Tag Archives: Art

What History Is Made Of

We all make history every day, whether we are the fundamental elements that make up the swift-flowing stream or the droplets that leap out and sparkle in the sunlight. In reflecting on what the women below possessed in common, one answer that turned up was, Not much. Many (but not all) worked hard to develop an exceptional gift in art, science, or sports. Others pursued a consuming interest. Several campaigned for a vision they believed in. For a few, birth and family situation positioned them for leadership. Early observers of others, by contrast, may have tagged them as unlikely to succeed. At least one of the women here simply rose to meet the need of the moment.

All of these women experienced many ordinary days. Maria Toorpakai spent three years hitting a squash ball against the walls of her bedroom. Lilias Trotter rode camels across the North African desert for days at a time (and relished the quiet).

We may not all be champion athletes or talented artists. Our lives may be full of mundanity. But we can all make a difference. I hope these history makers will challenge us and our daughters and sons to take stock of our gifts and circumstances. How might we be positioned to make a difference in our current situation? And what can we work toward for the future?

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Art and Pandemic in Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Choosing an angle of approach for Emily St. John Mandel’s novels is like saying, “I want to learn to dance.”

What kind of dance? Ballet? Ballroom? Jazz? Hip-hop?

Folk, you say.

Fine. Irish clogging? Korean fan dance? Indian kathakali? American square dance?

One could examine Mandel’s novels with regard to pandemic, apocalypse, motherhood, biblical invocations, ethics, the nature of existence, regret and culpability, not to mention genre. Her three most well-known works, Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel, and Sea of Tranquility, are not sufficiently interrelated to constitute a series. But familiar characters turn up in each, and knowing their back story augments recurring themes.

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I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle (1948) came to my attention as a novel recommended for aspiring writers. The Austenesque plot features a quirky, down-on-their-luck British family in the 1930s. A thwarted novelist father languishes at the helm while the oldest daughter pursues a loveless marriage to save the family fortunes. Her intended is the wealthy young heir of a nearby estate.

The heir has recently returned from America with his brother, who is enamored with the American West. Thus the narrative straddles not only the 19th and 20th centuries but the Atlantic Ocean, flanked by British venerability on one side and American innovation on the other.

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Beneath the Swirling Sky, by Carolyn Leiloglou

WaterBrook, September 2023, 304 pp. ages 8-12

Carolyn Leiloglou’s debut work for middle grade readers incorporates art history and principles of painting into an engaging narrative. Beneath the Swirling Sky isn’t the first book in which characters travel through paintings or engage with art history. Also familiar are tropes of belonging to an endangered ancestral line, questing to save an abducted sibling, and hunting down art thieves.

Such perennial devices nevertheless retain their appeal. What adolescent wouldn’t want to discover inherited gifts that enable them to profoundly change the world? Possibly those chary enough to recognize the probable weight of accompanying responsibility. But who has time to worry about that?

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Passion and Heritage in Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Eric Velasquez

The Story Warren post linked in the previous post (as well as here), includes recommendations for twenty-one picture books that commemorate events or people relevant to African-American history month. They represent only a fraction of the vibrant, creative, informative works in print, with more appearing all the time.

But as soon as I peeked inside Schomburg I was convinced the book required its own post, foremost for the suitability of its subject matter: African history was Arthur Schomburg’s passion. Multiple award-winning author Carole Weatherford dedicates several pages to individuals who inspired Schomburg. And Velasquez’s lush paintings do justice to the African-related art Schomburg loved and collected.

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Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Nature, by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert

I discovered this book shortly after its publication in 2017. My ninety-year-old mother-in-law had developed fairly advanced dementia. But her lifelong appreciation for books, cartography, history, exploration, and the art of illustration had not failed her. The fortuitous coincidence of all those elements allowed us to ramble through these pages together on multiple occasions with some semblance of former camaraderie.

Arranged alphabetically by the names of the explorers, this visually stunning book represents a wealth of information and artistry, not to mention a herculean task of compilation. As the title indicates, it represents excerpts from the sketchbooks of more than seventy explorers and documenters of the natural world. Some names are familiar—John James Audubon, Meriwether Lewis, Carl Linnaeus, David Livingstone—most much less so. Most are men; a little more than a tenth are women.

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Faith and Poetry of Madeleine L’Engle

I was sorry to hear that L’Engle passed away on September 8. I would have liked to meet her, slim though the chance might have been. L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was one of the first books I bought with my own money. My fourth-grade teacher had read it to the class, and I liked it so much I wanted my own copy. However, my big purchase precipitated buyer’s remorse, so I sold it to a classmate and returned to the bookstore for the title I had not yet read, A Wind in the Door. These two and their sequel, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, remained among my favorites throughout childhood and are still high on my list.

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Crescent and The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber

How are prayer, poetry, and food preparation related? Sufism, Arabic literature, and the culinary arts all contribute to the backdrop of Diana Abu-Jaber’s multifaceted second novel. As I was drawn into Abu-Jaber’s masterfully crafted world, I found myself increasingly aware of the art in the everyday circumstances of life. Continue reading

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Persepolis Film

We recently learned from PowellsBooks.Blog that Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis has been made into a feature-length animated French film. An English version is purported to be on the way. Variety has a review here: Variety review of Persepolis film

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Southern Oregon Retreat

We recently retreated for a quick overnight getaway to Southern Oregon, where we stayed in a delightful B&B. The house is straw bale construction, built by artists Dennis Meiners and Leslie Lee. The ambience is refreshing, the hospitality warm, and Penny the resident canine affectionate. We enjoyed discussing alternative construction, books, linguistics, and international travel. Dennis and Leslie gave us a tour of their adobe studio, where they make their ceramics, and told us about their experiences with alternative construction. They also have a nice selection of books for browsing. We started reading The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason, and are looking forward to continuing it as soon as we can obtain a copy.

The Hummingbird is conveniently located for fans of the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland or visitors to the historic mining town of Jacksonville. We particularly recommend it for those interested in ceramics, art and/or alternative construction. Dennis and Leslie also offer classes and the opportunity to work in their studio. Learn more here: Hummingbird Bed and Breakfast

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