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Favorites of 2018: Exhibitions and books


"Louis Comfort Tiffany in New London," permanent exhibition at Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London

Tiffany stained glass is, of course, gorgeous, and while this exhibition gives you plenty of wow-worthy pieces, it also explores other works by and related to Louis Comfort Tiffany and delves into his time spent in this region.

—  Kristina Dorsey

"A Village Love Affair: A New Photography & Publication featuring Rollie McKenna's Images of Stonington," Nov. 2-Fall 2019 at the Richard W. Woolworth Library & Research Center, Stonington

It's not just that world-renowned photographer McKenna lived in Stonington Borough; it's also that she was an actively involved participant in village life, both as an artist and a resident. Those qualities overlap in wonderful ways in this multifaceted exhibition that also includes examples of her widely sourced work along with memorabilia, diaries, video footage, oral histories, and more.

— Rick Koster

"Brought to Light: Ellis Ruley in Norwich," Sept. 23-Dec. 7 at the Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich

It was wonderful to see the work created by self-taught painter Ellis Ruley (1882-1959) given a place of honor in his hometown of Norwich. The exhibition, presented by the Slater and the City of Norwich Ellis Walter Ruley Committee, detailed his often difficult life but celebrated the talent and joy apparent in his art.

— Kristina Dorsey

"Pen to Paper: Artists' Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art," Feb. 9-May 6 at the Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme

Two cultural losses — letters and cursive handwriting — were celebrated at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme last spring in this exhibit. What made the show particularly special were the authors, a dozen artists who sprinkled their copious correspondence with drawings and doodles. If you missed it, check out the museum's online exhibit, "The Letters to Robert Griswold at Sea," featuring letters from Florence Griswold's mother to her seafaring father (

— Betty Cotter

"The Vikings Begin," May 19-Sept. 30 at Mystic Seaport Museum

The Vikings invaded Mystic Seaport Museum last summer, bringing a replica ship, booty as far back as the 7th century and a controversial map of their travels. "The Vikings Begin" closed on Sept. 30, but the Draken Harald Harfagre returned to winter over at the Seaport in October. It is not open for tours.

— Betty Cotter

"Art and the New England Farm," May 11-Sept. 16 at the Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme

This exhibition went behind the iconic imagery of New England farms to explore how farms in the region changed from the 19th to the 21st century and how artists reflected it all in their work. Many of the pieces on view were stunning, but the background and history revealed and examined in the show were just as compelling.

— Kristina Dorsey



"Blood Standard" by Laird Barron

The ludicrously talented Barron, who has imaginatively conquered such genres as fantasy and horror, turns to hard-boiled crime with this knockout-punch of a novel and my favorite book of the year. Mob enforcer Isaiah Coleridge, miraculously spared after impulsively beating a crime lord trying to slaughter seals, is sent to upstate New York and a quiet life on a horse farm. But when a teenage girl goes missing, Coleridge viciously and without regret breaks the stipulations of his crime-life exile to find her. Violent, clever and very funny — like Ace Atkins channeling the spirit of Ross MacDonald.

— Rick Koster

"Elevation" by Stephen King

This short work is so NOT King-y that it could theoretically disappoint fans. On the other hand, it's a wonderful and bittersweet allegory for our times. Scott Carey, the protagonist, is literally dwindling away to nothingness even though his physical bulk stays the same. What will happen when he hits zero? In the meantime, in his gentle way, Scott determines to try in the time he has left to erase some of the long-simmering prejudice in his small town. No question the World Today inspired King to write this story, and it's a toss up whether your heart will be warmed or broken by this hopefully not-overlooked literary triumph. Probably both.

— Rick Koster

"Educated" by Tara Westover

This engrossing memoir succeeds in myriad ways — including making you appreciate the value of education. Tara Westover was raised by survivalist, anti-government parents who didn't send their children to school. They didn't really homeschool them either, with Dad bringing the youngsters to work in the scrapyard. Tara educated herself and ended up at Harvard and Cambridge. Her biggest achievement, though, might be finally breaking away from her family, including an abusive brother.

— Kristina Dorsey

"Washington Black" by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black is a slave on the Faith Plantation in Barbados in the 1830s when he is saved from certain death by the master's eccentric, scientific brother, Titch. Their journey accomplishes both young Black's escape and his self-discovery. In this riveting novel, Black's voice is as original and captivating as a Dickens character.

— Betty Cotter

"An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones

Roy Othaniel Hamilton, visiting his hometown with his wife, is on the cusp of the American dream — which is wrenched away when he is accused of raping a woman in a Louisiana motel. Jones never takes the easy way out in her exploration of race, gender and class in 21st-century America.

— Betty Cotter

"Debussy — A Painter in Sound" by Stephen Walsh

I get the impression Debussy is regarded by many "smarter than me" classical music critics as a bit of a featherweight. Figures. I LOVE Debussy. Anyway, this book by Stephen Walsh — not the original Kansas vocalist but the acclaimed biographer of Musorgsky and Stravinsky — had me both elated and sad. Debussy, both the human and the composer, seems to have been a sort of one-man instinctual reaction against the larger-than-life omnipresence of Wagner. That explains a lot — to me, anyway — and this whole book goes on to provide a melancholy portrait of a revolutionary musical Impressionist who struggled to fit in against outside creative influences; early 20th-century Parisian society; poverty; and his own demons. One guess as to what music you'll listen to whilst reading.

— Rick Koster

"November Road" by Lou Berney

Berney somehow fashions a yearning, sad work of art using the toolkit of hardboiled noir. When Carlos Marcello lieutenant Frank Guidry realizes a seemingly innocent errand he ran is linked to the murder of John F. Kennedy, he knows he'll be eliminated. On the run, he meets Charlotte, an Oklahoma housewife fleeing from her alcoholic husband with her two daughters and dog in tow. To travel together provides a perfect disguise for Frank — until he and Charlotte fall in love and he realizes the odds of their survival and ultimate happiness are long indeed. Touching, beautiful and haunting. Berney is a remarkable talent.

— Rick Koster

"Manhattan Beach" by Jennifer Egan

Egan wrote this sweeping novel in a style that's very much a throwback (you'd never guess this was the same writer behind the gleefully experimental "A Visit from the Goon Squad"). Set during World War II, "Manhattan Beach" follows a young girl in New York whose father disappears. She grows up to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and longs to become the first female to become one of the divers who help to repair ships.

— Kristina Dorsey

"The Map of Salt and Stars" by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Two stories of exile are braided in this fine, original novel. When a bomb drives Nour and her family from their Syrian home, they must wander through the Middle East for sanctuary. Alternating with this plot is the tale of an Arabian girl in 1100 A.D. who, disguised as a boy, goes on a mapmaking quest through the Middle East and Africa. This heartbreaking story is written with elegant simplicity and will stay with you long after the girls reach their destinations.

— Betty Cotter

"My Struggle: Book Six" by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Dan Bartlett and Martin Aitken

This Norwegian writer has been satirized, canonized and vilified, but his epic six-volume memoir/novel is a work of genius. The digression in the middle of this 1,157-page tome, mostly into the life of Adolf Hitler, seems endless, but the book's conclusion is positively chilling.

— Betty Cotter

"The Maze at Windermere" by Gregory Blake Smith

Sandy Allison is a Newport tennis pro whose aimless existence is shot with significance when he meets Alice, a vulnerable but caustic heiress with cerebral palsy. Smith, exploring the twists and turns of love, weaves in four other stories of the City by the Sea that stretch from 1692 to 1896 and include a youthful Henry James.

— Betty Cotter

"The Sinners" by Ace Atkins

I don't know what to tell you. I wish the guy wasn't a friend of mine so this would seem less like a "conflicted interest" situation. But, damn, his Quinn Colson series is an ongoing saga writ-large that combines humor, beautifully evolving characters and interacting storylines, midnight-dark crime scenarios, and a depiction of the Deep South that would make Faulkner proud. Finish "The Sinners," the eighth Colson story, and you'll want to go back and relive all seven predecessors.

— Rick Koster




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