Moscow & St. Petersburg: 1900–1920: Art, Life & Culture of the Russian Silver Age
By John E. Bowlt | Vendome | 396 pages| $50
“Lavishly illustrated” — you’ve heard that before, but with 650 illustrations (400 of them in color), this heavyweight volume delivers. The subject matter is a no-brainer: one of the most culture-conscious nations on earth in its most explosive period. The names speak for themselves: Akhmatova, Bakst, Blok, Chagall, Chaliapin, Diaghilev, Fokine, Kandinsky, Malevich, Nijinsky, Pavlova, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Rasputin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky. It’s the nexus of Orthodoxy, Symbolism, Futurism, and Revolution, and if the book is better at showing than at telling (given two paintings and a photo, you learn more about Akhmatova’s appearance than about her poetry), Bowlt still gives you plenty to ponder. And the book is just flat-out gorgeous, one of the bargains of this holiday season.
The New Annotated Dracula
Edited by Leslie S. Klinger | W.W. Norton & Co. | 624 pages | $39.95
In this brave new world, fanboys and fangirls are forever pioneering new ways to tear down the oppressive walls of “fantasy” and drag fictional characters into the earthly realm. Want to cosplay as Harry Potter? So vanilla. Want to identify yourself as being half-werewolf? Absolutely. Feel like proposing marriage to an animé character? Mazel tov.
So when an author puts forth a semi-scholarly work treating Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a chronicle of factual events, it barely merits a raised eyebrow. With The New Annotated Dracula, editor and Victorian-era-obsessed researcher Leslie Klinger brings us a minutiae-fondling look at the seminal 1897 vampire thriller. Divided into two parts (the original novel accompanied by Klinger’s asides, followed by a survey of Dracula-inspired lit-crit) this book is bursting with ephemeras: Victorian newspaper ads, maps, 15th-century woodcuts, and posters for a skrillion schlocky vampire flicks. The annotations’ “Pop Up Video” effect can get a little distracting if you’re looking to curl up and savor Stoker’s bloodsucker yarn, but a flip through the book will never leave you empty-handed, whether you’re a horror buff, a history wonk, or an ADD-addled gothling.
Photographs by Philip Toledano | Twin Palms Publishers | 60 Pages | $50
When the photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders shot diptychs of porn stars, placing nude portraits next to clothed ones, his subjects seemed more naked when dressed. Something similar occurs in Philip Toledano’s amazing, beautifully composed, and touching Phonesex. These 26 color portraits of phone sex operators — women and men; black, white, Latino; young and middle-aged; slim and hefty; abled and disabled — reveal the everyday people behind the fantasy personas of phone sex. These are people you might sit next to on the subway or stand behind at the grocery store. And the juxtaposition of this everyday reality with the pornographic personas the subjects assume makes sex seem anything but furtive. Toledano’s camera brings out the desirability of a 300-pound woman in heels and a nightie, and a skinny, earnest young guy with his pet Chihuahua. The brown-tinged darkness at the edges of these formally composed frames almost gives too austere a look. But the seriousness works — it speaks of Toledano’s respect for his subjects. Those subjects all have stories to tell, ranging from the tender relationships they’ve built with frequent callers to the horror of experiencing a caller commit suicide. What unites the pictures in the book is the sympathetic curiosity of Toledano’s eye. In the end, this is a study of eroticism as a state of mind, and the dignity possible in any work.