Monday, December 30, 2013

December 2013 Book Recommendations by Staff

December 30, 2013

Attempting Normal
By Marc Maron

Being a newly-minted 30-something who is mystified and disappointed by the realities of adulthood, Marc Maron’s new memoir Attempting Normal really struck me to the core. Maron, a comedian known for his radio show and podcast WTF, uses hilarious anecdotes to show us what it’s like to grow up with an attention-hungry bipolar father, how he navigated two painful divorces, and his undying love for his cats (not yours). Maron speaks to a generation (or two) of people who were told adulthood would be simple, but who are single, in debt, and left wanting more.

This book made me feel uncomfortable, but only in the best way. Maron taps into the parts of being human that most people ignore but know in their heart to be true. His frank and unapologetic descriptions of drug use, infidelity and failed attempts at remaining calm make for a great read. And he makes you laugh the whole time.


December 23, 2013

Painters and the American West, Volume 2

By Joan Carpenter Troccoli

This book is a real treat to browse, read, and study at your own pace. It is a large format, high quality publication with wonderful reproductions focusing on a very important part of American art history, Western art. Dr. Joan Troccoli is currently Deputy Director of the Denver Art Museum and has extensive experience in both art publishing and painters of Western art. The term “Western art” is used in a broad sense here and not to be confused with “regionalism”. Troccoli’s “Western art” began to attract serious critical attention after World War I, when prominent artists began looking at American art and Western art instead of being so closely focused on European artists, particularly French impressionism. Santa Fe, New Mexico became a focal point for artists and intellectuals, who migrated from the east. This title, Volume 2, covers a time span from about the 1820s through the mid 20th century. Many of the artists are from the East, moved back and forth, and maintained strong ties to the Eastern art establishment. The book is a reflection of the Anschutz Collection in Denver, Colorado, at the American Museum of Western Art.

“The artwork on view at the American Museum of Western Art represents a cross section of paintings that survey the art of the American West from the early 19th century through the age of industrialization. During the relatively short period of history illustrated by this collection, the West was transformed from Indian territory unknown to most inhabitants of the eastern United States into a settled region. Within only 90 years after the Louisiana Purchase, the “Old West” of Indian buffalo hunters, mountain men, pioneers, gold-seekers, and open-range cowboys had passed into history.”

This quote is from the museum web site and also defines the boundaries of the book. A great many painters are represented here with informative text to place each within the historical context of the American West art movement. The book is a tremendously educational and aesthetically rewarding read; to wit, the art of Bierstadt, Moran, Hassam, Remington, Loomis, Ufer, Leutze, Kaufman, Davis, Fechin, Benton, Henri, Wyeth, Dodge, Deas, Marin, Blumenschein, Sloan, Kent, O’Keeffe, Hartley, and so many others that are famous and not so famous. All had a vision of the American West, and all contribute to the beauty and enjoyment of reading this book.


December 16, 2013

Northanger Abbey
By Jane Austen

Cold weather and shorter days make December the ideal month for curling up on the couch and re-reading an old favorite. For me that usually means one of Jane Austen’s novels. Every year around this time I find myself watching my favorite films, indulging in favorite foods and revisiting one of Austen’s six novels. This December I chose Northanger Abbey, an often overlooked piece of Austen’s work.

Northanger Abbey was written while Austen was still establishing herself as an author and illuminates her own history as a reader. It is a satire of the Gothic novel, a popular genre of fiction in Austen’s day which featured such tropes as secret passageways concealed by tapestry, heroines abducted by highwaymen, and characters polarized as angels and devils. Catherine Morland, the book’s unlikely heroine, reads so many of these fantastical stories that her imagination thrives on horror and suspense. When she finds herself invited to stay in the family home of her love interest, Henry Tilney (so handsome), she begins to make wild suppositions about Northanger Abbey’s history, including the mysterious death of Henry’s mother. As you can no doubt imagine, Catherine’s robust imagination eventually leads to her distress and humbling.

While Austen gently satirizes the Gothic genre, she fiercely defends novels and their writers, putting forth one of her most quotable lines, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Another theme of this novel is the naiveté of youth, specifically Catherine’s. Catherine is adorably clueless and it is this innocence which first attracts Mr. Tilney, a teasing, charming gentleman who finds himself falling in love with Catherine once he realizes she is in love with him. Catherine’s guileless nature prevents her from perceiving the moral faults of those close to her. While Mr. Tilney easily perceives that Catherine’s friend, Isabella, is less than constant in her affections, it takes time for Catherine to be led to this discovery. This innocence also makes the slight against her, and her troubles later in the book, more poignant for the reader.

Some other items you might want to check out:

Masterpiece Classic’s film adaptation featuring J.J. Field and Felicity Jones

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Miss Austen Regrets, a fantastic docudrama about Jane Austen at the end of her life that is featured on the DVD for BBC’s Sense and Sensibility


December 9, 2013;qtype=title;locg=142

Vietnam: The Real War

By the Associated Press; Introduction by Pete Hamill

This is a new book on, by now, an old story, the Vietnam War. However, the story receives more depth to its context, even if necessarily tinged with a grim sadness, in Pete Hamill’s introduction to the chronology of the war, the relationship of photographers to the war and each other, and to the Associated Press’s coverage of the war. Hamill introduces the reader to the context of the war and its complexities as it grows rather quickly from a small clandestine conflict into the sudden huge numbers of American and Viet Cong dead in the I Drang Valley battle of 1965.

This is a photographic record of the Vietnam War. Nearly all the photographs are in black and white and were shot in Vietnam. There are some photographs of political peace talks and of the more memorable moments in the anti-war movement such as large peace marches, Kent State, and Jane Fonda in North Vietnam. The vast majority of pictures were shot in South Vietnam and include a great deal of combat photography, which means that there are pictures of dead and dying soldiers from both sides, and also many civilians. All the pictures have credits. Many of the photographs in this book will be known to readers about Vietnam and persons interested in combat photography from that era. The photographers will also be known: Horst Faas, Henri Huet, Larry Burrows, Eddie Adams, and many others. And many of the pictures will be familiar since they won professional awards. Hamill’s book will probably take its place alongside another well received combat photography book, Requiem : by the photographers who died in Vietnam and Indochina, and provide another important volume to the media coverage of the war.


December 2, 2013

Bleeding Edge
By Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon is an American author whose epic, postmodern novels have lent him a cult status. His most recent novel, Bleeding Edge, takes place in New York City in 2001. While the attack on the World Trade Center looms in the mind of the reader through the first half of the novel, it is not the focus. This national tragedy is seen through the eyes of our protagonist, recently divorced private eye Maxine Tarnow, and her investigation of billionaire dot com owner Gabriel Ice.

What started with a tip that something was fishy in Ice's taxes ends up taking over Maxine's life; everywhere she turns there are connections. For example, the Beanie-Baby obsessed mother of one of her son's elementary school friends just happens to be dating the creator of a virtual reality experience (don't call it a game) that Ice has expressed interest in buying. The investigation leads her from upscale health clubs in Manhattan and divey bagel shops in Queens, to a strange underground compound in Montauk. Then there are the videos from anonymous sources which continually show up on her upper-east side doorstep, including one of which alludes to a 9/11 conspiracy.

Bleeding Edge could be called a page turner, but is also a slow read because of its dense, playful language. It is a snapshot of a moment in culture when Americans were first beginning to live online, and a statement about the global implications of America's "1%." Maxine's witty banter with the eclectic cast of characters, and the pop culture references sprinkled throughout lighten the subject matter. Recommended for fans of detective novels and post-modern authors such as Don Delillo and J. G. Ballard.


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