Category Archives: Historical Period

October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville

Miéville (The Last Days of New Paris) marks the centenary of Russia’s dual 1917 revolutions with this vivid and insightful study of the journey from the February Revolution, which “dispensed breakneck with a half-millennium of autocratic rule,” to Lenin’s October triumph. Situating these eight turbulent months within the city of St. Petersburg, the czarist capital and the birthplace of the uprisings, Miéville writes that the story is “above all the story of its streets.” He leads readers through these streets and the complicated relationships between competing, and often violently opposed, groups of radicals—old and new Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, and others—from workers’ strikes through Lenin’s proclamation of socialism and Russian withdrawal from WWI. Miéville is fully aware of the horrors that followed this massive achievement but convincingly argues that the Russian Revolution’s “degradation was not a given”; its formative moments carried immense potential for every kind of human liberation, which could so easily have become the dominant force of the new order. As an acclaimed storyteller with a doctorate in political philosophy and a commitment to leftist activism, Miéville is an ideal guide through this complex historical moment, giving agency to obscure and better-known participants alike, and depicting the revolution as both a tragically lost opportunity and an ongoing source of inspiration. (May)


Where’s Warhol? by Catherine Ingram and Andrew Rae

What do these movies have in common?

Funny Face

New York Stories


The Big Lebowski

Ghost World

WarholStumped? They all suggest that contemporary art — some of it, anyway — is a lie, a con job, or just a form of time-wasting practiced by the deluded. Lebowski’s Maude Lebowski, Ghost World’s Roberta, Beetlejuice’s Delia Deetz and Gregory Stark, the performance artist in Martin Scorsese’s section of New York Stories, are all either frauds or dupes. And that type is hardly limited to these movies. You can find it all over TV: in The Simpsons, Broad City, Comedy Bang! Bang!, Girls …

It’s not too surprising that this trope is so common, or that it should span decades. For many Americans, it seems to go without saying that the art world is a haven of emptiness and perfidy. Or, actually, it doesn’t go without saying: It gets said, and said a lot.

How, then, do you explain the instantaneous, bubbly appeal of Where’s Warhol? At a glance it’s clear this book will entertain virtually everyone who picks it up — art fan or no. It feels as buoyant as the silver balloons that drift across its cover. Its concept hardly needs explanation: Just like in Where’s Waldo, the bestselling kids’ series it emulates, Where’s Warhol challenges you to find one person amidst a crowded landscape. The difference is that these landscapes, real or imaginary, are all related to art history or pop culture: the Bauhaus, Studio 54, the excavation of Pompeii, a dinner party hosted by Salvador Dalí. And instead of looking for a goofy fellow in a striped hat, you’re seeking a too-cool fellow in a silvery wig and sunglasses.

The book’s focus on Andy Warhol is the key to its charm. It just wouldn’t be the same if it were Where’s Wassily? or Where’s Willem? There’s something about Warhol that seems fundamentally approachable, fundamentally democratic. Even before he attained the status of icon (that most democratic form of stardom) Warhol concentrated on subjects ordinary people know intimately: consumer products, Jackie O. –NPR

3 Stars

Paul McCartney: The Life by Phillip Norman

Paul McCartneyJust as his 1981 book, Shout!, is considered by many to be the definitive history of the Beatles, so biographer Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney: The Life will be the once-for-all-time record of the lad from Liverpool whose song lyrics and boyish good looks broke hearts and whose career after the Beatles was almost as successful as his time with them.

Drawing on scores of interviews with McCartney’s family, friends and associates, Norman delivers a sprawling, year-by-year chronicle filled with details about McCartney’s personal and professional life that will be familiar to many devoted fans. The book ranges from McCartney’s childhood and the devastating death of his mother—after which, he said, “I learned to put a shell around me”—to his love of rock ’n’ roll and his early days with John and George in The Quarrymen. From a young age, McCartney capitalized on his considerable appeal to the opposite sex. “Ever since kindergarten, he’d been aware of his attractiveness to girls and the infallible effect of turning his brown eyes full on them,” Norman writes.

The author chronicles the Beatles’ apprenticeship in Hamburg, the acrimony that tore the band apart and the beginnings of Wings, as well as McCartney’s relationships with Linda Eastman, Heather Mills and Nancy Shevell.

Along with the biographical narrative, Norman weaves in analysis of McCartney’s music as it evolved. For example, Wings’ 1973 album, Band on the Run, appeared at first to be out of control, but the band, according to Norman, “made a courageous journey through unfriendly territory” to emerge with a record that garnered “reviews as ecstatic as those of his previous albums had been dismissive.” On Ram, McCartney includes an instrumental to please his father, Jim, a former big band musician in declining health when the album appeared in 1971.

The author paints a portrait of a musician driven constantly to reinvent himself and a perfectionist who still deeply loves the process of songwriting. While Norman never shies away from revealing McCartney’s shortcomings (“the inexhaustible geniality Paul showed the world was not always replicated in private,” for example) his enthusiasm for the artist turns this book into a sympathetic look at McCartney’s life and his deep contributions to music. -NY Times

5 Stars

All Our Days of Splendor by Alvin Conway

 Splendor Book B

Summary: Paris 1926: Les Années folles as the French called it, “The Crazy Years.” It was the Roaring Twenties. It was the dawn of the Age of Modernism, feminism, the flappers, the birth of cinema; it was the decade of the automobile and radio. It was the reckless years of wealth and exuberance, where stock markets toyed with ideas of fanaticism, and where legends lived, loved, and died. Paris France was at the heart of a new cultural revolution that was reshaping and changing the world. Thomas E. McCann came to Paris to change his life. His life ended up changing everyone around him. There were parties, class privileges, there were flowing rivers of champagne, there was extravagant wealth, and everyone lived and loved like no one thought the wild celebrations of this Golden decade would ever come to an end.

Opinion Nothing could have prepared me for this book – not its sleek black cover, its unique literary style, its lofty poetic aspirations, it visceral moodiness and impressionist tone, its lucid foray into French aristocratic privileges during the Jazz Age, its endearing love story, or it rich dialogue. All Our Days of Splendor by newly-commissioned fiction author, Alvin Conway, is visually sumptuous – meaning words are pushed to new visual dimensions. The book is a variable literary feast for the eyes, ears, and mind. One could spend a lifetime and a half searching for a relatively new and undiscovered gem like this and never find it. The poetry is divine, the characters are quintessentially cool and likable, it’s laced with intelligent discourse and picturesque imagery, and it takes place in Paris, France of all things during the height of the Roaring Twenties. What’s not to like? I read it once, and then read passages of it aloud to friends – and it turned a dozen heads with everyone asking me, “What is that you’re reading?” I smiled delightfully. I think I have a new favorite book.  – Lisa Harding

5 Stars

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Love is Blind

Young Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure loses her sight and her father builds her a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis begin an occupation of Paris and her and her father and flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

The book has many delightful sensibilities. A charming read I thoroughly enjoyed. -Cindy Rowe

3 Stars