Always Looking: Essays on Art, by John Updike, is an invaluable collection of fourteen eloquent discussions that examine Western painting and sculpture. Although Updike was an acclaimed writer of literature, many readers might not know that he was also an art connoisseur. His skillful nonfiction reveals an astute perspective which masterfully dissects art in a way that will gratify the seasoned appreciator, as well as the casual observer who is just curious to learn more.
John Updike’s lifelong passion for visual art began in childhood when discovered comics, like Mickey Mouse in the Treasure Hunt. Into adulthood, he continued to seek out pieces that fascinated him and curiously described familiar pieces in a new way. While considering Gustav Klimt’s "The Dancer", Updike questioned if the painting is “a bold and necessary step in the direction of modernism, or an uneasy half-step, a cheaply bought glamour, a kind of higher kitsch?”
Much more than a conversation of art, Always Looking offers rich and vivid images of the very works Updike is discussing. From René Magritte’s unnervingly sensual "The Lovers" to Roy Lichtenstein’s loud pop of "In the Car", the short essay format makes this a perfect book of leisure. You might dip in for a bit and read on a topic or discover the pleasure of flipping through its pages to take in the richly dynamic selection. This stimulating reconsideration of classics will change the way you look at art.
We’ve all heard the warnings from Mom and Dad. Wait an hour after eating before you go swimming or you’ll get a cramp. If you swallow gum, it will sit in your stomach for seven years. Chewing on pencils will give you lead poisoning. In his new book Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales & Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids, record-breaking Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings searches for the truth behind the myths that parents tell their children. Using case histories, scientific research, and statistics, Jennings investigates the warnings passed down to us from our parents in a book that both informs and entertains.
Do you really need to wait for your parents to check your Halloween candy for poison or razorblades? Jennings says probably not. You're more likely to have octuplets or die by elephant stampede than you are to eat poisoned Halloween candy. Will you really get arthritis from cracking your knuckles? Knuckle popping may be annoying, but it doesn't cause arthritis. Is chewing ice really bad for your teeth? According to Jennings, yes, it actually is. The cold causes the tooth fibers to contract as you chomp down on the hard ice cube, making you more likely to break or chip a tooth. Because I Said So! is a perfect read for fans of Discovery’s Mythbusters, trivia buffs, and those of us who simply want the right to say “I told you so.”
Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead is back with another gem for the middle grade crowd in Liar & Spy. Georges has a lot going on, not the least of which is his name. Yes, his parents named him Georges (silent s) after their favorite painter, pointillist Georges Seurat. Needless to say, this only gives the bullies at school more ammunition in their relentless torment. His former best friend is now ensconced in the cool crowd. Georges has had to move from the only home he knew following his father’s job loss. And his mother is working double shifts as a nurse at the hospital to get some much needed extra cash.
The only bright light is the Spy Club at his new apartment building led by the homeschooled Safer. He is convinced another tenant, the mysterious Mr. X, is up to nefarious dealings. Safer and Georges begin an intensive spying campaign, and Georges grows closer with Safer’s quirky family, including his appropriately named younger sister, Candy, whose appetite for sweets is insatiable. As the spy game becomes more extreme and Safer becomes more demanding, Georges is forced to question Safer’s honesty and motives all while dealing with a missing mother, who only communicates with Georges via messages on a Scrabble board. Georges avoids visiting his mother at work, and readers soon learn there is more to that situation than meets the eye.
As with Seurat’s paintings, Georges learns to look at the big picture, rather than focus on the small stuff. This is a fascinating coming of age story filled with twists and an appealing and relatable young man. Long after readers finish this book, they will be thinking about the questions posed regarding family, friendship, loyalty, perception, reality and truth.
Blood is something we all know exists from infancy on, but few of us really examine that which carries oxygen to our various body parts and keeps us alive. Whether it is our inability to fully understand the intricacies of the substance flowing through our veins and arteries, or our collective squeamishness at the sight of it, blood remains largely a mystery to the masses. In The Book of Blood: from Legends to Leeches to Vampires and Veins, author HP Newquist examines this mystical fluid, our literal lifeblood.
Many hematological topics are covered and well-explained, such as the various blood cells, the makeup of plasma, and diseases involving blood, such as leukemia and hemophilia. Illustrated using digital imagery, photography and reproductions of blood-related ephemera, The Book of Blood could go for the jugular in terms of gore and unpleasantness, but instead uses appropriate restraint in portraying the substance. The various bloods of animals are discussed, too, whether it be the differences between warm- and cold-blooded beings, or those animals that have blood in colors other than red, such as blue blood of many mollusks.
Titles such as this, covering one commonly known subject, give readers the ability to focus on a topic and better understand the ways blood works and how it is an unspoken part of everyone’s life. The cultural meanings of blood are also touched upon, with references to mosquitoes, leeches, and bats, and of course, vampires. The book closes with a chapter that reminds us of the long way we still have to go in medicine. Blood donations remain critical because, despite so many other medical advances, we have not yet been able to create blood in a laboratory.
A forest aflame is what Dellarobia Turnbow sees as she pauses on her march up the mountain. She is on a mission to destroy her disappointing marriage by consummating a flirtation with the telephone man. In the smokeless silence, the ambivalently Christian Della knows she has been the recipient of a kind of grace and backtracks to return home. Barbara Kingsolver follows Dellarobia and the aftermath of her vision in her most recent entry on the New York Times bestsellers list, Flight Behavior.
Della and her husband Cub live with their two young children in the shadow of his domineering parents on the family farm situated in a rural Tennessee valley. Scarcely adequate high school educations and a severe dearth of employment opportunities mean the Turnbows, along with most folks in their community, are scrambling each month to survive. In danger of losing their land, Cub’s parents view Money Tree Logging Company’s bid to clear cut a portion of their property as an answer to their fiscal prayers. Silent about her vision and uncertain as to its import, Della convinces the family to hike the land, where they discover Della’s fire is actually an immense roost of Monarch butterflies.
As in earlier books such as Prodigal Summer, Kingsolver intertwines an environmental issue—in this instance, climate change—as in integral piece of the larger story. Along with the King Billies, as the butterflies are colloquially known, come scientists, tourists, and opportunists which include the local media, all with a different interest in the flock. Della and her family struggle to come to terms with the changes brought by the insects both to their community and individually. With a background in biology, Kingsolver marries the scientific tale of migratory butterflies to the human struggle for meaning and self-fulfillment in Flight Behavior.
You are cordially invited to attend Angelica Silverstein’s fairy tale wedding in Yona McDonough’s A Wedding in Great Neck. Angelica is set to marry Ohad, a former fighter pilot, but this event is more about Angelica’s family than the bride and groom. The whole Silverstein clan is gathering in Great Neck, including one ex-husband, two separated spouses, and one sullen teenager. Angelica’s sister, Gretchen, is dealing with a failed marriage and twin teenage daughters, including Justine who is exceptionally moody. Brother Teddy is a bit of a blowhard, while other brother Caleb is up in the air with his career and new romance. All three siblings are dealing with repressed jealousy of Angelica, the perceived favorite of both parents. And let’s meet those parents - Betsy and Lincoln. Betsy is on her second husband and he’s given her security and the dream lifestyle she’s always wanted. Lincoln (hubby number one) is a recovering alcoholic and something of a slouch when it comes to work and family. Rounding out the family circle is Betsy’s mother, Lenore, who usually limits her advice to foundation garments, but has decided her loved ones need help and they need it today.
When Justine’s actions threaten the wedding, all of the bottled-up family tensions bubble to the surface. Whether Angelica and Ohad become man and wife is at question, and before the day is over the lives of all the players are irrevocably changed. Written in three parts over the course of the wedding day, readers are treated to the inner workings of a wedding extravaganza while meeting unique, real characters with recognizable issues. Enjoy the delights of white tents and black ties, diamonds and designer dresses, but ultimately this is a story about the distinct characters which create a most remarkable family.
Grab a coffee and croissant and settle in with The Bookseller, Mark Pryor’s debut novel and the first book in a promising new series. Pryor has written a fascinating story featuring intelligence officer Hugo Marston. Marston works for the United States Embassy and is lucky enough to live in Paris, where he seems to thrive in the “City of Lights.” Although American, he clearly relishes in the daily habits of the French. He enjoys coffee or wine in outdoor cafes and buys his books from the sidewalk bouqinistes (or booksellers).
Marston’s idyllic life in Paris is suspended when he witnesses Max, his favorite bookseller, being kidnapped at gunpoint. Marston sets off on a hunt to find Max. Through his investigation, he discovers that Max is much more than a humble bookseller. Max is a Holocaust survivor who went on to become a Nazi hunter and has tracked down some of the war’s most notorious criminals. Max’s background is just one of many surprises that Hugo encounters. As he gets further into his search, he uncovers corruption and dark secrets from France’s past.
Pryor clearly has a passion for Paris. He brings the city to life, giving readers a tangible sense of daily life in the city. His atmospheric prose transports the reader directly to the streets of the city. The Bookseller is highly recommended fans of John le Carré or Alan Furst.
Home by Matthew Costello follows a mother and her two children as they make their way back to New York City in a hostile post-apocalyptic environment. Tragic events preceding this novel have forced Christie Murphy and her two children to flee a family vacation camp and head out into the unknown. Creatures known as Can Heads are roaming in mobs, killing and eating anything or anyone that gets in their way. Christie needs to usher her children past several small towns that could possibly have a mob mentality and try to make it to the safety of a fenced and protected highway. They must face check points for entry, and their lack of any identification could hinder their progress. Without any active radio broadcasts, they cannot be sure that things are still the same in New York. Their home and neighborhood could have been overrun with horrible, hungry, feral cannibals. Will their home still be safe and protected or will they need to formulate a plan that could take them to another destination?
Readers who love a chilling, horror tale will really enjoy Costello’s writing style. He is good at terse suspense, and his use of shorter chapters and many action sequences keep the novel fresh and exciting. He creates an interesting zombie-like villain without trying to recreate actual zombie lore, and this makes Home a thrilling read. The novel Home picks up after the events in his earlier novel, Vacation. Fans of The Walking Dead will really devour this novel.
Good things come in small packages this time of year, as this delightful trio of recently published stocking stuffer-sized books demonstrates. From pondering the idiosyncrasies of domestic life with man's best friend (dog or cat) to a quirky collection of curious tidbits about our world, here are some lighthearted, quick reads to enjoy or give.
Feline lovers will cheer for Toby Jug, the enterprising black and white kitten in Denis O'Connor's Paw Prints in the Moonlight: the Heartwarming True Story of One Man and His Cat. Set in rural Northumberland, O'Connor rescues the badly injured kitten one snowy night and brings it back to his 18th century cottage, where he keeps the kitten in a large cotton ball-cushioned pitcher. The kindhearted nature lover and his Maine Coon form an inseparable bond through many of Toby Jug's escapades. Lovely descriptions of the English countryside and delicate color illustrations enrich this poignant and charming tale for young and old.
Unfortunately, it’s not all domestic bliss for Richard Cohen when the family pet gets in the way. His new book, I Want to Kill the Dog, chronicles in jest the master-versus-canine tug of war. The author is married to television journalist Meredith Vieira, definitely the animal lover of this long married couple. Jasper is the “dog of many flavors," whose many annoying habits (ear splitting bark, for one) threaten marital harmony. Pet peeves aside, Cohen’s story belies what is really important: marriage and family come with good and bad and even the dog.
A potpourri of trivia awaits readers of Alex Palmer's Weird-o-pedia: the Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about (Supposedly) Ordinary Things. For instance, did you know that mosquitoes prefer people with Type O blood, or that humming is good for your sinuses? In 12 humorous chapters, each containing alphabetized entries, Palmer focuses on food and drink, friends and family, work, play, and so forth. A useful list of sources is also included. Parents beware, though; some mature topics are presented.
Audiences continue to be fascinated by the life and work of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. He is the subject of the new theatrical film based on Stephen Rebello’s Hitchcock!: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Rebello begins with the story of Ed Gein, whose grisly crimes inspired Robert Bloch to write the novel Psycho. Hitchcock’s selection of Bloch’s gruesome novel was an abrupt departure from the expected, eliciting doubt from everyone including the studio. When Paramount made it clear that they wouldn’t back Psycho, Hitchcock offered to finance the movie himself if Paramount would distribute the finished product. Rebello pulls together details about the production of the film and explores the public reaction after its record-breaking openings in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago in June 1960. Hitchcock, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Helen Mirren, brings to life Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma and their collaboration during the production of Psycho.
Audiences looking for more Hitchcock will also want to see HBO’s The Girl. The film focuses largely on Hitchcock’s dark and often abusive relationship with Tippi Hedren, leading lady in his iconic films The Birds and Marnie. Hitchcock and Hedren, played by Toby Jones and Sienna Miller, create unforgettable films together but at a steep price to Hedren’s well-being.