Monday, August 29, 2016

Peacock & Vine: on William Morris and Mariano Fortuny, by A.S. Byatt. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016

‘Peacock & Vine’ is a long essay in which the author compares and contrasts Morris and Fortuny and their art. Both men were polymaths who were designers and artists who worked in several media. Fortuny is best known today for his ingeniously permanently pleated dresses that were totally different from the fashions of his day; Morris is known as a pre-Raphaelite who set about to bring beauty to the homes of everyone with beautiful rugs, wallpaper, and fabrics. Both also painted and had amazing energy. The never interacted; they lived a generation apart and in different countries, but they shared a work ethic and love for beauty.

This work does not go deep enough to be a duel biography; it’s more about how the work of these men affected Byatt. She admits that their art made her think deeply about making an artistic mark upon the world.

This is a little jewel box of a book; the front of the dust jacket is a Morris tapestry (with peacock) in warm umbers and golds while the back is a painting of Fortuny’s studio. A huge number of photographs illuminate the text. And, as always, Byatt’s writing is lush and beautiful.

There is one odd spot; in the section “Pomegranate” (a motif used by both Morris and Fortuny quite a lot) she states that Morris’s first attempt at painting pomegranates didn’t turn out well; they look more like lemons. The piece in question actually *does* have pomegranates, in the upper right hand corner; below that are, indeed, lemons-you can tell not just by the shape & color but by the thorns on the branch; in the lower left are peaches, and in the upper left are oranges. I find it odd that the author didn’t catch that. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. This in no way affected my review.  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child: The Tale of Shikanoko, Book 2, by Lian Hearn. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2016

This is the second book in a four volume fantasy epic, and I think I made a big mistake by not reading the first one. I found this on the ‘new books’ shelf and went “Hmmm.. fantasy set in feudal Japan.. I’ll take that!” But the author jumps right into the story with no bringing us up to speed, which left me utterly baffled, even with the cast of characters in the front of the book. Who were these people and why were they doing these things to each other? Because of this, I never managed to care about the characters and the story bored me- even though there were magical. There is some cool stuff going on- half demon children born of one woman and five fathers, some very intelligent horses, magical swords, a lot of magic, and a child emperor hiding with a troop of performing monkeys (and probably having the best time of his life). I liked the writing and the style; I just couldn’t connect. So, I think this series is probably brilliant, but don’t even try to read this book without reading the first one beforehand! 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

This in no way affected my review.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life from the Stone Age to the Phone Age, by Greg Jenner. Thomas Dunne Books, 2015

What were toilets like during the time of Imperial Rome? What kind of underwear was worn during the Tudor era? How did people keep in touch before the telephone was invented- before the post office, even? When did the fork develop, or the mattress? What about dentistry? This book can tell you all these things and more, in a witty, casual, conversational way. The author is both historical consultant and comedy writer, and he’s combined both skills well in this book.

This book does not tell us about kings or generals. It’s not about invasions or wars. It’s about daily life, the things that affected every single person, no matter how rich or poor. Like the toddler’s book says, everybody poops. Everybody also wears some kind of clothing and eats. This is the history of both royalty and the common person. And it’s a really fun book. They should give this book to pre-teens to get them sucked into how interesting history is. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

This in no way affected my review.