Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harlod Fry

by Rachel Joyce

My husband has a quote from Plato at the top of his blog, "Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." In this story, that fighter is Harold Fry, and his wife, and Queenie, and the many people he encounters as he makes his journey across England. Harold has retired to a home with a wife who speaks only to criticize and an an estranged relationship with his only son. When he receives a letter from an old friend dying from cancer, he knows he must thank her before she is gone. As he walks to the post office to mail his reply, he realizes he can't stop walking, and thus begins The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. 

As Harold walked, he contemplated his life and relationships, coming to an understanding that although the past could not be undone, "beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways." He also met many people who encouraged and assisted him and who he in turn helped in some small way. Harold learned that "the world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time." 

Harold's cross country walk was a journey through a life full of joy and laughter, heartache and pain, discouragement and inspiration, and finally facing the giant. It is not an uncommon life or journey and it reminds us that we never know how big someone's giant is. 

I think you'd like Harold.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

by Ross King

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling was my audio exercise book this past month. I will begin my review by acknowledging that Ross King knows art, artists and renaissance history, and while I found the majority of the information compelling, Ross' delivery was pretty dry, failed to maintain a logical timeline, and delved into so much trivial detail it distracted from the theme. However, the audio narrator  for this book was very good (John Lee).

Facts I enjoyed hearing about were inspirations and details of each section of the Sistine Chapel and the struggles Michelangelo faced as he painted the frescoes. This medium was not his specialty and the project may have been assigned to him by the Pope in order to discredit his standing in the art world. Instead, as Michelangelo learned techniques and styles and experimented with approaches his work actually became a model for his contemporaries and the vault catapulted him into artistic fame. Because he was learning on the job, Michelangelo began the work on a section in a far corner, which took him over 6 weeks to complete. In contrast, he took only one day to complete the figure of God.

I would have loved to read/hear these sections of the book while looking at the actual fresco described, and I did pull up pictures on the Internet afterward; the Vatican has a nice site, but it would have been better in real time. Many reviewers of the print text complained about the lack of photos in the book.

The book discussed Michelangelo's influences: Donatello, other works of art, and other sculptures. It also delved into his many frustrations: Pope Julius II, DaVinci, Raphael, his father and brothers, and his commission on the ceiling, which interrupted his sculpting.

Then the author went chasing rabbits into the lives of other artists, their works and the competitions between them. The pope, his character, illnesses, and battles, the cultural influences on the artists and other influential religious leaders, such as Savonarola, Medici, Machiavelli and Borgia are also examined. Other trivia occupying much space were how colors were achieved in fresco, the costs of materials and fights over payments, the use of nude models (only in warm months please), nicknames of artists and popes, land battles in Italy, France and Spain, and on and on it goes.

If you are a history buff you will really like this book. If you are wanting background and inspiration for the depictions on the Sistine Ceiling, this book has that, but it can get lost amid all the other stuff.