Pulitzer winner Junot Díaz talks with his fellow “Year in Reading” contributor Meghan O’Rourke in the debut episode of the online video series Open Book, co-sponsored by Slate and my alma mater. I’m thrilled that the producers elected to keep the same zany voice-over guy who reads Slate’s audio podcasts. Future interviews, we’re told, will include John Ashbery, Charles Simic, and Jonathan Safran Foer.
Welcome to what we hope will be a new (semi-regular!) feature, in which the Millions fam opens up about the books on our nightstands (and desks, and floors – seriously these things are like kudzu). As you might expect, it's an eclectic mix about which we have ~strong feelings~. From haikus to a macroeconomic treatise on American industrialism – with lots of novels and story collections in between, of course – here's what we're reading: Jacob Lambert: I just finished Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush, and hated it with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. What a pretentious disaster. Up next is Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, which hopefully won't make me want to stick my head in the oven. Tess Malone: I haven't read one book by a straight white man this year, but I'm breaking the streak for Rob Delaney's memoir, Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. Edan Lepucki: I recently finished The Barbarous Coast by pulp L.A. Noir writer Ross MacDonald and I am #blessed to be an early reader of Susan Straight's new novel (!!!)...editors can email me if they want deets on that masterpiece. Sonya Chung: A little past halfway through Jung Yun's Shelter [Ed. note: which was selected by our own Edan Lepucki as one of her most anticipated books of this year], I had to put to down. It's an important book, and I'm sad that it had to be written, and Yun writes skillfully and unflinchingly. All that. But, it's a hard story, and I needed a break. Will return to it surely. I am on to Mat Johnson's Pym and Sue Miller's The Senator's Wife for the long weekend. Yes, I started two novels simultaneously. Both take place in academic communities but could not be more different from each other; so somehow, it works to alternate between them. I also always have a book of essays going on the side. Currently, John Berger's The Shape of a Pocket. (Film Forum has a documentary about Berger playing now; don't miss it, New Yorkers! The final scene is priceless.) On deck: Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Bill Morris: At the moment I’m reading two books that could not be more unalike, but which are fabulous in their own ways: James McBride’s exploration of James Brown’s life and its meaning, Kill 'Em and Leave; and Robert J. Gordon’s work of macroeconomics, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, which examines the astonishing burst of changes in everyday life from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Janet Potter: I'm about to start To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, having recently given up on Here I Am after 200 pages. Anne Yoder: Unbeknownst to me 'til now, my to-read pile is afflicted by planetary influence. I’m currently reading Kyle Coma-Thompson’s Night in the Sun – its story "27-B" contains an appallingly beautiful description of death at 30,000 feet, the stewardess holding the body back upon landing and yet: “The head moving in the most grotesque way, a sodden sunflower crown wagging on its rigid tough stem.” Next in orbit: Julie Reverb’s No Moon and Black Sun Lit’s latest issue of its journal Vestiges, "Ennui." Nick Moran: I was in Florida this weekend, so I've been revisiting Jai Alai Books's essential poetry collections, Eight Miami Poets and Suicide by Jaguar. Amidst Miami's Zika outbreak, I've developed a fresh appreciation for Dave Landsberger's South Beach Haiku #3: "My legs fit perfectly in my pants. / My leg bones fit perfectly in my legs— / shorts are for tourists." Claire Cameron: I recently burned through Dear Mr. M, the new book by Herman Koch, who also wrote the international bestselling The Dinner. Dear Mr. M has an elegant structure that weaves together many strands, but one is about man named Herman who moves into the apartment below and stalks a famous writer, Mr. M. After spying, opening his mail, talking to his wife and kid, Herman finally approaches Mr. M under the guise of being a journalist wanting an interview. I just interviewed Koch. In my emails, I addressed Koch as "Dear Mr. K" and signed off as "Herman." I don't know if he finds it funny or creepy, but no cease and desist order yet. Hannah Gersen: the book on my nightstand that I have slowly been working through is Consolations by David Whyte, which is a beautiful book that gives definitions for everyday words, elaborating on their spiritual and philosophical meanings. It starts with the word "alone" and ends with "work." It's a quiet, thoughtful book, a really good way to start or end the day. Kirstin Butler: I've been on both an essay- and thriller-reading tear lately, probably because those are the two things i'm working on myself ! In the former category I've gone for contemporary classics – John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead and Eula Biss's Notes from No Man's Land – with one old standby mixed in, John McPhee's Annals of the Former World. I will read anything McPhee you put in front of me. As for the latter genre, I've discovered I'm a pretty tough customer; I was excited to read The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich (nom de plume for the writing team of Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment), but after one too many times of yelling 'oh my god don't fall for it' at the heroine, had to give it up. If any readers have good thriller recs please get @ me on Twitter! Nicholas Ripatrazone: I'm currently reading Ghostland by Colin Dickey, due out 10/4. It's a creepy, smart trek through America's haunted sites. He investigates how "ghost stories reveal the contours of our anxieties, the nature of our collective fears and desires, the things we can't talk about in any other way." Oh and by the way: What you're reading right now looks pretty awesome too. (Image via Alie Edwards)
The CS Monitor gives us some tidy capsule reviews of the finalists for the National Book Award in the fiction category. These should get us all up to speed. And also check out Dan Wickett's interview with the book bloggers, and not just because I'm one of the interviewees. There's some good stuff in there. Have a good weekend.
Twitter had its big moment last week, but unlike so many other technology start-ups in the seeming parade of millionaire-makers over the last two decades (with the obvious exception of Amazon.com), Twitter has developed a special following in the literary community, from high-brow to low. Perhaps that's not surprising. Writers revel in words, and Twitter, nearly alone among hot technology start-ups, is mostly about words, crafting them to meet the medium's peculiar restraints and sending them out into the world to be engaged with or ignored. Twitter is like some atomized version of the writer's process. With Twitter, ideas go out piecemeal, the whole process taking a millionth the amount of time it would if you were to glom all those ideas together into one big whole and turn it into something as unlikely-seeming by comparison as a book. This speed, then, may be deeply satisfying -- even addictive -- as writers bypass so much of the toil of getting a book out of their brains and off to readers (New York's Kathryn Schulz elaborated smartly on this idea last week.) There is no uniform stance on Twitter in the literary community, of course. Some, like Teju Cole and Colson Whitehead, find it vital; many others -- led by a certain one-time Time coverboy from the Midwest, do not. Some writers have more prosaic feelings about Twitter. Novelist Peter Orner wrote, "Some are talented at it; others, less so." Zadie Smith is not on Twitter. Nor are Jeffrey Eugenides (though his vest once was), Michael Chabon (not really, though his writer wife Ayelet Waldman is), George Saunders, or David Mitchell. Jennifer Egan is, but just a little bit. Nonetheless, Twitter appears to be here to stay, for a while anyway. And it will remain a pastime for writers looking for book news, inspiration, distraction, literary puns, and every other thing they might want. But it wasn't always that way. In the not too distant past, the literary lights of Twitter pecked out their first 140 characters and waited to see what Twitter would bring. Curious, I dug back into the Twitter archive to see how these writers took their first steps into Twitter. What follows are the very first tweets of some of Twitter's well-known practitioners from the literary world. Finishing the website entries for my fall novel The Year of the Flood. — Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) July 8, 2009 How does a petty trader come by N30 million worth of cars? Police hope Israel Ubatuegwu, of Ajah, has a good explanation. — Teju Cole (@tejucole) June 7, 2011 @R_Nash proud to be a part of ennui 2.0 — colson whitehead (@colsonwhitehead) March 15, 2009 Preparing for Book Expo America in the office in Dumbo. The last time we've to schlap boxes ourselves. Next year we pay the Teamsters... — Richard Nash (@R_Nash) May 30, 2007 Last night at the Norman Mailer Award Ceremony in NYC, Oliver Stone said beautifully: "A serious writer is a rebel." — Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) October 5, 2012 trying to figure out if someone does a decent MP3 workout, which will magically transform my iphone and my body at the same time. — Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) January 27, 2009 @JaneGreen I talked to Rufus just this morning...ok, I interviewed him for T+L — Dani Shapiro (@danijshapiro) April 24, 2009 Slaughtered by Sam A. and Jefffery Y. at post-diner breakfast ping-pong. Licking wounds. — Dwight Garner (@DwightGarner) February 13, 2009 Here's a video of my speech at the NBCC in NYC last week: http://tinyurl.com/dfe8rt — Ron Charles (@RonCharles) March 17, 2009 Testing... — Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) April 24, 2007 reading — Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) December 23, 2007 doesn't want to be an editor. oops, too late. — Emma Straub (@emmastraub) December 3, 2008 I just opened my present from Dave McKean, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Heavy as a stone and beautiful. "See?" he said. "I do read your blog." — Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) December 26, 2008 @ShitHomemaker - this is my first tweet and it's your fault. — Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) September 15, 2011 Fine, then. I'll twitter. — John Green (@realjohngreen) December 11, 2008 No matter what I do there are always 5 emails in my inbox that I am avoiding. — Doug Coupland (@DougCoupland) April 1, 2009 I've reached the limit on how many Facebook friends I can add. So here is a new page. — Amy Tan (@AmyTan) August 12, 2010 http://www.thewriterscoffeeshop.com/publishinghouse/books/detail/23 — E L James (@E_L_James) April 12, 2011 First Tweet ever, prompted by Jeff Howe's essay in Sunday's NYTBR. Velly interesting. Helloooooo? — Erik Larson (@exlarson) May 22, 2012 Does anyone know who @BretEastonEllis is? — Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) April 10, 2009 @erlson You just got me to join Twitter. — William Gibson (@GreatDismal) April 1, 2009 coveting Susan Lewis' hair. — Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) April 3, 2009 @chuckpalahniuk This is Dennis, webmaster at ChuckPalahniuk.net. Please contact me via my site email address. Thanks! — Chuck Palahniuk (@chuckpalahniuk) January 28, 2009 Becoming far more wired than I probably really need to be. — Joe Hill (@joe_hill) January 4, 2009 hi, i'm gary shteyngart, a furry 39-year-old immigrant man trapped in a young dachshund's body. LOVE ME!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/RgLBxjYO — Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) December 1, 2011 I'm going to do it right this time. — Emily Gould (@EmilyGould) May 21, 2009 today felt like the unabomber but i wasn't plotting anything or planning anything or trying to bomb anything and i was wearing 4-inch heels — Kate Zambreno (@daughteroffury) June 29, 2012 Wessex Man http://tinyurl.com/yw93xb — New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks) March 18, 2007 News: Netherland wins PEN/Faulkner award: It was overlooked for the Booker prize and the prestigious US Nat.. http://bit.ly/AufPL — Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks) February 26, 2009 Podcasting: http://tinyurl.com/6hc9z4 — NY Review of Books (@nybooks) July 2, 2008 Check out our feature on the best audiobooks coming this spring. — Publishers Weekly (@PublishersWkly) January 31, 2009 Mario Bros. meets Macbeth: What do a pixelated plumber and a murderous king have in common? Nintendo DS -- in En.. http://tinyurl.com/5gr5m4 — L.A. Times Books (@latimesbooks) December 10, 2008 Hello, world! Official Library of Congress Twitter feed here. So nice to see 215 followers before so much as a single tweet! — Library of Congress (@librarycongress) January 27, 2009 Welcome to the new GalleyCat Twitter feed, regularly collecting tweets from Senior Editor Ron Hogan, Editor Jason Boog, and Jeff Rivera. — GalleyCat (@GalleyCat) August 26, 2009 Welcome to @nprbooks! We'll use to to share our book coverage and hopefully talk about some good books, too. / @acarvin — NPR Books (@nprbooks) January 8, 2010 We noticed lots of sites use Twitter for feedback. We created this account as a placeholder, but please visit our Feedback Group anytime! — goodreads (@goodreads) August 19, 2008 56 years after William Styron warned us about chasing the zeitgeist, The Paris Review is now on twitter. From issue 1: http://bit.ly/BCnnE — The Paris Review (@parisreview) September 4, 2009 Culling together work for Electric Literature no.2, planning events for October, spinning splendidly through another day at the office. — Electric Literature (@ElectricLit) August 31, 2009 Rick Moody on running out of luck: http://tinyurl.com/ckno8d — The Rumpus (@The_Rumpus) January 29, 2009 What will be named top book of the decade? http://bit.ly/AMgq8 What's your pick? — The Millions (@The_Millions) September 21, 2009 What's the best part of B.G.'s "Bling Bling" video? Pre-tattoo'd Wayne, zooming red VW Beetles, or the crew's outdoor fine china picnic? — Nick Moran (@nemoran3) February 2, 2011
Somehow I waited two months to take a look at the "best of 2003" column from my favorite book critic Jonathan Yardley. For him 17 rather interesting books make the cut, and his two picks for best of the year are The Known World by Edward P. Jones and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's memoir Living to Tell the Tale. Both of these are on the reading queue, and I'm very much looking forward to reading them. Here is Yardley's column.
Realistic Records, the record label that Derek and I run out of the crawl space beneath his apartment, has a new cd out! It's the cd version (featuring 3 new songs) of the Recoys record that we put out last summer. So, if you are into the Walkmen and are digging their new album, Bows & Arrows, check out the Recoys, Ham and Pete of the Walkmen's old band.
This post is substantially based on a prior project put together by Laura Petelle. We encourage you to visit her Pinterest board hosting the project and her website. Carel Fabritius' The Goldfinch, a priceless piece of art has found more fame since the publication of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. The actual piece of art The Goldfinch eclipses the other artworks mentioned in the novel, but Tartt's novel is not just about Fabritius' painting. The entire art world falls under Tartt's gaze: criticism, heists, trades, valuations, appreciation. Tartt mentions dozens of paintings, adding depth and richness to her text. So I present: a definitive list of the artworks in The Goldfinch. (At times, Tartt only provides a loose description, so I have done my best guesswork. Also, when the novel mentions the artist but not the name of the painting, I have chosen the closest example.) A winter landscape with peasants skating and playing kolf on a frozen river, a town beyond, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, 1621 An Estuary with Row and Sail Boats, Jan van Goyen, late 1640 "I spent an unreasonable amount of time scrutinizing a tiny pair of gilt-framed oils hanging over the bureau, one of peasants skating on an ice-pond by a church, the other a sailboat flouncing on a choppy winter sea... I studied them as if they held, encrypted, some key to the secret heart of the old Flemish masters." The Jolly Toper, Frans Hals, ca. 1630 Regents of the Old Men's Almshouse, Frans Hals, 1664 Regentesses of the Old Men's Almshouse, Frans Hals, 1664 “I hate to race through like this,” she was saying as I caught up with her at the top of the stairs, “but then again it’s the kind of show where you need to come two or three times. There’s The Anatomy Lesson, and we do have to see that, but what I really want to see is one tiny, rare piece by a painter who was Vermeer’s teacher. Greatest Old Master you’ve never heard of. The Frans Hals paintings are a big deal, too. You know Hals, don’t you? The Jolly Toper? And the almshouse governors?” “Right,” I said tentatively. Of the paintings she’d mentioned, The Anatomy Lesson was the only one I knew. A detail from it was featured on the poster for the exhibition: livid flesh, multiple shades of black, alcoholic-looking surgeons with bloodshot eyes and red noses. Three Medlars with a Butterfly, Adriaen Coorte, 1705 “I like this one too,” whispered my mother, coming up alongside me at a smallish and particularly haunting still life: a white butterfly against a dark ground, floating over some red fruit. The background—a rich chocolate black—had a complicated warmth suggesting crowded storerooms and history, the passage of time. “They really knew how to work this edge, the Dutch painters—ripeness sliding into rot. The fruit’s perfect but it won’t last, it’s about to go. And see here especially,” she said, reaching over my shoulder to trace in the air with her finger, “this passage—the butterfly.” The underwing was so powdery and delicate it looked as if the color would smear if she touched it. “How beautifully he plays it. Stillness with a tremble of movement.” “How long did it take him to paint that?” My mother, who’d been standing a bit too close, stepped back to regard the painting—oblivious to the gum-chewing security guard whose attention she’d attracted, who was staring fixedly at her back. “Well, the Dutch invented the microscope,” she said. “They were jewelers, grinders of lenses. They want it all as detailed as possible because even the tiniest things mean something. Whenever you see flies or insects in a still life—a wilted petal, a black spot on the apple—the painter is giving you a secret message. He’s telling you that living things don’t last—it’s all temporary. Death in life. That’s why they’re called natures mortes. Maybe you don’t see it at first with all the beauty and bloom, the little speck of rot. But if you look closer—there it is.” I leaned down to read the note, printed in discreet letters on the wall, which informed me that the painter—Adriaen Coorte, dates of birth and death uncertain—had been unknown in his own lifetime and his work unrecognized until the 1950s. Young Man holding a Skull, Frans Hals, 1626-28 The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616, Frans Hals, 1616 The Banquet of the Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company in 1627, Frans Hals, 1627 (“Now, Hals. He’s so corny sometimes with all these tipplers and wenches but when he’s on, he’s on. None of this fussiness and precision, he’s working wet-on-wet, slash, slash, it’s all so fast. The faces and hands—rendered really finely, he knows that’s what the eye is drawn to but look at the clothes—so loose—almost sketched. Look how open and modern the brushwork is!”). We spent some time in front of a Hals portrait of a boy holding a skull (“Don’t be mad, Theo, but who do you think he looks like? Somebody”—tugging the back of my hair—“who could use a haircut?”)—and, also, two big Hals portraits of banqueting officers, which she told me were very, very famous and a gigantic influence on Rembrandt. (“Van Gogh loved Hals too. Somewhere, he’s writing about Hals and he says: Frans Hals has no less than twenty-nine shades of black! Or was it twenty-seven?”) The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt, 1632 “Now, Rembrandt,” my mother said. “Everybody always says this painting is about reason and enlightenment, the dawn of scientific inquiry, all that, but to me it’s creepy how polite and formal they are, milling around the slab like a buffet at a cocktail party. Although—” she pointed—“see those two puzzled guys in the back there? They’re not looking at the body—they’re looking at us. You and me. Like they see us standing here in front of them—two people from the future. Startled. ‘What are you doing here?’ Very naturalistic. But then”—she traced the corpse, midair, with her finger—“the body isn’t painted in any very natural way at all, if you look at it. Weird glow coming off it, do you see? Alien autopsy, almost. See how it lights up the faces of the men looking down at it? Like it’s shining with its own light source? He’s painting it with that radioactive quality because he wants to draw our eye to it—make it jump out at us. And here”—she pointed to the flayed hand—“see how he calls attention to it by painting it so big, all out of proportion to the rest of the body? He’s even turned it around so the thumb is on the wrong side, do you see? Well, he didn’t do that by mistake. The skin is off the hand—we see it immediately, something very wrong—but by reversing the thumb he makes it look even more wrong, it registers subliminally even if we can’t put our finger on it, something really out of order, not right. Very clever trick.” The Goldfinch, Carel Fabritius, 1654 “This is just about the first painting I ever really loved,” my mother was saying. “You’ll never believe it, but it was in a book I used to take out of the library when I was a kid. I used to sit on the floor by my bed and stare at it for hours, completely fascinated—that little guy! And, I mean, actually it’s incredible how much you can learn about a painting by spending a lot of time with a reproduction, even not a very good reproduction. I started off loving the bird, the way you’d love a pet or something, and ended up loving the way he was painted.” She laughed. “The Anatomy Lesson was in the same book actually, but it scared the pants off me. I used to slam the book shut when I opened it to that page by mistake.” The girl and the old man had come up next to us. Self-consciously, I leaned forward and looked at the painting. It was a small picture, the smallest in the exhibition, and the simplest: a yellow finch, against a plain, pale ground, chained to a perch by its twig of an ankle. “He was Rembrandt’s pupil, Vermeer’s teacher,” my mother said. “And this one little painting is really the missing link between the two of them—that clear pure daylight, you can see where Vermeer got his quality of light from. Of course, I didn’t know or care about any of that when I was a kid, the historical significance. But it’s there.” I stepped back, to get a better look. It was a direct and matter-of-fact little creature, with nothing sentimental about it; and something about the neat, compact way it tucked down inside itself—its brightness, its alert watchful expression—made me think of pictures I’d seen of my mother when she was small: a dark-capped finch with steady eyes. ... “Well, Egbert was Fabritius’s neighbor, he sort of lost his mind after the powder explosion, at least that’s how it looks to me, but Fabritius was killed and his studio was destroyed. Along with almost all his paintings, except this one.” She seemed to be waiting for me to say something, but when I didn’t, she continued: “He was one of the greatest painters of his day, in one of the greatest ages of painting. Very very famous in his time. It’s sad though, because maybe only five or six paintings survived, of all his work. All the rest of it is lost—everything he ever did.” ... “Anyway, if you ask me,” my mother was saying, “this is the most extraordinary picture in the whole show. Fabritius is making clear something that he discovered all on his own, that no painter in the world knew before him—not even Rembrandt.” Very softly—so softly I could barely hear her—I heard the girl whisper: “It had to live its whole life like that?” I’d been wondering the same thing; the shackled foot, the chain was terrible; her grandfather murmured some reply but my mother (who seemed totally unaware of them, even though they were right next to us) stepped back and said: “Such a mysterious picture, so simple. Really tender—invites you to stand close, you know? All those dead pheasants back there and then this little living creature.” ... “People die, sure,” my mother was saying. “But it’s so heartbreaking and unnecessary how we lose things. From pure carelessness. Fires, wars. The Parthenon, used as a munitions storehouse. I guess that anything we manage to save from history is a miracle.” View of Delft after the Explosion of 1654, Egbert van der Poel, 1654 The Explosion of the Delft Magazine, Egbert van der Poel, 1654 A View of Delft with the Explosion of 1654, Egbert van der Poel, 1654 “It was a famous tragedy in Dutch history,” my mother was saying. “A huge part of the town was destroyed.” “What?” “The disaster at Delft. That killed Fabritius. Did you hear the teacher back there telling the children about it?” I had. There had been a trio of ghastly landscapes, by a painter named Egbert van der Poel, different views of the same smouldering wasteland: burnt ruined houses, a windmill with tattered sails, crows wheeling in smoky skies. An official looking lady had been explaining loudly to a group of middle-school kids that a gunpowder factory exploded at Delft in the 1600s, that the painter had been so haunted and obsessed by the destruction of his city that he painted it over and over. Two people stand over the bloody aftermath of the US Civil War battle of Antietam in September, Matthew Brady, 1862 "We had a set of Mathew Brady photographs come through the shop a few years ago -- Civil War stuff, so gruesome we had a hard time selling it. ... I also knew about Brady's photographs of the dead at Antietam: I'd seen the pictures online, pin-eyed boys black with blood at the nose and mouth." The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Plate 11: The Death-Fires Danced at Night, Gustave Doré, 1878 When I was a kid—'Rime of the Ancient Mariner,' those Doré illustrations—no, the ocean gives me the shivers... Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, Edward Lear, 1858-9 "they were across the room fussing over some Edward Lear watercolors" Portret van Cornelis Ploos van Amstel, George van der Mijn, 1758 Wernerus Köhne met zijn knecht Jan Bosch, Wybrand Hendriks, 1787 The Jewish Bride, Rembrandt, 1667 Police, acting on a tip, had recovered three paintings - a George van der Mijn; a Wybrand Hendriks; and a Rembrandt, all missing from the museum since the explosion - from a Bronx home. Christ washing the feet of his disciples, Rembrandt, 1665 There was a tiny pen-and-brown-ink of Christ washing the feet of St. Peter that was so deftly done (the weary slump and drape of Christ's back; the blank, complicated sadness on St. Peter's face) it might have been from Rembrandt's own hand. The Aegean Sea, Frederic Edwin Church, 1877 Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester, Fitz Henry Lane, 1864 Still Life with Cake, Raphaelle Peale, ca. 1822 Portrait of Mary Clarke, John Singleton Copley, late 1700s "when you were a child, I used to catch you in the hallway studying my paintings. You'd always go straight to the best ones. The Frederic Church landscape, my Fitz Henry Lane and my Raphaelle Peale, or the John Singleton Copley -- you know, the oval portrait, the tiny one, girl in the bonnet?" Still Life of Flowers, Fruit, Shells, and Insects by Balthasar van der Ast, 1629, p.498 I'd taken great comfort in the fact that most people assumed that whoever had made off with the van der Asts from Galleries 29 and 30 had stolen my painting, too. The Hundred Guilder Print, Rembrandt, 1646-50 I knew the work, one of the great stormy drypoints at the Morgan, the Hundred Guilder Print as it was called: the price that Rembrandt himself, according to legend, had been forced to pay to buy it back. Vanitas, Pieter Claesz, 1625 Italian Landscape with Mountain Plateau, Nicolaes Berchem, 1655 Across the room, I’d noticed several other paintings propped on the wainscoting: a still life, a couple of small landscapes. “Go look, if you want.” It was Horst. “The Lépine is fake. But the Claesz and the Berchem are for sale if you’re interested.” Boris laughed and reached for one of Horst’s cigarettes. “He’s not in the market.” “No?” said Horst genially. “I can give him a good price on the pair. The seller needs to get rid of them.” I stepped in to look: still life, candle and half-empty wineglass. “Claesz-Heda?” “No—Pieter. Although—” Horst put the box aside, then stood beside me and lifted the desk lamp on the cord, washing both paintings in a harsh, formal glare—“this bit—” traced mid-air with the curve of a finger—“the reflection of the flame here? and the edge of the table, the drapery? Could almost be Heda on a bad day.” “Beautiful piece.” “Yes. Beautiful of its type.” Up close he smelled unwashed and raunchy, with a strong, dusty import-shop odor like the inside of a Chinese box. “A bit prosaic to the modern taste. The classicizing manner. Much too staged. Still, the Berchem is very good.” “Lot of fake Berchems out there,” I said neutrally. “Yes—” the light from the upheld lamp on the landscape painting was bluish, eerie—“but this is lovely… Italy, 1655‥… the ochres beautiful, no? The Claesz not so good I think, very early, though the provenance is impeccable on both. Would be nice to keep them together… they have never been apart, these two. Father and son. Came down together in an old Dutch family, ended up in Austria after the war. Pieter Claesz…” Horst held the light higher. “Claesz was so uneven, honestly. Wonderful technique, wonderful surface, but something a bit off with this one, don’t you agree? The composition doesn’t hold together. Incoherent somehow. Also—” indicating with the flat of his thumb the too-bright shine coming off the canvas: overly varnished. A Scene on the Ice Near Dordrecht, Jan van Goyen, 1642 I much prefer the van Goyen there. Sadly not for sale.” “Van Goyen? I would have sworn that was a Corot.” “From here, yes, you might.” He was pleased at the comparison. “Very similar painters—Vincent himself remarked it—you know that letter? ‘The Corot of the Dutch’? Same tenderness of mist, that openness in fog, do you know what I mean?” “Where—” I’d been about to ask the typical dealer’s question, where did you get it, before catching myself. “Marvelous painter. Very prolific. And this is a particularly beautiful example,” he said, with all a collector’s pride. “Many amusing details up close—tiny hunter, barking dog. Also—quite typical—signed on the stern of the boat. Quite charming... “I must say, I’ve grown so fond of it, I’ll hate to see it go. He dealt paintings himself, van Goyen. A lot of the Dutch masters did. Jan Steen. Vermeer. Rembrandt. But Jan van Goyen—” he smiled—“was like our friend Boris here. A hand in everything. Paintings, real estate, tulip futures.” White Duck, Jean Baptiste Oudry, 1753, stolen in 1992 Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee, Rembrandt, 1633, stolen in 1990 A Lady and Gentleman in Black, Rembrandt, 1633, stolen in the same heist as the seascape in 1990 Strand von Scheveningen bei stürmischen Wetter, Vincent Van Gogh, 1882, stolen in 2002 “You know what, Theo? Know what? Guess! Guess how lucky we were! Not only do they have your bird in there, but—who would have guessed it? Many other stolen pictures!” “What?” “Two dozens, or more! Missing for many years, some of them! And—not all of them are as lovely or beautiful as yours, in fact most of them are not. This is my own personal opinion. But there are big rewards out on four or five of them all the same—bigger than for yours. And even some of the not-so-famous ones—dead duck, boring picture of fat-faced man you don’t know—even these have smaller rewards—fifty thousand, hundred thousand here and there. Who would think? ‘Information leading to recovery of.’ It adds up. And I hope,” he said, with some austerity, “that maybe you can forgive me for that?”“What?” “Because—they are saying, ‘one of great art recoveries of history.’ And this is the part I hoped would please you—maybe not, who knows, but I hoped. Museum masterworks, returned to public ownership! Stewardship of cultural treasure! Great joy! All the angels are singing! But it would never have happened, if not for you.” I sat in silent amazement. ... “Other paintings they recovered. Not just mine.” “Yes, did you not just hear me say—?” “What other paintings?” “Oh, some very celebrated and famous ones! Missing for years!” “Such as—?” Boris made an irritated sound. “Oh, I do not know the names, you know not to ask me that. Few modern things—very important and expensive, everyone very excited although I will be frank, I do not understand why the big deal on some of them. Why does it cost so much, a thing like from kindergarten class? ‘Ugly Blob.’ ‘Black Stick with Tangles.’ But then too—multiple works of historic greatness. One was a Rembrandt.” “Not a seascape?” “No—people in a dark room. Little bit boring. Nice van Gogh, though, of a sea shore. And then… oh, I don’t know… usual thing, Mary, Jesus, many angels. Some sculptures even. And Asian artworks too. They looked to me worth nothing but I guess they were a lot.” Silk on linen sampler by Martha (Patty) Coggeshall, American, 1780-1797 “Okay,” I said, wondering why he hadn’t mentioned his gift: a child’s needlework sampler, vine-curled alphabet and numerals, stylized farm animals worked in crewel, Marry Sturtevant Her Sample-r Aged 11 1779. Hadn’t he opened it? I’d unearthed it in a box of polyester granny pants at the flea market—not cheap for the flea market, four hundred bucks, but I’d seen comparable pieces sell at Americana auctions for ten times as much. In silence I watched him pottering around the kitchen on autopilot—wandering in circles a bit, opening the refrigerator door, closing it without getting anything out, filling the kettle for tea, and all the time wrapped in his cocoon and refusing to look at me. Roses in a Glass Vase, Edouard Manet, 1883 The Trials and Calling of Moses (detail), Sistine Chapel, Botticelli, 1481-1482 “No, no. Wait here. I want to show you something.” He got up and creaked into the parlor. He was gone a while. And—when he came back—it was with a falling-to-pieces photo album. He sat down. He leafed through it for several pages. And—when he got to a certain page—he pushed it across the table to me. “There,” he said. Faded snapshot. A tiny, beaky, birdlike boy smiled at a piano in a palmy Belle Époque room: not Parisian, not quite, but Cairene. Twinned jardinières, many French bronzes, many small paintings. One—flowers in a glass—I dimly recognized as a Manet. But my eye tripped and stopped at the twin of a much more familiar image, one or two frames above. It was, of course, a reproduction. But even in the tarnished old photograph, it glowed in its own isolated and oddly modern light. “Artist’s copy,” said Hobie. “The Manet too. Nothing special but—” folding his hands on the table—“those paintings were a huge part of his childhood, the happiest part, before he was ill—only child, petted and spoiled by the servants—figs and tangerines and jasmine blossoms on the balcony—he spoke Arabic, as well as French, you knew that, right? And—” Hobie crossed his arms tight, and tapped his lips with a forefinger—“he used to speak of how with very great paintings it’s possible to know them deeply, inhabit them almost, even through copies. Even Proust—there’s a famous passage where Odette opens the door with a cold, she’s sulky, her hair is loose and undone, her skin is patchy, and Swann, who has never cared about her until that moment, falls in love with her because she looks like a Botticelli girl from a slightly damaged fresco. Which Proust himself only knew from a reproduction. He never saw the original, in the Sistine Chapel. But even so—the whole novel is in some ways about that moment. And the damage is part of the attraction, the painting’s blotchy cheeks. Even through a copy Proust was able to re-dream that image, re-shape reality with it, pull something all his own from it into the world. Because—the line of beauty is the line of beauty. It doesn’t matter if it’s been through the Xerox machine a hundred times."
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Mrs. Millions has decided that if I'm going to do all this blogging she should get something out of it, too. She reads a lot, and it seems that I'm always digging through our bookshelves looking for another book for her to read. Well, I'm running out of ideas, so she's decided to bypass me and go straight to you guys. She has thoughtfully provided her recent reading preferences to help you select something to her liking. You'll notice here, as well, the attention Mrs. Millions pays to the look and feel of the books she reads, so you may want to factor that in.Like Max, I look forward to vacation because it demands that vast amounts of time be spent reading. Unlike Max, I do not have a reading queue but instead rely upon recommendations (always Max's) for what to read next, or I search for an appealing title and cover from the Millions library, letting chance encounters determine my next choice. But now, Max is kindly letting me use the blog to place a request for suggestions... I call it "What's next for Mrs. Millions?"My most recent read is Small Island by Andrea Levy, which I am presently halfway through and am enjoying because it is fiction that weaves itself through history without being too tightly bound to it. Levy's book also has an incredibly intentional feel to it and it is filled with vivid detail. The book is printed on paper that is like newsprint with rough edges - the tactility of a book impresses me as much as the content. Prior to this was Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. This was not among my favorites, primarily because the story was too neat with not enough depth, and it's a hardcover with bookjacket (which I immediately removed, as I often do). But it had a tough act to follow: The World According to Garp by John Irving is messy and endearing, pressing all the wrong and right buttons. Ours is an older copy, used before we acquired it which seemed in step with the novel - I even kept this one's jacket on. And before that was John Steinbeck's East of Eden, my favorite among this group.With that brief history in mind, please send Max your suggestions sothat I will be kept from interrupting his reading time. ; ]So got any ideas? Help me out here folks. Leave your suggestions in the comments below.