Monthly Archives: January 2015

Wishlist Wednesday – The Great War

Welcome to “Wishlist Wednesdays,” a new feature on this blog where I post things that I wish I had, or just find pretty cool. This week, The Great War, by Joe Sacco.

We were discussing artist’s books in class last week and myProfessor brought in a selection of books for us to look at. Among the books passed around was Joe Sacco’s The Great War, a 24 page accordion-style book illustrating the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Due to the panoramic nature of the work, Sacco provides illustrations not only of the battlefield, but also of officers quarters and villages well beyond the front lines so the audience has a clear overall picture of wartime battles as well as life itself.

A portion of the work depicting the Battlefield.

A portion of the work depicting the Battlefield.

The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles of the First World War, as well as one of the bloodies, with over 1,000,000 men killed or wounded. The result of this Battle was inconclusive, and with such high losses sustained, it left many wondering, “Is it worth it?”

While some may feel that Sacco’s illustrations and “cartoonish” style of drawing detract from the brevity of The Great War, I disagree. For me, this depiction of the Battle of the Somme is all the more powerful for being wordless.

Special Post – Neal Thompson, A Curious Man (2014)


This week I also posted a book review of Neil Thompson’s, A Curious Man, on the University of Toronto Museum Studies’ Blog, Musings. While the book was mainly a biography of Robert Ripley, it still posed some good questions relevant to the Museum community, including, can we consider Ripley “Odditoriums,” both then and now, Museums? There is a debate within the art community over whether mass produced art can really be considered “art”? Ripley entertainment owns 32 Odditoriums worldwide, can a mass produced museum, constructed specifically for tourists be a real museum? Or do our conceptions of what a museum is, dismiss Ripley Odditoriums as simply kitschy and tacky tourist traps? It’s an interesting thing to think about.

Read the whole review here.

Pamela Des Barres – I’m With the Band (1987)


From the Rory Gilmore Reading List seen in Season 3 Episode 16 (“The Big One” where Lorelei is reading it sitting on her couch.

Des Barres’ memoirs have often been called the quintessential read for anyone wanting to learn more about the 70s rock scene in LA. It is a good book, written well and honestly, but it tells more about the atmosphere of LA in the 60s and 70s then it does about specific rock stars. This didn’t disappoint me, but anyone reading this looking for behind the scenes stories about their favourite rock stars will not find them here.

Rather the book is about De Barres’ life, from fantasizing about being married to Paul McCartney, to her involvement with the “GTO’S,” a “groupie group” financially backed by Frank Zappa, to her involvement with Jimmy Page, Don Johnson, and Mick Jagger. While some of her relationships ended in heartbreak, De Barres has no regrets. My favourite parts of this book are the playful snipes and jabs she makes towards Robert Plant throughout. It is clear that the two were, and continue to be great friends, and it is fun to imagine Plant’s reaction when reading her writing.

De Barres’ has a follow-up novel, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up, and maybe somewhere down the line, I’ll give it a shot.

Tracy Chevalier – The Last Runaway (2013)


A pretty solid work of historical fiction. In this novel, Chevalier tells the story of Honor Bright, a Quaker woman who, after being jilted by her fiancé in England decides to accompany her sister, Grace, to America to help Grace adjust to he upcoming marriage and impending life as a pioneer woman. Tragedy strikes however, and Honor finds herself alone in a strange country, depended on the kindness of stagers in 1850s Ohio. As a Quaker in England, Honor had always been taught that it was wrong to hold another person in bondage, but in American she learns the bitter truth and how very little in life is black and white.

Chevalier does an amazing job crafter her characters and while the narrative may fall short at times, her prose and style make up for it. Honor Bright is a sympathetic character and it is hard not to take her side as she is determined to help runaway slaves even though her new husband’s family forbids her to do so. Chevalier also does a fantastic job setting the scene for the novel painting Ohio as a wild and untamed place juxtaposed with the rigid structure of a Quaker community.

I found this book an absolute joy to read and fans of Chevalier’s work will not be disappointed.

Mattew Guterl – Seeing Race (2013)


In his recently published book, Matthew Guterl examines what he call the “sightlines” of looking at race – the multitude of methods that have, over time, created an unconscious prejudice.

He begins with the practice of profiling (suggesting that its possible to identify criminals based on their appears) and how things controversial method has become a generally widely accepted practice. He looks at the historic stereotypes of African Americans and the excessive media attention that adopted multi-racial families garner. He talks about how the children are often descried as being part of a mini-UN under the benevolent leadership of white American parents; expanding the idea of family which emphasizing racial difference. He also looks at the way that race is often subversive especially in terms of people “passing” as other races.

While this is an academic book, it is still conversational and holds appeal for a wide range of audience, especially as notions of race become even more contested. His work is well researched, but he uses pop culture references to make it more accessible. A well written and insightful look at the way we view race today.

Sarah Dunant – Blood and Beauty (2013)


The Borgia’s gained popularity a while backs with the highly sensationalized TV series. I haven’t watched the TV series, nor do I think that I will, (I learned my lesson with the Tudors). As a work of historical fiction, Dunant’s book provides readers with an interesting view of the infamous Italian family.

My knowledge of this time period is a little bit shaky. Having attended a Catholic high school the Papacy of the Borgias is something that was often swept under the rug and ignored. After doing a bit of research on the family, I’m not going to lie, I can see where Martin Luther was coming from with his 95 Theses. The Borgias were a modern day Mafioso living in Renaissance Italy. While the family was a dynasty, Dunant’s book focuses on Rodrigo’s reign as Pope (Pope Alexander VI) and the lives of his four children. The most shocking thing about the lives of the Borgias is that, at the time, a Pope having children, especially with multiple women, was not seen as scandalous. The historical record shows that people knew that the Pope had children and accepted this fact. It was only after the Reformation that the Pope’s vows of celibacy were enforced.

At the time, being the Pope was essentially the most powerful position in Europe. Dunant details the escapades of Rodrigo in trying to exercise absolute control through strategic alliances arranged by marriage. This was especially important since Rodrigo was a Spanish Pope in an Italian Papacy. Dunant does a good job in her characterization of Rodrigo, but she displays complete mastery with Rodrigo’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia. At the beginning of the book Lucrezia is a young teenager excited at the prospect of her upcoming marriage to the Lord of Pesaro. As the book progresses and Lucrezia finds herself as a pawn in her father’s plans, she hardens and becomes and intelligent woman in her own right. By the end of the book she is a fiercely independent woman working to ensure the best for her own children. It is Lucrezia’s transformation that made this book a joy to read.

Edward Rutherfurd – Paris (2013)


In another beautifully written piece of historical fiction, Edward Rutherfurd has done it again creating a masterpiece surrounding The world’s most romantic city, Paris. This work is a departure of Rutherford’s earlier ones in that it does not move chronologically. Instead Rutherford jumps back and forth in time tracing the history of Paris from the Middle Ages to the Second World War and following the families that are affected.

Ruthurford has received criticism for falling into a formula, where he follows a set number of families and follows them throughout history. The jumping back-and-forth in time is probably to remedy this, but it makes it difficult to develop characters and readers can get easily lost.

Ruthurford has also received criticism due to the fact that his novels are not really stories, but rather histories with a narrative attached. For instance characters’ introduced are often clichés and their motivations are expected. (The high-born de Cygnes are pitted against the lowborn Le Sourds throughout the entire book) I don’t really find this to be problematic as some however, as this strategy provides the reader with a well rounded view of the Paris at any given time period.

With historical fiction like this there is a fine line to tread. Is the novel going to be too focused on the historical side? (Rutherford does seem to love the history of architecture and often spends lengthy passages describing buildings that have no affect on the plot) or do you rely heavily on a narrative to move through a story? Rutherford is writing in a very particular genre (one that Ken Follett is also writing in) and that is of the historical epic. The criticism that Rutherford has received can be applied to the genre itself, and not particularly to his writing.

For me, what made this novel so superb was the segment devoted to the Second World War. Personally I have always felt that Paris during WWII had a certain romanticism to it, with the Vichy regime and the French Underground and resistance. Rutherfurd took the heroic stories of the Resistance to the extreme and I absolutely loved it. I kind of wish that part of the story was its own novel, but again, that’s just me.