by Heidi on August 7th, 2012
This book is another great find on the New shelf on the second floor, where I was browsing recently. I have often admired the quilt squares I’ve seen on barns around Iowa, but assumed they were isolated pieces put up by quilt lovers and that it was just a happy coincidence that I’d caught sight of them. After reading Barn Quilts, I know that they are not there by accident, and I’m inspired by the story of how the American Quilt Trail movement came to be.
Author Suzi Parron has researched the origins of the quilt trails, followed the trails in numerous states and found beautiful art and heartwarming stories all along the way. The barn quilts often represent cooperation among state and local arts organizations, philanthropic groups, visitor bureaus, and local craftspeople and community members interested in sharing their art with all passersby.
The book is full of color pictures of barns with their quilt squares. It covers trails in eight, mostly midwestern states. In the chapter on Iowa, the counties represented include Grundy, Buchanan, Fayette, Humboldt, Sac and Washington. The quilt trail closest to us is in Washington County, the “Barn Quilt Capital of Iowa“. My only quibble with this lovely book is that there are no maps or website listings for the trails. However, a simple internet search for barn quilt trails in the counties named will deliver specific information on each county and maps that show the locations of the barns.
Barns and quilts, two art forms in their own right, go together beautifully as this book shows. Take a look at this history of a grassroots movement, and then take a drive down some country roads to see some unique midwestern art.
by Heidi on November 24th, 2010
I love listening to Nigella Lawson when she is an occasional guest on NPR; I imagine many tv-watching cooks enjoy her program on the Food Network as well. Her down-to-earth approach to cooking and entertaining, and her self-admitted indulgent love of eating are as apparent in her cookbooks as they are in her media appearances. Nigella Christmas, published late last year, is a prime example.
Lawson’s approach to Christmas is a secular one that revels in hospitality, gift-giving, celebration, and sharing food with others. There are recipes for old standards and menu plans for groups of six to sixteen. There are lots of make-ahead tips, suggestions for leftovers, and edible presents to make and give. This is not a cookbook with nutritional information after each recipe, but when the dish is called Girdlebuster Pie, do you really need the numbers?
The chapter on desserts (titled “Joy to the World”–if I wasn’t hooked already, this would have done it) includes recipes for a yule log, fruitcakes, and mini minced pies. Three pages are devoted to her Christmas pudding alone.
What I liked best about the book was her commentary about the special joys and burdens of entertaining at holiday time. For instance, she makes a pitch for inviting new friends to Christmas dinner because of “the stabilizing effect of the stranger factor: someone with whom your family doesn’t quite feel at home enough to behave badly.” Lawson does a good job of suggesting ways to mitigate the stress of entertaining at Christmas–a holiday that seems to come with heightened expectations and traditions that cannot be forfeited. I know I’ll never pull off the “Main Event” Christmas dinner she describes, but her book definitely puts me in the mood for celebrating the holiday with food, friends and family. (The recipe for Girdlebuster Pie is on page 87.)
by Heidi on September 6th, 2010
As you read this review, how many other programs are open on your computer? Your email, perhaps, and possibly the Library’s catalog, and probably there’s a Google search box just a click away. Is your mobile phone (how smart is it?) nearby, maybe on your belt or in your pocket, with you alert to the next beep or vibration signaling an incoming message? And if any part of this is true, does it make you happy or does it cause a little distraction, maybe even a little stress?
Hamlet’s BlackBerry discusses the paradox of our plugged-in lives. Multiple gadgets promise to keep us more connected than ever, and yet the ever-present demands on our attention that are facilitated by these gadgets remove some of our ability to concentrate on any one task or appreciate conversations with more depth.
Author William Powers is no Luddite and appreciates the enhancements that computer and communication technologies have brought to our homes and workplaces. But he also laments the growing superficiality of much of what we do, hopping from email to the web to tweets. Yes, thanks to Facebook, you know what your best friend back in fourth grade had for breakfast today, but…why should we be spending our time and energy to learn that?
Powers provides a historical perspective of the revolutionary changes in how people communicate and the threats such changes brought to meaningful thought and relationships. Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Thoreau and McLuhan all get a chapter, and each had a way to cope with the intrusions of their day.
Hamlet’s BlackBerry was a pocket-sized book with specially coated pages that could be erased with a sponge. It was used in Shakespeare’s time to scribble notes on as people went about their busy days. Powers offers strategies to use the tools of our age to make work more efficient and correspondence more immediate, but also to know when to put down those tools and turn them off, in order to slow down, concentrate, and deepen our experiences.
And yes, of course, you can download this title to your gadget…from ICPL’s ebook collection.
by Heidi on August 16th, 2010
If you like gardening books, sometimes it takes awhile to learn to look for them in two places in the Library. At 635.9, you will find more practical, how-to books on vegetable gardening, herbs, annuals, perennials and specific garden plants. At 710-719, next to the architecture section, are the landscaping books where books on garden design are shelved. A delightful subset of this area are books about gardens in other lands. If you like to travel and you like gardens, you will enjoy browsing this part of the collection.
In Discovering Welsh Gardens, author Stephen Anderton gathers together twenty gardens in Wales. He includes everything from large manor and castle gardens to small countryside ones; there is also a chapter about the National Botanic Garden of Wales. In general the Welsh landscape is more rugged than much of garden-rich England, but that has not prevented the creation of remarkable gardens there. The book is full of wonderful photographs by Charles Hawes, ranging from close-ups of particular plants to mountain vistas that show how some gardens merge into the natural landscapes beyond. Most of these gardens appear to be photographed in spring or summer, but those with autumn colors or a blanket of snow entice as well.
This is a lovely book about all types of gardens, from serious and formal to the more casual and comfortable. It can be inspiration for those staying at home in Iowa, or a guide book for those lucky enough to travel to Wales. At the back of the book is a more complete list of Welsh gardens, arranged by region and keyed to a map. Some of the gardens are private but occasionally are open to the public. Contact information and website addresses are provided.
by Heidi on July 7th, 2010
Hidcote is a very interesting book in a variety of ways. Hidcote Garden is located in the Cotswolds of England but was created by the expatriate American Lawrence Johnston. The first edition of this work was published in 1989; this revised edition includes new research by author Ethne Clarke.
The book is a biography of Lawrence Johnston, a man who left little behind for his biographer’s use. It is also the story of how the garden became the first garden taken on by the National Trust, and for me, this was the intriguing part of the book. Clarke recounts the prolonged negotiations between Johnston, the National Trust and other interested parties; how the Trust’s staff have managed the gardens through the years, including their decision to return the garden to its 1930′s appearance when they believed it to be in its prime; and the conundrum of preserving a garden designed for one person’s enjoyment while providing access to crowds of paying tourists. A favorite fact from the garden’s history: it provided four hospitals with fresh produce during World War II.
While not a heavily illustrated garden book, there are lovely color photos of the contemporary garden, as well as historical photos of Johnston and the early garden.
by Heidi on March 30th, 2010
“There is something viral about fame: heartless, predatory, proliferating.” So says Claire Harman, author of Jane’s Fame, a different sort of biography about Jane Austen. This is not a linear accounting of her life, but rather a thorough study of how her books have lived on and why the author is known on a first-name basis around the world.
Following her death at age 41, Jane Austen’s image was carefully controlled by several generations of her extended family. Her books were never unavailable, but their popularity was limited in the years after she died and through the Victorian era. The first Austen biography was written more than fifty years after death, and her acceptance by literary critics and the academy was gradual and a long time in coming. She always had her fans though, (Leslie Stephen coined the term “Austenolatry” in the 1870′s, imitating the use of Bardolatry for the proliferation of all things Shakespeare), and many believe we now have reached the Austen saturation point with multiple movie versions, sequels, and spin-offs of her novels.
Some of my favorite morsels that illustrate the growing popularity of Austen and her books: It is well-known that after the success of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, it was strongly hinted to Austen that the prince regent would like her next work dedicated to him. Emma was duly presented to him, but Harman reports that the deluxe dedication copy was later found in the servants’ library, to which it had been relegated during Queen Victoria’s reign.
Another: A lock of Jane Austen’s hair was given by her sister Cassandra to a relative, and it has survived intact and now resides in the Jane Austen’s House Museum. In the 1970′s, however, they felt the hair had faded and so had a touch-up color job done. And one more: Harman gives an early and extreme example of Austen books as comfort food for the mind when she tells us about Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Janeites,” about the WWI officers and soldiers who read Jane Austen in the trenches.
This is a fun-but-serious, fast-paced book that should appeal to anyone interested in Jane Austen and her writing. It is impossible to escape Jane in today’s society, and Jane’s Fame will tell you why.
by Heidi on February 19th, 2010
Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo.
Provenance is the true story of John Drewe, a con man who entangled innocent friends, strangers, an impoverished painter, and art dealers, museums and archivists in his art fraud crimes. The story reads like good detective fiction: I quickly was invested in the characters and couldn’t wait to learn what happened next. Even though you know from the beginning of the book that Drewe is the culprit, there is a good deal of suspense as you see him yet again slipping through the fingers of the law and the members of the art world who are beginning to catch on to him.
The reader learns much along the way about art auctions, museums and their archives. Art forgeries are nothing new and may be more common than most people think. What made Drewe’s crimes so insidious, though, was his corruption of archival histories to establish fraudulent provenance of the forgeries he was trafficking.
Unlike most fictional detective stories, the ending of this story is not so tidy. In the epilogue, the authors provide satisfying summaries of where these real-life characters are in the years after Drewe’s trial and conviction. Disturbingly, however, we learn that John Drewe–thief, pathological liar and possibly a murderer–is free on the streets again.
by Heidi on February 2nd, 2010
Heavenly Vaults: From Romanesque to Gothic in European Architecture by David Stephenson takes you on a journey through medieval churches, basilicas and cathedrals in England, France, Spain, Italy, and other European countries.
The photography by Stephenson is stunning. You will recognize the perspective immediately if you have ever wandered through an old cathedral with your head tipped back, staring straight up at the arching stonework overhead. The sense of height captured in the pictures is remarkable, and the photos are cropped to give a sense of perfect geometry and balance.
This is coffee table sized book, with a single photo filling each page. Often the side-by-side pages are pictures from the same church: one showing the nave, the other showing the crossing, for instance. The images of the stonework, painted designs and stained glass of these vaulted ceilings are kaleidoscopic as you turn the pages.
The text is at the back of the book, where you will find a history of the construction techniques of these ancient churches. There are thumbnail photos and page numbers there, to send you back to the original picture.
The photographer has captured the awe-inspiring beauty of these grand structures and allows us, in his words, to see “the great Gothic churches as some of the most compelling art ever produced, still capable of providing an all-encompassing transcendent experience.” Direct from the comfort of your armchair.
by Heidi on December 7th, 2009
Made From Scratch is a story about the author, Jenna, and her desire to do more things for herself–things such as growing and preparing her own food, making her own clothes, and creating her own music. She teaches herself about homesteading, and plunges in when she relocates to northern Idaho.
This is not a hippie commune in the backwoods—Jenna is a 26 year-old who is commuting five miles into the city to work at a graphic design job in a large corporation. She stresses that you do not need a farm to be more self-sufficient, and she presents ideas for urban gardens, chickens in town and even beehives on apartment house roofs.
After a series of missteps and some just plain bad luck (think bears), Jenna establishes raised bed gardens, a bee hive, keeps angora rabbits and harvests their fur for knitting, and gathers eggs from her chickens. One of my favorite parts is her chapter on stocking a kitchen with treasures from second-hand shops and antique stores.
This is a fresh, young voice who shows that living a more sustainable lifestyle is possible and also is fun. She presents many resources for further study: books that have been invaluable to her, websites, seed catalogs, etc. And several times she reminds her readers of the vast resources at their public library. Since she wrote this book, she has moved to Vermont but continues her made-from-scratch adventures: follow her on her blog at http://coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com/.
by Heidi on November 2nd, 2009
The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine, by Benjamin Wallace, is a work of narrative nonfiction, though it reads like a true who-done-it. There are no dead bodies, but there is intrigue galore, and sometimes it’s hard to know who the bad guys are.
The story begins in 1985, with the emergence of a group of 200-year old bottles of wine said to be from the collection of Thomas Jefferson when he lived in France. The collector who says he’s uncovered this stash of wine bearing Jefferson’s initials is vague about the terms of his discovery, but he has a reputation for knowing antique wines and most of the wine world is eager to cash in on such a rarity. Christie’s auction house handles the first sale of one of these new-found bottles, and Malcolm Forbes is the winning bidder, at $156,000, an amount five times the highest ever paid before for a bottle of old wine.
Questions arise, however, about the bottles’ authenticity: there are concerns about the condition of the bottles, and the archivist at Monticello can find no substantiation for Jefferson ever purchasing this selection of wines. Other collectors begin to suspect fraud.
If you like mysteries with the opportunity to learn some facts about a real situation, I think you’ll like this book. It reminds me of Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, about Chicago hosting the World’s Fair in 1893, or The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, about the cholera epidemic in 19th Century London. Try this book, learn about wine tasting and collecting, and find out if the Billionaire’s Vinegar was the find of the century—or the crime of the century.