Three books that incorporate the visual arts are among the many exciting reads whose writers will appear at the Hawaii Book & Music Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and May 7 on the grounds of Honolulu Hale.
For a full program, go to honolulubookandmusicfestival.com.
“THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD” BY JADE CHANG
Houghton Mifflin, $26
Jade Chang’s debut novel is a caustic, comic tale that provides deeper and more informed social satire than its sisters in the chick- and shopping-lit genres. It aims to shock and make you laugh, and succeeds on both counts. Yet sometimes it gets serious, too.
Disappointed artist Saina Wang thinks she has it bad because she’s living in exile in a four-bedroom Catskills farmhouse, having broken up with her cheating artist boyfriend, who has impregnated a blond model and become a great success. “She was washed up, tossed out, ruined and ridiculed and exiled from the magic island of Manhattan,” Wang thinks of herself. “What could be more over than that?”
The answer comes in a call from her father, Charles, in Los Angeles. The immigrant cosmetics tycoon has lost everything, from his Bel-Air mansion to all the family’s money. They are paupers, except for Saina, who at 28 has come into an inheritance. Therefore, Charles announces, he, her stepmother, teenage sister and college-student brother are coming to live with her.
As the Wangs drive across the U.S. and then suddenly depart to China, their trip becomes a voyage of self-discovery and familial reaffirmation. The outcome may be a tad tidy and sentimental, but overall this is a sweet, fun read. Chang’s histrionic, driven, yet likable characters keep you turning the pages because you can’t help but care how they’ll get there.
“BROAD STROKES: 15 WOMEN WHO MADE ART AND MADE HISTORY (IN THAT ORDER)” BY BRIDGET QUINN
Chronicle Books, $29.95
Bridget Quinn has loved art since childhood, when she relished leafing through her father’s illustrated set of Time-Life books about great artists, as she recounts in the introduction to her new book. At the age of 10, however, she had a dispiriting revelation: All of the artists in the books were men.
Taking this as a message that “girls could not be great artists,” she couldn’t enjoy the books anymore.
Later, as an art history major, Quinn searched for female artists in H. W. Janson’s classic “History of Art.” In 800 pages, she found 16 women, among them the 16th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi and Lee Krasner, the wife of Jackson Pollock. They are in “Broad Strokes” with others who aren’t in Janson’s book.
Quinn presents Kara Walker, famous for her slavery-theme silhouettes; African-Native American sculptor Edmonia Lewis; and Marie Denise Villers, whose luminous 1801 “Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes” was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on the misapprehension that it was painted by Jacques Louis David.
We also meet Ruth Asawa, who was interned during World War II and went on to sculpt mermaid fountains and hanging wire-mesh forms; painter Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf; and the great Alice Neel, whose portrait of the artist Marisol hangs in the Honolulu Museum of Art.
In a text that is also part memoir, Quinn deconstructs the paintings — many of them self-portraits — explaining symbols and historical context, including the sexy bits. “Broad Strokes” is beautifully illustrated with color reproductions and new watercolor portraits of each woman by Lisa Congdon.
BAMBOO RIDGE JOURNAL OF HAWAI’I LITERATURE AND ARTS ISSUE NO. 110
Bamboo Ridge Press, $18
Founded in 1978, independent literary publisher Bamboo Ridge has long embedded works by local visual artists in its collections of poetry and fiction. In the latest installment of its annual anthology, the featured artist is Marques Hanalei Marzan, who works with animal and vegetable fiber and is also a fashion designer and Native Hawaiian cultural expert at Bishop Museum.
Marzan harvests natural materials — bamboo, hemp, cotton, makaloa, coconut sennit, pig gut — that he weaves, prints and ties in traditional ways, some learned from his grandmother, who wove lauhala. Pictured in a color portfolio, with a lovely introduction by Lynn Cook, his forms range from abstract sculptures to garments that evoke Issey Miyake. They complement the writing in this volume, which is themed around interwoven relationships and traditions, including several poems, such as Lisa Linn Kanae’s “Two Groundbreaking Ceremonies at Le‘ahi,” Joseph Han’s “While Her Husband Wandered Southern Seoul,” and Andrew Najberg’s “1st Island Fisherman Mending His Nets.”
Other highlights of this slender yet rewarding collection are stories by Marie Hara, Laurie Scott Tomchak and Rajiv Mohabir, and poems by John E. Simonds, Jeffrey Thomas Leong and Wing Tek Lum. It’s a keeper.
(Note: Journal co-editor Misty-Lynn Sanico is a Honolulu Star-Advertiser contributor.)
The Hawai‘i Book & Music Festival continues to seek helpers for the event. Volunteers for four-hour shifts receive T-shirts and snacks as well as a stimulating experience. Find specifics by clicking on the volunteers application tab at hawaiibookandmusicfestival.com.