My latest reading from the books I gave myself at Christmas is the new YA fantasy, Tyger by S. F. Said. It is set at Midwinter in the harsh London of an alternative universe, where Muslims must live in a Ghetto and aristocrats own slaves. It is anti-colonial, for sure, and demonstrates the harm done by in prejudice and injustice. Yet unlike R. F. Kuang's Babel (see previous post), it is full of love, courage, and loyalty.
Picturing a World
Babel by R. F. Kuang is another of my presents-to-myself. I've only read a few pages; but so far, it's a yes, even though reviews (like this one) make clear that the story is very dark. Well, black-and-white art is obviously appropriate for a noirish novel; and what I want to call attention to today is the jacket illustration by Nico Delort, shown here in two versions.
My copy of The Boy Who Lost His Spark by Maggie O'Farrell arrived today from Blackwell's (an excellent non-Amazon source of books from Britain). It has illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini on nearly every page, the sort of thing I have loved since childhood. Looks like a good bedtime story now that the holidays are over—and, yes, I do have a stack of presents-to-myself books to carry me through January. Happy reading, one and all!
I'm miffed with the USPS. For my Christmas present to myself, I ordered the new illustrated edition of The Amber Spyglass from Blackwell's in England in mid November to go with my copy of Northern Lights. It arrived in York, PA, two days later, then got stuck in Washington D.C., where it has been "delayed" for nearly a month—and the USPS website says it is not eligible for further inquiry until December 3rd! Well, at least Catching up with Chris Wormell on the release of The Amber Spyglass gives a glimpse of some of the illustrations.
I came across Polly Redford's Christmas Bower last year in The Illustrated Dust Jacket. The Gorey jacket illustration alone would make it a treasure. In addition, three other reasons made it seem written just for me: My father worked for Rich's department store in Atlanta, where Christmas was a big deal. My brother is an avid birder. And, of course, I'm a fan of children's literature.
Our library system had a copy. I read it. I wanted it. I located a copy of my own to buy. Now I'll kick off December by rereading it. Recommendation: see if you can find a copy!
Literary tip for Anglophiles: Angela Thirkell's long Barsetshire series was written, in effect, in real time. Jutland Cottage (1953) and What Did It Mean? (1954) include the death of King George VI and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Here at the end of the queen's long reign, I have pulled them out for a nostalgic visit to the England that shaped her. And for good measure, Corgi owner that I am, I have ordered a copy of All the Queen's Corgis.) Keep calm and read on?!?
I don't need to write a blog post about what fantasy I read as a child and how it affected me because Theodora Goss's post, Deep Magic, does it for us both. I discovered her work through a narrative poem, "The Dragons" in The Book of Dragons (2020), in which a lawyer is rescued from a life of tedium by a clutch of baby dragons left on her porch. Now I'm reading Goss's Snow White Learns Witchcraft, twists on traditional fairy tales (love the idea of the princess who herself turns into a frog when she kisses one). Coming next? The Collected Enchantments. My advice? Dive in anywhere.
I am reading a poem a day in The Heeding, a collection by naturalist and poet, Rob Cowen, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The book is vividly illustrated by Nick Hayes (an evocation of place is on the dust jacket). Unlike many other disasters with global impact (including the war in Ukraine), COVID-19 has had immediate, individual effects on each and every one of us, which means that artists can grapple with it in very personal, concrete ways. I haven't really collected Pandemic Art, but I became aware when I bought The Heeding that a cluster of books is forming on my bookshelf. Nicholas Borden's Lockdown Paintings is a virtual contribution, a reminder of how important place can be.
Alice and Martin Provensen were a devoted and charming married couple who were also both first-rate illustrators. They worked in tandem, mostly on children's books; and theirs was a true partnership of artistic equals. They never divulged which of them did what on their joint projects. After Marin died, Alice continued to produce imaginative books. The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen is the first monograph on the pair. It's a delight, with essays, photographs like a scrapbook of theirs and their daughter's lives, and generous high-quality reproductions from their many, many books. To flip through it, click here.