American Rococo


Food for thought, elegantly prepared, that falls short of a meal.

A collection of musings offers a broad sampling of subjects and styles.

Cook (The Exact Unknown and Other Tales of Modern China, 2015, etc.) swings from the comically subjective to the high-mindedly academic throughout the course of these 13 essays. At one end of the spectrum is an intimate, almost casual approach to the author’s personal fancies, whether an elaboration of his new idea for “breast etiquette,” a proposed social nicety intended to defuse the intensity of the common male desire to see women’s bosoms; a pointed but affable criticism of the built-in social deficit in the Airbnb travel model; or the enlightened allure of polyamory. On the other side, readers have detailed displays of erudition, with an emphasis on music (he’ll reinvigorate their appreciation for Philip Glass and germinate a fondness for John Dowland) and language. Kafka and Shakespeare get special attention here, though Cook’s essay on the latter doesn’t focus as much on the plays as on the miserable quality of life in Elizabethan England. Kafka is exalted for his difficult style, embodying the “pleasures of the open-ended text.” For Cook, Kafka’s disjointed, unstable narratives serve to “oddly enhance the reading experience,” a taste that informs his own writing. But for a book of essays, the style has a blanching effect. In the case of the Shakespeare essay, for example, Cook ends with the assertion that the harrowing, anxiety-ridden reality of 16th-century life led to a taste for forms of entertainment that featured violence and debauchery. But how this may have affected the most important works of the era, those of the Bard—who Cook claims (with good reason) was likely afflicted with syphilis—only receives a nod. Indeed, despite the eloquence and expertise with which the author approaches his topics, the essays generally come off as introductions rather than in-depth investigations due to their open-endedness. Perhaps sensing this, Cook furnishes his more esoteric reflections with extensive recommendations for further reading on the topics in question. The reader, unfortunately, is left feeling undernourished by the author’s contributions.

Food for thought, elegantly prepared, that falls short of a meal.

Pub Date: March 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9862934-9-8

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Magic Theater Books

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2017



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955