Posts Tagged ‘“Marilyn Yalom’

Happy birthday to the Book Haven! We’re ten years old!

Saturday, November 30th, 2019
Share

We began on November 19, 2009. And we’ve been going ever since. For years we’ve anticipated this special tenth anniversary (alright, alright, we’re eleven days late; we’ve been busy).

What did we imagine? We had envisioned champers and brie and little pink cakes! We had hoped for international acclaim and cybercards and cyberroses … oh well, why bother? Instead: one solitary woman at a computer, cranking out books and articles (and even the occasional blogpost) faster than any reasonable person should.

However, the occasion of our tenth anniversary was not entirely unmarked. The Book Haven has made it’s debut appearance in The Smithsonian Magazinewith this paragraph in the current issue, on a subject we know startlingly little about. It generated a scholarly query last week in my inbox, so it’s good to know our July 11, 2018, post is getting some attention

The end result, according to a blog post by Stanford University’s Cynthia Haven, was a masterful collection of 1,299 gouaches, 340 transparent text overlays and a total of 32,000 words. One painting finds the artist cuddling in bed with her mother; another shows a seemingly endless parade of Nazis celebrating Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Germany’s chancellor while swastikas swirl above their heads.

Maybe next year?

Read more here.

What else has happened, since we last wrote about ourselves, five years ago, here? Some time ago, we hit a record high of 45,000 hits in a month. However, gone are the days when we used to wake up in the morning, pull the laptop out from under the bed, and compulsively check our numbers on Google Analytics. We have our following, and we get our bouquets and our punches … and our letters. Like this one a few days ago, from the U.K.: “I am just writing a very quick thank you for introducing Edna St Vincent Millay to me. I had been searching for Sara Teasdale and found a wonderful article written by you at The Book Haven. If it wasn’t for your article I wouldn’t  have found and fallen in love with Edna.” We’re glad you did, sir!

This year alone: We’ve posted on the controversy surrounding the Stanford University Press here and here. After the death of the notable Johns Hopkins polymath and bibliophile Richard Macksey, we were quoted in The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun and wrote about his passing here and here and here. We’ve forged a partnership with The Los Angeles Review of Books to create an Entitled Opinions channel, as well as a series of articles.

Books, books, books. We’ve written about many books. We wrote about our debut in Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Nation, plus reviews of Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. (Too many to list – put it in the Book Haven search engine). Plus… we were named a 2018-19 National Endowment for the Humanities public scholar, the inaugural Milton Cottage resident, and oohhh, so much more.

Sorry, maybe for 2020.

The Book Haven broke the national news of President Trump‘s plans to scuttle the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts – but other media outlets were close on our heels. We memorialized fallen greats at Stanford, many of them friends: Dostoevsky scholar Joseph Frank and theater director and Brecht protégée Carl Weber, French intellectual Michel Serres and Milton Scholar Martin Evans, and of course, the French theorist René Girard. And, this month, another cherished friend, the French scholar Marilyn Yalom.

The Book Haven has taken you to Bergen, Sigtuna and Stockholm, Kraków and London, Warsaw, Paris, and Avignon, among other locales.

We’ve described how we brought about the acquisition of Russian Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky Papers at Stanford, and our debut on Russian TV … and later the acquisition of Russian poet Regina Derieva‘s papers.

We’re still here. So many excellent blogs and online journals have folded – Elegant Variation, House of Mirth, Bookslut – and journals, too, such as Quarterly Conversation and Smart Set. We’re still here, and looking forward, in six weeks time, in joining you for the brand new decade for all of us.

C’mon, December, we’re ready to take you on – to the end of the year and beyond. Our vision going forward is 2020.

Happy birthday to us! Long may we live!

Matching wits with Marilyn Yalom in Palo Alto: a game of chess in 2004

Friday, November 22nd, 2019
Share

How did the queen become so powerful? (Photo: Chris Stewart//San Francisco Chronicle)

No sooner did I tweet the news of author and French scholar Marilyn Yalom‘s death on Twitter, than lit critic John McMurtrie, formerly book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, tweeted right back. (See below.)

Since her death, a few people have asked me which is my favorite of Marilyn’s books. After John’s tweet, I think the answer would have to be the one I haven’t read yet: The Birth of the Chess QueenThat’s because of his story in the Chronicle fifteen years ago.

His charming tale of a memorable match in Palo Alto begins:

The chessboard before me is full, and my mind, it so happens, is suddenly a blank.

“My, these are nice-looking pieces,” I think to myself in a daze, scanning the dignified Nordic figures in this replica of the famous “Lewis chessmen” set from the Middle Ages. My pieces have their backs turned to me and they’re ready to enter the breach at my command. Now if I can only pull my thoughts together and put these little warriors in the right squares.

My opponent makes her first move. Here we go – time to kiss my kingdom goodbye.

On the opposite side of the board is Marilyn Yalom, the author of “Birth of the Chess Queen: A History” (HarperCollins, $24.95). The book explores the rise of the game’s queen vis-a-vis the rise of real queens in Europe. Yalom says she doesn’t play the game well, but surely she must be understating her prowess: She’s a senior scholar at Stanford’s Institute for Women and Gender who just wrote an entire book on chess. My knowledge of the game, on the other hand, never progressed much beyond childhood “matches” on the beach, when all it took to put an end to a game was the arrival of another game – any other game.

But there was no getting out of this match today. A challenge was laid down (silly me), and e-mail and phone calls were exchanged. As with war, once the plans have been drawn up, there is no easy way to back down. This battle was going to be waged.

Yalom, 72, stumbled upon this bit of knowledge six years ago and was intrigued. Many historians have written about the game’s evolution, she says, “but they’re not asking the questions that I’m asking.” Namely, what outside forces helped put a woman on the board, then made her the most powerful piece in the game?

In the midst of the chess game, John recalls “getting lost looking out the big back window of Yalom’s spacious house, taking in the soothing sounds of a nearby rooster. Amazing that one can be in Palo Alto, not far from Stanford, and still hear farm animals.” And it’s still that way. The redwood-and-stone home is where a reception after was held after her funeral today. She will be much missed. Read the rest of John’s story here

Matching wits at the July 23, 2004, game. (Photo: Chris Stewart//San Francisco Chronicle)

Remarkable spirit: remembering scholar, author, feminist Marilyn Yalom (1932-2019)

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
Share

In the pink: signing books at Kepler’s. (Photo: Margo Davis)

Marilyn Yalom, a popular French scholar and author, a founder of feminist studies at Stanford, and beloved wife of the celebrated author and psychiatrist Irv Yalom, died this morning of myeloma. She was 87.

Her illness was swift, but long enough for friends to express their love and appreciation. On September 1, a surprise party was held at her home by women writers who were part of her Bay Area women writers’ salon. A book of letters was presented to her then from the  salonnières.

Marie-Pierre Ulloa, a lecturer in Stanford’s French and Italian Department, also collected letters for a book, this time from the Stanford community. The fate of the book, which was presented to Marilyn in unfinished form a few days ago, remains up in the air, but Marie-Pierre is allowing me to publish my contribution here, as a sort of eulogy.

Dearest Marilyn,

You don’t remember our first meeting, so I’ll remind you: in 1983, I interviewed you to discuss your anthology, Women Writers of the West Coast.

The setting was your charming home on Matadero Avenue, though I have few memories of the house that would eventually become so familiar to me. I disappeared from your life then, and returned nearly a quarter century later, when the legendary Diane Middlebrook died in 2007, and I somewhat timidly joined the Bay Area women writers salon that had become your own endeavor, extending the note that your closest friend had sounded.

Working on Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, I came to know your academic beginnings as the French theorist’s first graduate student: a young woman in a high-powered program at Johns Hopkins, arriving in 1957. “The dedication to our work was, for me, beyond anything I had experienced at Wellesley or Columbia or the Sorbonne,” you told me. “We were true believers. The life of Johns Hopkins was the life of a scholar.” You received your doctorate with distinction. We would talk meet again in the redwood and stone home nestled among the oaks and tall pines – sometimes taking tea in Wedgwood cups, among the hundreds of books, the Balinese masks, the framed art photographs, and a serene Buddha; at other times, sharing a glass of your son Reid’s Cabernet at night, as we waited for your husband Irv to return home from a meeting.

We spoke about your years as a harried graduate student and mother of several children, living in the housing assigned to young psychiatrists in residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In that era of more limited expectations for women, perhaps few anticipated that you would become such a popular and acclaimed author in your own right, with a shelf of books to your credit. Our friendship ripened during the years you published How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance (HarperCollins, 2012) and then The Amorous Heart in 2018, a few months before my own book. I attended your public events for it, at Kepler’s, at the Stanford Humanities Center, and wrote about them (here and here).

That was the public part. But then there was the unseen part, the salon part: encouraging women to write; guiding their publishing decisions; coaching them to absorb your own authorial dignity and tact, though few of us mastered those lessons as well as you had. You even persuaded a few of us to get top-notch author’s photos from another friend, the notable photographer Margo Davis. At each gathering on Matadero or at your apartment in the City, the salonnières would describe our most recent triumphs and challenges, and one of two of us would present our newly published books. You did more: I remember the launch party for Evolution of Desire, with cases of fine French wine, guests from around the world, and armloads of orchids from my garden – and a special guest, the French consul Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens. You encouraged us to keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, as you did.

And as you do still. Even now, you are writing a book with Irv, jointly documenting this last year of your journey together, a story that began when you were teenagers in Washington D.C. In our most recent phone call a week or two ago, you assured me that illness had not stopped your work. You are still working on the manuscript, together.

I describe all this because it is an inspiring model for all of us. Your lifetime’s effort will live through us, and touch so many others who will never have a chance to meet you. I want it to be remembered, beyond this year and beyond Stanford. There is no one like you, and no one will take your place. Our gratitude to you is deep, and our love deeper still.

Postscript: One thing I should have written, and didn’t: She was a class act, a woman of extraordinary poise, graciousness, and charm.

A surprise party for Marilyn at her Palo Alto home in xxx. (Photo: Reid Yalom)

 

Who was René Girard? Wall Street Journal tries to answer the question.

Friday, June 1st, 2018
Share

Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard is in the Wall Street Journal weekend edition. The newspaper asks its readers “Who Was René Girard?”  And Marilyn Yalom, a French scholar and officier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, tries to answer. She was the French theorist’s first graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in 1957, and was already at Stanford to greet him when he arrived here in the early 1980s. So she was the perfect person to review Evolution of Desire for the eminent WSJ.  

We couldn’t be more pleased and honored. The Wall Street Journal is the largest newspaper in the nation, with 2.3 million subscribers internationally. You don’t get a bigger audience that that. 

She writes: “Her carefully researched biography is a fitting tribute to her late friend and one that will enlighten both specialists and non-specialists alike.” Well, that’s what I had intended when I wrote the book.

The review is behind a paywall, alas, but here’s an excerpt:

René Girard (1923- 2015) was inducted into the French Academy in 2005. Many of us felt this honor was long overdue, given his international prominence as a French intellectual whose works had crossed the boundaries of literature, history, psychology, sociology, anthropology and religion. Today his theories continue to be debated among “Girardians” on both sides of the Atlantic. He is now the subject of a comprehensive biography by Cynthia Haven called “Evolution of Desire.”

A officier and a gentlewoman…

The title is apt. A key concept in Girard’s philosophy is what he called “mimetic desire.” All desire, he argued, is imitation of another person’s desire. Mimetic desire gives rise to rivalries and violence and eventually to the scapegoating of individuals and groups—a process that unites the community against an outsider and temporarily restores peace. Girard believes that the scapegoat mechanism has been intrinsic to civilization from its beginning to our own time.

My personal acquaintance with René Girard began in 1957, when I entered Johns Hopkins as a graduate student in comparative literature at the same time that he arrived as a professor in the department of Romance languages. With his thick dark hair and leonine head, he was an imposing figure whose brilliance intimidated us all. Yet he proved to be generous and tolerant, even when I announced that I was to have another child—my third in five years of marriage. …

Ms. Haven’s ability to interweave Girard’s life with his publications keeps her narrative flowing at a lively pace. For a man who woke every day at 3:30 a.m. and wrote until his professorial duties took over, it would be enough for any biographer to focus on his intellectual life, without linking his thoughts to a person ambulating in the world. Fortunately, Ms. Haven portrays Girard as he interacted with colleagues, students, friends and family.
 
Read the whole thing here, if you’re able.

“Evolution of Desire” launch party is literally unforgettable, thanks to Leah Garchik of the “San Francisco Chronicle”

Friday, April 20th, 2018
Share

The tweeting consul et moi.

I wrote about the launch party for Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, hosted by arguably the most hospitable couple at Stanford, Marilyn and Irvin Yalom, a while ago here. It cast a spell over all of us, I think. A few guests have drifted up to me since and said dreamily: “Wasn’t that a looovely party?”

Of course, I would assert that any party that had buckets of French (real French) champagne was well on the way to being unforgettable. But that would underrate the considerable charm of the gracious Yaloms, as well as their beautiful Palo Alto home.

Both are Stanford authors, but he is also a leading existential psychotherapist; she is one of the founders of feminist studies at Stanford. She also has the privilege of being René Girard‘s first graduate student.

The columnist..

It would also undersell the caliber of the guests, especially the high-octane presence of our French consul general from San Francisco, Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens.

But it was Leah Garchik of the San Francisco Chronicle who made sure the party is literally unforgettable – as long as cyberspace and the Library of Congress endure – by including a brief notice in her popular column. We don’t get top billing, but one notch below a Diane Keaton book-signing ain’t bad.

Read the snippet in yesterday’s paper here. Or in the screenshot below:

***

***

“A Company of Authors” is back! An exciting afternoon of lively authors, fascinating books, and “Evolution of Desire”!

Monday, April 16th, 2018
Share

See the second name from the top on the poster above? That’s Humble Moi. You can call me “Moi” for short. And I am personally inviting you to come to “A Company of Authors,” Prof. Peter Stansky‘s celebration of recent books by Stanford authors at the Stanford Humanities Center – this Saturday, April 21, from 1 to 5:15 p.m. (I know, I know… the poster above says 5 p.m. Keep reading…)

Patrick Hunt at the Stanford Bookstore.

Like the Another Look book club, it’s Stanford’s gift to the community. It’s free, and all members of the community are welcome. I’ve written about previous years here and here and here and here. Usually, I moderate the panel for poets; a few years ago, I gave a pitch for Another Look instead (my comments here), and seven years ago I presented my book, An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz. This year, I will be attending as an author, discussing my brand-new Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard.

Here’s the thing: you can drop by to hear the twenty-one authors discuss their event (schedule of speakers below or here) at any time during the afternoon, and leave when you wish. Some people stay the whole afternoon. Some people come late. Some people come at the beginning and leave early. Please don’t do that! Gaze at the schedule below. I am the very last speaker. Please, please stay to the very end! Wait and talk to me afterwards! I want to meet you! I want to sign your books! (Oh, and the Stanford Bookstore attends, too, selling all the books at a discount. We want you to buy lots.)

Moreover, the last panel has a terrific team, presenting some memorable characters: Stanford archaeologist Patrick Hunt presenting his new book, Hannibal. And Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin discussing thirteenth-century Leonardo da Pisa, the subject of his Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World .  And I will discuss on a very modern hero, Stanford’s René Girard, the French theorist who wrote about human imitation, envy, violence, and scapegoating.

Peter Stansky, author of many volumes on modern British history, assures me that the final spot to anchor the day is a position of honor. So please come see me crowned in glory. I’ll be waiting for you. And I’ve highlighted and hyperlinked some of the other authors who have been featured in these pages on the schedule below (please note: Steve Zipperstein has had to cancel his attendance).

Marilyn Yalom signing books

Now you will ask why does the poster that was used in publicity list the event as ending  at 5 p.m., yet the schedule below ends at 5:05 p.m., and elsewhere it says 5:15 p.m. That’s because we noticed that the last panel was five minutes short, and that means we’d all be talking awfully, awfully fast. So the panel ends at 5:05. But after that, we expect you’ll all want to head into the lobby, drink more tea and eat more cookies, buy more books, and many of the authors will be chatting and lingering and longing to sign your books till 5:15 or so. In fact, the hubbub and conversation in the lobby after it’s all finished is one of the funnest things of all.

Come when you can. Stay as long as you can. It’s always lively, informative, and thought-provoking.

SCHEDULE

1:00 pm Welcome (Peter Stansky)

1:05 pm – 1:35 pm The Wide Range of History
Peter Stansky, Chair
Nancy Kollmann, The Russian Empire 1450–1801
Mikael D. Wolfe, Watering the Revolution: An Environmental and Technological History of Agrarian Reform in Mexico
Thomas S. Mullaney, The Chinese Typewriter: A History

1:40 pm – 2:10 pm Killing and Controlling the Population
Paul Robinson, Chair
Carolyn Chappell Lougee, Facing the Revocation
Philippa Levine, Eugenics

2:15 pm – 2:45 pm Considering Life
Tania Granoff, Chair
Peter N. CarrollAn Elegy for Lovers
Irvin D. YalomBecoming Myself: A Psychiatrist’s Memoir

2:50 pm – 3:20 pm Life and Love
Edith Gelles, Chair
Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci, Contraceptive Diplomacy
Karen Offen, The Woman Question in France, 1400–1870
Marilyn YalomThe Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love

3:25 pm – 3:55 pm The Former British Empire
Kristin Mann, Chair
Jack RakoveA Politician Thinking: The Creative Mind of James Madison
Priya Satia, Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution
Aidan Forth, Barbed-Wire Imperialism: Britain’s Empire of Camps, 1876–1903

4:00 pm – 4:30 pm The Many Worlds of Stanford
Larry Horton, Chair

4:00 pm – 4:30 pm The Many Worlds of Stanford
Larry Horton, Chair
Tom DeMund, Walking the Farm
Peter Stansky et al., The Stanford Senate of the Academic Council
Robin Kennedy on behalf of Donald Kennedy, A Place in the Sun: A Memoir

4:35 pm – 5:05 pm Rich Lives
Charles Junkerman, Chair
Patrick HuntHannibal
Keith Devlin, Finding Fibonacci
Cynthia Haven, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard

This event is co-sponsored by Stanford Continuing Studies and the Stanford Humanities Center, with special thanks to the Stanford Bookstore.

The history of the heart: how a pinecone, eggplant, and pear became a ❤

Sunday, January 28th, 2018
Share

I’d say it’s more like a pear

A couple weeks ago, we wrote about Marilyn Yalom‘s latest book, The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love. Her onstage conversation at Kepler’s Books considered the history of the ❤, but left us a bit fuzzy about how the symmetrical shape took hold, sometime in the fifteenth century.

Her article in the Wall Street Journal this weekend gives the details: “the lack of real knowledge of physiology left open fanciful possibilities. The second-century Greek physician Galen asserted that the heart was shaped like a pinecone and worked with the liver. This view carried into the Middle Ages, when the heart first found its visual form as the symbol of love.”

Hence, “The earliest illustrations of the amorous heart, created around 1250 in a French allegory called ‘The Romance of the Pear,’ pictured a heart that looks like a pinecone, eggplant or pear, with its narrow end pointed upward and its wider, lower part held in a human hand.”

And then there’s Giotto, in his 1305 fresco of Caritas in the Scrovegni Chapel of Padua – (Proust makes much of this image – read about it here). I rather like the discreet pear-like objet passed between the lady and the saint (is she giving or taking it?) – a casual transaction like handing over a five-buck bill, that occurs cleanly without a fuss, rather than the messy, bloody, pulsating thing that makes a mess of our real lives.

But soon enough, science and biology took over, and that’s no fun at all:

The great exception, in this as in other matters of art and science, was Leonardo da Vinci, who studied both human and animal dissections. The painstaking illustrations in his notebooks show his longstanding dedication to anatomical accuracy. (Human dissection, long taboo, began appearing as early as 1315 in Italy, but it could be banned at any time, according to the mood of the pope.)

Queen of Hearts (Photo Margo Davis)

Andreas Vesalius, the 16th-century Flemish physician who is considered the father of modern anatomy, was allowed to dissect cadavers at the University of Padua, thanks to a judge who supplied him with the bodies of executed criminals. In his groundbreaking book “The Fabric of the Human Body” (“De humani corporis fabrica”), Vesalius corrected certain errors made by Galen that had been blindly repeated by successive generations of doctors since the second century.

The detailed plates in Vesalius’s “Fabrica,” like the drawings in da Vinci’s notebooks, pictured a heart that looked more like the real thing. Yet the advance of science did nothing to shake popular attachment to the image of the heart as bi-lobed at the top and pointed at the bottom.

Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. Here’s to artifice over the real thing, which brings us back to the pristine object we began with: ❤

Read the Wall Street Journal article here.

Kepler’s Books ❤ Marilyn Yalom and her “Amorous Heart”

Friday, January 12th, 2018
Share

Author in the pink. (Photo: Margo Davis)

The shape is ubiquitous: two rounded curves swooping downward to meet in a single point. It’s meaning is universal: love. But where did it come from?

Marilyn Yalom, author of the brand new The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love (Basic Books), was in the British Museum when the question came to her a few years ago, as she gazed at a treasures from the 15th century in the “Fishpool Hoard,” discovered in Nottinghamshire in the 1960s. In the midst of the jewelry: a perfect heart-shaped brooch. As she marveled at the delicately enameled piece, she knew she was hooked.

Hence her new book, which had her at Kepler’s earlier this week, in a “public conversation” with Theresa Donovan Brown, a longtime friend and sometimes co-author. Marilyn, a longtime friend of mine as well, is also the author of the acclaimed How the French Invented Love – we wrote about it here and here. (And about her husband, the eminent psychoanalyst Irving Yalom, is also an author, here and here).

The Amorous Heart is likely to be as successful as her previous efforts, with Robert Pogue Harrison proclaiming it “Another tour de force by one of America’s leading cultural historians.”

“For anyone whose heart has ever palpitated in love or devotion, this is a thumping romp through the history of hearts – in love, literature, illuminated manuscripts, and valentine cards,” added Christopher de Hamel, author of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts.

The heart that launched…

For the Kepler’s occasion, fueled by plenty of Prosecco and heart-shaped cookies, almost everyone seemed to be wearing pink – even yours truly, though it was happenstance in my case. Fortunately, our mutual friend, photographer Margo Davis (who was wearing NYC black, without a touch of pink) was around to document the occasion. (See photo above.)

What did she discover in her long journey that began in the British Museum? Marilyn learned that the heart has been considered the “home of love” at least as far back as Sappho, though the visual rendering didn’t occur until much later. The first known rendering is ambiguous – a heart stamped on a coin in Libya, circa the third or fourth century B.C. It may, however, reflect the shape of a variety of a fennel pod still extant during the time. (Catullus makes mention of the fennel plant as a means of contraception … a clue?)

It was “a form in search of a meaning” until the 13th century, when the troubadours were full of amour and the need to represent it. In art, however, the heart was usually portrayed as a cone-shaped object, thanks to the imprecise discoveries of medicine. Sometime in the 15th century – we don’t know how, or where, or exactly when – the heart shape caught on. By the 14th century the heart had become a commonplace symbol, as Marilyn’s beloved brooch demonstrates. By the 16th and 17th?  Shakespeare uses the term “heart” almost as much as he does love.

Religion was never the same again. The “Sacre Coeur” of the Church became ubiquitous and portrayed with leaping flames and crowns of thorns. Its more regular representations continued unabated in the profane arts, too. Just as the image was about to sink into inevitable kitsch, it was revived by none other than Martin Luther.

Then, the 20th century, with more innovations. The heart became a verb, as in I ❤ NY. Or I ❤ San Francisco. Or Paris. Or Berlin. Then the computer age, and the Japanese made it into an emoji. Is it dissipating into meaninglessness? Marilyn celebrates it nonetheless. Might we suggest the delightful volume for Valentine’s Day?

“It’s the most popular symbol in the world, the perfect shape,” said Yalom. Two equal halves, conveying the Platonic idea. “It really moves our hearts, makes us feel good. Something in the shape itself.”

Photographer Margo Davis and “the landscape of the face”

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017
Share

Photo by Margo Davis, of course.

Loyal readers of these pages know the legendary self-effacement and humility of the Book Haven. You should. We keep telling you about it. But we are shedding our accustomed modesty and shyness for a brief holiday.

Humble Moi no more! Now it’s Glamorous Moi! Elegant Moi! For we have had our photograph taken by the esteemed Margo Davis, whose artistic focus is fine arts portraiture.

The notable photographer and I met in an elevator, some years ago. We were both on our way to visit Marilyn Yalom, who was hosting the Middlebrook Salon at her lovely Russian Hill home. Margo was memorable. She was wearing a black leather jacket, with her hair characteristically short, and she spoke in a rapid-fire Connecticut accent (not New York, as my imprecise ear thought).

We’ve seen each other since – usually at Marilyn’s home. So naturally Marilyn recommended her as the perfect photographer for my once-every-seven-years photograph. Marilyn was correct, as she so often is.

Humble Moi is not the easiest client to photograph. I panic and freeze before the camera and my eyes bug out and go glassy. But Margo just kept talking, and she kept snapping, too. She talks about getting to know her photographic subjects as “a waltz between two people trying to do something in the way of a portrait.”

Margo, in color.

“You have to spend time,” she said. “This is not a journalistic activity, an in-and-out thing.” The result of her efforts above.

Margo has spoken in the past about being drawn to the “landscape of the face.” As a young photographer, she recalled: “When I was going through my proof sheets I realized I was really gravitating toward portraiture. And from that point on, I think I started moving in closer towards peoples’ faces. It was a process, it wasn’t something that happened overnight.”

Margo always uses natural light, and is known primarily for her black-and-white portrait photography, because, she’s said, “you’re already in an abstraction process, because the real world is in color.” In black and white, she’s photograph such celebrities as Saul Bellow, Maxine Kingston and Ursula K. Le Guin as well as average people in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Latin America. But in my case she clearly made a colorful exception. In the quick tour she gave me of her home, I fell in love with her black-and-white portrait of an Angor Wat monk. He looks just as uncomfortable in front of the camera as I was, meditation notwithstanding.

An especial focus for her work has been Antigua in the Caribbean, as well as Africa: “I borrowed the methodology of an ethnographer: participant-observation, becoming part of the fabric of the culture,” she has said.

My favorite guy. He looks nervous, too.

“Being married to an Antiguan [her former husband Gregson Davis] and returning there often, I was able to work with this axiom in mind; the importance of getting to really know people.”

She has taught photography at Stanford University forever, as well as the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

By my count, she’s up to half a dozen photography books now. Her newest book this year is Antigua 1967-1973 from Nazraeli Press. Previous books include: Antigua Pride, Edition One Press, 2013; Under One Sky, Stanford University Press, 2004; The Stanford Album: A Photographic History, 1885 – 1945 (Stanford, 1989); Antigua Black: Portrait of an Island People (1973); and Women Writers of the West Coast (1983), with text by Marilyn Yalom.

Margo’s work is in major museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Cantor Art Center at Stanford, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

“A Company of Authors” – a pleasant afternoon of classy books this Saturday. Be there!

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016
Share
stansky

Our hero, Peter Stansky.

It’s that time. Peter Stansky‘s annual “A Company of Authors” is happening this Saturday, April 16, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Stanford Humanities Center, 424 Santa Teresa Street on the Stanford campus. The annual event gathers Stanford authors from the previous year to present and discuss their books.

yalom

Encore, Marilyn!

I’m particularly looking forward to Myra Strober‘s new memoir, Sharing the Work and Albert Gelpi’s American Poetry After Modernism. I’ve heard Marilyn Yalom and Theresa Donovan Brown speak about The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship  before, and also Edith Gelles on Abigail Adams‘s letters (we’ve written about Marilyn here and here and here, and Edie here) – I look forward to doing so again. It’s always fun.

So many people on this list I really want to see this weekend … oh, I could go on and on. What’s that you say? Why, yes, yes … Humble Moi will be speaking at 2:45 p.m. on “The Wonderful World of Books at Stanford.” I’ll be talking about the wondrous success of the “Another Look” book club which brings little-known or overlooked masterpieces to the Bay Area community – and which, I might add (and I will), has received international coverage. I’ve written about the open book club – which focuses on a series of public events –  here and here and here and here, among a zillion other places.

Anyway, great fun, and the Stanford Boostore will be selling the books in the lobby – at a 10% discount, too.

companyofauthors