Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. Despite my reluctance to admire yet another celebrity writer, Martin impressed me with his first novel, Shop Girl, and he continues to do so with this book. He introduces us to Lacey, a compelling but morally ambiguous young woman who becomes a mover & shaker in the Manhattan art world of the late 20th Century. The reader ends up getting a crash course in both contemporary art history and consumerism, with sneak peaks into the rarefied worlds of Sotheby’s, uptown art galleries, and the moneyed international clientele who can patronize both. I, for one, found this book very hard to put down.
Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. Bryson takes his own home, a mid-nineteenth century rectory in Norfolk, England, as the jumping-off point for investigating every possible angle of domestic history. We get the expected lessons in architecture, furniture and horticulture, as well as the more unusual, such as the brilliant teamwork skills of rats, or the strategic importance of nutmeg in empire-building, or even how “teeth” were mysteriously listed as a leading cause of death in London in 1758. Bryson’s trademark humor and wry social commentary are certainly present, but what stands out most here is his ability to trace intriguing connections between seemingly unrelated facts. In short, I found it endlessly fascinating.