Happy Monica Day.
The British, who love to linger over American embarrassment, started celebrating early, with a Times story last week guaranteed to make any U.S. citizen squirm. Damian Whitworth’s “Oral History: The Monica Lewinsky Scandal Ten Years On” (timesonline.co.uk) revisits some of our old friends, and the result, when not actively painful, is surprisingly amusing. Mr. Whitworth gives Paula Jones a call; she’s not willing to meet with him but doesn’t mind chatting on the phone. She’s working for a real estate agent in Little Rock, wondering why she’s the only party to the scandal(s) who didn’t score a book deal. He has tea with Kathleen Willey, who’s still plenty mad, mostly at Hillary. And he has an hilarious encounter with the loathsome Linda Tripp—who pretends not to be Linda Tripp but is so loathsome that you know right away it’s her. Ms. Lewinsky, alas, proves even more elusive: Mr. Whitworth fails to track her down.
Just in case you’re under the mistaken impression that these strolls down memory lane are always “cracking fun,” as the Brits would say, check out Ms. Willey’s Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton (WND Books, $25.95), which comes with Ann Coulter’s endorsement (“an important read”) and jacket copy dictated word for word by the vast right-wing conspiracy. There’s still a whole lot of hate out there.
AND HAPPY M.L.K. Day.
In his admiring new biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop (Hill and Wang, $25), Harvard Sitkoff wants to remind us of his subject’s subversive agenda, and to banish the “airbrushed” portrait of a “moderate, respectable ally of presidents.” King called for “a radical redistribution of economic and political power”; and he was, by 1968, a vehement critic of the Vietnam War. Mr. Sitkoff argues that the more militant King is the more relevant King. And he’s right. What we need today, 40 years after his death, is the King whose antiwar sermons caused L.B.J. to rage, “What is that goddamned nigger preacher doing to me?” What we need is the King who said he dreamed of “a world in which men no longer take necessities from the masses to give luxury to the classes.”
IMAGINE A WRITER’S voice as settled and calm as a Vermeer canvas. Now imagine that voice quietly “draped” over seven of Vermeer’s paintings (including one that hangs in the Frick: Officer and Laughing Girl). This is the wonderfully pleasurable effect of Timothy Brook’s Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (Bloomsbury, $27.95), a book that makes us look closely at intimate scenes from the artist’s hometown of Delft, and think broadly about how the wide world passed through those still, luminous interiors. Here’s a taste:
“In no less than eight of his pictures, Vermeer paints women wearing pearl earrings. And on these pearls, he paints faint shapes and outlines hinting at the contours of the rooms they inhabit. No pearl is more striking than the one in the Girl with the Pearl Earring. On the surface of that large pearl—so large that it was probably not a pearl at all, but a glass teardrop varnished to give it a pearly sheen—we see reflected her collar, her turban, the window that illuminates her off to the left, and, indistinctly, the room where she sits. Look closely at one of Vermeer’s pearls, and his ghostly studio floats into view.
“This endless reflectivity, writ large, nods toward the greatest discovery that the people in the seventeenth century made: that the world, like this pearl, was a single globe suspended in space.”
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