Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I have been familiar with many of Michelangelo's works since college when I took a class titled "The Arts and Letters of Michelangelo". A wonderful class, the professor greatly elaborated upon the Neoplatonic views that were circulating at this time among philosophers such as Marsilio Ficino, and how Michelangelo incorporated these views into his artwork. I was happy to find that this book does the same thing, as well as, discusses the political and cultural climate of Italy in the late 15th to early 16th centuries. The author John Spike seems to have a keen insight and understanding into the artist.
Young Michelangelo tells us about Michelangelo's upbringing including his beginning as an artist under the direction of Domenico Ghirlandaio and in the garden of Lorenzo de' Medici. We are introduced to Michelangelo's first works, the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs, as well as sketches he did after frescoes by Masaccio and Ghirlandaio. These extant works show how versatile and talented Michelangelo was as a young artist in different mediums. The book talks about his Bacchus, David, Pieta, and other early commissions before going into details about his long and complex relationship with Giuliano della Rovere, a.k.a. Pope Julius II. We see the beginnings of his longtime habit of taking on more in commissions than he could finish and leaving projects in an unfinished state.
The author, John Spike, is very good at explaining the different stresses in Michelangelo's life and interpreting his response to these stresses, whether they are the political climate of his native Florence, the wishes of a demanding patron, or competition from other artists. The opinion of many art historians is that three Italian Renaissance artists catapulted themselves above the rest in their ability to produce extraordinary artwork at this time. Michelangelo was one of these artists, the other two being Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael Sanzio. Spike also discusses Michelangelo's interactions with these two artists. Michelangelo was put in direct competition with da Vinci through a fresco commission in Florence; Raphael he writes off as a young kid of mediocre talent until he also comes under the commission of the pope. Contemporaries who knew each other personally, it is very interesting to me to hear how they interacted with and perceived one another with their very different attitudes and quirks.
Spike has done a lot of research to write this book. I would like him to write a Part II that would be a biography of Michelangelo's later life talking about his continued issues with Julius II and his issues cooperating with his assistants. In my opinion, Young Michelangelo seems to abruptly end. There is no conclusion and the last work of art the author talks about in the work is actually a fresco by Raphael. The format of the book also seems a bit strange. The first chapters are of a nice length but the very last chapter of the book reminds me of a run-on sentence being much longer. It strikes me as unfinished and lacking conclusion; the subtitle is "the Path to the Sistine", so please, tell me about the Sistine in another book! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Michelangelo's early life though. It amazing the kinds of work he was able to produce at such a young age!
Young Michelangelo: the Path to the Sistine
I’m always drawn to picture books illustrated by James Ransome. In September, 1994 Mr. Ransome visited KPL and we found that he was not only a terrific artist but also a warm and engaging man. In the years since then, it’s been interesting to follow his career as a creator of children’s books. The Children’s Book Council has named him one of the 75 authors and illustrators everyone should know.
One of Mr. Ransome’s newest books is My Teacher, a loving look at a special elementary school teacher. This warmly-told story is a nice reminder that back-to-school is coming soon.
What caught my eye was the cover . . . it looks like summer. Mielo So’s watercolor painting of a beach scene promises lovely things inside. Here are the first and last couplets of the poem called “What the Waves Say”:
“Shimmer and run, catch the sun.
Ripple thin, catch the wind.
Roll green, rise and lean—
wake and roar and strike the shore.”
Kate Coombs’ poems are a mix of playfulness and mystery; Water Sings Blue is a lovely collection that is just right for reading aloud with kids.
Water Sings Blue
Even though the cover of House Held Up By Trees has a melancholy look, the soft and gentle words tell a story that feels like a magical secret . . . an abandoned house that is lifted off its sterile foundation by the trees growing up around it. Poet Ted Kooser and illustrator Jon Klassen have created a quiet and thoughtful picture book that deserves to be seen beyond the walls of the Children’s Room.
House Held Up By Trees
There are several elements that I feel, that while not required, certainly make for better reading when it comes to essays, reviews and personal reflections. They are: 1.) an energetic prose that flows well and that doesn’t become bogged down in obtuse jargon and esoteric detail 2.) an economy and focus (most pieces should not exceed 7 pages in length) when summarizing a particular subject’s value or importance to either the audience or the writer 3.) a calm passion and genuine curiosity for the subject matter and lastly 4.) an engagement with complex ideas or cultural values by mixing together an element of wit with a fierce and independent intelligence.
Geoff Dyer’s nonfiction prose really hits the spot for me and for those who love writers willing to tackle a multitude of subjects with a fresh perspective, check out his Otherwise Known As the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews. Fans of the late cultural critic John Leonard or those who enjoy the inventive observations of Greil Marcus may also enjoy Dyer’s work. Dyer tackles the books of writers like Richard Ford, Don Delillo, Lorrie Moore, and John Cheever along with personal takes on comic strips and life as an only child. He delves into the inner essence of works of art like J.M.W Turner’s painting Figures in a Building, linking its evocative power with that of Tarkovskii's masterpiece, Stalker. Along the way, you’ll learn about the impact of Richard Avedon’s mixing of high art with fashion photography and how Susan Sontag’s fiction pales in comparison to her contributions as a cultural critic. Dyer is never boring even when you may take issue with his opinions. You’ll never end up with just a straight, descriptive review with Dyer. He’s a deft craftsman with a talent for bringing out new readings on old subjects. Highly recommended.
Otherwise Known as the Human Condition
To recognize the first 25 years of the label, Def Jam Records has released this huge coffee table style book that celebrates the artists and personalities that helped take Def Jam from a scrappy young label that focused on getting the fresh new sound of hip hop on record to a bonafide pop culture icon. With photographs from across the labels first quarter century and essays from its founders, artists, and top executives, Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label chronicles all that has made the label what it is today and walks those of us who grew into adulthood alongside Def Jam down a beautifully constructed rap music memory lane.
Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label
Leo and Diane Dillon have been illustrating children’s books together for most of their married life. They are icons in the world of children’s books. Patricia McKissack is also revered in the same world. Together, these talented folks have given us Never Forgotten, the story of Musafa, who was taken captive, sent across the sea, and sold into slavery.
Richly illustrated with oil paintings that look like woodcuts, this is lyrical story reminds readers that family is more important than anything and that our ancestors are with us always.
This book won a well-deserved Coretta Scott King Honor Award this year.
In preparation for a day when I would be spending a lot of time in the car, I took a short visit to the audiobook collection at Central Library. For me, commutes or road trips become much more enjoyable when I have a good book to listen to. I gathered up a few titles, including a favorite I have listened to a number of time, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and headed to the self check-out. At the last second, one more title caught my eye titled The Art Detective: fakes, frauds, and finds and the search for lost treasures by Philip Mould. I quickly snatched up the title knowing it was right up my alley and could likely keep me intently listening for hours.
The author, Philip Mould, is an art dealer from London. He has gained popularity through his dealings over the years and has been an appraiser on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow. He spends much of his time researching and examining paintings that are up for auction all over the world judging their worth by considering their subject, attribution, state of preservation, popularity, and provenance. His book tells stories from during his career when lost paintings have been identified and forgeries uncovered. Through art historical research in libraries and archives, and scientific innovations, art connoisseurs are able to learn more about how a work of art originally looked and functioned than ever before. Mould, his colleagues, and his many friends in the art world painstakingly follow leads and try to trace back a painting's history to determine its' origins.
The six chapters each tell different stories of discoveries - identifications of "sleepers" (works by great masters who have somehow been forgotten or misidentified as belonging to a lesser artist), exposing forgeries of great works, and uncovering the greatness of a masterpiece by removing extensive overpainting or darkened varnish. A great storyteller, Mould is able to keep your attention easily. The audiobook is very enjoyable, however, I might recommend the book because it includes before and after restoration pictures of the paintings mentioned in the book. The pictures of the Rembrandt Self-Portrait depict an especially delightful transformation (note: if you like Rembrandt, you don't want to miss the current exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts)!
If you are interested in art history mysteries, you may also enjoy the video titled The Da Vinci Detective about Maurizio Seracini, the director of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego. Seracini has done extensive research on Da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi and has been instrumental in leading the search for the possibly lost fresco, The Battle of Anghiari. Though this search has been halted for a few years, it seems as though research has once again commenced using somewhat more invasive, but also more telling, procedures. (Hopefully soon, this search for Da Vinci's lost fresco will be forever solved!) I hope you'll enjoy these stories about the quest for lost art!
The Art Detective: fakes, frauds, and finds and the search for lost treasures
On a recent trip to Chicago, I had the pleasure of visiting both the Art Institute of Chicago (for the first time!) and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Having never been to this venerable depository of some of the most esteemed pieces of art and sculpture, I wanted to do some pre-trip research on the Art Institute’s wonderful collection. Their web site was very helpful at highlighting some of their permanent collection’s genuine treasures but I also supplemented my knowledge by browsing our wonderful collection of art books (located on the second floor). We have several titles directly about the Institute’s collection as well as many biographies and critical monographs covering the lives of individual artists and their works. After several hours of wandering the galleries, I returned to the library’s nonfiction shelves with an even greater appreciation for our diverse assortment of art books and have subsequently jumped into several titles about the artists whose work really struck a chord with me. And if we don’t own the book, there’s always a chance that I may be able to have it sent here via our Melcat Services. It’s a win, win!
Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting
“Stars are everywhere. Not just in the sky. Look . . .” Beginning and ending with looking for stars in the night sky, in between are other times and places to find stars. You can cut out a star and put it in your pocket, you can put it on the end of a wand and hope to see a wish come true, there are stars in dandelions and moss and snowflakes.
In Stars, Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee have created a beautiful, thoughtful, poignant picture book. Even if you don’t have preschoolers in your life, you should take a look at this book.