New and noteworthy – 5 April 2018

The case against men (16th-century-style); going to El Norte, and staying behind; glorying in Gorey; and saving Venice

April 5, 2018
Source: iStock

If Venice Dies
Salvatore Settis; translated by André Naffis-Sahely
Pallas Athene

Today’s Venice, argues renowned art historian Salvatore Settis, is “a city on the run from itself”, where factors such as an ageing population and an exodus to the mainland mean that “tourists outnumber Venetians 140 to 1”. Just as Athens fell into “self-oblivion” for centuries, we are in grave danger of effacing everything that made Venice important and distinctive – a terrible warning for many other historic cities now being transformed into theme parks. By asking searching questions about what Venice is worth and who it truly belongs to, Settis’ passionate polemic makes clear what we risk losing and how we can ensure that Venice doesn’t die.

The Merits of Women: Wherein Is Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men
Moderata Fonte; translated by Virginia Cox
University of Chicago Press

A man without a woman, suggests a character in this dazzling example of early feminist writing, is “like a fly without a head”. The book, written around 1590, brings together a group of women in a Venetian garden to discuss the case against (and occasionally for) men. They include a young poet who is happy to be single and a widow who would rather be drowned than remarry. Despite the inevitable differences in circumstances, writes editor and translator Virginia Cox – professor of Italian at New York University – “Fonte’s speakers can seem startlingly modern. We may not always recognize our lives in their reality, but we can recognize ourselves in their dreams.”

Undocumented Lives: The Untold Story of Mexican Migration
Ana Raquel Minian
Harvard University Press

“Few issues in contemporary U. S. politics cause as much commotion as undocumented migration,” claims Stanford historian Ana Raquel Minian, yet we know surprisingly little about the actual “lives of undocumented migrants and those of the family and community members who stayed behind in Mexico”. Her book covers the period from 1965 to 1986, when the Mexican government was often keen to encourage the departure of “surplus workers” and when many young men felt pressured by family and friends to head north. Here Minian uncovers the human realities between the broad trends, drawing on unusual sources such as pamphlets, minutes of activists’ meetings, photographs and even love letters.

Gorey’s Worlds
Erin Monroe and others
Princeton University Press

The famously unsettling work of the American illustrator and designer Edward Gorey (1925-2000) often found inspiration in his own extensive collection of books and artworks – most of it bequeathed to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. The material is on display there this spring, and the exhibition catalogue is now published as a book. Here marvellous images by Bonnard, Delacroix, Munch and other celebrated artists and photographers are vividly juxtaposed with Gorey’s own drawings, while learned essays explore how his passions for (often surprisingly human) animals and ballet remained a constant presence throughout his career.

Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions
Alberto Manguel
Yale University Press

Although he has worked as translator, editor and critic, Alberto Manguel describes himself as a reader and a lover of books. Until 2015, he housed a library of 35,000 volumes in a barn next to his home in the Loire Valley. Then, for reasons “belong[ing] in the realm of sordid bureaucracy”, he decided to sell up, move into a small apartment in New York and embark on the melancholy task of culling his collection. His remarkable account of the experience also incorporates his wide-ranging reflections on library lootings, the many oddities of book collectors and the essential role of reading in a democratic culture.

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