The Lady in Gold

The story begins “never had a little old Jewish lady in Los Angeles called Austria so much trouble.” Telling the tale of Maria Altmann’s quest to have Gustav Klimt’s paintings of her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer returned from Austria, Anne Marie O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is an enthralling and enlightening read (thanks to my mom & grandma for the recommendation). O’Connor begins with Klimt and the Jewish bourgeoisie at the turn of the century. Stefan Zweig wrote “whoever wished to put through something in Vienna” or “sought appreciation as well as an audience was dependent on the Jewish bourgeoisie.” She details the response to Klimt’s paintings – a “rare acknowledgement of female sexual desire.” Parallel to understanding the world of Klimt and Adele (and their hinted-at relationship), O’Connor describes Hitler’s relationship with the art world. Not only is the book an examination of Maria’s quest for the paintings of Adele, but of the Nazi looting of art and of post-war Austria’s refusal to acknowledge many origins of their masterpieces. “The Austrian Gallery had amassed an excellent Klimt collection during the war, and they did not intend to give it back.” O’Connor is clearly sympathetic to Maria’s case, but nonetheless presents a fully fleshed-out story. Adele is “frozen in Vienna’s golden moment” but represents the dual question of what defines cultural property (“when patrimony is the arm of genocide”) and what is the value of artwork that evokes the “theft of six million lives?” Definitely worth a read – especially after seeing Klimt’s work displayed at the Belvedere. Rating: ★★★★


Off the Map

Subtitled “Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places, and What They Tell Us About the World,” Alastair Bonnett’s Off the Map (sold in America under the title Unruly Places) was a fascinating collection of places that do not exist within the realm of traditional maps. As the back of the book describes, the book “takes us to the ends of the earth" and "shows us that topophilia, the love of place, is a fundamental part of what it is to be human.” I found it fascinating, full of fun facts and insights into human connection to place. Because the book was a collection of places, here are two examples in order to give a sense of what the book was like:
  1. Arne: a village in the English Channel evacuated in 1942, and where a decoy factory was built. As I learned, “decoys were widely employed throughout England during the war” (22) meant to divert bombers from cities. By June 1944, decoy sites around England were attacked on 730 occasions. After the war, Arne was permanently abandoned. 
  2.  Mount Athos: in the section on “Places of Exception,” about places that exist within other places (i.e. embassies), I found Mount Athos the most fascinating. It is a 50-km long peninsula that extents into the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece, with twenty Greek Orthodox monasteries built into the mountain. Women are banned from Athos – female humans and female animals. Mount Athos is an example about the “deep sense of anxiety about the presence of women” (190) that exist within world religions. 
 Bonnett does a fantastic job of taking the reader across the world, into places known and unknown. It was a book of “floating islands, dead cities, and hidden kingdoms.” There are forty-seven places explained within the book, demarcated into seven sections: Lost Spaces, Hidden Geographies, No Man’s Lands, Dead Cities, Spaces of Exception, Enclaves & Breakaway Nations, Floating Islands, and Ephemeral Places. As one review describes, "A conversational, thoroughly researched, and very engaging armchair tour of what might be seen as a parallel planet to the one we live in every day—one in which nothing is ordinary...Alastair Bonnett is a most excellent traveling companion." Perfect for travel, or no travel at all. If you’re looking for a fascinating look into place, or just an escape from wherever you are, pick up this book. Rating: ★★★★


Why Not Me?

Mindy Kaling has published a second collection of essays (a follow up Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, my blog post about that one here) which was better than the first. I read it while waiting to board my flight (thanks to the generous amount of time I had at the airport, also shoutout to my other blog emburack.blogspot.com that has really just been given out to family as of now, follow me on there to hear about some adventures I'm having abroad). I was engrossed not only by Mindy's humor but her perspectives on various things like ambition, women in the workplace, body image, boyfriends... etc. As she writes in her introduction, "The truth is, it’s hard to get people to like you, but it’s even harder to keep people liking you. You’d have to bring in Skittles every single day. The result of my not caring so much about what I say allows me to care more about how I say it. I think it makes my writing more personal and more enjoyable." She is full of nuggets of wisdom. She also had a chapter on sorority life at Dartmouth, and she was a member of my house (Sigma Delta, a local sorority) for a term. The house has changed considerably since her experiences in the late 90s, but it was neat to see her experiences with a place that I consider such a large part of my college experience. Another favorite section of her book was the short chapter entitled "A Perfectly Reasonable Request," where she outlines her ideal boyfriend:
What I'm asking for is not that much. I just want a boyfriend who is sweet and trustworthy. That’s it. He doesn’t need to have a perfect body or look like George Clooney. I want a guy who wants to curl up on a Friday night and watch Netflix. He can even pick the show. I mean, ideally, it’s serialized and female-driven, and maybe not that boring political one. But honestly, I don’t care. It’s not important.
As one review describes, the book "takes readers through parts of Kaling's life with the same energy and fearlessness that mark her comedy." I thought it was a super enjoyable and insightful read that I would highly recommend. Rating: ★★★★★