This list is up to date as of 3/12/2017. It is a compilation of the recommendations I send out once a week to my email list. To be added to the list, send your email address to DuranteDianne@gmail.com.
For more recommendations, look in the Obsessions cloud at lower right for Book Recommendations, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City Sculpture, Painting, Poetry, Music, Painting, Sculpture, and Washington National Gallery.
Neel, Janet. Death’s Bright Angel (and the rest of the Francesca Wilson / John McLeish series, in order). First in a series of well-written cozy English mysteries with Francesca Wilson and John McLeish, that often involve musicians. I’ve read every book in the series at least twice, which is rare for me.
Walton, Jo. The Small Change trilogy: Farthing, Ha’penny, Half a Crown. Set in an alternate-history Great Britain where the government made a pact with Hitler. The trilogy starts as a murder mystery and ends as a political thriller. Appealing characters, plausible motivations, and a satisfying outcome that I did not see coming.
Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet). Mahomet, ou le Fanatisme. Voltaire’s drama, first performed in 1741, has some wonderful lines – especially if you can read French. If you need English and don’t like this archaic version, have a look on Amazon and see if you can find one in print. In case you’re not in the mood, here are my favorite lines, in French and in my very literal translation:
Tu veux, en aportant le carnage & l’éffroi,
Commander aux humains de penser comme toi;
Tu ravages le monde, & tu prétens l’instruire:
Ah! Si par des erreurs il s’est laissé séduire;
Si la nuit du mensonge a pû nous égarer,
Par quels flambeaux affreux veux tu nous éclairer?
You want – while bringing carnage and fear –
To command humans to think like you;
You ravage the world, and pretend to instruct it:
Oh! If the world allows itself to be seduced by such errors,
If the night [darkness] of lies has led us astray,
With what horrible torches are you trying to enlighten us?
Scott, Sir Walter. “Lochinvar.” From Sir Walter Scott: pithy, amusing, and satisfying. Who’d’a thunk?
Canaletto. Piazza San Marco, 1720s. Even if it rained continually while you were in Venice, you’d remember it as sunlit if you had one of Canaletto’s gorgeous souvenir images on your wall.
Lorenzetti, Ambrogio. Frescoes in the Council Room of Siena’s Palazzo Publico, 1338-1339: Allegory of Good Government; Effect of Good Government on City and Countryside; Effect of Bad Government on City and Countryside. In 14th-century Italian paintings such as these, you can see the change in thinking that resulted in the Renaissance. After centuries when artists illustrated only Biblical subjects, here’s a landscape that shows the painter’s own time and delivers a sharp lesson to earthly rulers regarding how they ought to behave and the consequences of their actions. This 10-minute video from the Khan Academy explains the frescoes. The captions are occasionally misspelled: never mind, the pics are wonderful and the commentary is very good.
French, Daniel Chester. Marquis de Lafayette. For French’s elegant, dignified Marquis de Lafayette, see this blog post.
Wilkinson, Colm. Stage Heroes. One of my favorite collections of Broadway songs. Wilkinson originated the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (West End and Broadway).
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My husband and I just finished the whole series, for the second or third time, with the invaluable commentary on the DVDs. From an essay I wrote back in 2003: “What’s refreshing about Buffy is that the heroes treat the villains as, in the long run, much less significant than friends, lovers, family and careers. With efficiency and humor, they annihilate evil so that it no longer threatens what they value.”
Justified (6 seasons). From the Amazon blurb: “U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) confronts murder, drugs, bank heists, mobsters, crime families, corrupt politicians and even his own tumultuous past – and never backs down.” Binge-worthy TV (although I still hate Elmore Leonard’s books).
365-367 Jay St.’s terracotta facade. The facade of the building, constructed in 1892 as the City of Brooklyn Fire Headquarters, is reminiscent of the style of Louis Sullivan, employer / mentor of young Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wrought iron gate on East 64th Street, NYC. One of my favorite ways to relax is to pay attention to someone doing something really well, or to look at the end result of such effort. This amazing wrought-iron gate appeared on East 64th Street within the past 20 years or so.
Haffner, Sebastian. Defying Hitler. An autobiography that effortlessly segues from vivid concretes to broad abstractions: for example, from the fact that the author had to attend a Nazi “training camp” before taking a scholarly exam, to the character trait that led himself and others to put significant effort into learning a jobs they had no use for, in order to serve an ideology they disliked or despised. It’s a great complement to Walton’s Small Change trilogy (How do normal people become appalling?) and to Leonard Peikoff’s Ominous Parallels.
Rappleye, Charles. Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution. An utterly fascinating angle on the American Revolution: how did we pay for it? This bio covers Morris’s career as a businessman and his efforts to arrange financial support for the Revolution.
How I Built This. Half-hour interviews with men and women who have built very successful companies, from Spanx to Sam Adams to Zumba. Informative and uplifting, even when some of the explicit philosophy is wrong.
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