Modern Art an the Death of Culture – H. R. Rookmaaker

This illuminating, disturbing, highly original book shows how modern art reflects a wholeculture – a dying culture. Dr Rookmaaker outlines the various steps, the decisive choices that have been made, which have led to the modern movement. But the steps have not been made in isolation from socety generally. They depend on a worldview, particualrly on the values and presuppositions of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, which have made our culture what it is today.

With his analysis of both well-known and lesser-known works of art, his broad understanding of contemporary cultures and sub-cultures, pop and op, happenings and hippies, jazz and beat, protest and revolution, Dr Rookmaaker builds up a message for our times which may be devestating, but is also profoundly helpful and positive. He sees above all the tremendous potential and relevence of Christian attitudes, to man, to society, to freedom, to the whole of reality, as the basis for a way ahead in the future.

It is always a pleasure to get a particular insight into art, and especially paintings that have passed my ignorant self by. Reflecting on this book, parts of it are dated yet it is an intriguing read, especially if you have your internet browser of choice handy for referencing the artwork mentioned but not shown.

Like the proverbial game of football, this is a book of two halves.  I really enjoyed the exploration of art through the ages, the way it was framed, and the stories the paintings tell, as well as those of the artists.  On the downside, there were plenty of bones of contention I had with some of Rookmaaker’s assertions when it came to religion and science.The book was first published in the 70’s, and it has dated to varying degrees.  Mainly though I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for the bit about Émile Zola, which was promised in a chapter and never appeared, which was a disappointment.

My main gripe with the author’s arguments were the plentiful attacks on science, Rookmaaker bizarrely complains that science has reduced reality to the things we can see and leaving out explanations that lack a naturalistic or rationalistic reason.  No offer of how one would test for those explanations is forthcoming, unsurprisingly. Continue reading “Modern Art an the Death of Culture – H. R. Rookmaaker”

Not Enough Women

Amelia always watches in fascination as I read, and then gets angry when she can’t turn the thick cardboard pages of her own books.  This got me thinking that much of the literature I read is by male authors, and in the future, I will be wanting to introduce Amelia to a good blend of both men and women.

Winter reading with Amelia, she made sure I was pronouncing all the words correctly.

As most of my readers are of the female variety, this is where your expertise would be greatly appreciated.  I would love some recommendations for good authors, especially beyond the women who wrote the classics.  I have a bit of list of books gathered already but would love to add to it and have a richer reading list.

I am already a huge fan of Virginia Woolf, Irène Némirovsky as well as the recently read Marguerite Yournecar, and Daphne Du Maurier, and plan to read some more Barbara Kingsolver, Dava Sobel, Eowyn Ivey, and Enid Blyton. Continue reading “Not Enough Women”

The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

Whisked away from his comfortable, uncomfortable life in his hobbit-hole in Bag End by Gandalf the wizard and a company of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.  Although quite reluctant to take part in this quest, Bilbo surprises even himself by his resourcefulness and his skill as a burglar!

By now, I am assuming that The Hobbit is well known to pretty much everyone, so I won’t go too in-depth into the book. After the terrible film adaptations, it was always going to be a bit of time before coming back to this story. Now, with the memory of the stretched-out trilogy dulled enough to appreciate the prose again, the road well-travelled, was once again traversed.

The tale is rich in detail and full of adventure. Middle Earth is full of song – interestingly most are Dwarfish – and feels ancient, it’s impressive for a world to be established so quickly in the reader’s mind.  As the journey continues on through the seasons, and months are counted off, it feels appreciatively real, and the characters’ weariness becomes a lot more believable.  For a short book, it really does a stand-up job of an exhausting, if pleasurable trek.

The best part for this reader were the tantalising hints at things happening in distant locations, those were stories I wanted to hear, as well.  The world felt vast and lived in, and this is enhanced with the addition of maps.   I’ve always hankered for those stories Tolkien never wrote about, the ones suggested by places mentioned on his maps.  This sense of mystery always keeps the world pleasingly incomplete and open to my imagination’s wondering. Continue reading “The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien”

On the Shortness of Life – Seneca

The writings of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca offer powerful insights into stoicism, morality and the importance of reason, and continue to provide profound guidance to many through their eloquence, lucidity and wisdom.

Picking this book was entirely thanks to a video by PewDiePie, who, in between his usual meme and gaming content enjoys indulging in books, and particularly those of a philosophical nature. This time he explored Stoicism.  Being at a loose end for a book, and not having a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations to hand, this slim tome was the next best thing.

Of the three essays on offer, those being On the Shortness of LifeConsolation to Helvia, and On Tranquillity of Mind, the first was my favourite, mainly because of all the famous Roman military and political figures that have become familiar over many books about that empire. The message of bettering oneself is always one that resonates strongly as well and writing that encourages reading is already preaching to the converted.

Each essay is written to a particular person, the first to Paulinus talks of spending time fruitfully in the timeless pursuit of wisdom through philosophy, the second consoles his mother on his exile to Corsica, and the final essay is written in letter form to Serenus, in which he offers advice on how to achieve a peaceful mind with moderation and self-control. Continue reading “On the Shortness of Life – Seneca”

A Blue Tale and Other Stories – Marguerite Yourcenar

Published to great acclaim in France in 1993, this collection is not only a delight for Marguerite Yourcenar fans but a welcome port of entry for any reader not yet familiar with the author’s lengthier, more demanding works. The sole published work of fiction by Yourcenar yet to be translated into English, this collection includes three stories written between 1927 and 1930 when the author was in her mid-twenties. These stories cover a range of themes, from an allegory on greed and a scene from the war of the sexes, to a witchhunt that obsessively creates its own quarry.

I admit to picking this up purely because I haven’t reviewed a book by an author whose last name begins with a ‘Y’.  The only other time I picked up a ‘Y’ author was when reading David Yallop‘s, How They Stole the Game, but the machinations of FIFA corruption isn’t to everyone’s interest so that shall be for another day.

A Blue Tale, the book’s title story is a strong start.  The colour blue is used as a simple description for many objects, which in turn allows the reader to visualise and appreciate the many hues of blue, this works both for the visual but also for the different emotional shades of tale.

When other colours are mentioned they gain a more pleasing vibrancy due to the blue saturation, this also helps bring out the geographic imagery of various places as well, as this story is told in the form of an adventure by merchants journeying to the east, with a desire for riches and the (un)expected adversities that this can bring. Continue reading “A Blue Tale and Other Stories – Marguerite Yourcenar”

Cover Love Letter

When scanning the shelves for prospective books, neither the spine colour and font interest me, it’s all about about if I recognise the title/author, or if the title is quirky enough to arrest my relentless and speedy march to the end of the shelf.

It would be remiss of me not to take the time to repost this absolutely gorgeous specimen, which is one book to certainly judge its cover by.  This beauty was cunningly placed in my eyeline, demanding my attention and money, both of which were duly and happily paid.

It is a shame that there aren’t more well thought out and intricate covers adorning shops everywhere, after all the appeal is not just for the bibliophile but also a way to entice those normally not interested in reading into picking up a book.  For those interested in more of Christopher Gibbs’ work, check out his visually arresting portfolio here.

Also worth a mention is Stephen King’s, The Wind Through the Keyhole, which used mosaic design technologies to incorporate thousands of rader’s faces into the artwork used on the back cover illustration of the first edition, which I think is a wonderful give back to the fans, especially those with magnifying glasses who wish to find themeselves.