Short Reviews: Books

Fifteen brief book reviews

Old Testament Miniatures, Preface, preface by John Plummer. Braziller, $40.00
Excellently reproduced from a manuscript in the Pierpont Morgan Library, these firmly drawn, brilliantly colored pictures have an effect quite disproportionate to their miniature size. The book was made in the thirteenth century, and the margins are full of notes in Persian and Hebrew. How this came about is a romance in itself, told in Mr. Plummer’s introduction. This is a fine reproduction of a unique work.

Listen to the Silence, by David W. Elliott, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $5.95.
Mr. Elliott’s novel describes, in first-person narrative, the experiences of a boy confined in a state mental hospital. While individual scenes are highly successful, the book as a whole suffers from double perspective. The reader is too conscious, too often, of the sophisticated adult author directing his juvenile hero’s perceptions.

In the Presence of Death, by Shay Oag. Coward-McCann, $12.95.
Through the life of Antonio Ordoñez, Miss Oag has constructed a history of bullfighting over the past fifty years, plus an unusually precise and level-headed account of what a career in the bullring entails in terms of training, practice, diplomacy, money, abuse, nervous strain, injury, and simple fright. Well illustrated with photographs, although nobody unfamiliar with the sport is going to understand all those naturales and verónicas.

"If I Had It to Do Over Again...", by Robert S. Gallagher. Duton, $6.95.
Mr. Gallagher’s study of people who willfully disappear is full of strange information, including how to make one’s family uncomfortable for years. (Run up some debts, draw a confused will, and vanish; probate court will persecute the abandoned.) The book is pleasantly written but long-winded.

A Proper Job, by Brian Aherne. Houghton Mifflin, $7.95.
Mr. Aherne became an actor because nobody would hire him to do anything else, and remained an actor, one gathers, out of amusement, indolence, good humor, and a liking for pretty women, a combination that was always stronger than his suspicion that he ought to be more soberly employed. An enjoyable lesson in how to succeed without really caring.

Dr. Bowdler's Legacy, by Noel Perrin. Atheneum, $7.95.
Perhaps the history of book expurgation in England and America is not worth as much attention as Mr. Perrin has given it, but the question of who made cuts (Dr. Bowdler was not the originator of high-minded mutilation) of what material, and why, becomes moderately intriguing. And it is startling to discover that emasculated Shakespearean texts are still being peddled to college English departments.

Running Away From Myself, by Barbara Deming. Grossman, $6.95.
Miss Deming is trying to prove something about American character by examination of movie heroes of the 1940s. The argument gets lost in plot summaries and is crippled from the start by the author’s refusal to consider anything but movies. A careless reader could leave the book under the impression that Sam Spade was invented by a Hollywood scriptwriter in 1940.

Jesus Rediscovered, by Malcolm Muggeridge. Doubleday, $5.95. From editing Punch to writing sermons is a broad jump, and Mr. Muggeridge is no candidate for the Olympics.

Modesty in Dress, by James Laver. Houghton Mifflin, $10.00.
Without becoming unduly earnest about it, Mr. Laver offers some shrewd speculations about the psychological forces underlying fashions in clothing. The illustrations range from delightful to revolting.

Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, by Gerald Durrell. Viking, $5.95.
At about age twelve, Mr. Durrell was training himself as the naturalist he has since become. The process bewildered his elders, who did not share his pleasure in dead turtles. These elder Durrells were a tribe of noisy individualists settled on Corfu, an island already rich in noisy, individualistic natives. The result, as Mr. Durrell recalls it, was daily comic melodrama, and makes deliciously gay, uncomplicated reading.

The Bauhaus, by Hans M. Wingler. MIT Press, $42.50.
Because the Bauhaus, as a center of experimental design, involved a variety of enterprises, a wide territory, and a large number of people, Mr. Wingler’s history is as concise as it is thorough. It is nevertheless an immense book, extensively and impressively illustrated, invaluable to anyone interested in the history of art in this century and the interlocking of aesthetic and utilitarian principles.

The Blue Aspic, by Edward Gorey. Meredith, $2.95.
In spooky drawings and skeletal prose, Mr. Gorey depicts the career of an opera singer specializing in such works as Lizzia Bordena, La Vengeance Posthume, and L’Avvelenatrice di Glasgovia. This is of the usual splendid Gorey standard.

Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, His Time, by Bob Haak. Abrams, $35.00.
Scholarly but not pedantic, well illustrated with the works of Rembrandt’s contemporaries and pupils as well as his own, generous with colorplates, this is a very rewarding book.

T Zero, by Italo Calvino. Harcourt, Brace & World, $4.95.
Translated from Italian by William Weaver. Mr. Calvino plays tricks with time, extending a split second to infinity or contracting a geological era to an amorous stroll. The fun of this game —and it is genuine if intellectually demanding fun—lies in the severely logical arguments with which the author develops lunatic inventions. There is even a sort of geometrical poetry about the business.

A Taste of Ireland, by Theodora Fitzgibbon. Houghton Mifflin, $5.95.
The Irish recipes are accompanied by old photographs, rife with the picturesque, and notes on point of origin, literary history if any, and other information of a wildly assorted, non-culinary nature. The recipes have a slightly caveat emptor look, but reveal that one cause of the famine was the unbridled ingenuity with which the Irish had coped with the potato.