Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor by Leslie Umberber

Staff Pick

Working at a storefront porch in Montgomery, Alabama, using pencils and tempera paint on discarded cardboard, Bill Traylor (ca. 1853-1949) created a dynamic world, full of mirth—and dread—in mysterious narratives that we will never unravel. His silhouetted folks and animals are full of personality—leaping, pointing, promenading and chasing each other. That Traylor was born into slavery, that he only started these works in his mid-eighties after laboring on plantations and farms for decades, and that he created over 1,200 (extant) pieces in less than four years, makes his creations truly remarkable. Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor (Princeton, $60) is the catalog for a powerful show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Curator Leslie Umberber spent seven years researching Traylor’s story (and clearing up previous narratives), and assembled over 150 Traylor works by themes. (The catalog has fifty more examples—all in full color.) Bill Traylor created a vision of rural and urban African American life, infused with the spirit of folktales, amidst the brutal Jim Crow-era Alabama. To see it is an amazing, transformative experience. Go see this historic show: Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through March 17, 2019.

Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor By Leslie Umberger, Stephanie Stebich (Foreword by), Kerry James Marshall (Introduction by) Cover Image
By Leslie Umberger, Stephanie Stebich (Foreword by), Kerry James Marshall (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780691182674
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Princeton University Press - October 2nd, 2018

The Indispensable Composers by Anthony Tommasini

Staff Pick

“What’s the big deal about Mozart? About Verdi?” That’s what Anthony Tommasini sets out to answer about his list of The Indispensable Composers (Penguin Press, $30). Tommasini, the chief classical critic of The New York Times, expands on the essays he wrote for his 2011 Top Ten Composers series. Those articles elicited 1,500 impassioned reader responses, both for and against Tommasini’s choices as well as for the project itself (conductor Leon Botstein: “dangerous and despicable”: composer Nico Muhly: “a horror”). But Indispensable is a worthy updating of the “introductory” music books of the past; it is neither pedantic nor rigid in its approach. Tommasini engagingly mixes short biography, insightful analysis of key works, and anecdotes from his years as a piano student and teacher, critic, and concert-goer. Starting with Monteverdi, Bach, and Handel, and ending with Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Bartók, Tommasini takes us through the lives of seventeen composers, and the reasons their works still move us—whether in recordings from generations ago, or in fresh interpretations by today’s young soloists and ensembles.

The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide By Anthony Tommasini Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594205934
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Penguin Press - November 6th, 2018

Belonging by Nora Krug

Staff Pick

As you read Belonging (Scribner, $30), you will consult the endpapers’ bearing the author’s maternal and paternal family trees with more and more trepidation the further Nora Krug digs into that history. Belonging is a spellbinding, visually inventive graphic memoir about one German immigrant’s meticulous investigation of those lives during the Nazi era. Visually, it combines Krug’s handwritten text with her soft pencil and color-wash drawings, family photos, flea-market finds of postcards and WWII collectibles, and bureaucratic forms. A facsimile of her uncle’s essay on “The Jew, A Poisonous Mushroom” (with teacher’s corrections and cartoons) is bone-chilling. Written when he was thirteen, Franz-Karl would be dead five years later, fighting on the Italian front. (Krug’s father, born just after the war, is named Franz-Karl in his honor.) Krug wrestles with family tales and memories, and keeps searching for facts—whether exonerating or damning.  The book takes us on an inexorable, powerful journey—one person’s wrestling with Heimat, and what being German means today.

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home By Nora Krug Cover Image
ISBN: 9781476796628
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Scribner - October 2nd, 2018