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George Ernsberger
Posted 12/3/21

Christmas gifts, column 2:Creation: Art Since the Beginning by John Paul Stonard (Bloomsbury). A nervy title, and in fact a brave undertaking; others will be needed to attest to how perfectly judged …

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Christmas gifts, column 2:
Creation: Art Since the Beginning by John Paul Stonard (Bloomsbury). A nervy title, and in fact a brave undertaking; others will be needed to attest to how perfectly judged and balanced. But this is an exhilarating big read, lavishly illustrated, as it would have to be—just an endless pleasure that happens as it proceeds to both enrich and bring order to what the semicivilized reader already kinda knows. It doesn’t repeat, but enlarges on, even corrects, a little, here and there, and respectfully, such earlier works as Arthur Clark’s History of Civilization TV series. It starts before civilization started, about 50,000 years ago, in two widely separated places on Earth where cave drawings have been found that date to about that time. And imagining and dramatizing the impulses that were firing in those not necessarily quite human brains is just the first of many inspiring insights for us to waken to. As is common in everyday usage, by “art” he means only the visual arts—but of every culture on earth, not just ours. It’s big, and beautiful to look at, so fine for your coffee table (and at $40, only about ten bucks a pound); but also comfortable on your lap, and a great pleasure to read—so not only decor.
The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox (Putnam). The author (team—two women) is new to the column, but not to this market, either as journalists or novelists. The book in hand is a Christmasy, creative, and convincing identical-twin-swap romantic comedy. And did I mention good-hearted?
An Irish Country Yuletide by Patrick Taylor (Tom Doherty/Forge). An actually Irish (and Canadian) author, and a terrific short novel, in that small, stocking-stuffer format, and just $17.99. But there’s a sad catch: Taylor announces that this will be the end of his whole Irish Country series; he’s written out. This one—his 18th, the column’s first—is so both sweet and clever that some may search out all the earlier ones (not only the Christmas ones), to catch up with a guy who’s no longer running.
Original Sisters by Anita Kunz (Pantheon). Another not-really-a-Christmas book, but an art book, almost indescribably beautiful and shockingly inexpensive (a trade paperback, under $20). It’s a book of portraits of significant women, many—no, most—of whom you haven’t heard of (there’s a brief biographical sketch of each), though every historically important woman is pretty certainly here, too. The appropriate stocking(s) to stuff—if any—will be obvious to you.
Christmas by the Book by Anne Marie Ryan (Putnam). Lovely, warm Christmas novel that’s also a book-shop novel; and I can tell you that Christmas is the very best time of the year for bookshop people almost more than the populace at large. (My own warmest and also most vivid memories of that long-ago time in my life are of the Christmas season.)
A-a-and we’ve still (a couple) more to talk about, next week…


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