Book Review: Old in Art School by Nell Painter

Book picture: Old in Art School

OLD IN ART SCHOOL by Nell Painter
My rating: 5 stars

What if you were ready to retire but not yet ready to devote your life to grand kids–or maybe there weren’t any. Your kids didn’t have any, or maybe you’d not had children yourself. What’s next? Become a full-time volunteer or a gardener or an expert at golf?

Nell Painter chose none of these but rather elected to become a lowly undergraduate student in art at age 64. She’d already made her mark in the world, a professor at Princeton, seven published books. She didn’t have to do this. Why on earth did she do it?

This was the question that I kept returning to as I read the memoir of the years leading up to her achieving an Master of Fine Arts. During this time her last professional book achieved best-selling status and a front page New York Times book review. Her mother died. She had to commute back and forth from Rhode Island to California to take care of her aging father, suffering from depression and loneliness.

Nell endured the alienation from other students who were four decades younger than she. She suffered the put-downs from art teachers who insisted she was not An Artist. “Bullshit,” she said, and kept painting.

She battled her own insecurities in this new way of communication with visual images rather than words. “I had no inkling of how thoroughly art school would instruct me–teach me, challenge my abilities, and question my sanity.”

For a time she divorces herself from the world of words to immerse in the world of images. At the end, she is able to integrate both together into a unified whole.

She DID succeed, and therein lies a message for all of us who are growing older. Life is more than just walking around. There is purpose and meaning to existence, no matter what age one happens to be.

Book Review: Making History, a science fiction novel by Bruce Polky

Picture of MAKING HISTORY by Bruce PolkyI grew up reading Asimov and Heinlein, but haven’t delved into too much current science fiction. That may change.

I recently discovered this debut novel by Bruce Polky and I like it. It is a quiet novel that grew on me as I read it.

I liked this book because the characters were realistic, searching for answers in a diverse environment full of lies. The science is accurate and the plot points interesting.

How would living in solitary confinement for a year change you? How would it be to wake up from near death after a year in space physically feel like? How would you choose between knowing the truth or dying? Which would you choose?

The book left me with more questions than answers, and got me to thinking!

I look forward to more adventures with Dav and his sentient, emotional computer. (But you can leave out the mechanical cockroaches in the next one!)

A good read. I’d give it five stars for a first novel.

Book Review: 100 years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of your Life by Joshua Prager

100 years by Joshua Prager100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of your Life by Joshua Prager

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine if you could ask the most famous authors in the world their views on your age today. What would they say? Better yet, what advice could they give you as you enter your next decade, and the next after that?

This is the delight that the book 100 YEARS by Joshua Prager provides. In collecting these quotes, he had very specific criteria that made the challenge all the more difficult: an author could be used only once, and the specific year must be included in the quote. What fun!

It was a slow slog: he went through 2700 pages of Thomas Mann and Leo Tolstoy to find only two quotes. Agatha Christie wrote over 80 books and didn’t make the cut. He had to keep in mind the progression of history as well. Two authors used the phrase “yellow leaf” to describe their then current old age: Christopher Isherwood at 53 and Lord Byron at 36!

Often he will give a summary quote at the beginning of a decade. For example, for the Fortieth Decade he includes, “Men at forty learn to close softly the doors to rooms they will not be coming back to,” by Donald Justice.

As I look ahead to an older age, I was curious about what might be said of seventy, or even the ninetieth decade. Prager doesn’t disappoint. J.D. James says, “Will I be here at the end of the year? At seventy-seven, that is not an irrational question.”

And May Sarton, that wonderful journalist laments, “Every person seventy-eight years old lives in a somewhat depeopled world. The trouble for me is that I often loved people older and wiser than I. So I’m left now in the lurch, being, trying to be, the old wise one and feeling like a great goose.”

Whatever age you’ve been, are now, or hope to aspire to, you’ll find it here.

An additional delight is that each page of the book is a different color, each specific number is set in a different type font by one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the world, Milton Glaser. The book becomes a feast for the eyes as well as for the mind.

Highly recommended

Book Review: The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer

The Art of French Pastry


The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love to read cookbooks. The good ones have yummy photographs, I get to “sample” meals that take days to fix, and best of all, there are no calories involved. So when I picked up The Art of French Pastry I was set for a treat–and I wasn’t disappointed.

The author’s father was a baker in Alsace, France, and the young man apprenticed to a professional pastry chef, and then emigrated to America where he established a famous bakery school. The cookbook is part memoir, part a precise methodology of the BEST way to do things. And what things!

Napoleons, macarons, raspberry sachertortes, pate a choux, and of course, chocolate eclairs.

He tells you why to use sea salt (table salt is too salty for pastry), why you should weigh your ingredients rather than use measuring cups (more exact), and why you put your custard in an ice bath before refrigerating (the eggs won’t spoil).

He cautions you to read every recipe twice before starting, and often to allow several days to complete a masterpiece so that the flavors have a chance to meld.

In between recipes he shares tales of ruining a cake he was delivering because he was paying too much attention to a pretty girl instead of the truck that pulled out in front of his bicycle; making 4000 eclairs; and dealing with an alcoholic master chef that never let up.

If you like to cook, or even if you like to dream about cooking, this book is for you!

Book Review: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton & James Patterson

The President is MissingTHE PRESIDENT IS MISSING. Okay, I’ll admit it. I don’t like James Patterson. Oh, he started out pretty good–I enjoyed some of his earlier works when he was writing his own stuff. Then he became the Master Money Machine and well, you know the rest of the story. Ghosting, partnerships, series that he had the idea for and others implemented. Not that I’m jealous, mind. Hey, someday I, too, will be a multi-millionaire with zillions of best sellers to my credit.

I don’t like Bill Clinton, either. And that’s because of his questionable White House ethics, not because he isn’t brilliant, which I happen to think he is.

So I was really prepared to trash this book when to my surprise, I found I did like it after all! I think these two had fun collaborating to create this instant best-seller, similar to the Rat Pack making the first OCEANS ELEVEN movie in Las Vegas. And that esprit de corps shows.

There are the skills of Patterson, with his masterful sense of pacing and his one-page chapters. The book is tailor-made for Hollywood and I’ll not be surprised if it appears in the theaters one of these fine days. The book has all sorts of action-packed adventures and is full of car crashes, helicopters, and mysterious passages. Oh, yeah.

But the real highlights of this book are the pieces of authenticity that only Clinton as a past president (the real kind) could add. The in-fighting in a Senate hearing. The true anguish when a president must give an order that gets someone killed.

If you read nothing else in the book, don’t skip Chapter 128. (Which comes after the one-page Chapter 127 and the half-page Chapter 126.) This is the President’s (Clinton’s?) address to the nation explaining the real cyber-danger the country finds itself in. It runs nine dense pages (proving Clinton wrote it, not Patterson!) and outlines what our country is capable of being.

“The American dream works when our common humanity matters more than our interesting differences and when together they create endless possibilities. That’s an America worth fighting–even dying–for. And, more important, it’s an America worth living and working for.”

To which I say, Amen.

I hope that these two write another book or two together. Clinton brings out the best in Patterson’s writing, and Patterson creates a venue where Clinton’s intelligence can still be heard.

I gave it four stars instead of five because of uneven editing. The two voices could blend together better.

Book review: UPSTREAM–Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

upstream by Mary Oliver
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although wildly famous for her lyrical poetry, Mary Oliver has become my new favorite essayist after Ursula le Guin. Both women in their 80s (Le Guin recently passed away), both astute wise women.

Mary Oliver’s poetry came from early roamings and ramblings in nature. The eponymous essay in the book describes how she waded upstream while her parents waded downstream. She got lost, but loved it, and has been wading upstream ever since.

Until she moved to Florida in 2005 at the death of her partner, she had spent 50 years in Provincetown near the ocean, and her essays pay tribute to this beautiful place.

She includes essays on favorite authors: Whitman, Wordsworth, Emerson and a surprise to me, Edgar Allen Poe.

She describes how she made a one-room studio out of salvaged wood and other materials. She strung a wire to it because she wanted to light a lamp like a beacon that she could see from her main house.

What I like about these essays is that they have a sharp-edged attention to detail and a lyrical swing to the words that makes them almost poetry in their own right. For example, her first essay ends, “Teach the children. We don’t matter so much but they do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen…And the frisky ones: inkberry and lamb’s-quarters, blueberries…Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school.”

I respect the poet’s skillful use of language, and I love her philosophy of life.