Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Aesthetic of Books

Us bibliophiles don’t just love reading- we love just about everything about books from the smell, to the covers, and even the texture of the pages. There are hundreds of Tumblr blogs and Instagram pages dedicated to all things bookish- pictures of intricately posed books with a mug of tea or coffee, young people in cafes or public transit engrossed in a book, and more.

Libraries and book shops are art galleries, in their own way. You may not consciously think when looking at a book or browsing a library “this is artwork,” but think about the feelings that are evoked. When I browse through my Instagram feed and see that picture of a girl in her bed (covered by a crisp white comforter artistically strewn about, of course) with her cup of tea and a cat, the words that come to mind are “cozy, quiet, warmth.” Art is intended to evoke feelings from the viewer. Libraries can just draw you in like a spell- much like artwork. You get where I’m going with this?

Picture I took of the Providence Athenaeum last summer. It was founded in 1831. The whole library was stunning, and surprisingly huge! 
This weekend, Sean and I decided to take a trip to visit MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. I absolutely love art and visiting art museums. My favorite art museum, The Clark, is in North Adams’ neighboring town, Williamstown. Even though my nose was running nonstop (thanks, cold from hell), I was pretty pumped about this visit.

A very cliché picture of me in front of one of the MASS MoCA abstract paintings. I made Sean take a bunch of these artsy fartsy pics because I was too hype. The amount of snot rags in my purse at this point was appalling.
Well, to my surprise, there was an interesting exhibit there called Bibliothecaphilia. This exhibit explores the nature of libraries, how they currently exist, and how they could exist in other spaces. As described on the website:

“The six artists in Bibliothecaphilia, explore the medium and ethos of libraries: institutions straddling the public and private spheres, the escapism that libraries offer, libraries’ status as storehouses for physical books — and thus for experiences and knowledge — and the way that these objects circulate and are re-used.”

I never would’ve expected to see an exhibit like this in an art museum, to be honest.

The first piece in the Bibliothecaphilia exhibit. This was actually a very large piece- I couldn’t actually get the whole thing in one shot. The paper swirled and wove throughout the room. It felt magical!
The exhibit was also interactive, and who doesn’t love when you can actually touch stuff at a museum? One piece, entitled Marginalia, actually encouraged you to lounge in a chair and take a book from the small library. The library in this piece contained a wide ranging collection with one thing in common- all the books had bookmarks inside them to indicate where notes were written from past owners. The bookmarks also had observations written on them about the notes in the book. I could’ve spent days going through all of them!

Marginalia. Picture from: 
Another piece (possibly also apart of Marginalia, but I’m not sure) was in a glass display case with a bunch of memorabilia that was found within books. Things like photos, handmade bookmarks, letters, bracelets, and more, were in the display. I love that this display and the library piece with marked up books shows how a book has a life, and this life can reveal so much about past owners. It was like this exhibits weren’t about the books alone; they were also about the people who read them.

“Wow, look at all those books!” You think to yourself. Well, you’re wrong. That’s actually clay this artist used to imitate the appearance of books.
While I do follow bookish Instagram accounts and Tumblr blog, take pictures of my book collection regularly, and am awestruck when I enter a great library, I never thought the word “art” in my head. This exhibit helped me realize that books are art, in more ways than one.

One of my bookshelves, accompanied by my cat, Max.
All of MASS MoCA’s exhibits made me think broadly about what we do and don’t consider art. What we consider artwork is a longstanding philosophical question, and I enjoyed getting to ponder it over during my visit.

If you can, I highly recommend you make a trip over to MASS MoCA to see not only the Bibliothecaphilia exhibit, but all of their exhibits! In the meantime, I hope you are wrapped in a cozy throw blanket, a candle is flickering, you have steaming tea by your side, and you’re about to read a great book. Maybe you’ll even take a picture and share it on Instagram to show off your envy-worthy book aesthetics.



Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Liz's Review!

By Liz
Book Review: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
Official FC Rating: 

By now, you may have read Charlotte’s excellent review of The Tsar of Love and Techno, so you’re aware that she absolutely loved it. While she was reading it, she highly recommended it to me as well, so I decided to make it my final read of 2015. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed!

At the end of 2015 this book could be found on nearly every “best of 2015” list, and for good reason- it is phenomenally written. Charlotte mentioned how she would occasionally have to put this novel down to pause and just take in the writing, and I found myself doing the same. The writing, and the storytelling, leaves a remarkable impression.

Set in Russia, The Tsar of Love and Techno, a collection of stories that weave together to become one, is about love, politics, the complicated nature of choice, and how a community is connected together over the course of generations. Anthony Marra brilliantly weaves the stories of an artist, a ballerina, a soldier, and many others by connecting them to a single object.

The stories were mind-blowing. I was literally in awe following the end of the first story and the end of the last story. Marra’s writing makes us question, “what really happened here, and what did it mean,” at various points in the novel. A talented writer often will allow a reader to have a certain amount of freedom to wonder and answer things for themselves- Marra has truly nailed this.

Unlike Charlotte, I hate to say that this, I didn’t love every single story in the collection. The first story absolutely blew me away, and the last story had the same kind of impact on me as the first. There were a few in between stories I enjoyed, but none impacted me quite the same as the first and last, unfortunately.

I am not well versed in Russian history, so I occasionally found myself confused at some of the references and googling quite a bit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just made me want to know more. It also sparked great conversations between me and my partner. He helped me understand the differences between Trotsky and Lenin, and the conversation inspired me to read more about Marxism. I love it when a book makes you think and learn about things you may not have otherwise thought about.

Another big plus about this book was the cleverly inserted humor and references to pop culture. This book literally made me laugh and cry, which is not something that many books accomplish!

The Tsar of Love and Techno will have you all over the emotional spectrum- in a good way! It covers a broad array of themes and will challenge you to think differently. As many before me have said, this book is worth reading. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.