Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Life Studies by Susan Vreeland

Susan Vreeland writes about artists in beautiful fiction that leaves me fulfilled in some way. My favorite book in this genre is her Passion of Artemesia. I also like the Girl in Hyacinth Blue, both of these read before I started this blog. So I picked up her Life Studies as an audio book, but found myself frustrated, that I couldn't get to an image of the painter's work while I was listening, so I returned the audio book, checked the book from the library, and since it is not one continuous story, but many stories about many artists, I read it over time. I would find the artist's work on the Web or in some art book, so I could visualize the paintings described.
The first half of the book called "Then" consists of eight stories about famous artists from 1876 to 1939: Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet (1879 and 1907 stories), Berthe Morisot, Eduard Manet, Paul Cezanne, van Gogh, Modigliani. As Vreeland writes in her afterward, these are fictional, but based on research about the artists.
The "Interlude" is a delightful story "The Adventures of Bernardo and Salvatore, or, The Cure: A Tale", written in the style of a tale about two Italians, one who is ill and the other his friend, who wants to cure his friend and takes him on a pilgrimage to Rome to see and be inspired by the art. This is set some time ago, when there were no museums, so the men have to go to churches or bribe servants to let them into rich people's homes to see the art. (Part of the tale and magic.)
The last part "Now" is a series of stories about art in people's lives instead of about famous artists. A man who doesn't understand his art loving girlfriend, a woman working in clay, a woman daring to be a nude model for a sculpture class (my favorite of this series), a mother and son participating in a pagent, where famous paintings and sculptures are reproduced life-size with real people posing against painted backdrops.
The stories are not focused on the art, but on the people and their lives. Art is just a major part of those lives. I love it!
(Read 4-25-06)

Erotic Utopia by Olga Matich

This book caught my eye with its intriguing title and subtitle: The decadent imagination in Russia’s fin-de-siècle, while I was ordering Russian literature books. I read most of the introduction and conclusion, but ended just skimming the rest, as it required a much more in depth knowledge of Russian literature and culture than I possess. I especially liked the term "erotic celibacy" that was used throughout. Otherwise it was quite theoretical, looking at the lives Russian authors, their relationships and ideas and how they portrayed them in their works. Modernism and psychopathology were applied.
(Read April, 2006)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Archangel by Sharon Shinn

I love this author! I read a couple of her young adult books, but this was the first adult fantasy book I've read. Shinn has created a totally new world with humans and angels. Angels seem to be human like, but they have huge wings with which they can fly and their blood runs hotter, so they can take the cold in the high reaches of the atmosphere. They are supposed to mate with humans. The angels are responsible for communicating with Jovah on behalf of the people through singing. Every 20 years a new Archangel is appointed, and he (or she) has to have Jovah's chosen partner to sing with him/her once a year at the Gloria or the god will be angered and destroy their world. Gabriel is the up and coming Archangel, who has been reluctant to find his woman, and once he finds out it is Rachel, he can't find her, and once he finds her, they don't get along. There is a corrupt Archangel to be replaced, slavery to be erased, and other inequities to be righted. I can't explain why this book was so intriguing to me, but there are more in this series, which I will just have to buy.
(Read over spring break, finished 4/10/06)

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

This book was so disconcerting to me, that I had to go to other book reviews to see what other people thought. This is considered a brilliant first book by Goldberg, and I have to admit it was well written and drew me into the lives of these four family members. Eliza the 5th grader is the catalyst for the whole story. Though she is an average student, she surprisingly wins a series of spelling bees. Her father Saul starts working with her on her spelling, neglecting his son Aaron in the process, who looks elsewhere for guidance and happiness. Her mother is a lawyer, who is distant from the family, but gets her kicks from shoplifting. Though I was intrigued, I had a hard time listening to what seemed like the total falling apart of this family and the individuals in it. One of my colleagues had written a book review of this and felt it ended on a hopeful note. I think the note was too quiet to give me any real hope for this family. I also found the discussion of a book club on this book online, and found their thoughts and concerns aligned with mine. For instance, they felt they did not know enough about Jewish mysticism, to be able to evaluate some of the events in the book. This book club was also disconcerted by the ending. I did like the inside view of the spelling bee competitions. The New York Times book review commented, that Goldberg seemed to approach spelling bees like beauty pagents for nerds.
(Finished listening to 4/11/06)

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

I don't believe I read another economics book, but with the subheading "a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything ", I was intrigued. Dubner is a journalist, that helps Levitt pull together many of his findings and presents them in a very understandable manner. After a conference this past week, where I was sometimes lost in statistical talk, I found myself amazed at what can be learned from smartly applied statistics. Well this book was all about looking at data and teasing out the real reasons behind certain phenomena. The one that I can't get out of my mind is the fact that since abortion was legalized, and the appropriate time has passed since those unwanted babies would have grown to teenagerhood, the crime rate has dropped drastically, at a rate that cannot be explained by the usual - improved policing methods, economic upswing, etc.
Finished listening to 4/1/06.