Book Reviews | November 2018 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Books about Books: The Holiday Edition

From time to time, we corral the latest books about books of interest to our readers. With the holidays on the horizon, we look at seven new books in this genre that are also gift books, or coffee table books, i.e., books you might wish to give or receive.  

The Writer's Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands (University of Chicago Press, $45) is a visual feast: 167 full-color illustrations of maps that have appeared in books or inspired books or were used while writing. From Jack Kerouac's quick pencil sketch of his cross-country route chronicled in On the Road to E.H. Shepard's hand-drawn map of Hundred Acre Wood (recently sold at auction) to the Hereford Mappa Mundi that inspired novelist David Mitchell, each short chapter, written by an author or an artist, offers an enchanting look at the world around us, and the worlds we imagine. 

Relatedly, Living Maps: An Atlas of Cities Personified (Chronicle Books, $35) is another bright, oversized book made for cartographic buffs. Artist Adam Dant playfully re-imagines twenty-eight cities of the world, e.g. London, Rome, Mumbai, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro, among others, in monochromatic (watercolor?) drawings made to look like a traveler's collection of vacation snapshots. Each chapter also contains a color spread of cartographic images within "crumbly old books." Very meta.  

In Venice Illuminated: Power and Painting in Renaissance Manuscripts (Yale University Press, $70), Helena Katalin Szépe, an associate professor of art history in the School of Art and Art History at the University of South Florida, provides an extensive analysis of the small paintings within manuscripts, with particular attention to the history and culture of art patronage in Venice. For collectors in this area, this heavily illustrated book is indispensable.  

Published in conjunction with an exhibition now on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Stones to Stains: The Drawings of Victor Hugo (Hammer Museum/Prestel Publishing, $50) is a fabulous collection of Hugo's brooding works on paper. Best known as the author of the novel, Les Misérables (1862), it seems we hardly know Hugo as a visual artist; this book rectifies that. In addition to the inky, blotty drawings, there are also some of his cut-out silhouettes and one or two illustrated sketchbooks. A must for Hugo fans. 

Frank Stella Unbound: Literature and Prinkmaking (Yale University Press, $35), published to coincide with a recent Princeton University Art Museum exhibition, is a vibrant volume dedicated to Stella's literary-inspired prints made between 1984 and 1999, such as his series of 266 works in conversation with Moby-Dick and prints named after Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales. The exhibition is currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville. 

Current or former Chicagoan? Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications That Shaped the City and Its Image (University of Chicago Press, $35), edited by the city's bibliophilic Caxton Club, is a perfect gift. As one would expect from the Caxtonians, the production value is high -- the book is brimming with images of first editions and related illustrations, ephemera, and photography -- and the content is a delightful miscellany, from the Montgomery Ward catalogues to the Four American Books campaign to Gwendolyn Brooks and Saul Bellow. 

Finally, Georgia: A Cultural Journey Through the Wardrop Collection (Bodleian Library/University of Chicago Press, $70) by Nikoloz Aleksidze narrates a history of Georgian literature and culture through the items of the extraordinary Wardrop collection: manuscripts, royal charters, correspondence, and notebooks (at the Bodleian Library). Lavishly illustrated, with a place-marker ribbon, too.