In 2000, art press Phaidon produced a series of four beautiful books, the 'New Testament' series. The basic idea is a simple one, but I don't think it's one that any other publisher had come up with. The idea is that most Western artists have tackled some aspect of Jesus's life story, some literally, some quite tangentially. The four books each took a significant moment in time of the New Testamant, and showed how artists have interpreted it over 1500-2000 years.
The four books are Annunciation...
.. Last Supper...
.. and Descent.
All four are beautiful compact hardbacks with metallic covers and no title on the front. The interiors have just enough text to guide you through the common motifs the artists made use of and to give you a little historical context; for the most part, the art speaks for itself.
Foolishly I bought only two of the four books at the time: Annunciation is now available only as a cheaper, less elegant paperback. If you're looking for a crash course in Western art fitted to an Easter theme, here's the place to start.
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In other news, I just read an article in the Guardian Review about a new UK survey of people's non-reading habits. You should read the whole thing (it's the second item on that page, after a bit of strangely unfunny humourous waffle from Will Self), but I've bolded a couple of bits that most struck me in the extract below:
"These are not families with literacy difficulties: they just do not read," the survey noted. "Parents would support reading at school, but wouldn't force their children to do it at home," Wilson-Fletcher said. Reading was seen as isolating, while communal activities such as DVDs or Wii games were valued more. The research revealed that if participants did enter a bookshop, they found it "acutely anxiety-inducing" and "overwhelming". Bookshops and libraries must become more user-friendly, the research concluded, while publishers must explore new ways of presenting books (jackets could be better, was one suggestion, with quick content clues on the front cover). And books should also be sold in less elitist environments, such as "newsagents, station platforms, vending machines, supermarket queues, on the counter in cafés and hairdressers". The "book of the film" could be sold at cinemas, while more recent books should be provided for Nintendo DS, which "associates book reading with a more familiar leisure experience".
In other words, if this survey has its way, in the future, all books will look like this: