Reading In Bed Is So Relaxing


I’m not sure why videos and photos of French performance artist Thierry Mandon reading in bed have popped up this week since the event was in 2015. Still, it’s too good not to share. In his project “Inside-Outside”, the fully pajamaed performance artist comfortably reads in bed underneath a picture frame and in front of a nightstand, each of which is mounted onto an exterior stucco wall. This whole scene requires sustaining the illusion of relaxation while simultaneously maintaining perfect balance. This installation took place in Chambéry, France. Check out the marvelous short video below of the performance.

NB: if the video does not appear, please click on the short url at the bottom of your email.




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Tower of Babel

The infographic below was created by Alberto Lucas Lopez  and it manages to condense the 7,102 known living languages today into a visualization, with individual colors representing each world region.

Only 23 languages are spoken by at least 50 million native speakers. What’s more, over half the planet speaks at least one of these 23 languages.

After Chinese, the languages of Spanish and English sit in second and third place in terms of global popularity. The rapid proliferation of these languages can be traced back to the history of Spanish conquistadors in the Americas, and British colonies around the world.


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The best view in town

I’m jaded when it comes to New York City tourist attractions, but I’m looking forward to the October 21st opening of the city’s newest site.

Summit One Vanderbilt, which describes itself “the most immersive observatory” experience,” sits on top of One Vanderbilt, the 1,401-foot tall tower at Vanderbilt Avenue and East 42nd Street next to Grand Central Terminal.

The three-level, 65,000 square-foot tourist attraction takes up the 91st through 93rd floors. Mirrors, reflective panels and floor cut-outs create a fun-house effect that plays with your sense of location and height.

A transparent-glass elevator called Ascent shoots guests even higher, to one of the loftiest viewing point in Midtown at 1,200 feet above the street. Even more exciting are the “sky boxes” on the 92nd floor which project out from the tower’s facade to allow stomach churning views straight down to Madison Avenue through floors of transparent glass.

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is the fourth-highest observatory in the city behind those at One World Trade Center (1,250 feet), Edge at 30 Hudson Yards (1,100 feet), and the Empire State Building (1,050 feet). Tickets are for sale now at $39 a person.



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Another Tolkien Surprise

As a collector and bookseller, I’ve seen many versions and editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel The Hobbit over the years. However, it wasn’t until recently that I was aware of Swedish and Finnish language editions that were illustrated by the anti-Fascist cartoonist  and writer Tove Jansson. Although the creator of the beloved Moomins had great success with most of her projects, both of her illustrated versions of The Hobbit were critical failures.

Jansson was first commissioned to create a series of illustrations in 1960, but didn’t complete the black and white drawings until 1962. Most Tolkien fans found her interpretation of his characters and storylines to be wanting. Here’s a sample from the books, what do you think ?





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Heaven is not like flying or swimming



Elizabeth Bishop

This celestial seascape, with white herons got up as angels,
flying high as they want and as far as they want sidewise
in tiers and tiers of immaculate reflections;
the whole region, from the highest heron
down to the weightless mangrove island
with bright green leaves edged neatly with bird-droppings
like illumination in silver,
and down to the suggestively Gothic arches of the mangrove roots
and the beautiful pea-green back-pasture
where occasionally a fish jumps, like a wildflower
in an ornamental spray of spray;
this cartoon by Raphael for a tapestry for a Pope:
it does look like heaven.
But a skeletal lighthouse standing there
in black and white clerical dress,
who lives on his nerves, thinks he knows better.
He thinks that hell rages below his iron feet,
that that is why the shallow water is so warm,
and he knows that heaven is not like this.
Heaven is not like flying or swimming,
but has something to do with blackness and a strong glare
and when it gets dark he will remember something
strongly worded to say on the subject.


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The one where I compare myself with Leo Tolstoy

You may be dubious that a humble blogger, bookseller, and failed author could possibly have anything in common with the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, but hear me out. Both Tolstoy and I have roots in Czarist Russia. The legenday author and I are both hirstute and eminently photogenic. And lastly, we share a commitment to a vegetarian lifestyle.

I recently stumbled upon the surprising book, Leo Tolstoy: A Vegetarian’s Tale.  The cookbook is based on one that that Tolstoy’s brother-in-law, Stepan Andreevich Bers, published and gifted to his sister, Tolstoy’s wife, Sophia Andreevna Tolstaya. The contemporary book was translated and adapted by Sergei Beltyukov a few years ago, under the title Leo Tolstoy: A Vegetarian’s Tale: Tolstoy’s Family Vegetarian Recipes Adapted for the Modern Kitchen. Here’s the full description of the volume from the website:

Step back in time and dine on the family recipes of Leo Tolstoy, one of the world’s preeminent vegetarians and the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Learn the recipes of one of history’s most famous writers and vegetarians in Leo Tolstoy: A Vegetarian’s Tale . Featuring the writer’s original recipes as interpreted by renowned modern-day chef, this book is guaranteed to provide you with some of the best-tasting meat-free meals you’ve ever cooked Leo Tolstoy was a trendsetter. He was one of the most important and prolific writers of his time-his novels, like Anna Karenina and War and Peace , are still being taught in schools and adapted for the screen. But he was also one of the first widely known vegetarians. Though a meat-eater early in his life, by the time he turned 50 he’d decided it was immoral for someone to kill on his behalf just so he could enjoy a slab of beef for lunch. He became an ovo-lacto vegetarian, but because of the time in which he lived it was up to him (and particularly his lovely wife, Sofia) to create vegan and vegetarian recipes that would both taste good and keep him healthy. Now, for the first time ever, Tolstoy’s mouth-watering, meat-free meals have been collected in Leo Tolstoy: A Vegetarian’s Tale . This book features vegan and vegetarian recipes from Tolstoy’s wife. Sophia Tolstoy’s 1874 “Cookery Book”, which was compiled for her by her brother from her diaries, provides a rich tapestry of the Tolstoy family’s dining habits. The recipes range from homemade Macaroni and Cheese to Potatoes a la Ma tre D’H tel, with plenty of tasty options in between (including family specialties you can’t find anywhere else, such as Tolstoy’s Herbal Liqueur). Many of the original versions of the recipes lacked exact descriptions of ingredients and cooking times, but the recipes were edited by chef de cuisine at some of Moscow’s best fine-dining restaurants to insert the missing elements to make the meals you prepare as delicious as possible. So whether you’re looking for a modern revision on a classic or the original recipe right from the 1800’s, you’re guaranteed to find a meal you’ll love. The book contains not only original recipes from Tolstoy and his family; it also includes diary entries written by his wife Sofia, his children, and others who stayed at his estate. These fascinating passages help illuminate the famous writer’s day-to-day life. If you’re a Tolstoy fan, then this book is a revealing must-have that sheds new light on this timeless writer’s life. Whether you are a vegetarian, vegan, foodie, literary major, or Tolstoy fan, you will enjoy reading and creating these recipes for yourself, friends and family.

If you want to give one of Leo’s recipes a try, the recipe below is for Tolstoy’s favorite mac and cheese dish:

Bring water to a boil, add salt, then add macaroni and leave boiling on light fire until half tender; drain water through a colander, add butter and start putting macaroni back into the pot in layers—layer of macaroni, some grated Parmesan and some vegetable sauce, macaroni again and so on until you run out of macaroni. Put the pot on the edge of the stove, cover with a lid and let it rest in light fire until the macaroni are soft and tender. Shake the pot occasionally to prevent them from burning.


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Six for Sunday

After reading Moby-Dick for the first time last year, Peter Gorman published a fascinating book called Kaleidoscope Brain that consists of 100 visualizations of Moby-Dick. The graphics, diagrams, and maps were his way of making sense of the iconic American novel. The graphic above depicts every color in the book. The book is available as a free download on Gorman’s Patreon .

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” James Baldwin

Over the years, I’ve run across quite a few terrific photos of post-war Italy by the American photojounalist Ruth Orkin. The image above, titled Tired Tourist, Florence, 1951, always struck a chord with me because haven’t we all been that worn out traveler after a long day playing tourist. Well, after a little research, I discovered that the unidentified tourist was actually Orkin’s friend and traveling companion Jinx Allen aka Ninalee Craig the American painter.

Like many folks, I’m ambivilant about staying in Airbnbs. It’s always a roll of the dice regarding the actual state of the accommodations. This currently listed house on Airbnb, Grandpa George’s dairy barn was built near Bay Port, Michigan in 1956. Surprisingly, the owners have created a house-in-a-barn, which features a range of the family’s old farm relics.

The moving video below is by director Robert Bingaman. It is a timely interpretation of a passage from John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, which was written by Donne in 1623 while recovering from a serious illness. The passage is from Meditation XVII and is paired in the video with images of places deserted the pandemic.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

NB: if the video does not appear, please click on the short url at the bottom of the post.


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Erasing Books for the Sake of Art

Mary Ruefle, “Some Say,” 2017, 5.5 x 7 ⅝ x ½” x ½ inches (all images courtesy the Robert Frost Stone House Museum)

I am always somewhat ambivilant when it comes to book art that actually damages or destroys books, however, I am a fan of Vermont-based poet and book artist Mary Ruefle’s decades-long project Erasures. Since 1998, she has amended more than 100 books using markers, correctional fluid, paint, tape, and even cuts text cut-outs. Ruefle also adds photos, text, and drawings from other publications, as well as fiber art, pressed flowers, handwritten notes, grocery lists, and other found objects. Currently, a selection of her erased books, along with a set of her humorous, captioned postcards, is on display in Mary Ruefle: Erasures at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Bennington, Vermont.


Mary Ruefle: Erasures continues at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum at Bennington College (121 Vermont Route 7a, Shaftsbury, Vermont) through October 31.





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Five For Friday

I just discovered this never before published novel by Simone de Beauvoir. It seems that it was deemed “too intimate” to be published during her lifetime. Inseparable has been described as a story of the power of female friendship and the forces that constrict it by an incomparable thinker.






I have always pictured Simone de Beauvoir chainsmoking Gauloises or Gitanes cigarettes while downing cups of strong coffee at Café de Flore, but according to this piece in the Paris review she was a dedicated hiker and backpacker. Who knew ?

Growing up during the Cold War with an extended family of refugees from Russia and Eastern Europe, I was secretly obsessed with life in the Soviet Union. The fascinating short video below, Enter Through The Balcony, is a marvelous look at the microcosmic worlds of the balconies of Eastern Europe.

Word on the street: NYC












Over at the fantastic Crime Reads blog, Chris McGinley explains how William Friedkin’s The French Connection reinvented (and exploded) the police procedural. If you love the film, this is a must read. Even if you don’t, it’s a terrific blog to follow for fans of noir, mysteries, crime fiction, etc..


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taste the blood of revenge

Another hilarious re-issue from the brilliant folks at Paperback Paradise.

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