with her life, find much that they have in common. Continue reading
Here’s a great piece by my wife, the artist Lea Booth who has a nice site you all might enjoy…
Cover, “The Principles of Uncertainty” (courtesy GoodReads)
Maira Kalman’s collage/slam book/illustrated diary The Principles of Uncertainty probably deserves better than it’s going to get here. This latest completed read from my 2013 reading list has put-up job written (and drawn) all over it.
While this book has charm, it also has smarm in abundance. Only a New Yorker with “the right connections” – in publishing, in society, in “being a New Yorker” could have gotten such a book published.
Kalman’s art is delightful (she is a children’s book illustrator/writer), but her musings on the difficulties and vicissitudes of being of Russian descent, Jewish, and a New Yorker are predictable in a way: she is impressed by traditional NYC signs of success/quirkiness, she loves and misses her dead relatives in that neurotic/theatrical way that only a Russian can, her Jewish guilt/rage/sense of impending doom both sustains her and torments her. Continue reading
Cover of “Lost Tales” by Gleb Botkin (courtesy GoodReads)
A quick turnaround with the next book from the 2013 reading list. This time I ventured into a new area: picture books. No, I haven’t decided to re-read The Runaway Bunny or The Cat in the Hat (although they’re both very worthy of repeated perusal in their own right – and for the pleasurable memories they’d trigger for me of reading them to my sons when they were wee laddies). The next couple of books on my list are picture books – but really, given their tone and subject matter, picture books for adults. The first of these is the “beautifully horrible, horribly beautiful” collection of illustrated tales done by a teenaged Gleb Botkin for the children of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, called Lost Tales. Continue reading
I returned to the history genre for the next book in the 2013 reading list – or so I thought.
Seal of the Moravian Church (courtesy Wikimedia)
The Road to Salem is a “constructed” memoir – historian and archivist Adelaide Fries (a descendant of the original Moravian settlers she writes about) tells, though the use of the autobiography of Anna Catharina Antes- Kalberlahn/Reuter/Heinzmann/Ernst (yep, she was married four times, outliving all four husbands – each time having her husband chosen by the casting of lots, a practice the Moravians observed for at least two centuries and which seems to have worked as well or better than any system we currently use for choosing life partners) with additions from various diaries (many of the sect were inveterate diarists) the story of the Moravians in the American South – specifically Piedmont North Carolina. Continue reading
And so we come to Jane Austen.
Portrait of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra (courtesy, Wikimedia)
Be forewarned. I have read each of Austen’s novels at least 10 times – some more. I wrote my master’s thesis on Austen’s novels (using Rogerian theory as a device to explain the social integration problems of each heroine – and, by the way, I would argue, as do some other scholars, that Marianne Dashwood, not her sister Elinor, is the heroine of Sense and Sensibility). I used to read all the novels every couple of years – a practice I continued for some two decades until drifting away from it several years ago. My 2013 reading list contains two Austen novels – the subject of this piece, Mansfield Park, perhaps Austen’s most problematic work, and what is perhaps her finest piece of writing (I use the term in its most technical sense referring to the achievement of the author as writer), Emma. I think it is safe to say that I have both a scholar’s and reader’s love of the great Jane.
Mansfield Park is a valuable book for any writer, whether an accomplished author (I suppose we can make that silly, dilletantish differentiation and use the latter term to refer to writers who’ve published their work) or an aspiring one. If one can see an author with as great a command of language and subject matter as Austen displays effortlessly so much of the time struggle with her writing, then one can accept both the joy and frustration of one’s own efforts with the greatest equanimity. Continue reading