Archive for December 29, 2010

E. Boyd Smith

While perusing the digital collections of the Brooklyn Public Library under the Brooklyn Collection, I came across a beautiful section dedicated to children’s books in general. It is called “What Shall We Read to the Children: Treasures from the Hunt Collection of Children’s Literature” and spotlights the tremendous contributions of two extraordinary people. The first was Clara Whitehill Hunt who became the Superintendant of Work with Children at the Brooklyn Public Library in 1903. She wanted American publishers to produce quality picture books for the children of the United States. As a result of her efforts she was instrumental in enabling readers to appreciate the work of Elmer Boyd Smith. He was a preeminent illustrator and author who resided in Wilton. Look at his The Railroad Book to get an idea of his genius.

The Nutcracker

I recently saw a great production of The Nutcracker Ballet which I think is a great way to get into the spirit of the Christmas season. We are all aware that the music for the ballet was composed by Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky. But rarely do we devote attention to the author of the story on which the ballet was based. The story (which was greatly simplified and condensed for the ballet adaptation) is titled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and was written by E.T.A. Hoffmann who was one of the great German Romantic writers. Hoffmann was a multitalented man who was a judge, music composer and a writer. His novels and short stories reveal a keen sense for the grotesque and influenced Poe, Charles Baudelaire and Freud.

Winter’s Bone

Sundance Film Festival favorite, Winter’s Bone is a small, independent film that has managed to achieve greatness. The film is three movies in one: a mystery, a portrait of a teenager holding her family together with steely determination and a look at a subculture unfamiliar to most of us–methamphetamine has taken over this part of the Ozarks. Seventeen year old Ree Dolly has to make sure her meth-making father makes a court appearance but first she has to find him. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Ree is generating Oscar buzz–deservedly so.
Based on a book of the same name by Daniel Woodrelll whose writing is described as “country noir’. Read the book and watch the movie–you won’t be disappointed.

Richard Holmes

We have heard much about the gap between artists and scientists and their inability to communicate with one another. This was not always the case. There is a marvellous book titled The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. It was written by Richard Holmes who is arguably the preeminent biographer of this age. He has written biographies of Shelley, Coleridge, Samuel Johnson and austute books about the art of biography itself. How did he come to be able to write so well about the Romantics and the world of science. When he was a student he was one of the first students to go to Chuchill College at Cambridge University. It was a scientific college and Holmes rubbed elbows with nuclear physicists and astronomers. He not only read the Romantic poets but also tinkered with motorcyle engines and telescopes. As a result of his dual training he has been able to produce this beautiful book about the time when scientists and writers really talked to one another to the benefit of all of us.