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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Mouly, Minneapolis, Marié

January 10, 2014 | by

purple snow

Purple Snow, by the Numero Group.

I’ve been marveling over Jeet Heer’s In Love with Art, a monograph on Françoise Mouly, an editor (The New Yorker, RAW) and publisher whose significance has long been underappreciated. Trust Heer not to make that mistake; he credits Mouly as having had “as massive and transformative an impact on comics as Ezra Pound had on modernist literature, Max Perkins on early-twentieth-century American novels or Gordon Lish on contemporary fiction.” No small claim, but Mouly is truly without peer. She made her way through the male-dominated comics scene by helping to carve out a place for that work in the world. She not only edited and designed and colored the covers of RAW, she manned the presses. In fact, the photographs of Mouly helming the Multilith press she and Spiegelman had in their loft are pretty great. What can’t she do? —Nicole Rudick

I was the last of three siblings to move to New York—and was very much a beneficiary, when I finally arrived, of my brother and sister’s having made a familial haunt of B&H, the longstanding East Village diner. (Never been? Brave the cold and treat yourself to a bowl of New York’s very best borscht.) I came upon a brief history of the place this week on Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, which features photos from the collection of Florence Bergson Goldberg (the daughter of founder Abie Bergson—the “B” of B&H) and reminiscences from longtime counterman Leo Ratnofsky. Profiled in a Talk of the Town piece in 1978, Ratnofsky had this to say on the last morning of his thirty-eight-year stint: “I don’t feel bad about leaving the place. I’ve got bad feet, my fingernails are being eaten away from squeezing oranges. But to leave all these people—that makes me feel like crying. These actors and actresses, the hippies, the yippies, the beatniks, the bohemians, people who’ve run away from God knows where—I’ve always felt an attraction to them. Especially the starving ones.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

Purple Snow is a four-LP salute to the progenitors of the Minneapolis Sound, a brand of synth-driven R&B that came bounding out of the City of Lakes in the late seventies—it was a flurry of creativity that culminated in the rise of Prince and the propulsive, eminently danceable pop of the eighties. Jon Kirby wrote the compilation’s prodigious liner notes, which come in a handsome clothbound book (purple, of course). Full of photographs and interviews, the notes are smart and disarmingly personal: they tell the story of an ambitious, competitive, and deeply intimate community of musicians who left an indelible mark on music, even if only one of them went on to superstardom. —Dan Piepenbring

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to use the library more and stop spending all of my spare quarters on books. So when a “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” thumbnail on Amazon led me to the brink of purchasing Lucile Ltd., I checked it out from the NYPL instead. A history of Lucile Ltd., the influential turn-of-the-century British fashion house founded by Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, this book’s main attraction is the beautiful reproduction of a fashion album, From Lucile Ltd. Autumn 1905, which is sandwiched between essays about the house and its leading lady. The album includes watercolor sketches of the season’s offerings, complete with fabric and trimming swatches next to each. All are pinched-waisted Edwardian dreams of abundant lace and elegantly trailing skirts; some dresses have titles: “Love while you may” (an innocent-looking dotted-swiss number), “Afterwards—Nothing” (black, rather somber), “The tender grace of a day that is dead” (a surprisingly jolly bottle-green gown with matching flowered hat; outfit completed by a pair of opera glasses). Lady Duff Gordon was an imaginative woman. She also survived the sinking of the Titanic, staged the first precursors to the modern catwalk-style fashion shows, and wins first prize for best-ever autobiography title: Discretions and Indiscretions. Let’s just say that this resolution isn’t going to last very long, as a copy of Lucile Ltd. clearly belongs on my bookshelf. —Clare Fentress

A few weeks ago, I went to see Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America at the New York Historical Society. One of the oddest components of the show is what is known as the Gallery of Beauty, twenty-five miniature portraits from the collection of one Peter Marié. In all, Marié—a well-known socialite who retired at forty after amassing a mercantile fortune—commissioned more than three hundred of these, and it was apparently considered a big deal to be asked to sit. While the portraits were meant to commemorate the greatest beauties of the era—and many of the ladies pictured are indeed very handsome—one can’t help but suspect, looking at them, that a few were chosen more for their social status than on pure aesthetic merits. But so one might expect of a man who, as the New York Times wrote in Marié’s 1903 obituary, “may be called the last gentleman of the old school in New York society.” It continued, “His life as a bachelor suited him … It was the custom for men to marry young in the antebellum days, and Mr. Marié was one of the very few bachelors in town, who, although most gallant and most devoted to the fair sex, was content with his own lot, and who lived in a house of his own and entertained as a bachelor host.”

At the same show, I was struck by a portrait of one Samuel Untermyer. “That guy looks exactly like you!” I said to my dad, who responded, “You’re just saying that because he’s the only Jew.” First of all, he really looked like him. Second, he wasn’t the only Jew: there were also portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Lewisohn, prominent members of nineteenth-century German-Jewish society. Seeing these prompted me to dig out my copy of Stephen Birmingham’s classic Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York. The Lewisohns (and their feud with the Guggenheims) are all over the book, which chronicles the fabled “One Hundred,” a set which, in its own way, rivaled the Patricians in exclusivity and which, as the author wrote in his introduction, “were the closest thing to Aristocracy—Aristocracy in the best sense—that the city, and perhaps the country, had seen.” —Sadie O. Stein

It’s been a weird week: Cormac McCarthy’s ex-wife pulls a gun out of her vagina, Shia LaBeouf announces his early retirement, Mellow Pages Library’s ExxonMobil hoax. Last night, I sat in my living room staring at my Christmas tree, questioning whether it was time to take it down. Instead, I reread Mary Ruefle’s reflection on, naturally, Christmas trees. My tree is not real (allergies), but as Ruefle comments, “when you look at them you can’t tell the difference. That always makes people happy—not being able to tell the difference.” Afterward, I found a link to The Private World of James Jones, an insightful documentary about the From Here to Eternity writer, and at one point Jones comments, “My early life was the slow and painful discovery that human beings are not so human after all, and I think everyone has to go through that.” Whatever it all meant, it seemed fitting to end the week with Ruefle’s aptly-named poem “From Here to Eternity,” which begins:

One day you wake up
and your life is over.
But it doesn’t mean
you have to die.

Justin Alvarez

 

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