Renato!

Renato! by Eugene Mirabelli, McPherson & Company, $20, 577 pages.

“The gods are immortal and we are not, and no, we are not free to live like gods. We die. We don’t want to be dispersed or dissolved into the void, we don’t want to lose each other.”

Appearing in the waning pages of Eugene Mirabelli’s masterful multi-generational literary opera, Renato!, these musings on the meaning of mortality capture humankind’s zest for love and life, at least, through the eyes of the titular protagonist, Renato Stillamare, a Boston-based painter and descendant of the prolific Sicilian-American Cavallus. Renato! is, on the surface, an autobiography of an aging artist forced to witness his own reputation erased with each passing year, and not for lack of talent, which he has in spades, but an unavoidable outcome of outliving his patrons. In a cruel twist of fate, his work improves with each year that he falls further away from the limelight. Securing an exhibition for his paintings in a tony Newberry Street gallery while also reconciling his tumultuous personal life consumes his days.

But this novel is more than an artist’s fight against mortality. The first half of Renato! offers a joyful genealogical history of the Cavallu family, populated by prostitutes, scientists, bankers, engineers, revolutionaries, and goddesses. (The latter is no laughing matter; some aristocratic Italian families do trace their heritage to interminglings between gods and mortals.) In this case, the family patriarch, Angelo Cavallu, is part stallion, with “equine hindquarters, those powerful flanks and long shins,” and Ava is his stunning bride. Those qualities make their way down the family tree–lusty, industrious men, beautiful, magical women–rendering this 150-year chronicle at once wholly believable and enchanting. The Cavallu family leaps through time and history, with appearances by General Giuseppe Garibaldi, finance con artist Charles Ponzi, and French pilot Louis Paulhan rooting these characters firmly in a convincing reality.

The three books between these covers were previously published separately in different forms but stitched together here seamlessly by Mirabelli. The tone shifts noticeably in the second and third books, where Renato is no longer the jubilant raconteur of wild ancestral anecdotes; rather, after a tumultuous youth, he is now seventy years old, living separately from his wife and mistress, wondering whether he will ever see his paintings grace a gallery wall again. Pushing up against barriers tests the spirit, and Renato is forced to explore the various facets of life and his relationships with those he loves. Another dramatic shift comes in the chapters following the death of Alba, Renato’s wife and guiding light, bringing with it an honest and raw assessment of grief.

Beautiful, hot-blooded, Renato! (which, it should be noted, comes from the Latin word for reborn), is a reminder that though the world may change as well as our respective places in it, love will ground us, should we choose to embrace it.

Like his protagonist, at age ninety, Mr. Mirabelli has persevered through the years and the publication of this book is nothing less than what appears to be the culmination of a lifetime spent burnishing words to smooth perfection. The Rockefeller grant recipient and professor emeritus at SUNY Albany has written ten novels that have been translated into French, Hebrew, Polish, and Sicilian, and in October, he will be recognized by the Albany Public Library system at its annual gala as this year’s Literary Legend.

Photo courtesy of McPherson & Company

Embrace Mr. Mirabelli’s captivating work and prepare to be richly rewarded.

Johnnie Walker and Pepsi Will Launch Paper Bottles in 2021

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but it’s been nothing short of a miracle for me to focus on much other than the parade of horribles happening right now. Apparently it’s called doomscrolling? Who knew–probably most of you, right? In that vein, I needed something light and frothy for this post, something downright bubbly and comforting. Well, I think I found it (and feel free to email me if you feel otherwise): a paper story coming to us courtesy of Pulpex, a venture capital-funded endeavor that launched what’s being billed as “the world’s first ever 100% plastic free paper-based spirits bottle, made entirely from sourced wood.”

Pulpex founding partner companies include Diageo, Unilever and PepsiCo, with a stated goal of moving products away from plastic packaging. Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky will be sold in food-grade paper bottles starting in 2021, free of thermoplastic polymer resin known as PET, and will be totally recyclable. TetraPaks, by contrast are manufactured with thin layers of polyethylene wedged between the paper and aluminum, which makes these packages difficult to recycle. Pulpex products aim to avoid that. As we all know, paper and liquids don’t always play well together, so getting this technology to work at scale will go a long way to reducing the amount of plastic floating around. Why not just stick with glass? It’s heavier than cardboard and so carries a larger carbon footprint.

In addition to Johnnie Walker, look for non alcoholic beverages from PepsiCo and personal and household care items from Unilever to appear sheathed in paper in the near future. And not a moment too soon: Diageo, the parent company of Johnnie Walker, uses plastic in 5% of all its packaging, but PepsiCo and Unilever rank among the world’s top plastic producers. Let’s all pour one out in the hopes that this is a success.
*This story first appeared on the Fine Books Blog on June 22, 2020.

Photo courtesy of Diageo

Covid PSA from the Princess in Black

Having a hard time explaining the new normal to your youngsters? Striking the right balance between informative without causing panic is essential, and Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham–the children’s book trio behind the bestselling The Princess in Black series–recently completed a child-friendly coronoavirus public service announcement to help make that task a little easier.

Created in accordance with Center for Disease Control guidelines as of April 8, 2020 and published by Candlewick Press, the free eight-page booklet is a “call to heroes” to join the intrepid problem solver, the Princess in Black, and do their part to slow the spread.princess2

All three creators have children at home and face many of the same quarantine-related issues as other parents:  “LeUyen, Dean, and I are all parents self-isolating at home with our children,” said Shannon Hale. “The anxiety and distancing is hard enough on our older kids, but we know that younger kids might be having an even harder time. We hoped that it’d help if a familiar book friend like the Princess in Black talked them through it. Even the Princess in Black is staying home! Even Princess Sneezewort had to cancel playdates! LeUyen had the idea of creating a short comic to download and share widely so caregivers could have an extra tool for talking to kids. Our goal is both to help kids understand what’s going on and to help them feel less alone.”

The Princess in Black and the Case of the Coronavirus is available for download here https://www.princessinblack.com/ and is attached here: pib-coronavirus

Poster House commissions COVID-19 PSAs

New York City is the current epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, its citizens in nonessential professions ordered to stay home in an attempt to slow the virus’s deadly march and prevent a catastrophic overload of the local health care system. Images of a city stripped of people are sobering in their eerie solitude.

Politicans, celebrities, and civic leaders have been spreading the word about why such drastic measures are necessary and how each of us has a role to play in combatting  a disease with no vaccine or cure. New York City’s Poster House has redirected its education efforts by encouraging the city’s denizens to look out for one another through a series of specially-designed posters, for which the museum turned to designer Rachel Gingrich. Bathed in cobalt blue and rendered in a punchy collage style, Gingrich’s three digital-only posters are available for downloaded here.

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Copyright 2020 Rachel Gingrich. Reproduced with permission from Poster House.

 

Earlier this week, Poster House released another series of PSA posters by its in-house designer Mihoshi Fukushima Clark, also available for download. Clark’s surprisingly upbeat series focuses on spreading the facts on social distancing and proper handwashing while also addressing the feelings of loneliness and isolation many of us are experiencing. As the virus has spread, so too, unfortunately, have xenophobia and anti-Asian racism. After learning about an increase in attacks on Asians, Clark created this series in an effort to remind viewers that we are all in this together.

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Copyright 2020 Mihoshi Fukushima Clark. Reproduced with permission from the Poster House

Having only opened to the public last summer, Poster House is the first museum in the United States wholly devoted to exploring the history of posters and their role in shaping public perception on everything from cigarettes to disease prevention. Posters are designed to present information quickly, and successful posters convey their messages in five seconds or less.

In conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition on Chinese propaganda The Sleeping Giant, Poster House had been in the midst of a project collaboration with stir-fry doyenne and James Beard award-winner Grace Young. That project has been put on hold, but as word got out about racial discrimination due to fears concerning Covid-19, Young went to Chinatown to document the toll on the Asian community.  Filmed on March 15, less than 48 hours before Mayor de Blasio mandated all city restaurants to close, Part 1 shows Young walking through a neighborhood at the vanguard of what would soon envelop the entire country. The scenes feel like they were shot a lifetime ago.

Stay strong, stay safe, readers: We will get through this, together.

 

Thank You for Being a Friend: Abby Reviews Two Picture Books for Kids and Adults

Abby looks at two titles today: a new picture book for grown-ups set to the lyrics of Andrew Gold’s theme song for The Golden Girls, and Castle of Books, Alessandro Sanna’s  joyous introduction to the worlds waiting to be unlocked by the gift of reading. Both are uplifting celebrations of friendships and a reminder that we’ve all got each other’s back, even when going gets a little dark. Brighter days ahead–

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Exhibitors at New York Antiquarian Book Fair Test Positive for COVID-19

Word spread yesterday via electronic listservs frequented by rare book dealers, collectors, and librarians that a New York International Antiquarian Book Fair exhibitor tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The NYIABF was held March 5-8, just as the virus began appearing in the city. As expected, the news caused a flurry of anxious replies to the thread. In response, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America released this statement:

 

“We have no authority to reveal the identity of the individual … diagnosed in their home country yesterday, 11 days after being at the fair. An officer of the ABAA contacted a state Department of Infectious Disease who has confirmed that given our exposure to all of those at the NYIABF and surrounding activities, the most important thing for people to be doing at this time is to continue social distancing, monitor your individual health and if you have concerns about your personal health contact your health care provider or physician.”

 

Then, this morning, we heard from the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers that more exhibitors were affected and have given permission to share their status, including Pom Harrington of London’s Peter Harrington and ILAB’s secretary, Angelika Elstner, who is based in South Africa. Harrington said in a statement, “Angelika and I both returned from New York sick as did Adrian Harrington, Alicia Bardon, Dan Whitmore, and James Cummins, Jr. I know there are others poorly. Angelika fortunately managed to get tested in Cape Town which is better than the rest of us, and had a positive result. It is reasonable to assume the rest of us here are also positive for Coronavirus. We are all recovering well and some are recovered already. To everyone else, if you have symptoms you must isolate yourself.”

 

As for the delay in relaying this information, ILAB president Sally Burdon emphasized the “as soon as Angelika’s test was returned positive no time was wasted in letting both the ABAA and ILAB know. Angelika tried to get tested immediately on her return but her doctor told her she did not have COVID-19 but to stay at home and rest. It was only because of a change in circumstances in South Africa where she lives that she was able to get a test and she went to get the test literally at the very first opportunity. My understanding is that others named were not able to get tested. Getting a test in many countries is not easy and in some countries not possible at all if you do not have extreme symptoms.”

 

Burdon continued, “I would like to thank Pom Harrington, Angelika Elstner and the others he named for coming forward in this way and hope that everyone will understand how very difficult this situation is and support them and all of our colleagues who are ill at this time. This is not something anyone would wish for. Pom’s email emphasises the international nature of the virus and while telling us that no one is immune it also reminds us we are all in this together and need to act accordingly. I also have also heard anecdotally that the Maastricht Fair also has had people return ill from it. As we all know this virus is prevalent.”

Green Day

Mother Earth needs our help. Easier said than done, right? The challenges are enormous and it’s tempting to simply buy a reusable grocery bag and call it a day. But every little bit–including that reusable grocery bag–helps, and plenty of options exist to make the world a cleaner place. But where to start? According to Jen Gale in The Sustaninable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know to make small changes that make a big difference (Green Tree, 296 $16), taking Draconian measures to “go green” aren’t necessary to make significant change. Gale knows, because she went to those extremes by undertaking an entire year without buying a single new item for her and her family, which she chronicled on her website. That experience, though difficult, revealed that she and her family (which included two young children) were capable of becoming more thoughtful consumers. But going whole hog isn’t for everyone, and this book grew out of a desire to permanently change her behavior without having to pull up stakes and move to Amish country.

Sustainable(ish) provides easy, achievable ideas on how to reduce consumption and help save the planet. Topics run to the usual suspects, like reducing food and plastic waste, as well as the more unexpected and thought-provoking, from an examination of the astounding amount of waste that goes into producing our clothes to how the most mundane of items, like markers and baby wipes, can be toxic for the planet.  Each chapter follows a similar pattern of laying out the statistics, providing Gale’s experience with the problem, and a series of suggestions for the reader to implement that become progressively more involved.

Engagingly optimistic, there is much here to help readers find their way to a cleaner, greener future, but financial stats provided in pounds and UK-based resources will leave many American readers wondering where to turn for further guidance, but that is easily remedied via a quick online search. Our choices matter, and Gale helps us take realistic action that will benefit the health of our planet and the next generation–in other words, this is the earth-friendly guidebook for all of us.

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