Saturday, November 24, 2007

Beatrix Potter's Nursery Rhyme Book

I have found a new respect for Beatrix Potter, who seems to be currently in vogue, what with a movie, a mystery series featuring her as the sleuth, and a biography emerging in the last few years. Part of my appreciation is surely tied to my rediscovery of all things child-related (even a new blog addiction), but the greater part is learning that not only did Miss Potter write her own charming stories and illustrate them with meticulous precision and adorable whimsy, but she did formidable work as an amateur botanist/mycologist, developed tie-in merchandise for the children who clamored for her books, and successfully farmed in the Lake District.

This nursery rhyme book is an attractive pastiche of classic nursery rhymes, her adaptations of nursery rhymes, and her own original poems, accompanied with her characteristic art. For those among us (for I am surely of this number) who cannot resist a good nursery rhyme book, Beatrix Potter's Nursery Rhyme Book is well worth acquiring.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


How Luxury Lost its Luster

The Vuitton luggage, the Chanel bag, the Dior dress--all come from a tradition of luxury and exclusiveness. That tradition has evolved into a powerhouse industry that has changed luxury to a commodity that anyone can possess. Dana Thomas documents that evolution in Deluxe, which will change the way you see this season's Prada bag.

Thomas begins by noting the beginnings of luxury, the foundation of the great luxury product houses, and their corporatization, if you will, in recent decades. There are chapters on marketing through Hollywood celebrities, scent and its profitability, handbags, designer clothing, mass production and marketing, and the enormous problem of counterfeiting.

There is, however, a final chapter on The New Luxury. Because when luxury gets democratized, the elite consumers--those who have always patronized luxury--will find someone to provide something truly exclusive. So if luxury is your passion or your profession, you need to read this.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Classics for Pleasure

Michael Dirda is not only a Pulitzer-Prize-winning literary critic, but is becoming my personal guru for book recommendations. Not that he is aware of this, of course. But I have a special place in my heart for a (a) literary (b) man who can, in print, refer to Georgette Heyer as "as witty as any writer of the past century, as accomplished as P. G. Wodehouse in working out complex plots, and as accurate as a professional historian in getting her background details right." Dirda is not only discerning, but an original thinker and brave.

This quote was lifted from his most recent book, Classics For Pleasure, which posits the premise that one can read classics for entertainment rather than drudgery or course requirements. His list focuses on the less obvious because, as he points out in his introduction, "Who will argue against the merits of Shakespeare's plays or Dickens's novels? It seemed more useful--and fun--to point readers to new authors and less obvious classics."

These classics are grouped by genre: "playful imaginations," heroes, romance, "everyday magic," horror, adventure, and more. Thanks to Dirda's persuasive arguments, Ivy Compton-Burnett is high on my reading stack, and I am even pondering Beowulf, debating the merits of translators--entertaining Seamus Heaney or precise Michael Alexander? Perhaps even Frankenstein or Dracula, though horror is not my genre of choice. But certainly G. K. Chesterton, S. J. Perelman, and Max Beerbohm.

And I can revisit Georgette Heyer with my head held high. Thank you, Michael Dirda.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Into the Minds of Babes

How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five

One of the peculiarities of becoming a grandparent (pardon me while I mist up again) is the sudden revival of interest in issues relating to infants. Hence the phenomenon in which I read this book with genuine interest.

Lisa Guernsey is a mother, but also a writer specializing in science and technology, which helps her decipher all those intensely technical papers. The happy result is Into the Minds of Babes, in which we learn how watching television affects the preschool set, according to scientific studies instead of advertising hype. It is remarkably readable considering all the research she cites, which adds credibility for the research savvy and reassurance for the rest of us.

The book is organized into questions, one per chapter, such as: What Exactly Is This Video Doing To My Baby's Brain? and Will Screen Time Make My Children Fat?, while other questions address such topics as education, white noise, scary TV, interactive media, foreign language, vocabulary, social skills, and making intelligent choices. The coverage is comprehensive, the findings in turn surprising, reassuring, and (occasionally) ominous.

This book is a must-read if you've got a tot you love dearly, and a television.