These witty, expressive essays track a decades-long quest to capture the essence of painters, writers, critics, and artists of all description. In Forty-One False Starts (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), acclaimed academic and writer Janet Malcolm investigates the subtle interactions among life, art, influence, and the art of biography itself. Reflective and informed, each piece muses on the role of the critic, the subjectivity of history and taste, and considers how these evolve over time. Malcolm tackles Edward Weston’s nudes, Edith Wharton’s fiction, Thomas Struth’s photography, Salinger’s prose, and many other artists and their work. In his introduction, Ian Frazier describes his New Yorker colleague’s writing as the “highest level of literature”; and, indeed, the essays are beautifully composed and reminiscent of fiction in their construction, their lyricism, and the thought-provoking weave of the tales.
(This book cannot be returned.)
The Plantagenet era began and ended in chaos. In 1120 the White Ship sank into the icy waters off the coast of Normandy, taking with it the English heir apparent and the highest echelon of Anglo-Norman nobility, sparking off the twenty-year Great Anarchy. It ended in 1399 with a Lancastrian coup against the weak King Richard II. The Plantagenet dynasty encompassed some of the best stories and the most colorful rulers of European history. They are all characters we know (or think we know) – from Geoffrey the Handsome with a sprig of yellow broom blossom in his hair (planta genista), to Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, and wicked King John. Dan Jones’ clear and lively writing deftly elucidates the characters and themes of the time, in particular the struggle between the powerful and unruly English barons and the willful Plantagenet kings. This is history writing at its best.