Summer is the perfect time to address that pile of books lingering on your bedside table. These recommended titles from New York Public Library are being made into feature films set to arrive in theaters this summer. Our suggestion — read the literary form before you see it on the big screen. It’s a wonderful way to put your imagination to the test and see how your own interpretation matches up to Hollywood’s. more

Bonding with Art, Books, and Children

By Stuart Mitchner

After a visit to the Princeton Public Library in search of art therapy books for children, I came home with an armload, including one seemingly intended for serious, thinking adults, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s heavily illustrated tome, Art as Therapy (Phaidon 2013, paperback 2016). In fact, some reviewers treated both book and audience disparagingly. Elle called it a “cultural cure for what ails you” while Vanity Fair on Art gave it credit for massaging “the mind in all the right places.” Taking it to task in the New York Times (“Patronizing the Arts”), Parul Sehgal chided the authors for dreaming of the day “when museums can be redesigned as gyms for the psyche.” Sehgal also included an illustration from the book, a museum floor plan arranged according to therapeutic needs. Above the cafe and shop are five floors, the first a Gallery of Suffering, followed in ascending order by galleries of Compassion, Fear, Love, and Self-Knowledge. As Sehgal noted, de Botton had been accused of condescending to his readers, regarding them as “ants,” or more to my point, as children, as if this weighty book were little more than a child’s guide to art therapy on steroids.

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Labyrinth Books welcomes Maggie Edkins Willis and Samira Iravani for an in-person event (with the option of virtual) on Sunday, June 12 at 2 p.m. Willis will discuss her debut middle grade graphic novel entitled Smaller Sister, which touches on the author’s own real-life experiences navigating confidence, body image, and the everlasting bond of sisterhood. more

The Historical Society of Princeton introduces their next historical fiction book group on Monday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. with Libertie: A Novel by Kaitlyn Greenidge.

Named by the New York Times Book Review as the Best Historical Fiction of 2021, Libertie is “a coming of age story, tracing the travails of a free-born Black girl raised in Deconstructionist-Era Brooklyn. Libertie Sampson defies her doctor mother’s stifling dreams that her daughter will follow in her footsteps, instead following her fiancée to his home country of Haiti — where Libertie escapes American-style racism but not the misogyny that leaves her subordinate to all men.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

“After all there’s a lot in that vegetarian fine flavour of things from the earth….”
—James Joyce, from Ulysses

So thinks Leopold Bloom on his way to lunch at Davy Byrne’s in Dublin on June 16, 1904. He settles for a cheese sandwich. I’m beginning with a vegetarian-friendly quote from Ulysses in recognition of its 100th anniversary. For a whole book of Joycean recipes, there’s Alison Armstrong’s The Joyce of Cooking: Food and Drink from James Joyce’s Dublin (Station Hill Press $14.99), which has a foreword from novelist Anthony Burgess.

Although I’m neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, my fondness for Moby’s music and my memories of India have led me to two volumes recommended by a discriminating colleague: Moby’s Little Pine Cookbook: Modern Plant-Based Comfort (Avery $24.99) and The Modern Tiffin: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes with a Global Flair by Priyanka Naik (Simon and Schuster $24.99).

Cooking with Moby

Quoted in The Guardian’s “What’s in your basket” column from the early 2000s when music from Moby’s worldwide best-selling album Play could be heard in shops all over London, he recommended garlic and ginger as “the key to a long, happy and full life because they’re such concentrated foods you think if there is anything bad and nasty living in your body, garlic and ginger will go in like a cartoon superhero and drive out the invaders.” Admitting that as much as he loves the U.K., he adds that he finds it difficult to get fresh bread there like the wholemeal organic loaf he likes to eat with organic peanut butter. Although I’ve never thought of myself as a vegan, the comfort food closest to my heart is peanut butter, so I guess you could say I’ve come out of the closet.

Moby named his cookbook after Little Pine, the restaurant he opened decades ago in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Actress Rooney Mara has said, “I have literally walked for miles to get the Little Pine Mac n’ Cheese.” Among the 125 recipes are dishes like Panko-Crusted Piccata and Fried Cauliflower with Kimchi Aioli. Desserts include Chocolate Bread Pudding, which suggests the possibility of an energy rush equal to “Feeling So Real,” possibly the most deliriously exciting music Moby ever recorded. more

The Wedding Dress: Styles and Stories

By Stuart Mitchner

For our lavish New York wedding (no music, no frills, no rice, bearded nondenominational minister, statue of St. Francis looking on), my wife wore a knee-length, crocheted off white dress purchased from the teenage girls’ department at Lord and Taylor (she’s 5’0).

Also 5’0 and two years younger on her wedding day in February 1840, Queen Victoria, according to numerous online sources, wore a white, off-the-shoulder gown with a structured, eight-piece bodice featuring a wide, open neckline; short, puffed sleeves trimmed with lace; a floor-length skirt containing seven widths of fabric; and a satin train over six yards long, which 12 attendants carried down the aisle.

Another thing my wife and Queen Victoria have in common is a fondness for Charles Dickens, who resisted invitations to visit the Queen until shortly before his death in 1870. Of all the wedding gowns in literature, the best known must be the one worn by Miss Havisham when young Pip first sees her in Great Expectations: “She was dressed in rich materials, — satins, and lace, and silks, — all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white.” Dressed for a wedding that never happened, she had but “half arranged” her veil, her watch and chain “were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers…” And everything within Pip’s view “which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow.”

Credit to Victoria

In The Way We Wed: A Global History of Wedding Fashion (Running Press $24) by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, Queen Victoria is credited with popularizing the long, white wedding gown, which was solemnized with the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Among the book’s illustrations is Michel Garnier’s painting The Marriage Contract Interrupted (1789), a preview of Miss Havisham’s dilemma that shows a bride in full wedding regalia “dropping her quill in surprise as an unexpected clause derails the ceremony.” more

Princeton University’s Public Lecture Series will continue March 16 from 5 to 6:15 p.m. at McCosh 50 with Marc M. Howard of Georgetown University, one of the country’s leading voices and advocates for criminal justice and prison reform. He is a professor of government and law, and the founding director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University. He is also the founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Project for Justice, a nonprofit organization that launched in 2020.  more

Poet James Longenbach. Photo Credit: Adam Fenster.

Princeton University’s Fund for Irish Studies (FIS) presents a lecture by James Logenbach on W.B. Yeats and his poem, “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” on Friday, January 28, the 83rd anniversary of Yeats’ death, at 4:30 p.m. via Zoom webinar.

Princeton University professor and Co-Chair of the Fund for Irish Studies Paul Muldoon will provide a welcome and introduction. The lecture is free and open to the public. Register online at https://arts.princeton.edu/events/fund-for-irish-studies-poet-james-longenbach/.

Logenbach will give an account of William Butler Yeats’ (1865-1939) poem, discussing how it assumed its shape, and, more importantly, the influence of that shape on subsequent long poems written throughout the 20th century. Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. more

Treat your bookshelf and home library to a book subscription box from Book of the Month (www.bookofthemonth.com), the original book subscription service. 

This convenient subscription is perfect for bibliophiles who would like to support the publishing industry and rely less on ordering from Amazon and other big-box retailers. The other great thing about Book of the Month (BOTM), is that it provides a curated list of wave-making titles in a variety of genres and sub-genres. From new fiction to thrillers, romance, “quick reads,” history, family sagas, mysteries, and more, readers are sure to find a monthly title that appeals to them and will be shipped in the form of a hardcover, directly to their front door. more

Join Princeton Public Library (PPL) for a virtual Crowdcast event on Thursday, January 6 from 8 to 9 p.m. with writers Karen J. Greenberg and Julian E. Zelizer. On the anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, Greenberg and Zelizer will discuss the “subtle tools” that were forged under George W. Bush in the name of security and their impact on how the Trump administration was able to weaponize disinformation, xenophobia, and distrust of law. more

By Stuart Mitchner

Rostov … looked at the snowflakes dancing above the fire and remembered the Russian winter with a warm, bright house, a fluffy fur coat, swift sleighs, a healthy body, and all the love and care of a family.

—Leo Tolstoy, from War and Peace

I’ve never been to Russia in winter or spring or any other season. But I’ve been there all year round as a reader ever since the St. Petersburg summer I spent in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The following spring, I spent my first Russian winter reading The Brothers Karamazov in the Modern Library Giant edition. When you approach the world of Dostoevsky at the tender age of 19, the prospect is more inviting wrapped in an image of striking storybook simplicity: deep blue sky, snow tipped onion-domed towers above a white snowscape pure and clear against the black of a horse-drawn sleigh. So began a sophomore binge that carried me from Karamazov to Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. My fate was sealed. I would graduate as an English major with a minor in Slavic studies.

Everything in a Flower

“A flower fell on the snow and he rushed to pick it up as though everything in the world depended on the loss of that flower.” The “everything in the world depended on it” essence of Dostoevsky is in that sentence, which comes toward the end of “Ilusha’s Funeral,” the last chapter of The Brothers Karamazov. The chaotic life and death intensity of the passage is driven by Ilusha’s crazed father running alongside the coffin, “fussing and distracted,” rushing to pick up the small white flower, as if his dead son’s flower and all the flowers in the world were one.

Gogol’s Overcoat

In “The Overcoat,” from Nicolai V. Gogol’s Tales of Good and Evil (Doubleday Anchor), the St. Petersburg climate is “a great enemy,” along with the “northern frost” that targets “the noses of Civil Servants” and makes “the foreheads of even those who occupy the highest positions ache with frost, and tears start to their eyes.” Gogol pictures the “poor titular councillors … running as fast as they can in their thin, threadbare overcoats through five or six streets and then stamping their feet vigorously in the vestibule, until they succeed in unfreezing their faculties and abilities.” The overcoat of the title belongs to Akaky Akakyevich, who finds on thoroughly examining it at home that “the cloth had worn out so much that it let through the wind, and the lining had all gone to pieces.” more

A book authored by local historian Harold James has been named to the Financial Times’ Best Books of 2021: Politics List.

The War of Words: A Glossary of Globalization, published by Yale University Press, reveals the origins of key buzzwords and concepts used in contemporary political debate such as “neoliberalism,” “geopolitics,” and “globalization,” while highlighting communication challenges associated with their misuse. more

Part of the Althea Ward Clark W’21 Reading Series at Princeton

Students enrolled in fall creative writing courses in the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Creative Writing at Princeton University will read from their new works of fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and literary translation on Tuesday, December 7 at 5 p.m. in the Chancellor Green Rotunda on the Princeton campus as part of the Program’s Althea Ward Clark W’21 Reading Series. The reading is the culmination of students’ work in the Program in Creative Writing’s fall creative writing workshops.  more

Labyrinth Books in Princeton will host a hybrid, livestream event with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon on Wednesday, December 1 at 6 p.m. Muldoon will introduce his 14th collection of poetry, entitled Howdie-Skelp: Poems. He will be joined by fellow poet Michael Dickman.

A ‘howdie-skelp’ is the slap in the face a midwife gives a newborn. It’s a wake-up call. A call to action. The poems in Howdie-Skelp include a nightmarish remake of The Waste Land, an elegy for his fellow Northern Irish poet Ciaran Carson, a crown of sonnets that responds to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a translation from the ninth-century Irish, and a Yeatsian sequence of ekphrastic poems that call into question the very idea of an ‘affront’ to good taste. Muldoon is a poet who continues not only to capture but to hold our attention. more

Princeton Public Library invites book lovers to connect and enjoy community at the Beyond Words 2021 events. The virtual talks for November and December will conversations with journalist and novelist Omar El  Akkad on November 12 at 7 p.m. and novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz on December 3 at 7 p.m. The cost to attend is $60 per participant, per event. 

El Akkad is the author of the recently-released What Strange Paradise, which has been shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for excellence in Canadian fiction. He is also the author of the award-winning 2017 novel American War. He will be joined in conversation by Professor Deborah Amos, the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, an NPR international correspondent, and recipient of a 2021-22 Berlin Prize Fellowship.  more

By Stuart Mitchner

I still have the bound volume containing the first 20 issues of Classic Comics my parents gave me on my 7th birthday. Along with vivid graphic renditions of the likes of Moby-Dick and Gulliver’s Travels, I found poetry, everything from “Ojibwa War Songs” to Emily Dickinson’s “Railway Train,” pictured in the style of  “The Little Engine That Could.” I also found Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing,” where “each sings what belongs to him or her and to none else,” and Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” which told me the world “which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams” has “neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.”

I doubt if Arnold’s message got through to me at 7 (what’s “certitude”?), but when I was moved by the poem years later in college, the feeling that I’d been there before deepened the experience. Poetry seemed to be a primal element, as much a part of life as the air we breathe. I felt it again at the same age during the singing of Christmas carols, breathing in the beauty of “Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by” in “Little Town of Bethlehem.” Ten years later, when I discovered Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” there was a chill of recognition as I read “And little town thy streets for evermore / Will silent be.” I’d been there before, long ago, in another little town.

Issues of the Day

In this pandemic-haunted year, a number of new poetry books for children reflect issues ranging from slavery to social justice to environmental awareness.

One of the most appealing expressions of a time of loss, loneliness, and togetherness is Patrick Guest’s Windows (Starry Forest 2020), illustrated by Jonathan Bentley. Guest wrote the rhymed story at a time when he was forced to isolate from his family as a medical worker. The book begins: “Out the window, I can see a new world looking back at me. The streets are still, there are no crowds … but looking up, I see the clouds.”

A physiotherapist by day and a children’s book author by night, Guest lives in Melbourne, Australia. An award-winning illustrator of over 30 children’s books and the author and illustrator of four of his own, Bentley grew up in West Yorkshire, England. more

On August 16, from 7 to 8 p.m., Princeton Public Library presents a virtual Poets at the Library featuring readers Catherine Doty and John David Muth. Each reader will share their work for 20 minutes followed by an open mic session. Poets who sign-up in advance may share one poem during open mic. To sign-up via crowdcast to attend this virtual event, or to reserve a spot during open mic, visit https://princetonlibrary.libnet.info/event/5414024. 

Doty is a poet, cartoonist, and educator from Paterson. She is the author of Wonderama and Momentum, volumes of poems from CavanKerry Press and Just Kidding, a collection of cartoons from Avocet Press. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize and fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts.  more

By Stuart Mitchner

I’m beginning the summer Book Scene in the spirit of the old Billie Holiday song, “Back In Your Own Backyard,” where “the bird with feathers of blue is waiting for you.” The traffic at our community of bird feeders kept us smiling during the long haul of the work from home mandate, providing a cheerful, melodious alternative to “sheltering in place.” It helped to imagine the chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and goldfinches as a microcosm of pre-pandemic society where the only masks were worn by the cardinals, with comic relief coming from the acrobatics of squirrels; even the mob scenes made by starlings and grackles were welcome signs of life.

Taking the architectural/design theme to the backyard, I see a miniature Swiss chalet favored by the goldfinches, a rustic green bungalow for the cardinals, and a suet feeder with a rust-red roof favored by the woodpeckers, and, on either end, two elegant Edwardian towers, the larger of which reminds me of Norman Foster’s London Gherkin. After checking out the possibilities in birdland, I found The Bird House Book: How To Build Fanciful Bird Houses and Feeders from the Purely Practical to the Absolutely Outrageous by Bruce Woods and David Schoonmaker; Paul Meisel’s Wild & Wacky Bird Houses and Feeders: 18 Creative and Colorful Projects That Add Fun to Your Backyard, in paperback from Fox Chapel Publishing; and 23,000 Bird Feeders: A Common Sense Guide for Crafting Success by Connie M. Thompson, which describes how the author and her husband Pat sold 23,000 of their hand-painted bird feeders at craft shows and art fairs for over 20 years, “as well as thousands of bat houses, squirrel feeders, snow gauges, walking sticks, and butterfly houses.” more

Princeton Public Library (PPL) presents an evening of historical fiction featuring two bestselling authors discussing their latest novels, one set in Poland during WWII and the other in prewar Italy. This is a virtual event hosted by the platform Crowdcast. The authors will be speaking from 8 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 8.

To register, visit https://princetonlibrary.libnet.info/event/5300423. This program is free to attend and is best suited for teens and adults.  more

By Stuart Mitchner

Summer reading generally signifies something light rather than, say, a novel with literary heft, a page turner with a purpose. Even at the best of times, with the pandemic in remission, you don’t take Proust or Darwin to the beach.

However, I know of a seriously literary novel that feeds your mind even as it cools and refreshes you, plus it comes passionately recommended by one of the great American critics. R.P. Blackmur (1904-1965) was 17, working in a bookshop and attending lectures at Harvard without ever enrolling as a student, when he was advised to “read something by Henry James.” So he went to the Cambridge Public Library, where he found the book that introduced him to the “ecstasy of reading”:

“The day was hot and muggy, so that from the card catalogue I selected as the most cooling title The Wings of the Dove, and on the following morning, a Sunday, even hotter and muggier, I began, and by the stifling midnight had finished my first elated reading of the novel …. The beauty of the book bore me up; I was both cool and waking; excited and effortless; nothing was any longer worthwhile and everything had become necessary. A little later, there came outside the patter and the cooling of a shower of rain and I was able to go to sleep, both confident and desperate in the force of art.”

Reading Against the Wind

One book I actually tried to read at the beach is Lawrence Durrell’s Justine. I was in Mykonos with friends, and we were sharing various paperback reprints of the novels in The Alexandria Quartet. I say “tried to read” because the sun was hot and dry, and the wind was blowing. The Dell paperback was gritty with sand and had to be held tight or else the Aegean gusts would have blown it away. There was a bonus of sorts in knowing that the author himself would be sitting a table or two away from us at the same waterfront cafe that evening. Durrell’s rich, lush, sexy prose was the essence of Greek island summer weather, the narrator writing of “a sky of hot nude pearl in mid-day” even in winter as he muses on “the lime-laden dust” of summer afternoons in Alexandria. more