Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cold Readings

It's been freezing here in New York City, which makes reading a book while waiting for the train a lot more difficult, but definitely worthwhile. You may lose sensation in your hands, but at least you will have escaped into another world.

This last week I finished two little books, The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke and The Tsar's Dwarf by Peter Fogtal.

I found the Ladies when I was working the corner of Prince and Mulberry for the Young Designer's Market this last weekend. It was hidden away in the SALE section of the amazing McNally Jackson Bookstore, and of course I was attracted to its very old school spine, all charcoal gray canvas binding, black embossed letters, and pale pink neaveau flowers. It's rare to find a book that is made with such quality nowadays. After perusing the pages I quickly realized it was authored by the same person who scribed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a huge book that was noted by the NYT as being the 'adult Harry Potter' and stayed on several bestseller lists for several weeks--one that I loved and gifted to my younger brother Anthony for Christmas this year.

It is a collection of short stories and fairy tales that casts Mary Queen of Scots alongside an eighteenth century Jewish doctor, a handsome clergyman, and Jonathan Strange. My favorite from the stories was Mr.Simonelli and the Fairy Widower-- a haunting tale about a clergyman who winds up in a little town on the moors solving all sorts of mysteries. Ms. Clarke expertly weaves humor, magic, and romance into these little gems.

Each of the stories is separated by gorgeous black and white illustrations by Charles Vess--whose work in this book is reminiscent of Arthur Rackham, a timeless fairy tale illustrator from the turn of the century. The above pictures are some of his other various projects--he is mostly known for his work with Neil Gaiman- The Sandman anyone? Check out his (ironically poorly designed) website here.

The Tsar's Dwarf was originally written in Danish by Peter Fogtal and translated into English by Tiina Nunnally. Again I was shamelessly drawn to this novel by it's chic cover art and well merchandised location in the New Fiction Section at the St.Mark's Bookstore. And after reading the summary- it became an immediate must have.

The intriguing storyline is set in late seventeenth century Denmark and Russia, and follows Surine, later Surinka, a cynical dwarf born to a priest. She is haunted by her past, a child, and a world that is unable to see past her stature. By her wit and wisdom she earns a place in the King of Denmark's court, and is later given to the Tsar of Russia as a present when the two countries join in an allyance against Sweden. It is a short novel; but it is Surinka's voice which transcends the translation and enraptures you. She is scathing, bitter, and soulful. She hates the world and aches with love for it at the same time. An amazing new piece of work. And it actually gave me some insight into why my Swedish friends make fun of Danish people all the time.

Go judge a book by its cover-- you just might find something you like.

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