29 December 2009

Book Review: On Reading by Andre Kertesz

Back in November I posted a scan of my favorite bookmark. It had a wonderful image on it with absolutely no photo credit or information on it. I have had it for at least 10 years and have always wondered where the photo came from. Well thanks to the power of the Internet and to the fabulous blogger Lethe, I now know. As Lethe wrote in her comment to my post:
André Kertész. It can be found on p. 56 of his book On Reading (reissued 2008) and is titled "André Jammes, Paris. November 4, 1963".
Even better, I now have in my hands my own copy of W.W. Norton's reissue of On Reading. It is a gem of a book. Smaller format than I had expected, but the images are wonderful.

Some of you in London may have been lucky enough to see an exhibit of this work as Reading Matters writes about here. Check out this site to see more of the images or better yet plan an exhibition.

Here is the beat-up old bookmark in question.


Andre Jammas, Paris, November 4, 1963
copryright Estate of André Kertész

Here are some of the other images from On Reading.





Academie Francaise, Paris, 1929
copyright Estate of André Kertész


New York City, February 25, 1951
copyright Estate of André Kertész

28 December 2009

Goodbye (and Good Riddance) to the Ought Naughts


A few years ago, my husband named this excrescence of a decade the “ought naughts”. As in, the naught years ought not to have happened. Here is the decade as I see it:
  • Ralph Nader and George Bush convinced gullible Americans that Bush and Al Gore were, for all intents and purposes, the same person.
  • From day one the Bush administration rolled back as many environmental regulations as it could.
  • September 11, 2001.
  • The Bush/Cheney response to 9/11. As much as I couldn’t stand him, I fully supported the President in the wake of 9/11. Until he took the good will of the entire country and most of the world and threw it out the window. What a fool.
  • Iraq. Even if you still believe all of the lies (and lies, and lies, and more lies) that got us into Iraq, couldn’t we have at least depended on the Bush administration to carry out the war in the most efficient, effective way possible? Apparently not.
  • Hurricane Katrina.
  • Gays. Apparently gays are the worst thing that has happened to America. Bush and company used gay marriage as the wedge issue of the decade. In the 2004 Presidential election gay marriage was on the ballot in 11 states, for no other reason than to bring out the religious right in droves to give Bush a second term, um I mean to save our country from the scourge of gay marriage.
  • Tax cuts, tax cuts, and more tax cuts while we were fighting two wars.
  • Worldcom, Enron, AIG, Bernie Madoff, etc. Greedy bastards need sound regulation. I’m talking to you Goldman, Citi and B of A. Too big to fail eventually will. Plenty of bipartisan blame for the malfeasance of corporate America. The only difference between lobbying and a bribe is that one is legal.
  • Ten years of almost no action in the US to reduce carbon emissions.
  • And special thanks to Fox News, Karl Rove, and Sarah Palin and others for reducing political discourse to a largely disingenuous binary choice between what they think is right and everything else. Facts? Who needs ‘em. There are plenty of political hacks on the left as well but they don’t even come close to having as nefarious and far reaching impact as these bozos.
Is President Obama doing everything right? Not by a long shot. Is he doing his best to undo 10 years of ridiculous policy? IMHO, yes.

Books You Can Live Without (!?)

 
Here is a great feature in the New York Times about getting rid of books.


27 December 2009

Book Review and Sunday Painting: Mariana and Amity


Mariana
Monica Dickens

First, the literary review: Spirited English girl comes of age. Enjoyable, somewhat cozy, romantic tale.

Amity
Bernard Fleetwood-Walker

Now for the painting(s): I’ll be truthful. I ordered this Persephone because of the cover. I love the standard gray Persephone covers, but they have done such a great job choosing paintings for their Classics editions that they are hard to resist. And two of them, Mariana and Cheerful Weather for the Wedding had images too compelling to pass up. (Thankfully I enjoyed Mariana much more than Cheerful Weather.) The cover painting on Mariana is called Amity and was painted by Bernard Fleetwood-Walker in 1933. I am drawn to it not only for the bright colors and the idyllic scene depicted, but I am also fascinated because there is something slightly subversive in the painting. Stylistically, the painting is almost illustration-like in the vein of American Norman Rockwell, but it also has a bit of an ironic twist like toned down John Currin.

Whatever Fleetwood-Walker’s intent, the two figures look as if they are related and there seems to be something going on below the surface that hints at an “innocent” incest in the same way the relationship between the cousins in Mariana does. And although the painting seems to be the epitome of wholesome sweetness at first glance there is something highly sexual about it as well. There seems to be a hint of Balthus-like perversion and more than a little of Cadmus’ cartoonish sexuality thrown in. The female figure recumbent, lazily offering up her flower with a basket of (perhaps forbidden) fruit. The male figure slightly erect with his muscular but fleshy head thrust forward. They look bored by whatever it is they are watching (other members of the party perhaps) but they also look as if things may have been interrupted just before they got going and are now just biding their time until they are alone again. .

Do you think the folks at Persephone had these things in mind when they chose this painting? Caustic Cover Critic points out that Penguin also used the painting for Colette's The Ripening Seed. If Penguin chose the same painting for Colette's tale of sexual awakening, I guess my take on the painting isn't as far fetched as I may have initially thought.

Fleetwood-Walker's Amity:



Like a combo of Norman Rockwell...



and toned down John Currin...



Heartless, 1997
John Currin

with hints of perverted Balthus...


Theresa, 1938
Balthus

and sexual Paul Cadmus


Jerry, 1931
Paul Cadmus

26 December 2009

Book Review: House-Bound by Winifred Peck




House-Bound
Winifred Peck

The first time I browsed the Persephone catalog I was drawn to House-Bound. Ostensibly, it is the story of Rose Fairlaw’s attempt to keep house when World War II-induced labor shortages make it near impossible to find servants. Rose’s struggle to bring her large house to heel and keep up standards is at times humorous, but also provides a framework for a broader look at whether or not those old standards and ways of life will survive the democratizing effects of the War. I think it can be justifiably said that the beginning of the end of the traditional master-servant dynamic in the UK was sealed in the previous World War when those “in service” got war jobs in factories that paid far better than their usual servant wages and with fewer rules imposed. The massive loss of life during the Great War caused many to question the value of upholding the old order. In that way the Great War played a part in a perfect storm of class consciousness over the course of a couple of decades that included the death of the Victorian era, massive labor strikes, a revolution in Russia, and the inevitable pull of popular culture and its ever-loosening moral standards. (Or perhaps I should say the democratization of loose moral standards. The gentry had long participated in behavior deemed unacceptable for the lower classes.)


But I digress. Suffice it to say similar tensions are at play in House-Bound. They are not, however, as central to the action then one would think at the outset. They get a fair amount of play at the beginning and a bit of lip service at the end, but the central chapters of the book have much more to do with family joys and sorrows as the Fairlaws cope with war. Perhaps most surprising is a storyline about Rose’s daughter that catches one a bit off guard, not only because it is unexpected but it also feels so much more modern than the trials that have preceded it.

Overall House-Bound feels a bit episodic. It is as if Peck had too many ideas floating around her head and found it difficult to either settle on one or two of them or to provide the necessary framework to fully develop them all in a mini-epic. This is no more evident than the role of Major Hosmer, an American who always seems a little too conveniently placed, propelling the story forward in somewhat unnatural ways. Rather than feeling like he is part of an organic literary whole, he seems more like an omnipresent deus ex machina whose only value is to help Peck advance the action. Major Hosmer’s presence is also indicative of Peck’s inability to really commit to any number of themes. On the one hand Peck wants Hosmer to represent the future: open, democratic, and slightly socialistic. On the other hand he is dismissed by some of the characters in a way that suggests that Peck is similarly dismissing him and what he represents. She wants to show Rose breaking free from her house-boundedness but she seems unwilling to commit to all that that would entail. As if Peck wants to break free of everything but class privilege.


Although I have quibbles with the overall arc of the book it was worthy of a read if for no other reason than for the critical thinking that it provoked. And many of the episodes were enjoyable in their own right. Some were comic, some were fascinating with domestic detail, and some were touching and hopeful. But in the end House-Bound falls short of being more than the sum of its parts.


24 December 2009

Blogging Christmas: 9:00 PM - (Not your traditional) Christmas Eve Fare

The traditional Christmas Eve meal in my family has been the Ruben for about as long as I can remember. I don't know how it ever got started but one year we made Rubens for Christmas Eve, and because we enjoyed it so, and because it was so easy to clean-up afterwards, it became a tradition. And one that I have chosen to carry forward into adulthood.

When I first met John and told him about it he thought I was a little nuts. That is until he had his first Christmas Eve Ruben. And so the tradition lives on.

For those of you don't know, a Ruben is a hot sandwich made with Pumpernickel bread, Swiss Cheese, Corned Beef,  and Saurkraut. In delis and restaurants they are often made with Thousand Island or Russian dressing as well. But that isn't something I added to my recipe until a few years ago. Then you wrap them in foil and put them in a 350 oven for about 15-20 minutes.

Not something most would consider appropriate holiday food. But they don't know what they are missing.








Christmas Blogging: 7:59 PM - Disappointed by The Woman in White (TV Movie)

Just finished watching The Woman in White. If I hadn't read the book it would have been interesting. Having read the book, the film was pretty disappionting.

Lesson: Don't try and squeeze a fantastic 500-page book into a two-hour movie.

But Andrew Lincoln made a handsome Walter Hartright.


Blogging Christmas: 6:38 PM - Time for a Fire.


By the way, I am wearing a big hoodie. That is not all me under there.


Blogging Christmas: 6:30 PM - Watching The Woman in White

Perfect timing.Today a Netflix copy of the 1997 adaptation of The Woman in White. Perfect for a cozy evening.  Ian Richardson is perfectr as Mr. Fairlie, haven't run into Simon Callow's Count Fosco yet.

Our dinner guest is running late and won't be getting here until 8ish.



Blogging Christmas: 5:40 PM - Prep Work for Tomorrow

Normally we have prime rib on Christmas Day. But this year we felt like we didn't get enough in the way of Thanksgiving leftovers (sandwiches!) so we decided on turkey.

But turkey dinner means a fair amount of prep work.

Cranberry sauce needs to be made. (This is crucial for the sandwiches.)



Stock for the gravy needs to be made.





Dried mushrooms rehydrated for the stuffing. The rehydrating liquid also gets used in the stuffing.



Everything all a'simmer.


Blogging Christmas: 3:00 PM - Chocolate Scotcheroos

My sister made Special K bars when we were out in Phoenix a few weeks ago. They were amazingly yummy. I think these Chocolate Scotcheroos are the same thing, expect they use Rice Krispies instead of Special K.





Mine are too warm to cut. But Kellogg's thinks mine should end up looking like this.


Blogging Christmas: 2:30 PM - Back to the Store

Sheesh. I forgot to get peanut butter. Thankfully the grocery store is only two blocks away.

Blogging Christmas: 2:00 PM - Cozy TV

What I watched (John snoozed):

As Time Goes By. Not my favorite Britcom, but it can be awfully cozy.



What I wish I could watch:

The Good Life (Good Neighbors in the US). Best Britcom ever.  There are so many great British sitcoms I don't know why they only ever seem to show As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances, and Are You Being Served. It's like PBS bought the rights to those three years ago and they have been playing them non-stop for the past decade.


Blogging Christmas: 12:30 PM - Lunch

I think the only thing better than spaghetti, is leftover, reheated spaghetti.

Blogging Christmas: 11:30 AM - John is Reading.

John has a cold so he gets to rest and get better. He is happy as a clam with a stuffy nose and cozy on the couch reading Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi.



And no, not all of these drugs are for John's cold.  I stocked up this morning on stuff that would be covered under our 2009 tax-free Flexible Spending Plan. Plus we needed some things for the trip like Dramamine. I don't really have good sea legs. Even a short boat ride out to a reef for snorkeling can make me queasy. And I don't want to reprise the great Bermuda boat disaster of 2007 where I hurled over the side of the boat while all the other snorkellers looked on in horror.

What does it say about drug marketing that the packaging goes so well with the citrus fruit?


Blogging Christmas: 11:30 AM - Makin' Pie

I am not a huge fan of pumpkin pie, but John really loves it. So we got out his grandmother's recipe and popped it in the oven. It won't be the only dessert over the next few days...

UPDATE: John rightly points out that if you try this recipe don't make any substitutions on the Molasses. Anything darker will make for a very dark, rather unpleasant pie.