A Booklover’s Guide to New York, by Cleo Le-Tan, with drawings by Pierre Le-Tan (Rizzoli): As Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, some New Yorkers measure theirs in departed bookstores. I weep most for Crawford Doyle, which in 2017 closed after twenty-one years in stately residence on Madison Avenue at Eighty-first Street. But there have been compensations among the heartaches. In 2014, Albertine opened at the French Embassy, on Fifth Avenue and Seventy-ninth Street. The gorgeous store cheekily asserts on billboards that “The best bookstore in France is in New York City.” And Rizzoli, which lost its lease in its double-front townhouse on Fifty-seventh Street in 2014, later reopened on Broadway and Twenty-sixth Street, in a space nearly as grand as the original. Cleo Le-Tan’s A Booklover’s Guide to New York is expressly made for those who view the city’s bookstores as integral to its being. Documenting the shops, sellers, libraries, and bibliophiles of the city, the illustrated book is a worthy addition to any personal collection.
“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.
Working solely with an 1898 Agfa field camera, Thomas Joshua Cooper has established himself as one of the foremost photographers of our time. His magnificent black-and-white seascapes explore specific points on the globe–often at the most remote areas, where sea and land meet. Fans of Cooper’s Atlas project, in which he has charted the Atlantic Basin, will be thrilled to find a generous selection of those images here–abstractions ranging from pitch black to clear white, and subtle gradations in between. Exquisitely reproduced, these photographs reveal the coastlines of the five continents that encircle the Atlantic Ocean. This volume also features images that deal with themes such as the earth’s changing environment, historical narratives, and North America’s great rivers and their sources. Enhancing this book are an essay by Michael Govan; biographies of the artist by Rebecca Morse and Anne Lyden, International Photography Curator at the National Galleries of Scotland; and a chronicle of the Atlas project by Christie Davis of the Lannan Foundation. Poems by Robinson Jeffers and Theodore Roethke round out this retrospective book of one of the most celebrated and distinctive photographers working today.
James Wood recalls his time at the college, with David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others.
Even at a place like Eton, it didn’t seem likely that anyone in my year would actually become prime minister. At school, everyone is ‘ambitious’, everyone loudly stretching upwards, but perhaps true ambition has a pair of silent claws. None of us identified David Cameron as the boy marching inexorably towards Downing Street. When he became Tory leader in 2005, I had difficulty recalling him: wasn’t he that affable, sweet-faced, minor fellow at the edge of things? I remembered him as quite handsome, with the Etonian’s uncanny ability to soften entitlement with charm. Mostly, he was defined by negatives: he wasn’t an intellectual or scholar, a rebel, a musician, a school journalist or writer, even a sportsman.
“Asking even seasoned chefs and truffle-industry insiders to describe what the fungus tastes or smells like,” Jacobs writes, “is a bit like asking a priest why he believes in God.” Readers not familiar with the pungent, one-of-a-kind flavor will come away even more intrigued. Those of us whose most frequent encounter with the fabled fungus is through truffle oil will also be disappointed. As Jacobs discovers, nearly all truffle butter and truffle oil sold in America is manufactured using chemicals rather than the real thing.
Part culinary exploration, part history, and part true crime, reporter Ryan Jacobs takes readers to France, Italy, and the Pacific Northwest in The Truffle Underground. “Even without criminal interference, the truffle’s journey from spore to plate is so fraught with biological uncertainty, economic competition, and logistical headaches that a single shaving could be understood as a testament to the wonder of human civilization.” Truffles are often referred to as diamonds, and the violent crime Jacobs’s chronicles reinforces that comparison.
In Montparnasse begins on the eve of the First World War and ends with the 1936 unveiling of Dalí’s Lobster Telephone. As those extraordinary years unfolded, the Surrealists found ever more innovative ways of exploring the interior life, and asking new questions about how to define art. In Montparnasse recounts how this artistic revolution came to be amidst the salons and cafés of that vibrant neighborhood.
Sue Roe is both an incisive art critic of these pieces and a beguiling biographer with a fingertip feel for this compelling world. Beginning with Duchamp, Roe then takes us through the rise of the Dada movement, the birth of Surrealist photography with Man Ray, the creation of key works by Ernst, Cocteau, and others, through the arrival of Dalí. On canvas and in their readymades and other works these artists juxtaposed objects never before seen together to make the viewer marvel at the ordinary—and at the workings of the subconscious. We see both how this art came to be and how the artists of Montparnasse lived.
Pencils are discarded, as lighters and umbrellas are, because at some crucial moment they fail in their purpose. They refuse to ignite, quail before a shower, or simply snap. But pencils have merely suspended their usefulness. Their potential still lies within them. They can go on setting down by the thousand the words by which the world works.
Yet the pencil’s marks are worryingly fragile. I have worked on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s notebooks, 200 years old, where the pencil-scrawled originals are forbidden to all but the most careful hands. Shelley used pens and ink-bottles both at his desk and out of doors, but he preferred pencils in the open air, and perhaps not just for practical reasons. To look on his pencilled drafts is almost to see the graphite dust sifting away before your eyes – blown by the wild West Wind, perhaps.