Monday, October 13, 2014

For relentless readers: 10 links to groovy book lore

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"— Henry Ward Beecher

"A house without books is like a room without windows."— Horace Mann

Did you know that the average American household watches 42 hours of television per week? And that 40 percent of Americans reject evolution? (I guess they're not watching Cosmos). The vibrant illustration above is from a 1960s biology textbook. Those were the days!
Taking a stand for the enduring value of books and reading, today's Glean is devoted to 10 links I've collected that celebrate same, illustrated with sundry book-related images. Enjoy!
1.  Here's The Guardian on readers of fiction within fiction, including Roald Dahl's Matilda (left) and Mad Men's Joan Holloway (she reads Lady Chatterly's Lover, while Don Draper reads Portnoy's Complaint).
2.  Columnist Frank Bruni of the Dallas Morning News cites a report by Common Sense Media that 22% of 13-year-olds and 27 percent of 17-year-olds say they hardly ever or never read for pleasure (up from 8 and 9% 30 years ago). He goes on to cite several more research studies on the correlation between brainpower and being bookish, summarized flatly by The Guardian's Dan Hurley as “reading and intelligence have a relationship so close as to be symbiotic.”
Alexander Benois De Stetto, Still Life with Books (1929)
3.  Independent bookstore Aaron's Books divulges 10 Ways Reading Improves Everything—which includes one of my favorites, listening to audiobooks while traveling, doing chores, or walking for exercise.
4.  Here comes flavorwire with no fewer than 50 essential mystery novels that everyone should read. Wowsa! They kick things off with Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles and continue with classics by Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, Jo Nesbo, Edgar Allan Poe, Dashiel Hammett, et al. Did they omit any of your favorites? We usually have a quorum of the above on our website (Sherlock Holmes illustration by Rochelle Donald.)
5.  Here's a roundup by the CBC on five literary hoaxes, including some quite quirky poseurs (e.g., septuagenarian, white male Yale grad pens memoir of Mexican-American street kid).
6.  I kind of assume that if you're perusing this blog you have an awesome vocabulary and are somewhat of a bibliophile. So let's see how you stack up against the Huffington Post's "15 Words You Didn't Know Were Coined By Famous Writers." I think this might be the most delightful item on my entire compendium! I look forward to your favorites in the comments.
7.  Of ShortList's tally of classic works of literature being adapted for film, I'm most intrigued by Madame Bovary with Mia Wasikowska, Macbeth with Marion Cotillard as Lady M, Salomé with Jessica Chastain, and The Jungle Book (animated, with voices by Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, and Ben Kingsley).
8.  This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education talks about a digital, crowd-sourced project called Book Traces, which preserves interesting marginalia and inserts that 19th-century readers left in books.
9.  “I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper what one would say to the same person by word of mouth,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra on 3 January 1801, adding, “I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.” According to Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade at the Oxford University Press blog, Austen is believed to have written some 3,000 letters, only about 160 of which have survived, most of them addressed to Cassandra." I reckon her sister was Austen's ideal reader, and that the missives to her significantly helped the budding writer hone both her prose and her innate gift for satire.
10. In this Guardian list, author Gill Lewis picks special children's books featuring birds, including Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr; Silent Spring by Rachel Carson; and The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. (Molly Monday, these owls are for you!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

World of wonders: spotlight on Marc Chagall's ceiling and more from the Palais Garnier

Instead of booking expensive trips to view the world's wonders, cash-strapped, armchair art lovers can now behold them with a few clicks of a keyboard.
It's all part of the Google Cultural Institute, the current offerings of which range from Hamburg's Archaeological Museum and the Rubens House in Antwerp to the National Cowboy Museum in the U.S. (There are at present more than 500 partners from over 60 countries, with more than 6.2 million objects and artifacts already online.)
In 1964, Marc Chagall completed a fantastical painting, in Paris's Palais Garnier (a.k.a. the Paris Opera), depicting scenes from works by Mozart, Mussorgsky, Beethoven, Verdi, Debussy, Wagner, Berlioz, and more. Problem was, the lofty opus was difficult to inspect, as it was almost 60 feet above the floor.
The Paris Opera, with Chagall's opus on the ceiling (Corbis)
Now, thanks to the internet, anyone can view this colorful masterpiece in minute detail. Chagall's great work has been digitized, allowing viewers to zoom in and out, looking at each scene up close and personal. I've selected a few of my favorites to share with you, above and below.
The central panel evokes four composers and works. On this half are Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice (Eurydice plays the lyre [Orpheus’s instrument] and an angel offers flowers) and Bizet's Carmen. 
Only Chagall would have a bull playing the guitar!
This evocation of Pelleas et Melisande by Debussy is bounded by one of the splendid gilt details that encircle the composition.
Above, Tristan and Isolde, and a woman playing a stringed instrument. So lovely! Below, a bit of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.
Chagall's conception of Mozart's Magic Flute. A giant angel fills the sky while a bird plays the flute. Chagall designed the sets and costumes for the 1967 Metropolitan Opera production of the opera.
 Below are several more examples of the opulent decoration in the building, beginning with a panel by Paul Baudry depicting Salome dancing before Herod. Baudry also did a series of Muses.
The digitized artworks also extend to the outside of the building. At the tippy-top is the bronze statue "Apollon, la Poésie et la Musique" (1860-1869), by Aimé Millet, while the front is graced by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux's sculpture "La danse."
Bon voyage!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Surviving the Depression with resourcefulness and style: "Little Heathens" and gorgeous WPA poster art

Ken Burns' PBS documentary The Roosevelts showed us how F.D.R. used the power of the Executive Branch to alleviate the effect on the country of the stock market crash, the Dust Bowl, and other disasters attendant on the Great Depression. Among his many enduring New Deal initiatives were the Civilian Conservation Corps, the improvements to the national parks and the nation's roadways, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The latter encompassed public works and sidewalks and government buildings as well as theater, literature, and the arts. Posters promoting various WPA projects gave work to many graphic artists and are a colorful, tangible part of its legacy. Appearing throughout this post are a handful from the hundreds preserved in the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division. Topics range from syphilis prevention to national parks and zoos to doll buggy contests and national defense (cf. the hideously racist poster below right).
“The way to whistle for a horse is to purse your lips together loosely, blow moderately hard and sing "Whee-oo! Whee-oo! Whee-oo!" in a high-pitched voice. Try it. You can do it.” So instructs Mildred Armstrong Kalish, author of the frank and fascinating Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression.  [I did it; I sounded like a bee.] "Use everything; waste nothing" was the unspoken motto of Kalish and her family, who lived through the Depression by means of animal husbandry, farming, brilliant domestic economies, and division of labor amongst grownups and children alike.
“Without knowing it, the adults in our lives practiced a most productive kind of behavior modification. After our chores and household duties were done we were give 'permission' to read. In other words, our elders positioned reading as a privilege—a much sought-after prize, granted only to those goodhardworkers who earned it. How clever of them.” Below is an excerpt from Kalish's first chapter; you can read it in its entirety here.
My childhood came to a virtual halt when I was around five years old. That was when my grandfather banished my father from our lives forever for some transgression that was not to be disclosed to us children, though we overheard whispered references to bankruptcy, bootlegging, and jail time. His name was never again spoken in our presence; he just abruptly disappeared from our lives. The shame and disgrace that enveloped our family as a result of these events, along with the ensuing divorce, just about destroyed my mother. Is it possible today to make anyone understand the harsh judgment of such failures in the late 1920's? Throughout my entire life, whenever I was asked about my father, I always said that he was dead. When he actually died I never knew.
So it was that Grandma and Grandpa chose to make our family of five-Mama, my ten-year-old brother Jack, my eight-year-old brother John, my one-year-old sister Avis, and me-their responsibility. They decided to settle us on the smallest of Grandpa's four farms, which was located about three miles from the village of Garrison, where they had retired after a lifetime of farming. However, because the fierce blizzards and subzero temperatures of Iowa winters made it hazardous to walk to the one-room rural school we would be attending, it had been arranged that we would live with Grandma and Grandpa in Garrison and attend school there from January until the school year ended in mid-May. At that time our family would move out to the farm. Each year from then on, we went to school in the country from September until Christmas, then moved back to Garrison and finished the school year in town.
Some of the artists who made posters are identified by name; above are beautiful works by Louis Siegriest and Shari Weisberg. Below, pieces by Ben Nason and Gregg Arlington.
Below, posters by Erik Krause and John Buczak and two more anonymous ones.
 The African-American theater posters are especially noteworthy; and who can resist the fabulous zoo images??
The WPA didn't forget the small fry; this is one of several doll & buggy parade posters in the Library of Congress collection! Which poster(s) would you like to frame and hang?
Below, another beauty, by Frank Nicholson. Sign me up!

Further reading: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein