January 19, 2016

Book review: “A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence” by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Life is a journey. We get to the edge, and then — what? As a Catholic, I grew up with lots of talk about heaven and all the other aspects of the afterlife. As an adult, I’ve approached the question from a different angle. I am intensely aware that, when I look down the road of life toward its end, there is an edge beyond which I cannot see. It is as if life were a painting which has an exquisitely detailed mass of images on the left side but, on the right side, there is only blank canvas. Or, maybe, it’s not blank canvas. Instead, it’s a hole in the wall, dark, black, empty. I am intensely aware that, when I get to the edge of life, there will be this great formless white that will show nothing except all that white. When I cross the edge of life, I’ll enter that white, and maybe I’ll cease to exist, or maybe I’ll find myself in the process of reincarnation, or maybe I’ll discover myself to be in hell, purgatory or heaven. As a Catholic, I believe that there is some sort of an afterlife with God — that God […]
January 14, 2016

Memo to the GOP: Dump Trump

Enough is enough. It is time — right now — for the Republican Party to expel Donald Trump. If the GOP acts now, it will not only do the right and moral thing, but also it will take the offensive against a man who has bullied and hate-mongered his way into the heart of American politics. If Republican leaders don’t move swiftly and decisively, Trump will continue to poison the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan — and poison this year’s presidential campaign. He will continue to call the shots, and the Republican Party will continue to dance to his tune. Trump’s unfitness for the presidency has become painfully clear by his words and actions. He’s a bigot, calling for a ban on Muslims coming into the United States, and a liar, continuing to assert the discredited claim of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the September 11 attacks. He has made fun of disabled people. He has belittled his opponents. He has denigrated women. He has demonized illegal Mexican immigrants as criminals and drug dealers.   Drummed out of the party Trump needs to be drummed out of the Republican Party. Right now. Karl Rove will know […]
January 13, 2016

R. H. Mottram, looking back to Trollope and forward to Bellow

A young William Faulkner admired R. H. (Ralph Hale) Mottram, comparing the literary achievement of the British writer’s trilogy of novels about World War I with Stephen Crane’s insights into the reality of the American Civil War in The Red Badge of Courage. Yet, Mottram — a highly praised writer not just of war but also of life in a small English city; a poet and essayist; and a protégé and biographer of novelist John Galsworthy — is virtually unknown in literary circles today. I came across him in a roundabout way a decade ago, and have found his books richly satisfying, books that look back to Anthony Trollope and forward to Saul Bellow. According to scholar Max Putzel, Faulkner used Mottram’s writings on the war as a model for his own early work: Mottram had given Faulkner an example for dealing with war by indirection, understating or disguising the powerful emotions Crane had boldly undertaken to summon up…. Mottram’s three novels — The Spanish Farm, Sixty-four, Ninety-four! and The Crime of Vanderlynden’s — were set in Flanders, mostly behind the lines, and were based on Mottram’s own military experiences. They were published individually in the late 1920s and later issued […]
January 11, 2016

Book review: “Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales” by Terry Pratchett

Climbing a mountain in search of the abominable snowman, the group of adventures come across a tiny water wheel on which is attached a piece of parchment. It reads: When is a door not a door?… When it is a jar (ajar). Groan. Yet, this is not your run-of-the-mill (ahem) pun. As one of the explorers explains, this is a joke wheel. It’s like the prayer wheels of Tibetan Buddhism except, instead of a prayer, there’s a joke that’s repeated with each revolution of the wheel. It’s put there by the Joke Monks. You see, they think the world was created as a joke, so everyone should give thanks by having a good laugh. That’s why they tie jokes to the water wheels. Each time the wheel goes around, a joke goes up to heaven…. Do you know, they reckon that there are 7,777.777,777,777 jokes in the world, and when they’ve all been told, the world will come to an end, like switching off a light.” One character spends the rest of the journey wondering how soon the 7,777,777,777,777th joke will be told.   Cub reporter This scene with its pun, its wry humor and its fascination with religious faith […]
January 6, 2016

Book review: “The Holocaust in American Life” by Peter Novick

Peter Novick’s 1999 book The Holocaust in American Life examines in great detail and with great insight — and great skepticism — how the killing of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II came to loom so large in the cultural, social and political life of the United States. After all, as Novick notes, none of the concentration camps was in this country, and no Jews living in the U.S. during the war were threatened. No Americans took part in the murders although some of the perpetrators moved here after 1945. It’s easy enough to overlook this reality today when the Holocaust is a major touchstone for American Jews and non-Jews alike, but it hasn’t always been such. There’s been an evolution in the importance of the Holocaust in American consciousness. It’s an evolution, Novick argues, that’s taken place mainly because of the perceptions and needs of American Jewry. Also important has been the perceived weakness or strength of Israel. And the loosening of ties among U.S. Jews. And the growing importance of the Jewish vote for all politicians.   “Inhibitions” Initially, American Jews were inhibited from talking about the Holocaust in public. There was a Cold […]
January 4, 2016

The Prayer of Pope Francis (Adapted from his speech at the conclusion of the 2014 synod)

Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to hostile inflexibility. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to treat symptoms and not root causes, to bind wounds without first treating them and curing them. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to transform bread into a stone and cast it against sinners, the weak and the sick. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of the Lord. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to act as owners or masters of the faith. Lord, help us to avoid the temptation to turn our eyes away from reality.   Lord, help us build a Church that is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wounds. A Church that doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. A Church, one, holy, catholic, apostolic, that is composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. A Church that is the true Bride of Christ. A Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes […]
January 3, 2016

My Top Eleven Books of 2015

Why eleven? I couldn’t cut the list down to ten, that’s why. Last year, I read and reviewed 69 books on my website, some of which had originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune. This isn’t, by any means, a list of the best books of 2015. Some of the works among these eleven were published last year, but most are older. One came out in 1935; another, in 1890. They aren’t ranked, just given in alphabetical order. These are simply eleven that I’m really glad to have read. There are a lot of others. On another day, the list would be somewhat different, maybe a lot different. So, here they are along with a portion of my review:   “A House of My Own” by Sandra Cisneros With a phrasing and bravado echoing Saul Bellow’s Augie March, Sandra Cisneros writes: I was north-of-the-border born and bred, an American-Mexican from “Chicano, Illinois,” street tough and city smart, wise to the ways of trick or treat. Yet, even as she writes those words, originally published in Elle magazine in 1991, she’s undercutting them, explaining that, because of her Chicago birth and upbringing, she knew nothing for a long time about a key […]
December 28, 2015

Book review: “Be Cool” by Elmore Leonard

I want to talk about Elmore Leonard as a practitioner at that high altar of modern literature, metafiction, but first… In Leonard’s 1999 novel Be Cool, Chili Palmer is explaining some insights he’s gathered about his new career in the music industry: The label, the manager and the lawyer are the tree and its branches. They nourish the fruit, the fruit being the artist. The tree has to be healthy to bear good fruit, or else the fruit falls to the ground and rots. Elaine Levin, a movie studio executive (and, eventually, Chili’s love interest), asks, “Why does that sound familiar?” There are a great many people who would say: Of course, that’s familiar. It echoes the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, verses 17-19, which begin: “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit,” as well as a parable in the 13th chapter of that gospel which starts: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they […]
December 21, 2015

Book review: “Get Shorty” by Elmore Leonard

As Elmore Leonard showed in his early novels and short stories, he could write a straight-ahead tale with a tight plot that unfolded step-by-step-by-step to a climax. In most of his later work, though, Leonard employed a much different approach. What there is of a plot, even if it involves danger and violence, isn’t very pressing. It is simply a flat stage on which his characters move. It is his characters who have his interest — and that of his readers. Get Shorty is one of these later books, published in 1990. Chili Palmer is a Miami loan shark who’s getting out of the business. Well, he’s being chased out by Ray “Bones” Barboni, a mobster he once cold-cocked and who’s had it in for Chili ever since. Anyway, Chili ends up in Hollywood. He hooks up with longtime schlock film producer Harry Zimm who, for the first time in his life, has a high-concept project to push. Also moving in and out of the story are Karen Flores, a former starlet famous for her full-throated scream in various Zimm movies; rich wastrel Ronnie Wingate and his savvy partner in a limousine-drug operation, Bo Catlett; and three-time Academy Award-winner Martin […]
December 15, 2015

Book review: “The Summons” by John Grisham

I was looking for a page-turner, and, for its opening chapters, The Summons by John Grisham supplied that. Ray Atlee, a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia, gets a letter addressed to him and his younger brother Forrest from their father. It reads: Please make arrangements to appear in my study on Sunday, May 7, at 5 p.m., to discuss the administration of my estate. Sincerely, Rueben V. Atlee It’s a letter that gives an immediate insight into the relationship — and lack of one — that Ray has had up until now with his father, a retired judge who, until being unseated in an election nine years earlier, had been a major figure in Ford County, Mississippi. Forrest, a wastrel, lifelong addict, has had an even more tortuous connection with the Judge. Ray knows that his 79-year-old father is dying of cancer so he is shaken but not completely surprised when he arrives at the family home for the appointment to find his father dead with a packet of morphine nearby.   Neat packets of hundred-dollar bills What does stun him, though, is his discovery in dozens of boxes in cabinets in […]
December 8, 2015

Book review: “Women in Clothes” by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 others

Women in Clothes is a wonderful book, a cornucopia of insights into the ever-so-complicated feelings that women have about clothing. Although I like the idea of fashion as a kind of practical, everyday art, it’s an art for which I am without aptitude. I do love, however, to study the way human beings think and act, what makes us tick, especially human beings in groups that don’t include me. This book provided me with a delightful and ever-surprising glimpse into the psyches of women as reflected in their clothing and their emotions about their clothing. It allowed me to listen in on literally hundreds of women as they took part in a conversation about a subject that, clearly, is of great import to them. For a guy, reading the book might be called voyeuristic, yet I’m a human being who wears clothes, so none of this is completely foreign to me. While men in Western society aren’t as into fashion and clothing as women (except a small percentage that includes my son David), I’m sure any guy who reads Women in Clothes would feel resonances. Guys have their own clothing issues, and all of us are close to women who […]
December 7, 2015

Book review: “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis

The Vermont doctor, successful and respected, is with friends, listening to the radio as Senator Buzz Windrip is nominated by the Democratic Party to become President of the United States. Windrip is a shoo-in in the 1936 election, and some of the friends around that radio fear that, given his proposals and the sorts of people he has gathered around himself, Windrip will become an American dictator. Bosh, the doctor says. Dictatorship? Better come into the office and let me examine your heads! Why, America’s the only free nation on earth. Besides! Country’s too big for a revolution. No, no! Couldn’t happen here! Yet, it does. And the doctor is one of the first to be marched out behind the courthouse and summarily executed by a firing squad. The book, written in 1935, is by Sinclair Lewis. Its title is: It Can’t Happen Here. And it’s all about how it can and, in this story of the then near-future, it does. Throughout the book, one character after another says, one way or another, says, “It can’t happen here.” And yet it does.   Alarming vision Windrip is a version of Louisiana Senator Huey Long, a demagogue, who was gearing up […]
November 29, 2015

David Michael Reardon (1951-2015)

Oh, David. You’ve gone, and we have been left behind. I feel sadness and anger and guilt and pain and so many other emotions. This is why so much great art is about tragedy. We live our lives. Our bodies fall apart. We die. A couple of images have stuck with me over the past week. One is this: I see God opening his arms for you and giving you a deep hug as he welcomes you to heaven. But I know that you didn’t believe in such stuff. And I don’t want you to come back as a ghost to haunt me. So I’ll go to the other image. Our family, down the generations, is an intricately woven fabric. With your death, there is a rip in that fabric. It’s a rip that, over time, will be repaired. But there will always be a scar there. We are not the same now as we were earlier this month.   ***   You’re gone. But here’s the thing: You’re not gone. You are still with us in the fabric of our experiences, in the fabric of our existence. You have touched each of us in unique ways. You have helped […]
November 16, 2015

Book review: “Resistance” by Owen Sheers

The characters in Owen Sheers’ 2007 alternative-history novel Resistance are caught in a world where they know they lack control. They are the five Welsh farmwomen in the Olchon valley who wake up one morning to find their husbands missing, gone into the hills to fight as guerillas against the occupation troops of a triumphant German military. They are also the six members of a German patrol who, sent into the valley to locate a rare artifact, find a kind of harmony, tranquility and even normality after the terrors of battle. It is 1944, and Albrecht Wolfram, the 33-year-old captain leading the patrol, is a veteran who knows how much his life and the lives of his men are at the mercy of “a thousand other vagaries beyond his own decisions.” Such quirks of fate as: Blocks of wood pushed across a table in Berlin. Arrows drawn on a map pinned to the wall at the new Southern UK Headquarters. The Fuhrer’s toothache. A general’s capricious fit of arrogance. The trembling cross hairs of a sniper’s sights settling over an Adams apple. Also feeling like pawns are the farmwomen who see the disappearance of their husbands as a kind of […]
November 6, 2015

Book review: “Montaillou” by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

Most editions of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s classic Montaillou, first published in French 40 years ago, have one of two subtitles, neither of which is very helpful. For some, the subtitle is Cathars and Catholics in a French Village 1294 – 1324 which is somewhat descriptive except who knows what a Cathar is? And, even if you know that they were heretics from the Catholic faith, also called Albigensians, why would you want to read a longish book about some religious dispute from seven centuries ago? For others, the subtitle is The Promised Land of Error which has the virtue and the fault of not saying anything. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the publishers didn’t take a phrase from the last page of Ladurie’s text and subtitle the book: A Factual History of Ordinary People. (To be fair, the cover of a more recent paperback edition skipped a subtitle and, in its place, described the book as “The bestselling portrait of life in a medieval village.”) As it was, despite seeing endless copies of this book in new and used bookstores for decades, I waited a long time to read Montaillou. Now, having finally gotten past […]
November 4, 2015

History Poems

At the Mayor’s Funeral By Patrick T. Reardon Those boys stayed in the church until seven the next morning, through the night. Do you know what tough duty that is? That’s a mother who’s giving stiffness to the spines of her children. ….. A. Einstein By Patrick T. Reardon The woman walked naked around the room, and I could not think. She bore me sons with that body, but wore at me with questions. I saw the film of the camp and the women stripped and led, awkward, holding themselves from the cold and from the stares, to the ovens. I hate those men and all the uniformed men, buttoned to the neck, chaste. I hate them more than I loved her ….. Two Deaths By Patrick T. Reardon (Lincoln) His finger compresses the tongue of metal. The hammer strikes. The bullet crosses space, embeds. (Booth) The spur catches. The bone breaks. The fire rages in the farmhouse surrounded. ….. Home life By Patrick T. Reardon Faulkner would slap his wife, once, hard, when her mind would drift and her speech slur. He would slap her face without thought and resume his conversation. MacArthur spoiled his son with toys the […]
November 3, 2015

Book review: “A House of My Own” by Sandra Cisneros

With a phrasing and bravado echoing Saul Bellow’s Augie March, Sandra Cisneros writes: I was north-of-the-border born and bred, an American-Mexican from “Chicano, Illinois,” street tough and city smart, wise to the ways of trick or treat. Yet, even as she writes those words, originally published in Elle magazine in 1991, she’s undercutting them, explaining that, because of her Chicago birth and upbringing, she knew nothing for a long time about a key element of her heritage, the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead. I wish I’d grown up closer to the border like my friend Maria Limon of El Paso. Cisneros’s new autobiographical work A House of My Own is very much about borders and about houses, particularly “the house one calls the self.” It is made up of 42 non-fiction chapters, most of which have previously appeared as book introductions or articles in newspapers and magazines, or were presented in lectures. “My stray lambs,” she calls them.   Complex and nuanced Make no mistake, though. A House of My Own isn’t a greatest hits collection or a slap-dash clean-out-the-archive grouping. It is a surprisingly resonant account of Cisneros’s life which is woven through each of these […]
November 2, 2015

Book review: “Windy City Sinners” by Melanie Villines

All religions are a little bit wacky, and that’s certainly true for a new church on Chicago’s Far Northwest Side. For one thing, there’s the name: Redemption Dry Cleaners. For another, the congregants are called customers. For a third, there is a series of stained-glass windows that are a sort of Stations of the Cross but featuring a goose. Then, there is the Christmas Day service at which Marek Jablonski, a 19-year-old Polish immigrant, walks down the aisle, carrying an envelope containing $200 as well as a box with a large plastic goose and an array of fitted outfits. Marek looks up at the final window which depicts in stained glass a goose being stolen by a man in a black ski mask. From his pocket, he pulls a black ski mask and puts it over his head, saying: “It is me.” “Ohhhh!” the crowd gasps, like the audience of an Oprah Winfrey show. “I was robber.” Virginia Martyniak who presides over this new church tells Marek to kneel and begins to pray: “Heavenly spirit, use your most powerful cleaning solutions to wipe the sins from this man’s soul.” Right away, Marek feels as if his body has been plugged […]
October 27, 2015

Book review: “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford

I know that I should like Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. It is a detailed, well-documented, well-researched look at the rise of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Actually, I should say “empires” since the unified domain that Temujin created in the 13th century on his way to becoming Genghis Khan (which means “strong, wolf-like leader”) was quickly fragmented among four branches of his family. Weatherford’s 2004 book is filled with insights into the culture of the Mongols and their methods of war-making. He examines the seemingly endless ways in which the Mongols, in their empire-building, had an impact on every corner of Asia and Europe. So why do I come away from the book dissatisfied? The fault, I acknowledge, may lie with myself. Perhaps Weatherford provided so much information and perspective new to me that my circuits overloaded, and I just couldn’t hold my own as a reader.   Three faults? I can’t help thinking, though, that there were perhaps three faults of the book that caused me to lose my way. The first is that Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is ostensibly a biography of Genghis Khan — […]
October 26, 2015

Book review: “The Marne” by Edith Wharton

Nearly a century after World War I, the hopeful, innocent, sentimental ending of Edith Wharton’s novella The Marne is jarring. This was a war in which much of a generation of young men on both sides lost their lives in bloody battles across huge stalemated fronts. A war in which attempts at strategy were overwhelmed by the armaments of heightened technical and industrial sophistication, grinding up waves of troops like mechanical threshers. It was a war that destroyed all military romance and glamor. A war exemplified in such novels as Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and R. H. Mottram’s Spanish Farm Trilogy (1924-1926). Unlike those books, however, Wharton’s The Marne wasn’t published several years after the conflict when the shattering realities of the trenches could be faced in all their existential insanity and inanity.   The home front The war was still raging on October 26, 1918, when the 15,000-word novella was published in the Saturday Evening Post, and fighting continued for two more weeks. So, The Marne, which came out as a book later that year, doesn’t have the post-war, angst-filled perspective of Remarque, Mottram and other writers. Also, it really isn’t a book about […]
October 23, 2015

THREE COCHINEAL BOOKS – 3 – “A Red Like No Other: How Cochineal Colored the World — an Epic Story of Art, Culture, Science, and Trade,” Edited by Carmella Padilla and Barbara Anderson

A Red Like No Other is several books in one, and that may be too many for some readers and, at the same time, not enough. I found it fascinating. It often demanded hard work from me as a reader, but it always rewarded my efforts. It is the story of the American cochineal bug, a tiny insect that lives on a cactus and provides a deep red color like freshly shed blood that has been used as a dye since the second century B.C. The word “cochineal” is based on the combination of two Aztec words that mean “cactus blood.” DNA research, as well as other studies, indicates that the American cochineal species originated in the Oaxaca area of what is now Mexico. From there it spread into South American and, later, across the globe. The story of cochineal is about local and world economics, about transcontinental trade, about the rise and fall of empires, about slave-trading and the redcoats of the British army, about fashion and status, about brightly decorated furniture, about great works of Western art, about the chemistry and recipes of dye-making, about financial speculation and about elegant clothing throughout the world and down the centuries. […]
October 22, 2015

THREE COCHINEAL BOOKS – 2 – “Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color” by Elena Phipps

In 1776, a French spy went to Oaxaca in Spanish-held Mexico. He was there to steal a treasure — a tiny bug called cochineal. The female of this insect species had been used in the Americas since at least the second century B.C. to provide a rich red dye, particularly for textiles. Following the arrival of the Spanish in the 1520s, it became an important trade good. Indeed, Elena Phipps writes in her 2010 book Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color, “[B]y the mid-sixteenth century the Spanish flotillas that traveled annually between the Americas and Spain were bringing literally tons of the dried insects to Europe.” In one year alone, 72 tons of the dried bodies of cochineal was shipped from Lima to Spain. “Cochineal, along with gold and silver from the Americas,” Phipps notes, “enabled the Spanish Crown to finance its empire…” Throughout human history, red has been among the most highly prized colors because it’s so difficult to achieve. Phipps delineates the many means used to create red dye, such as minerals, and notes, “The most brilliant crimson red dye, however, was obtained from a group of scale insects of the superfamily Coccoidea.” And the most […]
October 21, 2015

THREE COCHINEAL BOOKS – 1 – “A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire” by Amy Butler Greenfield

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield won wide praise from reviewers when it was published in 2005. Without question, it is a jaunty, entertaining and informative book. Yet, there is an awkwardness at its core. It is a book about the dyestuff cochineal which, when it arrived from the New World in the 16th century, “was the closest thing Europe had ever seen to a perfect red.” Previously, textile makers and painters had used a variety of red dyes, the best of which were St. John’s blood (later called Polish cochineal) and Armenian red (later called Armenian cochineal). Garfield writes: But cochineal had three advantages that St. John’s blood and Armenian red lacked. First, cochineal insects produced their carminic acid with far fewer lipids than did the plump little Armenian insects, whose fat melted in the dyepot and sometimes coated the threads of silk preventing the fibers from fully absorbing the dye. Second, cochineal could be more efficiently produced than either…, and it could be harvested several times a year. Third — and most important — cochineal yielded far more powerful dye than any of the Old World reds. […]
October 19, 2015

Book review: “The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America is a particularly scary book to read in the fall of 2015 when businessman Donald Trump and an array of other candidates for the Republican nomination for President are spouting an irresponsible and demagogic rhetoric, unheard at the center of American politics ever in the nation’s history.   It’s a novel of alternative — i.e., “what if?” — history, and it’s based on the proposition that, in 1940, Charles A. Lindbergh becomes the Republican presidential nominee and, running a campaign based solely on image, defeats FDR. Once in office, the Lindberg administration starts, quiet step by quiet step, to isolate and marginalize Jews. Within two years, there are Kristallnacht-like anti-Jewish riots in major cities across the nation as well as arrests of virtually all major Jewish figures and their Gentile supporters. It’s a warning that’s been written before. In 1935, as Adolf Hitler achieved dominance in Germany, Sinclair Lewis published It Can’t Happen Here, a novel about a newly elected American president who imposes totalitarian rule with the help of a paramilitary force. It Can’t Happen Here ends with the nation in a civil war. Oddly — and unaccountably to my mind — Roth […]
October 14, 2015

Book review: “Red & White Quilts: Infinite Variety” by Elizabeth V. Warren with Maggi Gordon

What would it be like to have 653 red and white American quilts assembled and displayed together in the same place? That unusual question was at the heart of the Infinite Variety exhibit in the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, sponsored in 2011 by the American Folk Art Museum for six days, March 25-30. The answer: A kind of delight-filled ecstasy. Historian and art critic Simon Schama wrote that his response to the show was pure, runaway, skipping-through-the-puddles joy. This show, featuring the treasure trove of a single collector, Joanna S. Rose, was, Schama wrote, “a monster of happiness that will have no competition anywhere this season for sheer sensory riot or ecstatic retinal shock.” Thousands attended the free show, but only those lucky enough to be in New York for the exhibit’s  short run.   Grandeur Now comes Red & White Quilts: Infinite Variety by Elizabeth V. Warren with Maggi Gordon (Skira Rizzoli, 352 pages, $60) in which all 653 quilts, exquisitely photographed by Gavin Ashworth, are displayed for close and careful inspection by anyone. So, what’s the response to seeing all of these quilts assembled in a single book? The answer: Breathless astonishment at the grandeur […]