Tag Archives: Bound Together Book Club

———————Old Friends———————


Michel de Montaigne, philosopher, inventor of the essay form

Andrea Palladio, the most influential architect of the Western world,

and Montaigne’s contemporary


Carnegie Museum of Art Cafe

MONTAIGNE:  Signore Palladio! We meet in the New World. It’s Carnegie Library that brings you to Pittsburgh?

PALLADIO:  Monsieur Montaigne, I am honored to meet you at long last. Ah, but no. No library for me. It is the Heinz Architectural Center of the Carnegie Museum of Art where I briefly reside.

MONTAIGNE:  Oui, and I am in permanent residence in the arched hallways of this Library, where some of your ideas appear to have been, how shall I say—borrowed?

PALLADIO:  My influence is everywhere. Was I not famous enough that you visited my home in Vicenza in 1580?

MONTAIGNE:  Indeed, but I couldn’t find you!

PALLADIO:  You looked in the wrong place. (Gestures downward.) By the time of your visit I had gone, let us say, underground.

MONTAIGNE:  Ah, pity. Your demise prevented you from reading my first published Essays. But me? I was quite aware of your splendid architectural writings.

PALLADIO:  But . . .

MONTAIGNE:  No, no. My Italian, she, he . . .


MONTAIGNE:  It. It is good. You know, I adore conversation. We have much in common, much to discuss—a fascination with the classical world, our unconventional, risky writing. After just missing each other four centuries ago, let us open this bottle of wine I brought from my Bordeaux estate, and cut into this comte I ordered.

PALLADIO:  And with it, let us order some Risotto, made with the excellent rice grown in my home province.

MONTAIGNE:  My friend, this Thursday evening you and I will be reunited in a rare view of your drawings . . .

PALLADIO:  . . . and a discussion of your essays.

TOGETHER:  A toast! We shall be bound together!

Bound Together Book Club, a collaborative program of Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, this Thursday features a gallery talk and walk through Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey*, followed by a lively discussion of How to Live: Or, a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell.

Thursday, December 8, 6:30 – 7:45 PM

Space is limited. Call 412-622-3288 to register.

Meet in the Museum of Art lobby.

*This exhibition includes original drawings by Palladio, and is not likely to ever travel again. See it now through December 31, 2011.



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Celebrate Food in Art and Fiction

October brings the final harvest of the year. One day soon I’ll pick the last of my garden’s tomatoes, peppers, kale, and chard. I’ll plant garlic, put up one last batch of crushed tomatoes, and bring pots of herbs inside for the winter. After last summer’s bummer crop (due to late blight), I’m especially grateful for this year’s bounty.

We’ll celebrate harvest season at Bound Together Book Club this Thursday, October 7 at 6:30, with a look at images of food in the Carnegie Art Museum’s permanent collection, followed by a discussion of Wendell Berry’s 2004 novel, Hannah Coulter.

Hannah Coulter is the seventh of Berry’s nine novels. All are set in Port William, Kentucky, a fictitious farm community modeled after Port Royal, Kentucky, where Berry has lived, farmed, and written since 1965. The novels depict what Berry calls the “Port William Membership,” a closely knit community of five generations of families. Lives here are primarily defined by agricultural work.

Twice widowed Hannah Coulter, who is in her late seventies, sorts through her memories. She reflects on farm life before and after the Second World War, a life committed to stewardship of the land, to daily labor, and the joys and sorrows contained in close kinship and friendship.

If you’ve read Berry’s essays or poetry, these themes will sound familiar. He ranges over the same ground in fiction, essays, and poems. His writings relate the way he believes the world’s separate elements are meant to connect, as parts of an integrated whole.

Micheal Pollan, in his introduction to Berry’s Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food, wrote:

I would argue that the [national food and farming] conversation got under way in earnest in 1971, when Berry published an article in The Last Whole Earth Catalogue introducing Americans to the work of Sir Albert Howard, the British agronomist whose thinking had deeply influenced Berry’s own since he first came upon it in 1964. Indeed, much of Berry’s thinking about agriculture can be read as an extended elaboration of Howard’s master idea that farming should model itself on natural systems like forests and prairies, and that scientists, farmers and medical researchers need to reconceive “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.”

If Wendell Berry’s words, “eating is an agricultural act,” whet your intellectual appetite, join us Thursday for conversation about the art of food and harvest, and Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter.


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One of my favorite librarian duties is choosing books for discussion. For Dish! A Foodie Book Club (which meets tonight), I vary the subject month to month—memoir, history, food industrycultural aspects of food.

Selecting titles for Bound Together Book Club, a collaboration between Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, requires additional planning, since our mission is to create dialogue about art and literature.

House (1879, ink and watercolor on paper), by A. Charrie. Carnegie Museum of Art.

For our May 13 meeting, Bound Together’s focus is “Imagining Home,” title of the current exhibit of the Museum’s Heinz Architectural Center. To pair a book with this exhibit, I searched for fiction in which a house plays an important role, or could even be considered a main character.

I chose Sarah Waters’ horror novel The Little Stranger, with slight reservations. The thought of reading a thick (458 page) horror novel intimidated (and frightened) me, even though this haunted house story met the criteria of home as protagonist.

It’s frustrating that novels are categorized in reductive ways. Genre labels such as horror, romance, mystery, tell us where to shelve a book and offer a hint about storyline, but reveal nothing of literary quality.

The Little Stranger, however, came highly recommended. Sarah Waters previously penned three historical fiction novels, two of which were shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. The Little Stranger landed on the Booker 2009 shortlist, too.

Just a few pages into The Little Stranger I relaxed, knowing I’d chosen well. Set in 1947 rural England, war rationing is still in place. The narrator, an articulate, likable middle-aged physician, answers a call to Hundreds Hall, a declining Georgian mansion he remembers visiting as a young child, when his mother worked there as a maid. Hundreds Hall and the family who live there gradually absorb, haunt, and finally possess his thoughts, time, and energy.

It’s a strangely beautiful novel, creepy, psychologically complex, atmospheric, one I’ll continue to ponder.


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Bound Together!

Setting: 15th century France. A new tapestry has been delivered to the castle. Woven of wool, silk, silver and gold threads, the labor of four weavers over one year, it cost the equivalent of the finest warship, or a wealthy nobleman’s entire year’s income. Queen Isabeau contemplates its placement. 

Queen: Charlie is daft. A 14-by-18-foot tapestry? Hung on the west wall? Sure, the sea scene will reflect the moat. Nice touch. And it will cut down on drafts. But hanging it so close to the dampness of the moat? Hasn’t the King ever heard of reeky mildew? Yech! [steps back to gaze at tapestry] Nice ship, nice looking guys . . . 

After a design by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (Flemish, 1502–1550) The Defeated Pompey Meeting His Wife at Sea, from The Story of Julius Caesar, designed 1540, woven c. 1640, wool. Gift of George Leary to Carnegie Museum of Art, 54.5.1


This is my little fiction. I’ve been reading big fiction (574 pages) to prepare for next month’s meeting of the Bound Together Book Club, the Library’s collaborative program with the Carnegie Museum of Art. On February 11, we’ll stare in wonder at the beautifully restored wall-sized tapestries in the Gods, Love, and War Exhibition, learn how they were made and what the imagery means. We’ll also discuss a relevant historical novel concerning Charles VI of France, In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse.  

In a Dark Wood Wandering follows strict parameters of the historical fiction genre: it presents a story that takes place during a notable period in history (beginning with the reign of Charles VI, known as the Wise, the Well-Loved, and the Mad King); the story centers on a significant event in that period (the second half of France’s Hundred Years’ War with England, which includes Joan of Arc’s military career); and the novel presents actual events from the point of view of people living in that time period (the majority of In a Dark Wood Wandering is from the point of view of Charles VI’s nephew, Charles, Duke of Orléans). To prepare for our discussion, I’ve been reading authoritative background history, none of which is nearly as compelling as this fictional account. 

Please join us for Bound Together. Space is limited. Call 412.622.3288 to register. Gods, Love, and War: Tapestries and Prints from the Collection will be on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art until June 13, 2010. 


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