Women in White Reading Books on Their Laps

Umberto Boccioni | Young Woman Reading
Tribute to a curious sub-genre: portraits of women dressed in white reading books propped open on their laps. The white of the dress and the position of the book resting on it blur the boundaries of both—pages morph gently into cloth; bookish planes and angles are camouflaged by the shadowy drape of folds. Chromatically speaking, reader and text become one. An ingenuously simple way of conveying the subject's complete absorption in that abstraction we call language. Then, too, there's the subtly subversive sexual element—the way the virginal purity of the white dress provides an ironic counterpoint to the open symmetry of the book. As the woman curls over the intimate shelf of her own lap, we are reminded that all knowledge is sexual. All knowledge craves reproduction. Inspires desire. And the act of reading itself is rooted in pleasure. As Richard Howard wrote in his introduction to Roland Barthes' S/Z, "We have 'forgiven' masturbation in our erotic jurisdiction, but have we even learned to 'indict' reading?"

Artist | Title unknown
(If you have any information about this work please email me.)
Helen Galloway McNicoll | In the Tent, 1914
Jos√© van Gool  (b.1945) | Lezende Dame
John Singer Sargent | Girl Reading by a Stream, c. 1888
John Singer Sargent | Young Woman Reading, 1911 
Edmund Tarbell | Girl Reading (by a Window), 1902
Clarence Hinkle (b.1880) | Reading Under a Parasol
Helene Schjerfbeck | Maria, 1906


Secret Malice: Irene Nemirovsky's 'Le Bal'

Originally published as part of her Suite Francaise, Irene N√©mirovsky’s novella Le Bal deals primarily with the tensions between fourteen-year-old Antoinette Kampf and Rosine, her overbearing, narcissistic, insanely self-centered, verbally abusive, shockingly immature, and cartoonishly insecure mother. Bette Davis would have made a perfect Madame Kampf. As the title suggests, the plot revolves around a ball—or, at least, the idea of a ball—to which Monsieur and Madame Kampf, newly and nervously tres riches, have invited two hundred of the fanciest Parisian “sods” they can hope to attract.


Casterman Makes Tragic Changes to Tintin

The computerized Tintin dialogue font
Reading my son a newly purchased edition of The Seven Crystal Balls, one of my favorite Tintin books, I realized that all of the dialogue bubbles had been redrawn. The new lettering was of a much finer line, it was much more regular, and, for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, it was weirdly repellent. I don’t mean that it was ugly. It was actually rather delicate and pretty, but I felt that somehow the text was putting me off: I couldn’t get into it. For some reason, I couldn’t keep the text and the illustrations simultaneously in mind—a crucial cognitive activity for reading any graphic narrative. There was a mysterious disconnect between the two, and I sensed a weird fog between me and the story. This was frustrating because reading my son Tintin is one of our favorite shared pleasures these days. I’d rushed through the dishes, through picking up the scattered tinker toys, through checking my email one last time, just to get on the couch with him and get a few pages in before tucking him into bed.