This is a biography of Giorgio Vasari, a multi-talented Renaissance artist and sculptor best remembered for his book Lives of the Artists, which represented the first time biographies had been written about artists. He covered all of the important Italian Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. In writing this book, Vasari “singlehandedly invented the genre of artistic biography and established the canon of Italian Renaissance art” and I wanted to know more about him.
I’m a big fan of escapist summer reads, almost always erring towards SFF, but my recommendation is not light fare. R.F. Kuang self-describes as “grimdark’s darkest daughter” on her twitter profile, and her debut novel doesn’t disappoint. It’s a gruesome, bloody coming-of-age fantasy that’s definitely not for kids. Steeped in a fictionalized East Asia partially informed by the Second Sino-Japanese war, you come away wanting more but also needing a breather: luckily this is part one of a trilogy.
I’ve been a student of material culture for most of my life and, as I find myself turning back to poetry for insight and pleasure more and more, I find this new work exploring the physical world and historical context of poems at the time of their creation fascinating. While the words of poetry can be fluid and open to interpretation, insight to contemporary meanings and definitions can provide a keener sense of understanding and a new appreciation of the work.
My philosophy is simple: if I can’t actually hang out on the beach then I need to figure out a way to bring the ocean to me. Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach is a complex novel that (partially) does just that. The setting is Brooklyn during the 1930s through ’40s, and the borough’s coastal areas figure prominently in the protagonist’s journey.
While Coney Island remains the more popular attraction, when I was growing up, Manhattan Beach was a go-to destination. Egan’s lyrical passages about the sea reveal a literary artist at work. Diving (in rivers, oceans and bays) serves as a powerful metaphor for self discovery. And, her descriptions of wartime shipbuilding in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women proudly populated the industrial workplace, brought to mind a time when genuine patriotism and identifying as an American truly meant something special.
I recently finished The House of Wisdom, a chronological history of Arabic science. Century by century, Jim Al-Khalili traces the pursuit of knowledge in Baghdad’s great library-university-consortium known as the House of Wisdom that flourished from the ninth- to eleventh centuries. Beginning with an obsessive translation and recording of ancient Greek texts, Arab thinkers built upon this knowledge to create the distinct fields of chemistry, algebra, medicine and physics, which spread west and north to Europe and sparked the Age of Enlightenment there.
I read Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman for a class in college and have recently picked it back up, as the question of what to do with looted art is a continuous and growing concern. It’s a fascinating question of how thousand-year-old antiquities can cause current international incidents and affect modern-day legislation. Waxman paints an honest portrait of the damaging lengths that the Western world has gone through in order to fill their museums and sate the appetite of collectors, and it’s scary to know that these primitive and violent means of acquiring antiquities continues today. I appreciate when authors acknowledge and connect the art world with the current political climate, and this book helped to examine my own patriotism and reassess how ownership should be viewed in the context of both ancient and recent history.
Little Fires Everywhere was an enthralling read from start to finish, I couldn’t put it down! It centers on an enigmatic artist Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, who settle in an affluent suburb of Cleveland and rent a house from the Richardson family. The lives of the two families become dangerously intertwined, and when a mysterious photo of Mia is discovered hanging in an art museum on a class trip, uncovering the secrets behind it threatens to upend both families forever. Bonus: Hulu is adapting this into a series which will be produced by (and starring) Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.
This book combined several of my interests: for one, I’ve always been interested in, and romantic about, witchcraft and its relationship with nature. For another, as a photographer, growing and changing technology has always been fascinating to me. All The Birds In The Sky is a story about magic and technology growing and changing alongside each other. Laurence and Patricia, the two protagonists, are on opposite sides of a conflict involving the magic of nature and humans’ technological advancement; they have known each other since they were children. The novel features two-second time machines, philosophical fowl, ecoterrorism and venture capitalism run amok to form a great escape into a world of magical realism.
This compilation of fiercely investigated essays walks through the ways that ignorance has been legalized, mythologized, nationalized and globalized. The authors develop their arguments underneath the umbrella of “agnotology,” a term coined by Robert N. Proctor, which is the study of culturally- or politically-induced doubt, especially in cases of disingenuous data within published science. The book outlines disempowerment strategies throughout social strata, beginning with details of anti-literacy laws in the Antebellum South. An incredibly important read, I picked this book up in a chance encounter at the library.
I’m currently reading David M. Potter ‘s The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, which details America’s growing sectionalism in the years leading up to the Civil War. One can see interesting parallels to trends in today’s America: rather than northern-southern sectionalism, we have a rural-urban disparity provoking similar Congressional conflict.
I picked up this well-worn book at a secondhand store a few months ago. Much like many items that come through Swann, this book has clearly had a full life and needed to be rediscovered by someone who would appreciate it all over again. I’m only a few chapters into it so far, but I’ve already hit an unsolved murder, a car crash, an excessive description of breakfast food and a lot of thinly veiled angst/foreshadowing, so it pretty much hits all the high points of what I’m looking for in a subway read! It’s going to be a good commuting companion to and from Swann this summer.