One-Minute Book Reviews

March 11, 2009

‘Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa’ — Partial Verdict

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Picasso used “a rusty frying pan for a chamber pot,” R. A. Scotti says in Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa (Knopf, April 2009), her new book about the 1911 theft of the painting from the Louvre. I’ve been reading this fascinating historical true-crime story to distract myself from the crimes against literature committed by some of the Delete Key Awards finalists. And based on the first 75 pages: Fans of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, this is your book.

February 28, 2009

Pat Cummings’s ‘Talking With Artists’ Series Lets Children Read About Their Favorite Picture-Book Illustrators and What They Do All Day

Any book in Pat Cummings’s three-volume Talking With Artists series would make a wonderful gift for a 6-to-9-year-old who loves to draw or paint. Each book is a colorful and often amusing collection of more than a dozen interviews (in a Q-and-A format) with well-known picture-book illustrators, typically supplemented by photos of their youthful and mature work and more. Vol. I includes Chris Van Allsburg and Leo and Diane Dillon; Vol. II, Brian Pinkney and Denise Fleming; Vol. III, Jane Dyer and Peter Sis. A winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, Cummings has a gift for getting artists to talk about their work in terms that will engage children. “I love what I do,” William Joyce says in the second book. “It’s like getting paid for recess.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

December 17, 2008

A Coffee-Table Book About African Art from Algerian Pottery to Zulu Shawls — and Ghanaian Coffin Shaped Like a Mercedes

Filed under: African American,Coffee Table Books,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:25 pm
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In the capital of Ghana well-off families often bury their members in coffins shaped like objects important to the deceased — an onion for a farmer, a sword for a tribal leader, a Mercedes Benz for a successful businessman. A photo of a remarkable fish-shaped coffin appears in the new second edition of A History of Art in Africa (Pearson, 560 pp., $150), written by Monica Blackmun Visona, Robin Poynor, and Herbert M. Cole. And that picture suggests part of the appeal of this unusually comprehensive book, which spans thousands of years and topics from Algerian pottery to Zulu shawls: The authors show how much more there is to African art than the representations most familiar to Americans, such wood carvings, kente cloth, and Egyptian tomb paintings.

An intelligent text and more than 700 photographs describe the evolution of the continent’s jewelry, textiles, ceramics, painting, and photographs and other arts. And a new chapter in the second edition covers African artists abroad, including Edmonia Lewis (c. 1843–1909) “the first woman artist of African descent to gain prominence in the United States,” whose marble statue of the biblical Hagar appears in the Smithsonian Institution

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.

November 23, 2008

Watch a Slide Show of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2008

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:29 am
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Every year since 1952, the editors of the New York Times Book Review have asked a group of judges to pick the best illustrated children’s books of the year. The 2008 list appeared in the NYTBR on Nov. 9, and if you missed it, you can watch a slide show that includes a picture from each of the 10 honorees here
www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/11/06/books/20081109ILLUSTRATEDBOOKS_index.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 29, 2008

Rating the Book Covers — Steve Fraser’s ‘Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace’

The upside-down flag is a metaphor.

A few comments on the cover of Steve Fraser’s Wall Street, reviewed Monday:

This brief history of Wall Street is part of the small-format “Icons of America” series from Yale University Press. Because it’s a good book, you might want to look for others in the line. But nothing on the cover identifies it as part of a series, so if you’re hoping to spot its kin easily at a bookstore or library, you’re out of luck.

Wall Street and “Icons of America” are recent examples of trend at university presses to publish more books with mass-market appeal. The older Harvard Business School Press “Ideas With Impact” series is another www.hbsp.harvard.edu. And so far it’s been more successful, partly because it has a distinctive visual identity: You can spot HBSP books from halfway across the store at any airport Borders. Clearly Harvard had an advantage in that the “Ideas With Impact” series gathers articles from the Harvard Business Review, which itself has a distinctive look. But if U. S. News & World Report rated the covers of university-press books the way it rates colleges, Harvard would still win by a mile.

Apart from not establishing a brand identity, the cover of Wall Street uses yellowish tones that give it a retro look – a bit misleading given that Fraser carries the history of Wall Street into the 21st century. The cover appears to show a montage of shot-from-below pictures that suggest the dizzying, topsy-turvy action of the markets, partly through the upside-down American flag. It works well as a metaphor. For the same reason, you don’t want to look too long at it.

To its credit the cover avoids a static head-on shot of the New York Stock Exchange and visual clichés such as the Merrill Lynch bull. The montage also wraps in an interesting way around the spine and about two-thirds of the back of the book, which you can’t see here. On most covers, only the background color wraps front-to-back — the cover image stops at the spine to make for room blurbs or a large author photo. The unusual use of art on this one creates a handsome effect that says “money.”

Wall Street was reviewed on Oct. 27 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/.

Jacket illustration: Hirooki Aoki/Getty Images

Note: A thousand apologies to anyone who can’t see the image on this post. I’m working to solve technical problems that cause only part of the images to appear to some visitors, particularly those using browners other than Firefox. I’ll repost this page after I’ve fixed this. In the meantime you can see the cover on the Yale University Press site yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300117554. Thanks so much for your patience and for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 26, 2008

Bethany Lowe’s ‘Folk Art Halloween’ – Craft Projects for the Very Patient

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:23 am
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My supermarket has started selling cans of glow-in-the-dark orange-colored Halloween cream soda, and Bethany Lowe’s new Folk Art Halloween (Lark, 131 pp., $17.95) has something of their spirit. This oversized paperback gives instructions for 30 slightly kitschy craft projects — think Family Circle squared — that aren’t for the Real Simple subscriber base.

A table runner with appliquéd bats and pumpkins calls for embroidery floss and a size 20 Chenille needle. And a witch figurine requires 24 materials such as black glitter, spray sealer, upholstery thread, a polystyrene foam ball and a plastic spider. But Lowe www.bethanylowe.com includes 26 pages of color retro clip art and templates for basic Halloween forms (mask, black cat, spider web) that you could use for your projects. She also has a great idea for children’s party invitations: Enclose a piece of cardstock and a note asking the recipient to color a Halloween image on it and return it as the RSVP www.larkbooks.com/catalog?isbn=9781600592539.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 15, 2008

A Guide to New York That’s Worth Waiting on Line for

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:26 pm
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AIA Guide to New York City: Fourth Edition. New York Chapter/American Institute of Architects. By Norval White and Elliot Willensky. Three Rivers, 1,056 pages, $37.50, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

No urban guidebook has brought more joy to my life than the American Institute of Architects’ AIA Guide to New York City, my indispensable companion when I lived in New York. This modern classic is the definitive street-by-street and building-by-building guide to the five boroughs, illustrated with thousands of clear postage-stamp–sized black-and-white photographs.

No matter where you are in the city, you can look up your spot, read about it, and, often as not, find something surprising or wonderful nearby. The authors focus on what is most interesting about the architecture of each building they include. But they can pack a remarkable amount of social, cultural and historical background into their pithy and opinionated descriptions. They write of 867 Madison Avenue, the site of the former Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo House and current Ralph Lauren flagship store:

“Every part of this building exudes personality: bay windows, a roof line bristling with dormers and chimneys. The extraordinarily ornamented neo-French Renaissance limestone palace has captured the imagination of the commercial world since 1921, when it was first occupied by an antiques firm. It has subsequently housed interior decorators, auction houses like Christie’s of London, the Zabar family’s East Side outpost E.A.T., and now fashion designer Ralph Lauren’s flagship retail outlet. Rhinelander Waldo, socialite, hero of the Spanish-American War, and police commissioner can be observed ‘in action’ in the novel and movie Ragtime.”

Last revised during the Giuliani administration, the AIA Guide to New York City has some out-of-date material. But it hardly matters when it has so much that you can’t find anywhere else in such a compact and appealing form. The Michelin Green Guide to New York City is better for tourists and new residents who want a guide to the city’s landmarks. But if you say “wait on line” instead of “wait in line” and wouldn’t dream of referring to Sixth Avenue as “Avenue of the Americas,” this is your book.

Best line: White and Willensky are unafraid to show a little New York attitude, and their book is times as entertaining as it is authoritative. The entry for Tavern on the Green says: “The entrance to this chronically remodeled eating-drinking-dancing spot, built around Central Park’s 1870 sheepfold, is at 67th Street and Central Park West. Expensive. (At night the trees, wrapped to the roots in their minilights, suggest an invasion of bulb people.)”

Worst line: Some of us will forever miss a few of the vanished factoids of the first edition. Among them: the egg cream – a drink that used to be as much of a New York culinary staple as the Coney Island hot dog – contains neither egg nor cream.

Recommendation? A great gift for anybody who loves art, architecture, antiques or history as much as New York City.

Furthermore: There are AIA Guides of varying quality to other major cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis and St. Paul. The AIA Guide to New York City is the gold standard in the field.

Links: New York Times article on the making of the AIA Guide to New York City query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9407E3D61638F931A1575BC0A96F958260; Michelin Green Guide to New York City www.langenscheidt.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=3184.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 12, 2008

Why Do People Collect Stamps, Beer Mugs or First Editions of Novels? William Davies King Answers in ‘Collections of Nothing’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:32 pm
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A man who collects plastic cauliflower bags deserves a certain respect. So between my mental trips to the water cube in Beijing, I’ve been reading a quirky new book by a University of California theater professor who collects things nobody else wants, like empty Cheez-It boxes and cauliflower bags that mimic “the sphericity of a cauliflower head.”

William Davies King seems to have low-keyed ambitions for Collections of Nothing (University of Chicago, 163 pages, $20), a cross between a memoir and a meditation on the impulse to acquire. He hasn’t tried to provide a definitive survey or analysis – just insights into the passion for accumulation that include this observation:

“Middle-class life is itself a collection: a spouse, a house, a brace of children, a suitable car, a respectable career, cuddly pets, photos of grinning relatives, toys for all ages and hours, coffee and coffee pots, coffee cups and spoons, coffee table books about coffee and about coffee tables.”

King offers a host of reasons for why the urge to collect is universal if you count people who collect jokes or friends or experiences instead of objects. But perhaps his most interesting idea is that collecting is a way of coping with the knowledge that you can’t own other people – which is what all of us really want. Read more about the book here www.press.uchicago.edu and an excerpt here www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/437002.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 24, 2008

Why You See a Hint of Columns in the ‘Mona Lisa’ — Answers to Tuesday’s Art Quiz

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:41 pm
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How well did you do on Tuesday’s pop quiz inspired by Patrick De Rynck’s How to Read a Painting? Here are the answers from the book:

1. Why do you see a hint of columns on the far right and left in the Mona Lisa?
They create “the impression that she is sitting in an open loggia.”
2. Where in The Last Supper do you find Judas knocking over the salt?
John sits at the right hand of Christ (in the center of the picture), and Peter leans toward him, shoving Judas aside. Judas “clasps the purse containing the silver coins he received from the authorities and knocks over the salt.”
3. Why does the man stand next to the window and the woman away from it in Giovanni Arnofini and His Wife?
The wife’s position “associates her with the ‘inside world’ of the home.”

How to Read a Painting: Lessons From the Old Masters (Abrams, 2004) is an excellent collection of analyses of more than 100 great paintings, each shown on a two-page spread with callouts that highlight some of its interesting aspects. Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife, shown here, hangs the National Gallery in London under the title The Arnolfini Portrait.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 22, 2008

‘How to Read a Painting’ – Why Do You See Columns in the ‘Mona Lisa’?

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:12 pm
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Quiz time, art lovers:

1. Why do you see a hint of columns on the far right and left in the Mona Lisa?
2. Where in The Last Supper do you find Judas knocking over the salt?
3. Why does the man stand next to the window and the woman away from it in Giovanni Arnofini and His Wife (sometimes called The Marriage of the Arnolfini)?

Patrick De Rynck deals with these and other questions in his How to Read a Painting: Lessons From the Old Masters (Abrams, 2004), an excellent collection of analyses of more than 100 great paintings, each shown on a two-page spread with callouts that highlight some of its interesting aspects. Many good books for children or adults take a similar approach to art, but this is the best I’ve found in more than a decade of keeping an eye on the category. I’ll have answers to the art quiz later this week and more on How to Read a Painting soon.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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