A Brief Prologue
It’s 2021 which means that, suddenly, we are all bombarded with email newsletters (many of them very good). It’s the golden age of independent, newsletter-based journalism we are told. So, on the one hand, it is probably true that the internet doesn’t need another one. And yet on the other hand, the moment seems right to try our best to contribute something of value. So here we are, launching the Goldberry Books Newsletter. A bi-weekly publication to begin, each issue will include a featured book; links to news, interviews, reviews, and essays from the book world; and one bookish thing we love (i.e., a book cover or book design or set of illustrations—that sort of thing). We will also briefly share news about events and other happenings taking place here at Goldberry. Thanks for reading. Here we go.
Biblio-style: How We Live at Home with Books by Nina Freudenberger
People who love books tend to love them for many reasons beyond a love of stories and characters and lovely prose. They love them for the entirety of the experience they provide: The way they look on the shelf or feel in the hand; the design of the cover or the layout of text on the page; the smell of the paper or the texture of the ink. Some book-lovers prefer to arrange their books in a highly systematic fashion, organizing them as we might here in the store—alphabetically and by genre, while others sort by the color of the spine (we offer no comment on this approach), and still others just pile them in stacks that are conceivable to them alone.
My dad once told me that the things we collect say a lot about the kind of people we want to be. If he’s right about that a home library is aspirational, a catalog of our hopes and dreams, a curation of our wildest and grandest notions of who we might (and should) become. It marks ambition, imagination, delusion, daydream, fantasy, and pipe dream all at once. It’s more than a collection of what we know or might one day know, it’s a reminder that what we love shapes us.
Nina Freudenberger captures this reality in her book, Biblio-style: How We Live at Home with Books (Clarkson-Potter, 2019) through profiles (including beautiful full-color photographs) of thirty-two of the most alluring home-libraries in the world. As she writes in the book’s introduction:
Books are beautiful objects in their own right . . .and the space they fill on shelves or stacked on coffee tables in colorful piles add balance and texture to any room. And just like any other part of a home, books require maintence: They need to be dusted, categorized, rearranged, and maintained. Our relationship with them is dynamic and ever changing.
But our connection to them goes beyond the material. In each house we visited, the library were the heart of the home . . . In this book we tried to capture what they brought to home—the life and spirit books added.
Truly this is a book-lovers book, aspirational in more ways than one. A few pages in you may find yourself not only wanting to own the best (and most) books you possibly can, but you might also discover that you have hired a carpenter to install new shelves (with a custom ladder and antique glass doors), purchased a new oversized chair, and dug a basement for your overflow stacks and new typewriter collection. In other words, you may not want to show this book to your book-agnostic spouse. Could lead to trouble. Of course, if Cicero is right (as Freudenberger quotes in her introduction) and “a room without books is like a body without a soul,” then your soul’s the only thing on the line. No big deal.
One Book Thing We Love
Let’s compare two book covers. First take a look at this, one of the most famous book covers ever:
Francis Cugat’s painting captured the ethos of F. Scott Fitzgerald so perfectly that the author supposedly wrote the cover into the book. Today you can buy poster reprints of it, find online histories written about it, and read hand-wringing essays by critics decrying the lack of modern book jackets that come anywhere close to it.
But now check out this new cover of Michael Farris Smith’s Nick, a prequel to Gatsby about that book’s narrator, Nick Carroway, and his journeys before he arrives in New York City, including his experiences the trenches of World War I and ultimately on the streets of New Orleans.
Whereas Cugat’s painting fills the disembodied eyes with deep and irrepressible sadness, Gregg Kulick, the designer of Nick’s jacket, imbues them with a wide-eyed sense of fear and awe, burying them as he does between the deep blue emptiness above and the flames below (to say nothing of the contrast between the two reflections in the irises). This could have been a disaster. They pulled it off, though.
Around the Bookish Web
In the New York Times, Raymond Arsenault reviews The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election (click here to buy a copy through our Bookshop.org page) by father and son team, Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick:
The story begins in mid-October 1960 with Martin Luther King Jr.’s incarceration (his first) in a Georgia jail cell and ends three weeks later with John F. Kennedy’s narrow victory over Richard M. Nixon in the most competitive presidential election of the 20th century. Kennedy’s razor-thin triumph depended on several factors ranging from his youthful charm to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s ability to pad the Democratic vote in Chicago. But, as the Kendricks ably demonstrate, one crucial factor in Kennedy’s electoral success was the late surge of Black voters into the Democratic column. In all likelihood, this surge represented the difference between victory and defeat in at least five swing states, including Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey, ensuring Kennedy’s comfortable margin (303 to 219) in the Electoral College.
And Alex Clark wrote about Patricia Highsmith at 100 for The Times Literary Supplement:
Going back through Highsmith’s oeuvre, one is, mind you, left feeling that it is best to be tormented somewhere nice; you might not just get thrown off a boat but, as in the small-town America of Deep Water, also end up at the foot of a quarry, having been bored to boot in the meantime. Better to be sipping cappuccino in Italy than seething in marital disharmony waiting for your steak to get cooked.
That’s all for this issue. See you next time.
— Your Friends at Goldberry Books