Book Reviews | Daily Bytes

Sunday Reading

Do people still curl up on the sofa to read the paper on Sunday morning? We imagine that the numbers are dwindling so quickly that the phrase will soon be as anachronistic and incomprehensible to our younger readers as “putting on a record.”

On the other hand, with the advent of ever smaller and portable tops, pads and pods the electronic generation may still find the couch a comfortable spot to enjoy some quiet time going through the feature articles that regularly appear in Sunday publications. And if they can restrain themselves from flicking back, every few seconds, to check their Facebook status, they may discover another marvelous benefit of the internet — their Sunday reading has expanded greatly. With the same minimal movement of their fingers they can access the national and international as well as the local papers. And many magazines, providing at least some of their content, are just as close.

Of course that also means there’s that much more one can read. And how to decide? Here are a few things that have caught our eye.

As a New Year’s feature the New York Times asked six critics to examine the state of (literary) criticism. Their thoughts reflect many of the conversations we are having at 15 Bytes as we decide, entering our second decade of publishing, what the nature of our project is and ought to be.

We agree with Katie Roiphe that with all the clutter and noise that can be found on the internet, one of the critic’s chief responsibilities is to write well; and we agree with Sam Anderson that a critic’s job is to amplify the conversation, making the “whispered parts audible;” and finally with Adam Kirsch that a serious critic goes beyond mere description and even evaluation to “say something true about life and the world.” We aspire to all this and more in our upcoming editions of 15 Bytes.

Some other reading that caught our eye:

The current edition of The New Republic has a fabulous article on Caravaggio by Keith Christiansen that places the Baroque artist in a truer, because more nuanced, light. The subtitle, “Why Caravaggio’s painting is even more exciting than his biography,” gives you a hint at the article’s strength. Artists are too frequently summed up by one-line biographical notes — Pollock the drunk, crazy van Gogh, womanizing Picasso — that are not only inadequate as biography but also ancillary to our real understanding of the art. In his article Christiansen addresses the first problem with a less-sensationalized and more detailed understanding of the biography, and the second with a necessary art-historical understanding of the many ways in which Caravaggio’s work was of its time while also reaching beyond it.

If you’re looking for something to read beyond Sunday you might check out some of the art-related books reviewed recently.

In this week’s The Nation Brian Schwabsky reviews books on Philip Guston, Carolee Scheemann and Ilya Kabakov. The best of the trio looks to be Phillip Guston’s Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations which contains marvelous insights for artists and art lovers alike.

Returning to the New York Times, you’ll also find there a review of Phoebe Hoban’s Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty, the first full-length biography of the accomplished portrait artist who was ignored for much of mid-century career because of the dominance of abstract art.

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