Arts & Culture

Book Reviews: November 2014

The latest from Mikita Brottman, Jason Tinney, and Abott Miller

The Great Grisby
Mikita Brottman (Harper)

This is a love story. Brottman, who teaches in MICA’s Humanistic Studies department, loved her dog, Grisby, who passed away just months after she finished the book. The bulldog accompanied her everywhere, from the classroom—he’s pictured with Brottman on her MICA bio page—to the bathtub. If that seems a bit extreme, this spirited book provides context, both historical and personal. Over the course of 26 chapters (from A to Z, each one takes the name of a dog owned by an artistic or historical figure), Brottman examines the human-canine connection with a historian’s eye for lasting significance and a diarist’s fondness for everyday detail. She mixes stories and anecdotes about Picasso’s dachshund (Lump) and Freud’s chow (Yofi) with candid and intimate appraisals of life with Grisby. Brottman also injects a fair amount of psychology into the book and comes off as completely crazy—crazy about Grisby.

See our Q&A with author Mikita Brottman.

Ripple Meets the Deep
Jason Tinney (CityLit Press)

Harry Crews blurbed fellow Southern writer Larry Brown’s debut book by succinctly stating, “Talent has struck.” This book of short stories by Jason Tinney, a Frederick resident and occasional contributor to Baltimore, brings Crews’s quote to mind. Tinney, like the aforementioned writers, crafts bold and sensual stories that ripple with nuance below the surface. His self-conscious characters might bleed and bruise, but it’s the seemingly offhanded comment that hangs in the air or the sense of unspoken longing that nudges them toward profundity. They grapple with aging and mortality and a sense that the open road, once so inviting, might lead nowhere good. They also sense that the salvation they’re seeking might be found closer to home, in things like the hushed beauty of a snowfall or the warmth of a pre-dawn embrace. But the restlessness stirs, bringing tension and an aching humanity to Tinney’s prose.

Design and Content
Abbott Miller (Princeton Architectural Press)

Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton, Baltimore’s graphic-design power couple, have both published new books recently. Lupton’s Type on Screen, a follow-up to her influential Thinking with Type, is basically a textbook on screen-based typography, the perfect gift for the hotshot web geek in your life. Miller’s book, a monograph surveying his career to date, has much broader appeal and includes his print work (the Matthew Barney 2003 Guggenheim catalog is stunning), exhibition design (check out 2002’s traveling Harley-Davidson exhibition), and collaborations with the likes of Yoko Ono and Philip Glass. I especially like the generous selection of spreads from 2wice, the arts magazine Miller founded in 1997. The writing isn’t bad either, especially an insightful essay by Lupton, who recalls the days when they would “work side by side as friends, no benefits, pursuing a journey that still defines us.” I should note that the book is well-designed—by Miller, of course.