Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My 2012 reading, and some plans for 2013

I wouldn't even attempt to discuss everything I read in 2012!  It comes to close to 125 books.  But here's a bit of an overview.


I discovered some new (to me) authors this year.

Where has Anthony Trollope been all my life?  Why didn't anyone tell me?  It all started with The Way We Live Now, which I later learned is often considered his best book.  Figures I'd start at the top!  But I can't say "it was all downhill from there", because it wasn't.  I did the Barchester Chronicles (not in order, but that didn't seem to matter a great deal), and a couple of "stand-alones".  One of my goals for 2013 is to read the Palliser novels.

Another author new to me this year is Stewart O'Nan, who, unlike Trollope, writes about ordinary, working-class people, and does so beautifully.  I had picked up a copy of Last Night at the Lobster at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference here back in January.  It's set in a fast-food restaurant on its last night in business, which may not sound the most promising setting for a novel, but I was enthralled.  Then I found The Odds: a love story, about a couple ready to divorce for financial reasons, and making one last throw of the dice (literally) at a Niagara Falls casino.  Really fine work.

Among the best I found were the Irish writer, John McGahern (Amongst Women),  Carlo Lucarelli's detective stories, set in Italy at the end of WWII, and Amara Lakhous, an Algerian-born author now resident in Italy (we read his Divorzio all'islamica a viale Marconi in my Italian lit class).

I did not neglect old friends, though.  I read more Henry James and Wilkie Collins, as well as Alessandro Baricco's Senza Sangue, James M. Cain's posthumously published The Cocktail Waitress.  There were new books by Donna Leon, Andrea Camilleri, and Sandra Cisneros, among others.   Of course, the new book that I was most excited about was Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies, the second in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell.  The Man Booker people liked it, too, because she won the prize for this one, just as she did for the first, Wolf Hall.  And well-deserved, too, if you ask me.


As usual, my non-fiction reading was all over the map, but, also as usual, it was heavy on biographies, memoirs and history.  One of my absolute favorites was Robert Rodi's Bitch In a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen From the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps, an absolutely delightfully snarky work of lit crit.

Even before the news that Richard III's body may have been found (and if you don't know about that - where've you been? - you can read more at one of my new favorite websites, The History Blog), I read a couple of older books about him, Clements R. Markham's Richard III: His Life & Character Reviewed in the Light of recent research
and Horace Walpole's Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III.  I anxiously await the results of the DNA testing, but I'm pretty convinced by the circumstantial evidence that they have, indeed, found Richard's body.  
I was fascinated by Craig Monson's Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Art and Arson in the Convents of Italy.  It has a delightfully tabloid cover, too:
I plan to follow this up with his newest book, Divas in the Convent: Nuns, Music and Defiance in Seventeenth-Century Italy.     

I read Colm Tóibín's All a Novelist Neeeds: Colm Tóibín on Henry James (which was in part what inspired me to pick up more James).  His new book, The Testament of Mary, is on my list for 2013.  I've just seen that it's going to Broadway (it was originally written as a monologue for theater), so I may need to plan a trip to NYC in the spring!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A new Seminary Co-op Bookstore

For 50 years, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore could be found through the doors of the Chicago Theological Seminary:
Chicago Theological Seminary
You went down a steep flight of stone stairs, from whence you emerged into a labyrinth of bookshelves, small rooms darting off the main ones unexpectedly, nooks and crannies, wherein you might trip over a fellow book lover, luring you to your wallet's doom.  If you were tall and unaware, you might whack your head on a low-hanging pipe.  And yet for 50 years, the store, with all its flaws, was beloved.  Indeed, for many, those flaws were a large part of its charm.

But then the Chicago school of economics, mother of many a Nobel laureate, reared its (to many, ugly) head, and the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics was born, took over CTS' building, CTS moved to a brand new facility, and Seminary Co-op's days in the building which gave it its name were numbered.

This being Hyde Park, neither the creation of the Friedman Institute, nor the building of the new CTS, nor Seminary Co-op's move, went without opposition.  Friedman, ever controversial, ought not to have his name in academic lights.  The University ought not to use their land, which had been lent for a community garden, to stage the building of the new theological seminary.  And Seminary Co-op?  Above ground?  With natural light?  What of those niches where one might hunker down and lose oneself in some esoteric tome?  What would happen to the ambience?

Not to worry.  Hire this guy:
Stanley Tigerman

Stanley Tigerman is not merely a major American architect; for decades, he has been a member of Seminary Co-op (as is the President of the United States).  So he knew what to do.  And he did it.  The new store, in renovated space at McGiffert House, next door to Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, retains the feel of the old stand.   You may sometimes still feel the need for Ariadne's ball of twine, or trip over a student ensconced in a pile of books.  The exposed pipes are still there, though high enough that one must be very tall indeed to whack one's head.   But there is light now, and space.  The claustrophobic bibliophile need no longer fight the battle between fear of small spaces and love of book browsing and buying.   And, by no means the least improvement, the person with disabilities is no longer required to call and be escorted down a freight elevator.  One of the delightful new touches are the bookcase "windows".  As one browses a shelf, one can peer through to shelves and temptations beyond:
Bookshelf Window
Tigerman has married Gothic ambience with 21st-century practicality, and it's a match made in heaven.

Of course, the move could not be made without some slight fanfare.  One of my favorite things about Seminary Co-op is the Front Table, home to recent scholarly titles.  To have your book on the Front Table (the virtual edition of which can be found here) has been described by one person as "The Pinnacle of Academic Achievement".  The new store would not be complete without one.   So two days before the actual opening, there was a parade!  Authors of books on the Front Table were invited to come to the doors of the old location and carry their books to the new one.  And many did, led by a bagpiper:
Short speeches were then made, cookies eaten and hot drinks imbibed, and tours given of the new space.  I browsed taking note of a few titles for my return trip when they would be officially open and ready to take my credit card.  I did, in fact, trip over a student in one of those nooks.  And I shared a chuckle over some of the signage:
Mathematics (ends) Philosophy (begins)

Blake, I couldn't agree more:
"My new old home"

Please visit The Seminary Co-Op Documentary Project.