Think of the French Enlightenment, and who comes to mind? Probably Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu and their impressive achievements like Candide, the Encyclopedie, and The Spirit of Laws, works that spurred the intellectual and philosophical movement of eighteenth-century Europe. Though the Enlightenment is often considered a male-dominated endeavor, French women played important roles, too.
Think of the French Enlightenment, and who comes to mind? Probably Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu and their impressive achievements like Candide, the Encyclopedie, and The Spirit of Laws, works that spurred the intellectual and philosophical movement of eighteenth-century Europe. Though the Enlightenment is often considered a male-dominated endeavor, French women played important roles, too. Elite, educated women often held salons–forums hosted in private homes where spirited debate on topics from education to politics accompanied sumptuous meals. (This is France, after all.) Women held court in these salons, selecting topics, curating the guest list, and using the venue to seal their social status. One of the more famous Parisian salonnières was Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet, who ran a salon at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, the first of its kind and which likely inspired Molière’s scathing one-act satire les Précieuses ridicules.
Other women went a step beyond hosting salons and picked up the plume for themselves. Madame de La Fayette, a regular at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, wrote the first French historical novel called La Princesse de Clèves (1678), while the correspondence of the marquise de Sevigné is widely celebrated for its verve and historical significance.
Today, Houghton Library at Harvard University is hosting a symposium on these and other ladies of the Enlightenment called, appropriately, “Rethinking Enlightenment: Forgotten Women Writers of Eighteenth-Century France.” Members of Harvard’s Department of Romance Languages and Literature as well as guest professors from the Universite de Lille and Wellesley College will discuss the works of women who participated in the Enlightenment “but were excluded from its history until recently.” The discussion accompanies an exhibition on view through April 28th, “Rethinking Enlightenment,” curated by Harvard senior and forum participant Caleb Shelbourne, who assisted professor Christie McDonald with research for her forthcoming two-volume work Femme, Littérature. Une histoire culturelle (Paris: Gallimard, 2019). The symposium comes two days after International Francophonie Day, an annual event celebrated by 220 million French-speakers on five continents.
Those feeling a bit windswept by the weather these days may do well to head over to the NYABF at the Park Avenue Armory and peek into Abby Schoolman’s exhibit at booth A32, where she’s highlighting some exciting contemporary art books and bindings. In addition to her stable of works by the likes of Mark Cockram and Tim Ely, Schoolman is introducing her latest Instagram find,The Kraken by thirty-year-old Spanish paper artist Carla Busquets.
This one-of-a-kind book includes eight original drawings rendered in black ink on four folios mounted on five wooden dowels.The piano hinge structure is based on innovations by book artist Hedi Kyle and the piece is signed by the artist on the back of the last leaf.
“I mostly work with paper,” Busquet explains in Schoolman’s catalog. “I love the versatility of the material, how easy it is to manipulate and also the skill required to turn it into delicate work.” She also looks to the natural world for inspiration, and in The Kraken, Busquet looked to the massive, fearsome sea creature of the deep that was believed to capsize seagoing vessels since the time of Odysseus. In this rendering, the kraken’s massive tentacles churn the black waves, ominously approaching a doomed schooner.
Formerly a conservator in the UK, Canada, and Spain, Busquets opened her own studio, la Frivé, last year where she hosts workshops for paper artists of all ages in addition to practicing her craft.
Bonus: this kraken won’t swamp your book-buying budget, nicely priced at $500.
If you’ve got time and energy to spare after rummaging through the NYABF’s wares, head down to Pier 36 where the annual Art on Paper show focuses on contemporary art.
photo credit: Abby Schoolman
This story first appeared on the Fine Books & Collections Blog on March 9th, 2018
You can be excused for feeling a little apocalyptic if you happen to live on the East Coast, but once you’ve got the lights and heat back on, consider picking up one of the following books for you or the kids–they are all a welcome salve for these windswept times and reminders that love and compassion come in all shapes and sizes.
First up is National Book Critics Circle Award winner Louise Erdrich’s latest offering, Future Home of the Living God (Harper, $28.99), where evolution seems to be coming to a standstill: animals stop reproducing while others revert back to prehistoric proportions and children are born with disturbing abnormalities, leading to an increasingly fascist government regime where pregnant women are incarcerated. This is bad news for four-months-pregnant Cedar, the adopted daughter of loving parents and the protagonist of this cautionary tale. Cedar decides its time to meet her Ojibwe birth parents in Northern Minnesota, where she reconnects with her spiritual side. Told in diary form by Cedar, Future Home of the Living God touches on prescient, lightening-rod themes of reproductive rights, faith, and environmental disorder with equal parts verve and candor. Newbies to sci-fi would do well to start here.
Meanwhile, offer the kids have something far less dystopian in nature, like Paul Griffin’s Saving Marty (Dial Books, $16.99). Here, lonely Lorenzo is looking for a friend, and finds one in Marty, a pig that thinks it’s a dog. Instant friendship ensues, and when Marty grows into a robust 350-pound porker, Lorenzo is ready and willing to do anything to save his best friend from being shipped away. Middle-grade fans of Griffin’s When Friendship Followed Me Home will find similar themes of compassion and friendship in Saving Marty.
Another book of porcine proportions is The True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter, and Caprice Cane (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99), which shares the real-life story of Esther and her owners. In 2012, Steve and Derek adopted Esther and welcomed her to their animal sanctuary. Much like Marty in the previous book, Esther was destined for corpulent greatness–eventually tipping the scales at over 600 pounds. But Esther’s size was no match for Steve and Derek’s love and patience–rather than give Esther away, they moved to a country farm in 2014, founding the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary where they continue to care for all sorts of creatures. Young readers will snort with joy watching Esther grow from a tiny piglet into a massive pink hog. Corri Doerrfield’s lively illustrations are sweet and perfectly in tune with the text.
Need a literary justification to visit the Caribbean this spring? Consider the NGC Bocas Lit Festival, taking place in downtown Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. Billed as the region’s premier literature festival, the Lit Fest is devoted to developing and promoting Caribbean authors by hosting five lively days of author panels, workshops, film screenings, and performances. Held at the National Library and Old Fire Station, the festival will run from April 25-29 and is free to the public.
In addition, NGC organizers will be announcing the 2018 prizes for Caribbean literature on April 28. Launched in 2011, these annual awards recognize the previous year’s most notable additions to the Caribbean canon. Last year’s winners included Jamaican poet Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press), Augustown by Kei Miller (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) took home the top prize for fiction, and Virtual Glimpses into the Past/A Walk Back in Time: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago by Angelo Bissessarsingh (Queen Bishop Publishing) won for best non-fiction work.
The overall winner receives an award of $10,000, while category winners each receive a cash prize of $3,000. Eligible submissions must have been first published in English in 2017 and written by a single living author who either holds Caribbean citizenship or was born in the Caribbean. (Though Francophone authors hailing from Haiti, Guadeloupe, and Martinique aren’t necessarily eligible unless they write in English, their work can be considered for the Prix littéraire des Caraϊbes et du Tout-Monde and the other prestigious French awards like the Prix Goncourt.)
The NGC Lit Fest goals are to both celebrate the Caribbean’s literary achievements while also maintaining the region’s literacy rates, which hover around 97 to 99 percent of the overall population. Haiti remains the exception, where the literacy rate is near 60 percent, despite a rich two-hundred-year history of producing talented writers like Toussaint Louverture, Jean Price-Mars, Dany Laferriere, Jacques Roumain, and Marie-Celie Agnant.
Need another reason to book a flight? Check out this interview with Trinidad and Tobago native Tracey Baptiste, author of The Jumbies YA series. She spoke with my daughter, Abgail, in late January about Caribbean folklore and how it inspires her books.
(photo: Barbara Basbanes Richter)
This story first appeared on the Fine Books & Collections blog on Friday, March 2, 2018.
Jane Austen’s novels criticizing sentimentalism, the British landed gentry, and women’s dependence on marriage have remained in print continuously since 1832, when the publisher Richard Bentley purchased the copyrights of all six of Austen’s works. For the past 186 years those stories have thrilled readers around the globe. Now comes a picture-book biography for children attempting to piece together Austen’s rise to fame.
Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel (Holt, $17.99, 48 pages) explores Austen’s modest upbringing and how she quietly forged a career as an author at a time when most women aspired to fortuitous marriages to secure their economic status.
Though little is actually known about Austen’s childhood since she kept no journal or diary, author Lisa Plisco admirably examines just how Austen developed her plucky wit and delightfully biting sense of irony. (Spoiler: Austen read a lot of books.) Illustrator Jen Corace’s vibrant mixed-media illustrations show a rosy-cheeked Austen, likely an homage to the portrait of Austen completed in 1810 by her sister, Cassandra.
Have a future wordsmith on your hands? Give her this beguiling introduction to a great woman of letters.
Image courtesy of Holt Books for Young Readers
This review first ran on the Fine Books & Collections Blog on February 23, 2018.
Award season continued its forward march this week with the announcement of the American Library Association’s (ALA) winners of the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Awards on February 12th. This year’s Newbery winner was Hello, Universe (Greenwillow Books, 320 pages) by Erin Entrada Kelly, while Matthew Cordell’s wordless picture book Wolf in the Snow (Feiwel and Friends, 48 pages) took home the Caldecott Medal.
Hello, Universe explores the complicated tween world unexpected friendships, bullying, and self-acceptance, told from the point of view of four protagonists. While there’s no dialogue in Wolf in the Snow, there’s plenty going on: a girl in a red parka discovers a lost wolf pup during a blizzard and helps it find its family. The tension and shifting dynamics between girl and wolf are rendered in deceptively simple pen-and-inks and watercolors. Both books explore what it’s like to be an outsider, and how doing the right thing can often mean have to face one’s fears as well.
Both awards recognize the year’s most outstanding contributions to American literature and picture book illustration for children, and though the ALA awards list has grown in recent years, the Caldecott and the Newbery remain the most noteworthy.
The awards were announced at the ALA’s annual midwinter meeting which was held in Denver, Colorado. The complete list of winners can be found at the ALA’s website here.
This story first ran on the Fine Books & Collections Blog on February 16, 2018.
Ok, Philadelphia Eagles fans may think nothing can top their team’s proud designation as Super Bowl champions, but we’ve got something for bookish folks that’s sure to please.
On January 29, the Library Company of Philadelphia opened its latest exhibition to the public on sharing special collections in a digital world. Entitled #GiltyPleasures–a play on the word for gold-covered binding and illumination–the show is the logical extension of a social media initiative launched two years ago by Concetta Barbera and Arielle Middleman, the Library Company’s digital outreach librarians. Almost daily, devoted Instagram followers find postings ranging from century playing cards, watercolors, photographs, and recently, a slightly doctored WWI recruitment poster showing–what else–a bald eagle trouncing a black-feathered foe sporting Patriots insignia on its chest.
“We wanted to share our passion for the Library Company’s collections with the online community,” Barbera and Middleman said. “We also wanted to introduce new and whimsical ways to engage with special collections. However, no virtual environment can fully mimic the experience of seeing and interacting with these materials in person, and we hope that #GiltyPleasures fills that gap.”
Billed as the library’s “greatest hits,” #GiltyPleasures hopes to inspire visitors while celebrating the qualities of this institution founded by Benjamin Franklin back in 1731. Bonus: This week the Library Company is participating in #ColorOurCollections, a weeklong social media coloring festival where institutions share free coloring content with their social media followers, so break out a fresh box of crayons!
#GiltyPleasures runs through April 6 and can also be viewed here.
This story originally ran on Friday February 9th at the Fine Books & Collections Blog.
Image: Bull, Charles Livingston, 1874-1932, artist. Join the Army Air Service, Be an American Eagle! ca. 1917 1 print: 27 X 20.5 in.