Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
Cynthia Webber

Cynthia will read just about anything that looks good but believes there is nothing better than curling up on the porch or by the fire with a good whodunit. When she is not reading, Cynthia can be found felting, or quilting or educating herself as a novice art collector. You can find her at the Hereford Branch, where she is just as eager to hear what her customers are reading. 

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Cynthia

Between the Covers with Gary Vikan

posted by: November 30, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sacred and StolenCrooked dealers. Forgeries. Thefts. Looted antiquities. Readers will find it all in Gary Vikan’s highly readable and entertaining new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director. The distinguished medieval scholar and former director of the Walters Art Museum recently answered questions for Between the Covers in advance of his book talk at the Hereford Branch on December 4 at 2 p.m.

 

Between the Covers: Your new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director, provides an insightful, often humorous look behind the scenes of the art world. What prompted you to share these stories with the public?

 

Gary Vikan: Over the years I became increasingly interested, as I gave tours of the Walters, in telling the stories behind the works of art — stories that are distinct from their art-historical narrative. Most works have a story, many are very interesting — and some straight-out scandalous.

 

BTC: Shady dealings, sketchy characters, stolen art — you cover it all. Did you worry you were saying too much?

 

GV: Not at all. Maybe not enough. My lectures on the book can go into that other territory.

 

BTC: Museums have to connect with people. How has the art experience for the public changed since you got into the business?

 

GV: I initially thought my job was to educate my audience. Now I think my job is to listen to my audience, and to meet them where they are. Ideally, I can create for them a setting in which works of art of the past can do their magic.

 

BTC: From 1994 to 2013, you were the director of the Walters Art Museum. What accomplishments are you most proud?

 

GV: We went free in 2006. That is what museums should be: FREE.

 

BTC: Of all the exhibitions you’ve curated during your career, do you have a favorite?

 

GV: Yes, Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons and Frescoes from Greece in 1988. It was the first major icon show in the U.S., and it was the first time I was able to empower the works fully in my installation.. People kissed the Plexiglas of the cases containing the icons.

 

BTC: You speak about the “Wild West” days of collecting when not a lot of questions were asked about the provenance of pieces. Where are we today with the trail of looted antiquities and threat to the world’s cultural heritage?

 

GV: We’re in what I call the “Post-Loot” age. I can tell that by what is NOT coming out of Syria and Iraq. Like our tobacco culture, our loot culture has changed profoundly over the last 30 years.

 

BTC: What do you see as the next challenges for museums?

 

GV: Being meaningful for audiences, and playing a meaningful role in addressing social justice and social ills. To be a player in healing.

 

BTC: You have a knack for telling an engaging story. Are there any plans to write a fictional whodunit set in the art world?

 

GV: Nope, because my reality is stranger than fiction. My next book is titled: The Shroud: Case Closed. And guess what, I prove the Shroud of Turin is a FAKE!


 
 

The Last Days of Night

posted by: October 3, 2016 - 12:00pm

Cover art for The Last Days of NightAs far as patent disputes go, this was a doozy. Graham Moore’s excellent new historical legal thriller, The Last Days of Night, plops us right into the hotbed of technological innovation that was in situ in late 19th century America. Readers are rewarded with the wonders of invention, dubious plots, a smidgen of romance and a peek into the wiring of the greatest minds of the day set amid Gilded Age New York.

 

So who really invented the light bulb? Neophyte attorney Paul Cravath finds himself embroiled in the legal wrangling between the inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist George Westinghouse. Cravath is hired to defend Westinghouse against a patent lawsuit filed by Edison. Edison says he holds the right to electrify a country still aglow with gas lamps. There is also the dilemma of alternating current (Westinghouse) versus direct current (Edison), with the winner transforming the world. Cravath is over his head and knows it in this highly readable retelling of the War of the Electric Currents that actually took place between 1888 and 1896.

 

Moore, author of The Sherlockian and the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game, actually recreates the time period from 1888 to 1890. Along the way, we are introduced to familiar names, like J.P. Morgan, Alexander Bell and Viktor Tesla, as well as the birth and controversy of the modern electric chair. Cravath’s love interest, the singer Agnes Huntington, develops into a surprising multi-hued personality that adds the merest trifle of melodrama.

 
With a calibrated dose of legal and technical jargon, Moore’s fast-moving narrative is certain to carry broad appeal for readers wanting to get inside the heads of brilliant and visionary giants. For those wanting the real story, try the excellent Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, George Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World by historian Jill Jonnes. A film adaption of The Last Days of Night is also in the works, starring actor Eddie Redmayne as Paul Cravath.


 
 

The Winter Girl

posted by: February 16, 2016 - 7:00am

The Winter GirlAdrenaline and boredom are a risky combination in Matt Marinovich’s twisty new thriller The Winter Girl. Set in the windswept, wintry landscape of the Hamptons, a young couple with a troubled marriage faces the consequences of a disturbing obsession that leads to a horrific discovery. As with most dark psychological tales, ugly family secrets are difficult to keep buried. Are people ever who you think they are?

 

Relocated Brooklynites Elise and Scott have come to stay at the beach house of Elise’s dying father, Victor. While Elise heads to the hospital every day, Scott wanders around taking photographs and soon becomes preoccupied with the vacant house next door. It appears to have its lights on a timer, but why? Eventually Scott can’t help himself and breaks in. He later convinces his wife to join him in what starts out as an innocent prank that adds a spark to their tiresome marriage. What happens next leads to a series of poor decisions and wrenching revelations that sends the couple on a scathing downward spiral.

 

Marinovich, who has worked as an editor for several magazines, admitted once in an interview that “writing dark is a thrill for me.” The Winter Girl is his second novel. Readers will no doubt find plenty to react to in the moral deficits of the author’s characters. Told through Scott’s voice, this fast-paced slender story of just over 200 pages will be hard to put down because you will be wanting more. Fans of Gone Girl type thrillers or Herman Koch’s The Dinner will nonetheless enjoy this peek into the dark side of the human psyche.


 
 

Slade House

posted by: January 12, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Slade HouseVulnerable, shimmering and desirable. Oh, to be a soul in David Mitchell's disturbing and fun new novel Slade House. Here horror meets plain old weirdness in a Faustian-like brew, stirred up by creepy twin siblings, Norah and Jonah Grayer. The two house residents must refuel in order to “live” out their immortal existence. But it's their energy of choice that is the stunner for those who enter their seductive property through their garden’s small iron black door. 

 

Spanning 36 years starting in 1979, the story’s epicenter is the enigmatic haunted mansion that only appears once every nine years. One by one, Mitchell’s five “engifted” narrators are tricked by the twins into visiting the house, allured by a theatrical setting that conjures up images they want to believe in, images that make their lacking lives better. They end up in a precarious situation, trapped and doomed, while the unthinkable happens.  

 

Mitchell, whose previous novels Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks received critical acclaim, started this latest work out of a series of tweets. It is a narrative that hints of larger life questions for which there are no answers. And while Mitchell deftly nods to his heftier previous works and the universe therein, it is not necessary to start there. In fact, Mitchell’s latest effort is a nimble and accessible stand-alone. It may be the perfect introduction to this author’s thought-provoking, imaginatively clever writing whose style blends mind-control and the supernatural with the essence of time, beguiling it might be. Mitchell fans have come to expect nothing less while newcomers will hopefully get what all the fuss is about.


 
 

Deep South

posted by: December 2, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Deep SouthVeteran novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux has spent 50 years traversing the globe. In his latest book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, he trades the rickety rail cars of his African and Asian adventures for the dusty, sunbaked, story-rich rural back roads of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina. He calls it a “coming and going” type of book that beckoned him to return time and again. Indeed, he spent over a year and a half traveling by car in the south where only one person had ever heard his name or read any of his previous books. “Anonymity is freedom,” he said.

 

Theroux provides an intensely evocative look at the complex history of a region, rich in so many ways, abandoned and scarred in others. This is not a story about romantic cobblestone streets, touristy historic districts and prosperous cities. It is about what happens when manufacturing plants close up. It is about the shocking disparity of aid to places where the poverty rivals third world countries. Theroux searched out the cohesive fabric of the region and had hundreds of encounters with those who shared beloved interests, like gun shows, church-going and football. He frequented barber shops for conversations. He explored southern literary voices to understand history.

 

Known for an eye for detail and local color, Theroux is at his best trying to capture the mood of the places he visited. He does make assumptions in this thought-provoking, dialect-rich narrative that may leave readers asking questions or even shaking their heads. In the end, this 464-page travelogue by the author of the classic The Great Railway Bazaar may have readers wondering whether Theroux’s South is a place they recognize.

 


 
 

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