By Stuart Mitchner
The accepted wisdom is that books from academic publishers are too learned and weighty (in the wrong way) to be displayed on a certain piece of living room furniture. Two exceptions to the seasonal rule of show over substance, as wise as they are bold and beautiful, come from university presses: Stacey Sell and Hugo Chapman’s Drawing in Silver and Gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns ($49.95) from Princeton, and Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee ($34.95) from Rutgers.
Compared to the lavishly costumed usual suspects appearing just in time for holiday buyers, the tomes featured here can be seen as tributes to the taste and intelligence of both the giver and the receiver. Rather than associating yourself with the glamour buzz of some trendy subject, you can make known, in plain sight, your acquaintance with Leonardo and Jasper Johns, Walden Pond and Wounded Knee. Look inside Drawing in Silver and Gold and you find images of almost unreal beauty from the Middle Ages to the present created by master draftsmen using a rarely appreciated medium central to the history of drawing. Look inside Writing America and you find a scholar who, according to Erica Jong, “writes like an angel” about the “diversity and humor of the American spirit,” including not only familiar figures like Whitman and Twain, but Jewish, Mexican and Asian American writers, and luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance. more