THE ART OF THE BOOK: From Medieval Manuscript to Graphic Novel, edited by James Bettley, is a collection of works from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s library, variously included illustrated manuscripts, comic books, poetry with avant-garde typefaces, lithographed and wood-engraved illustrations, typographic collections and exhibition catalogs (which Bettley notes are one of the few ways to make an exhibition endure after it closes). Nothing groundbreaking, but some strikingly Pretty Pictures.
As I mentioned last week, I reread THE MATARESE CIRCLE by Robert Ludlum primarily to study his technique, but I also enjoyed it. It gets talky and overly detailed at times but it’s still a gripping story with a great hook: two mortal enemies on either side of the Cold War discover they’re the only ones who can stop the Circle of the Matarese, a brotherhood of assassins that has shifted from freelance jobs to dabbling big-time in international power, with enough influence in both Moscow and Washington that both men become pariahs for dropping the Matarese name. On the downside, the love interest has little purpose other than to be loyal and supportive. Still, a fun read.
RED MOON AND BLACK MOUNTAIN by Joy Chant (cover by Ian Millar, rights with current holder) blew me away when I read it back in the early 1970s, for taking Tolkien and working his elements into something new (Chant does a much better job of it than Terry Brooks or Dennis McKiernan would later). Rereading now, it’s at times way too close to the source material, but it’s still a strong book, with a few striking set pieces (the battle of the eagles early on) and a little grimmer about the price of killing people. It also has more of a nonwhite element than the Inklings did, one of the kids winding up riding with a Mongol-style tribe of warriors. On the other hand, Chant doesn’t do much better with women, almost all the heroics going to the men (except for a Galadriel variant).
SOMETHING ABOUT EVE: A Comedy of Fig Leaves is the last book of James Branch Cabell I actually possess, amounting to a variation on Jurgen (who’s referenced several times in the text): where Jurgen goes off on wild womanizing adventures only to end up domesticated by his grumpy old wife, Gerald persistently refuses to succumb to women’s wiles but ends up in a similar domestic situation anyway. Cabell usually treats domesticating an artist as the worst possible fate, but here he’s surprisingly emphatic (in the introduction) that it’s a happy ending—that if you want to settle down and not shoot for fame or art or what-have-you, that’s a perfectly reasonable choice (I wonder if age mellowed him?). I could have done without some of the historical figures dropping in on Gerald, but this was a good one to finish rereading Cabell on.
THE CREATIONISTS: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism by Ronald L. Numbers was one of those writer/reader mismatches—the details of multiple, not terribly distinctive creationists’ lives was way more than I wanted to know, but I can hardly fault the author for being thorough. Numbers covers the creationist response to Darwin from the Victorian age on into the 1980s (the book came out in 1992), showing the wide variety of creationist responses (each “day” of creation was centuries long; the world existed lifeless before Adam; evolution is true, but Adam and Eve were a “special creation”) to Darwin in the Victorian era. After the dawn of the 20th Century, however, Geoge McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist who couldn’t accept a non-literal six days of creation, began actively pushing for the idea that Earth was created in six 24-hour periods, and any geological problems could be explained away by the flood (not to mention a shit-ton of fanciful theories he and other flood geologists concocted about Earth’s prehistoric condition). Numbers concludes this view grew in strength (though he notes at one point that not everyone who believes in divine creation necessarily embraces it) because it’s a simple response that doesn’t bother with compromise or (supposedly) non-literal interpretation. An excellent reference, if a bit dry for casual reading.