Category Archives: Books

New Art Books: “Morning Glory On The Vine” By Joni Mitchell Is “Vivid, Intimate”

From a New Yorker online article:

Joni Mitchell Morning Glory on the Vine drawingI became engrossed in Mitchell’s drawings while browsing the book—they’re vivid, intimate—but her handwritten lyrics and poems are just as revelatory. It’s hard not to think about art-making of any kind as an alchemical process, in which feelings and experiences go in and something else comes out. Whatever happens in between is mysterious, if not sublime: suddenly, an ordinary sensation is made beautiful. Our most profound writers do this work with ease, or at least appear to. Mitchell’s lyrics are never overworked or self-conscious, and she manages to be precise in her descriptions while remaining ambiguous about what’s right and what’s wrong; in her songs, the cures and the diseases are sometimes indistinguishable. 

Joni Mitchell Morning Glory on the Vine BookJoni Mitchell, in the foreword to “Morning Glory on the Vine,” her new book of lyrics and illustrations, explains that, in the early nineteen-seventies, just as her fervent and cavernous folk songs were finding a wide audience, she was growing less interested in making music than in drawing. “Once when I was sketching my audience in Central Park, they had to drag me onto the stage,” she writes. Though Mitchell is deeply beloved for her music—her album “Blue” is widely considered one of the greatest LPs of the album era and is still discussed, nearly fifty years later, in reverent, almost disbelieving whispers—she has consistently defined herself as a visual artist. “I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by circumstance,” she told the Globe and Mail, in 2000. At the very least, painting was where she directed feelings of wonderment and relish. “I sing my sorrow and I paint my joy,” is how she put it.

To read more: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/joni-mitchell-discusses-her-new-book-of-early-songs-and-drawings

New Books: “Edison” By Pulitzer Prize-Winner Edmund Morris (2019)

From a Wall Street Journal online review:

Edison by Edmuns Morris 2019Not until July 16 did Edison feel that he had a device worth patenting. The application he signed that day specified multiple timpani that “reproduced” vocal inflections and a sibilant-sensitive diaphragm. But a laboratory visitor (spying for Bell) found the instrument more powerful than clear, with the word schism sounding more like kim.

“We have had terrible hard work on the Speaking telegraph,” Batchelor complained to his fellow inventor Ezra Gilliland. For the past five to six weeks, he added, Edison’s team had been “frequently working 2 nights together until we all had to knock off from want of sleep.”

Thomas Alva Edison’s self-proclaimed greatest invention, the phonograph, won him overnight fame. Journalists would marvel that such an acoustic revolution, adding a whole new dimension to human memory, could have been accomplished by a man half deaf in one ear and wholly deaf in the other.

In February 1877, the same month that saw Edison turn 30 and show his first streaks of silver hair, he and his fellow inventor Charles Batchelor began a new series of experiments on what they called, variously, the “telephonic telegraph,” the “speaking telegraph” and the “talking telephone.”

To read more: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-making-of-thomas-edisons-miraculous-machine-11571324989

Top New Fiction: “Agent Running In The Field” By John le Carré (2019)

From a The Economist online review:

Agent Running In The Field John LeCarre The Economist“Agent Running in the Field” is narrated by Nat, a 47-year-old spy for British intelligence—known not as “the Circus” of yore but, more prosaically, as “the Office”.

After years spent handling secret agents overseas Nat has returned to London to take charge of the Haven, an “outstation” of the Russia department that doubles as “a dumping ground for resettled defectors of nil value and fifth-rate informants on the skids”. With Florence, his number two, Nat throws himself into Operation Rosebud, which involves the surveillance of a London-based Ukrainian oligarch with links to Moscow Centre. Then Florence unexpectedly resigns and won’t return Nat’s calls. Equally abruptly, the powers-that-be pull the plug on the operation.

WHEN JOHN LE CARRÉ’S third book, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, was published in 1963, it presented the world of espionage in a harsh new light. Spies were not brave, suave heroes. “They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too,” explains the flawed and beleaguered protagonist, Alec Leamas. They are “sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.” The novel preferred intrigue to adventure, gritty reality to escapist fantasy. Readers expecting a finale in which good conquered evil were instead offered convoluted twists and a bleak denouement.

To read more: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2019/10/14/john-le-carres-25th-novel-is-blisteringly-contemporary?cid1=cust/dailypicks1/n/bl/n/20191014n/owned/n/n/dailypicks1/n/n/NA/325041/n

New Books: Frank Lloyd Wright Bio “Plagued By Fire” By Paul Hendrickson

From a Wall Street Journal online review:

Plagued by Fire Paul HendrickonWhereas most Wright biographies build from one structure to the next, this one caroms from one digression to the next. Mr. Hendrickson spins miniature biographies of the people who commissioned Wright to build their homes and office buildings. An array of midcentury figures appears: e.g., Glenway Wescott, the novelist and poet who rubbed shoulders with Gertrude Stein in Paris and whose sister commissioned one of Wright’s homes; and Clarence Darrow, the renowned lawyer, who waded into the murk of Wright’s personal life when a disgruntled housekeeper attempted to use the Mann Act to have Wright arrested. We also meet the little-known residents of various structures. Seth Peterson, for instance, dreamed of living in a Wright home so powerfully that he camped out in the one he commissioned as it was being built. 

Even when you grant how exposed to the elements an architect’s work may be, Frank Lloyd Wright appears to have been an insurer’s nightmare. If a building could shake, burn or flood, time and again Wright’s structures did. Like the exquisite Rose Pauson House in Phoenix, which lasted a mere year before succumbing to fire. Or the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, with its gorgeous H-shaped guest wing, rocked by an earthquake on the day it opened. The Johnson Wax building in Racine, Wis., was so porous that office staff were known to keep buckets by their desk on rainy days.

To read more: https://www.wsj.com/articles/plagued-by-fire-review-the-spirit-in-the-form-11570806240?mod=ig_booksoctober12

Top New Books: “The Body – A Guide For Occupants” By Bill Bryson (2019)

From a Washington Post online article:

The Body Bill BrysonThe single most astounding thing I found was that if you took all your DNA and formed it into a single fine strand, it would stretch to Pluto. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a fact that blew me away more than that — that there’s enough of me or you or anyone else to stretch to Pluto. There’s 10 billion miles of DNA inside you. That just seems unbelievable. The surprise is not that there’s so much to understand about the body but that we understand as much as we do.

Our bodies are the best technology we’ve ever taken for granted, according to Bill Bryson’s 20th book, “The Body: A Guide for Occupants” ($30, Doubleday), which will be released Oct. 15. Having already covered topics such as nature, homes and linguistics, Bryson takes on life, death and everything in between. He spoke with contributor Stephanie Kanowitz about his reasons for writing the book and what he learned. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/the-brain-is-the-most-extraordinary-thing-in-the-universe-bill-bryson-on-his-latest-book/2019/10/07/48f208d0-e53e-11e9-a331-2df12d56a80b_story.html

Top Non-Fiction Books: “Brooklyn – The Once And Future City” By Thomas J. Campanella (2019)

From a Princeton University Press online release:

Brooklyn - The Once and Future CityAmerica’s most storied urban underdog, Brooklyn has become an internationally recognized brand in recent decades—celebrated and scorned as one of the hippest destinations in the world. In Brooklyn: The Once and Future City, Thomas J. Campanella unearths long-lost threads of the urban past, telling the rich history of the rise, fall, and reinvention of one of the world’s most resurgent cities.

Spanning centuries and neighborhoods, Brooklyn-born Campanella recounts the creation of places familiar and long forgotten, both built and never realized, bringing to life the individuals whose dreams, visions, rackets, and schemes forged the city we know today. He takes us through Brooklyn’s history as homeland of the Leni Lenape and its transformation by Dutch colonists into a dense slaveholding region. We learn about English émigré Deborah Moody, whose town of Gravesend was the first founded by a woman in America. We see how wanderlusting Yale dropout Frederick Law Olmsted used Prospect Park to anchor an open space system that was to reach back to Manhattan. And we witness Brooklyn’s emergence as a playland of racetracks and amusement parks celebrated around the world.

To read more: https://press.princeton.edu/titles/13671.html

New Books On Aging: “Elderhood – Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life” By Louise Aronson

From Louise Aronson’s website:

Elderhood coverNoted Harvard-trained geriatrician Louise Aronson uses stories from her quarter century of caring for patients and draws from history, science, literature, popular culture, and her own life to weave a vision of old age that’s neither nightmare nor utopian fantasy—a vision full of joy, wonder, frustration, outrage, and hope about aging, medicine, and life itself.

For more than 5,000 years, “old” has been defined as beginning between the ages of 60 and 70. Now that humans are living longer than ever before, many people alive today will be elders for 30 years or more. Yet at the very moment that most of us will spend more years in elderhood than in childhood, we’ve made old age into a disease, a condition to be dreaded, disparaged, neglected, and denied.

To read more: https://louisearonson.com/books/elderhood/