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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

Web 1Part of Princeton Magazine’s Social Media Mixer Series: Great Authors to Follow on Twitter

By Taylor Smith

Emily St. John Mandel is the author of four novels, most recently Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award. A previous novel, The Singer’s Gun, was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Station Eleven has most recently been licensed as a feature film. Mandel shares her thoughts on her best-selling novel and the seed of her inspiration.

Mandel was watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager when she was struck by the line, “Survival is insufficient,” an elegant expression of something that she believed to be true. Her award-winning novel Station Eleven is based on the premise that “no matter what the circumstances, we always long for something beyond the basics of mere survival.”

Unlike most dystopian fiction, Station Eleven begins more than a decade after an illness has ravaged society. The worst of the pandemic has passed and so with it has gone electricity, the Internet, modern medicine, and the majority of artistic expression. In spite of all this, a group of musicians form a travelling theatrical troupe, performing Shakespeare at small towns that have formed around abandoned gas stations. more

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By Stuart Mitchner

My appreciation for home building and home design began in childhood with the Classic Comic of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and peaked when I watched a master carpenter rebuild the interior of the Princeton house we’ve lived in for almost 30 years. I read the Crusoe comic many times over when I was 6 or 7. My favorite image was of the cozy cave-like domicile Crusoe constructed for himself: a desk, a bed, a set of shelves lined with various vases and containers in lieu of books, a hammock, sabres and rifles hanging from the wall. Crusoe, a Do-It-Yourself man almost 200 years before the rise of the acronym DIY, is shown carving stakes for the fence, borrowing a sail from the wreckage of his ship to make a canvas tent overhead, chopping down trees and splitting the trunks to make planks. The big Vermonter who helped make our house a home didn’t need to chop down trees or split trunks, but what he accomplished was no less remarkable. more

Charlotte Moss’s lavish new book enlivens your green thumb with stunning photographs of gardens from around the globe. 

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

With a reverence for the traditional and a passion for the unexpected, Charlotte Moss brings her unique aesthetic to nature in her new book, Garden Inspirations.  A miscellany of sumptuous photographs, interesting stories, and useful advice, her book is rooted in the garden.

For over 27 years, Moss has been perfecting her East Hampton garden using influences from her international travels.  From France and Italy to England and Spain, Moss sought to document and replicate some of the world’s most divine natural sanctuaries.  As a result, the venerable designer’s artistic eye has been shaded by her wealth of botanical knowledge that she shares in the pages of her book. more

doc00422620150708091002By Stuart Mitchner

First things first, whatever the opposite of “foodie” is, I’m it. While my wife may also make faces at that precious little word, she fits the dictionary definition and then some of “a person who enjoys and cares about food.” Say the name “Yotam Ottolenghi” and her face lights up. Say it to me and I go “Duh?” My wife came of age in Los Angeles eating Mexican food along with other ethnic fare. I grew up in Indiana eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If it were possible to estimate my consumption of PB&J, I might rate a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Until I met my wife, an artichoke was as alien to me as an ottolenghi.


I spent a year in India without eating curry. Not until after the marriage vows did I take the spicy plunge, and now it’s the one thing I can cook without the help of a cookbook. Yet here I am, contemplating Yotam’s latest, Plenty More (Ten Speed Press $35). The subtitle says it’s about Vibrant Vegetable Cooking. If you look through the big full-color world of images between the covers, some 339 pages, the vegetables are nothing if not vibrant. They do everything but dance on the page. You can get drunk just looking at them. In fact, just looking at the one-word chapter titles on the contents page becomes an activity in itself. You get Tossed, Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, Grilled, Roasted, Fried, Mashed, Cracked, Baked, and Sweetened. Which, now that I think of it, is one way of describing what happened to me in India and on the way there and back. more

EvangelineArea resident Hester Young will be launching The Gates of Evangeline (G.P. Putnam’s $29.95), her debut novel, Wednesday, September 2, at 7 p.m., at the Princeton Public Library. The first in a planned trilogy, the book is about a grieving mother whose dark visions bring to light secrets that affect those around her. 

In a starred review Publishers Weekly called The Gates of Evangeline “haunting, heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful….Young handles the spectral elements with restraint as her tremendously sympathetic heroine seeks to build a new life after death.” According to Kirkus Reviews, “the hothouse atmosphere of Evangeline and the tortuous and tangled motives of its denizens make for an enjoyable puzzle box of a mystery. An eerie but inviting debut.”

Jedediah Berry, author of the Hammett-prize winning The Manual of Detection, writes, “In Hester Young’s haunted Louisiana, the ghostly labyrinth of the past opens its great doors to deliver up a lush gothic thriller. The Gates of Evangeline is a darkly marvelous debut, a classic whodunnit stitched with otherworldly chills.” more

By Taylor Smith

The wonderful thing about following your favorite writers on Twitter is that they suddenly become relatable. They are people with opinions, a sense of humor, and a life outside of their writing duties. more

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet to head 75-year-old, unique undergraduate program

Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts named Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith as the new director of the University’s Program in Creative Writing. Smith, a Professor of Creative Writing on the Princeton faculty since 2005, succeeds National Book Award finalist and poet Susan Wheeler, who has led the program since 2011. more

See how architectural photographer, Richard Schulman is capturing the faces behind the world’s most beautiful buildings

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

Images by Richard Schulman

Unlike paintings and other forms of art that are produced directly from hand to canvas, architectural designs require an intermediate step: construction. And while we may be left awestruck by the sleek enormity of a skyscraper or the matchless ambiance of a building, we often forget the brilliant architect behind its conception. more

By Stuart Mitchner

In his introduction to the 1946 Scribner’s edition of Henry James’s The American Scene, W.H. Auden observes that while travel is the “easiest subject for the journalist” who requires only “a flair for being on the spot where interesting events happen,” it is the most diffi cult for the artist, “who is deprived of the freedom to invent, free only to select and never to modify or add, which calls for imagination of a very high order.”

Except that, as Auden goes on to show, James found ways to invent, modify, or add, exploiting his “descriptive conceits” with rhapsodies on “the golden apples of the Jersey shore” and the pleasure of “being ever so wisely driven, driven further and further, into the large lucidity of—well, of what else shall I call it but a New Jersey condition?”


By Anne Levin 

Ruth Reichl is sometimes asked the question: If you had a superpower, what would it be? For the author, food writer and editor — formerly the restaurant critic at The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times and the editor-in-chief of the late and lamented Gourmet magazine, the answer is a no-brainer: To have a heightened palate.

“I wish I had it, but I so do not,” she said during a telephone interview last week. “Especially in my business, it would be a great asset.” Ms. Reichl will speak this Friday at a sold-out Book Lover’s Luncheon hosted by the Princeton Public Library and the Friends of the Library, at Springdale Golf Club. “The closest I’ve ever seen is Paula Wolfert, whom I traveled with once,” she continued. “She really does have an uncanny ability to pull flavors apart.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…

That line from Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock” has been singing in my mind ever since I began thinking about books on gardens for the spring issue. The sound that haunts me, however, isn’t from the composer’s version, but the one sung by Ian Matthews and backed by Gordon Huntley’s eloquent pedal steel guitar on the album Later That Same Year by Matthews’ Southern Comfort. Huntley weaves a spell of such beauty, no place but an earthly paradise could live up to it.

Of real world here-and-now gardens in my experience, I think of Hidcote near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, which I visited with my wife and 10-year-old son at the time of his all-consuming fascination with plants and flowers, particularly exotic deadly ones (a year later it was electric guitars and exotic, deadly music). As it happens, Hidcote was the creation of an American expatriate named Lawrence Johnston, who settled in England in 1900 and began laying out the garden ten years later. During the same UK summer, we visited Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle Garden, which shared the Arts and Crafts style of Hidcote, with its sequence of outdoor “rooms.” I was always the semi-reluctant hanger-on, for these visits took place when my wife was reading her way through the letters and journals of Sackville-West’s soulmate Virginia Woolf and my son was doing the same with field guides and botanical esoterica. more

By Stuart Mitchner

Most of us grow up with an innate sensitivity to architecture and design. This primal design sense no doubt comes to life as soon as your parents hang a pretty mobile above your crib. As you grow up, you’re likely to develop an attachment to familiar objects, as I did, for one example, to the curtains that can be seen in photos of the duplex my parents were renting when I was born. The curtains moved with us from home to home and when we transitioned to a bigger house after I entered seventh grade, I asked that the surviving remnants be hung in my room, even though they were starting to show their age. The colors were warm and cozy, gold and a faded red, with fi ligree and medallions and knights on horseback; it was the design equivalent of comfort food. It was also a reminder of a happy, secure childhood. more

By Stuart Mitchner

I grew up eating breakfast and lunch (and snacks) in the same room as a large threepart folding screen decorated from top to bottom with New Yorker covers. It was the only piece of furniture my parents owned that had no discernible purpose other than to be its own odd, cheery, colorful self. My Medievalist father, who was accustomed to working with illuminated manuscripts, had meticulously assembled and arranged it, making sure everything was precisely aligned. The screen, with all its vivid, amusing imagery refl ecting our familial infatuation with New York City was a companiable presence at a time when my diet consisted mostly of open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then and now the ultimate comfort food. more

By Stuart Mitchner

“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” – Henri Matisse

In my dissheveled outsider’s view, the fashion world is best approached when it relates to art or cinema or literature, or, as I’ve just learned, when it’s embodied by designers who live up to Matisse’s definition of creative people. After scanning some new fashion-oriented publications appropriate to the holiday season, I’ve found the virtues of curiosity, persistance, independence, a spirit of adventure and a love of play in people like fashion legend Loulou de la Falaise (1948-2011) and Alber Elbaz, the creative director of Lanvin. more

By Stuart Mitchner

Joyce Carol Oates had been living in Princeton for 25 years when she published The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art (Ecco 2003), one of two works she named when asked to mention books that were “close to her heart.” The author, who will be teaching her last class at Princeton University in the spring semester of 2015, also cited High Lonesome: New & Selected Stories 1966-2006 (Ecco 2006), which contains “my favorite stories of my own up to that time.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

Every time the “back to school” theme comes up, I think of The Catcher in the Rye, New York City, and the year I went to McBurney School on 63rd Street off Central Park West. I was 16 when I read Holden Caulfield’s story for the first of many times, not knowing that J.D. Salinger had been at McBurney decades before me and that some of Holden’s school experiences and relationships were drawn from his two years there. more

By Stuart Mitchner

Lost, lost, it’s always lost. Nobody talks about being found in translation but isn’t that what happens when the translator is delivering the goods? In winning the 2013 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for delivering Reiner Stach’s Kafka: Die Jahre der Erkenntnis into English as Kafka: The Years of Insight (Princeton University Press 2013), Princeton resident Shelley Frisch was praised for “finding fresh, compelling, and often witty ways” to sustain the biographer’s voice and “render his German into English.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

When we lived in Hoosier Courts, a post-war housing project for married graduate students, Indiana University junior faculty, and veterans on the GI Bill, the garbage cans were in pits with heavy lids because we were on the edge of the wilderness, or so I was told by my parents. Older kids claimed there were mountain lions, bears, and wolves in the woods nearby, where my parents allowed me to explore during the day, in spite of the rumored wildlife. You could walk out your door and within a minute be hiking on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Illinois Central tracks. The pale green clapboard buildings were heated by pot-bellied stoves I got dressed in front of on cold winter mornings. It was at Hoosier Courts, between grades 4 and 6, that I began reading “real books.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

In May 1929 delegates to an Atlantic City convention worked out a fourteen point agreement that was a distorted mirror image of President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” treaty negotiated ten years earlier at Versailles. Led by Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and other mobster kingpins, this particular summit also dealt with war and peace, armaments, and the spoils of war. more