I read a book a day this week.
Pretty cool, non?1) Italian Renaissance Painting - Sara Elliot
This book was published by Phaedon, which has been my favorite art imprint since I acquired Janet Blackhouse's The Lindisfarne Gospels.
Phaedon titles feature gorgeous full-color plates of their subjects and their writers are knowledgeable and lucid. Italian Renaissance Painting
opens with about 25 pages discussing the historical events and artistic trends of the Renaissance along with brief biographies of the artists, their influences, patrons, and relationships. This is followed by 98 full-page prints of representative works faced by more in-depth articles on the pieces, their artists, and their influences. Italian Renaissance Painting
covers the usual suspects--Raphael, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, but scores major points for dealing with some of the lesser-known artists--Tura, Veronese, Correggio, Uccello, Gozzoli, as well. 2) Thank You And OK! - David Chadwick
THIS IS THE BOOK. THIS IS THE
BOOK. If you have ever
wanted to know what it is like to live in Japan, READ THIS BOOK. READ IT
. The DMV. "Internationalization." The immigration office. The postal system. "We Japanese are not [xxx]." "Americans are lazy. Japanese are hard workers." Eikaiwa. Japanese husbands. Japanese "vacation" days. Engrish. That which cannot be helped
--all the golden oldies are here. This is literally, literally
book I have ever encountered in terms of explaining the gaijin experience. I finished it days ago and yet I'm still not able to think about it without squeeing like a teenage fangirl over its awesomeness. Once more--this is the
book to read if you want to understand the living-abroad-in-Japan experience. All that and it's damn funny, too.3) When The Pyramids Were Built - Dorothea Arnold
This lovely book is the catalogue of an exhibit on Old Kingdom Egypt held at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. It's lovely: gorgeously printed full-color illustrations on high-quality glossy paper and an amazingly concise yet detailed text on the time period, its rules, its culture, and how all of the above relates to the exhibit pieces with meticulously detailed descriptions of what makes said pieces both unique to and representative of their time period. This is the rare artbook that not only describes its subjects but also explains what to look for, why it is significant, and how the individual pieces relate to one another. The captions list only the names of the exhibit pieces and their respective institutions, with such details as materials and provenance noted in a special appendix: an unusual touch which goes a long way towards tidying up the main text.4) Unnatural Selection - Christopher Lebbon
Being a novelisation of the Hellboy comic (you there in the back, stop laughing). I mooched it by mistake, thinking it was a new graphic
novel, and felt obligated to read it upon delivery. The author is a competent writer--a nice surprise, as comptetency is far from a given in this sort of enterprise. Unfortunately, suspension of disbelief is a lot easier to foster in the graphic novel format than that of the novel. Lebbon handles said quandry here by eschewing explanation entirely (having assumed that the reader either already possesses it in sufficient quantity), or by repeatedly including tell-don't-show info-dumps concerning the characters' inner psyches. Neither approach is very successful in novel format. He scores points by attempting to evoke the imagery of the graphic novel in words: a noble attempt, but one which left me wishing I was reading the story as a comic, in which format the novel's plot would most likely have rocked a great deal. I ultimately put this book back up for mooch the day I finished reading it and was pleased to send it back out the door a mere nine hours later.5) The Mirror Of Zen - Boep Joeng
Being an English translation of a Korean translation of the original text, which was written by a Korean monk in classical Chinese. The translation is surprisingly fluid for all that, but I still wish I had access to a direct Chinese-to-English translation for comparison's sake. At any rate, Boep Joeng was a monk active during the 16th century and is apparently famous for raising an army of fellow monks to help repel the Japanese invasion of Korea at that time. His Mirror of Zen
is a collection of 86 koans, sutra passages, anecdotes, and excerpts from previous masters' Buddhist texts, assembled in an attempt to distill the essence of Buddhist teachings for his students. Joeng appends a commentary to each of these teachings, and occassionally adds a capping word or gatha as well. To this (the American-born monk) translator/editor Hyon Gak has appended 27 pages of notes clarifying obscure references or allusions made in all of the above. The end result is a very nicely assembled package of Buddhist teaching, some of which will already be familiar to students of Chinese or Japanese Buddhism, but all of which is definitely worth reading. 6) The Aquariums Of Pyongyang - Kang Chol-hwan
Another translation, this time from a French book which was itself the product of interviews conducted in Korean of its author, who survived a decade in the Yodok concentration camp in North Korea. His family was ostensibly sent to the camp after its patriarch was imprisoned for life in a hard labor camp due to his "counterrevolutionary activities." The reality seems to be that after the family, who immigrated to Japan before WWII and then to North Korea after the war ended, had run out of money to give to, and thus run out of usefulness to, Kim Il-sung. Kang's story is a surprisingly short read for the product of ten long years of internment, but that's almost a blessing as what he does relate is so horrible you'll want to throw yourself off of a roof after reading it, or at least stay in bed for the rest of your life feeling incredibly guilty for the carefree existence you've doubtlessly led in comparison. The narrative is arranged by subject--journey to Yodok, death at Yodok, work detail at Yodok, etc.--and not chronologically, which might also contribute to the text's seeming lack of...not cohesion exactly, but a structure that ultimately doesn't leave readers with any continuous sense of the immensity of what Kang endured in terms of duration or severity. Nevertheless, The Aquariums Of Pyongyang
is a powerful and haunting memoir of life in North Korea and its prison camps.7) R.E.M. Inside Out - Craig Rosen
This book is an album-by-album exploration of the stories behind each R.E.M. recording, from the original Radio Free Europe
single to New Adventures In Hi-fi
, in which the author basically compiled the relevant sections from various radio, TV, and print interviews and arranged them by their respective songs. It's certainly an interesting read, but the back cover gives one the impression that it's about the meaning of each song, which is definitely not the case (and probably for the best, all things considered). I also found it interesting that the author's impressions were often the opposite of my own: that Document
was the "political" album, or that the social commentary of Lifes Rich Pageant
was opaque. The author also has a tendency to resort to trite phrases or "clever" asides, which is rather annoying. Still, this book is a valuable source of material on R.E.M. recordings and discographies, especially little-known b-sides and side projects. Special Bonus Supplement:
In an attempt to persuade myself to read more and acquire less, I'm going to start including a breakdown of all the unread books in my bedroom (as opposed to those on the bookshelves in the basement, or the living room, or in the storage shed), organised by type. My first State Of The Bookshelf benchmark is to get the unread list of English-language books that I own down to 50. Their ranks currently stand at 64. I haven't yet tallied the number of unread manga tankobon (I haven't been reading much recently as it is), or manhwa, although my combined library/borrowed book quantity is currently at three. Gambatte, AJK. 出来ないことではないけど...
That will be all.