Book Reviews

The publication next month of a monograph on Birgit Jürgenssen marks the first in-depth consideration of the career of the Austrian artist published in English. The book arrives six years after her death and on the sixtieth anniversary of her birth—significant recognition for an artist many English-speaking audiences know little, if anything, about. Jürgenssen, like her better-known compatriot Valie Export, is part of the pioneering generation of feminist artists.

Eleanor Catton’s first novel centers on an affair between a 17-year-old pupil at an all-girls school and her thirty-something male music teacher, but the novel is really about everyone else: the students, parents and teachers who help to turn the albeit taboo relationship into a scandal. The gossip extends beyond the perimeters of the campus of the school, Abbey Grange (which the girls call “Scabby Grange” or “Abbey Grunge”), into newspapers, homes…

When I found Nothing Happened on the new books table I was, I think, justifiably skeptical: the subtitle, “A Chronicle in Fact and Fiction,” immediately suggested a publishing industry gimmick; and the cover with two pictures creating a sequential narrative, one of a barren desert landscape, the second that same landscape now dotted with red balloons, suggested something unbearably corny.

Too proud to request help, he performs some amateur corrective measures and gets back on his motorbike, groin stinging. Disaster strikes: Beard’s penis falls off and lodges itself above the kneecap of his snowsuit. (“The hideous object, less than two inches long, was stiff like a bone. It did not feel, or it no longer felt, like a part of himself.”) In a panic, still aboard the motorbike, he contemplates the possibility of microsurgery for reattachment.

Stannard gives us a Spark who personifies demonic energy and the Calvinist flintiness of the Scots. He tells us that she saw herself as “Lucrezia Borgia in trousers.” She let no one – editor, publicist, accountant – sell her out or tell her what to do…Publishers feared her, shrank from confrontation, and rarely asked her to go on publicity tours or give readings.

Stern doesn’t sweat the impossibility of this premise, and he needn’t —— he’s admirably skilled at inventing a world in which a rabbi could inhabit a freezer for decades and emerge intact. “Some people got taxidermied pets in the attic, we got a frozen rabbi in the basement. It’s a family tradition,” Bernie is told by his father after the discovery is made.

Breaking Bread is a beautiful book, carefully organized, handsomely printed, and lavishly illustrated (perhaps “illuminated” is a better word, given the contents and the presentation). Maria met her husband, the late Paul Piccone, in 1990 and in the ensuing years they often returned to Aquila, his birthplace in the Abruzzo, approximately 50 miles due east of Rome.

Just Kids is many things –– a cultural chronicle of the rock ‘n roll world of New York City in the late 60s and early 70s; a portrait of the artist –– as young woman, as young man; a series of exquisite illuminations; a handbook of saints; a heartbreaking love story. Most of all, perhaps, it is the spiritual autobiography of a cultural icon whose journey is far from over.

[White] says that he had had sex with a couple of hundred people before he was 16…[T]here was only one brief period, that between 1960 with the introduction of the birth control pill, and 1981, with the advent of a disease not yet named AIDS, when people were completely free to have sex where and with whom they chose.

Roman à clef doesn’t make quite as much sense as a form now that we have Gawker and Perez Hilton to provide us with the real names and humiliations of anyone involved in a scandal.