For the gentle reader hoping for insights to an obscure new novel, check in another time.  The Dilettante is all about picture books this week (as he is most others).

After all the brouhaha that’s been going about, including Christopher Petkanas’ mean-ish piece in the New York Times (I’m not going to bother link to it, you’ve all read it), I’m reading Duane Hampton’s ode to her late husband, Mark Hampton, An American Decorator (Rizzoli).  And yes, I know I’m late to this party.  I waited for the local library to get it.   I’ve always been neutral about Mark Hampton—some of his work I like very much, some I find lacking or derivative .  I barely dare say it out loud, because his fans are a loyal lot who, having crowned their God, will not brook any criticism.  Sarah Palin fans are wimps by comparison. Therefore, I am relieved to say that I like the book far better than I expected to.  Mrs. Hampton writes intelligently and lovingly, even objectively ,about her husband’s work, and the best is very good indeed—and that is mostly what she has chosen here.

Susan & Carter Burden’s first New York apartment, from Mark Hampton.  I like this.  How could I not with that art? (For a post about Carter Burden’s uncle’s house in Maine, click here)

I’m alternating Mark Hampton with Peabody & Stearns:  Country Houses & Seaside Cottages by Annie Robinson (W.W. Norton).   This book is way overdue, a serious history of the firm that was probably second only to McKim Mead & White in importance in the late 19th and early 20th century.  They were also among the major innovators in what we now call the shingle style, and that development is fully covered here.   The printing is beautiful and crisp with wonderfully reproduced vintage photos supplemented with modern material (take note Acanthus Press, publisher of seriously over-inked illustrations).  My only criticism is that the designer is guilty of one of the Dilettante’s biggest annoyances in book design—-the dread split gutter illustration.  What looks great on a flat layout rarely works as well once it’s on the open pages of a tightly bound book, splitting the image in two and destroying the impact.  But a small quibble.  I’m enjoying the book enormously, and gasp, am even learning a few things.

Kragsyde, Manchester-by-the-Sea Massachussets, one of Peabody & Stearns most famous houses.  Many lesser known, but no less wonderful designs are featured in this book
I’m putting both aside now—-I’m going to read Claudia Pierpont’s The Dignity of Duke Ellington, next up  in this week’s New Yorker, and if I’m still awake after, the May issue of World of Interiors is calling me—there’s a seriously delicious library in a house in Kensington, and Jorge Pardo’s house has me ready to sell up and move to Mexico.  
When I’m through with Hampton and Peabody and Stearns and Ellington, I’m hoping to have in hand the new Beatrix Farrand, Private Gardens, Public Landscapes, by Judith Tankard.  Although Farrand has been excellently covered in a couple of earlier books, this one has the largest format, and draws more heavily on the Farrand archives at Berkeley, as well as the Garden Club of America’s amazing lanterns slide collection at the Smithsonian, resulting in much excellent material. I’ve flipped through it at the local bookstore, and it is gorgeous.  Farrand summered nearby in Bar Harbor, and designed many of the finest landscapes in this region ( a couple of which I will be posting about in weeks to come, now that garden season is here).   The vintage color photograph of the lost Satterlee garden at Great Head in Bar Harbor, a subtle masterpiece of site appropriate design, very different from the grand gardens she is most famous for, is alone worth the price of this book for me.  Another must-own is the collection of Farrand’s own writings in The Bulletins of Reef Point Gardens, reprinted several years ago with a new introduction by Paula Dietz.  (Ms. Dietz once kindly wrote a couple of paragraphs about the Dilettante in the New York Times.  Many, many years ago.   I still fondly remember the fact checking department ringing me up before publication, to ask if I was still indeed 36, or had I turned 37?  That’s a newspaper with a passion for accuracy.  And for those who care, I am long since past 37.  Way past.)
That’s it.  No big intellectual revelations here.  But, if some of my choices this week interest you, let me urge you to think about ordering them from your local independent bookseller, and not from Amazon just so you can save that $10.00 that you’d only waste on something else anyway (unless you’re really really really better than most of us).   Amazon is all good and well, but when the independents are gone, something will truly be lost.  One of my favorite commentators told me the other day about a Noel Coward record  he was seeking that was misfiled at Amazon under Christmas (Noel).   I prefer a world where people who know and love the material shelve it, read it, listen to it, recommend it.
And if you aren’t lucky enough to have an independent bookseller anymore, I’d be glad to recommend our local bookstore–they couldn’t be better.