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Red Brick Black Mountain White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family & Survival ~ Christopher Benfey

March 20, 2012


Genre: Adult Non-fiction
Publisher: Penguin Press HC
288 pages
ISBN: 9781594203268
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Red Brick Black Mountain White Clay reads like a manifestation of its subject. The beginning is hard and lumpy, a bit tough to get your hands around, a bit disconnected. As it spins on the wheel, though, it starts to take shape in the artist’s hands, the patron begins to see what the artist intends and a beautiful piece emerges. The book starts out a bit choppy and hard to dissect as the intention is to move from modern-day to the past. As Benfey works his way from the basics of his simple back ground, backward through time, exploring his more complicated, emotional family history across war-torn Europe, the story becomes much easier to follow.

I enjoyed the history of Benfey’s family and the analysis of how art worked its way into the dynamic. I have a very similar path in my family (from war effected European roots to small town American refuge) so that was neat to follow as well. All that said, I did have a fair amount of struggle with the book. Even though it’s a small story in terms of page number, it seemed to take me forever to get through it. I think I went into it expecting more of an art history and came away with more of a temporally strange memoir. I think I might have enjoyed it a bit more, in retrospect, if I had known that going into the reading.

Over all, with previously conceived notions aside, I think this could have been a good, slow, quiet read in the right setting. There were parts that really appealed to me, like the run through  war-torn Europe and the way that played into Benfey’s family history. This will appeal to those who like their memoirs with a little bit of history, but probably not the other way around.

About Christopher Benfey

Christopher Benfey is the Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College. A frequent contributor to The New York Times Book ReviewThe New Republic, and The New York Review of Books, he has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Benfey’s most recent book, A Summer of Hummingbirds, won the Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Christopher’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, March 13th: Wordy Evidence of the Fact

Wednesday, March 14th: Anthony Foo

Thursday, March 15th: JulzReads

Monday, March 19th: Travel Spot

Tuesday, March 20th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog

Wednesday, March 21st: Twisting the Lens

Thursday, March 22nd: Avery Pottery and Tileworks

Tuesday, March 27th: Whynot Pottery

Wednesday, March 28th: Musing About Mud

Thursday, March 29th: Bookstack

Monday, April 2nd: EmSun

Tuesday, April 3rd: Peppermint PhD

Wednesday, April 4th: The Infinite Shelf

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2012 9:33 am

    Oh, this one does sound a little difficult, and I had been waiting to see what you were going to say about it. I am not big on books that feel really experimental or that lack temporal cohesiveness, and think that I might have to forgo this one. I did appreciate reading your thoughts on the book though, as it helped me make a decision on whether or not to grab it when I see it. Thanks for the honest and thoughtful review!

  2. March 24, 2012 12:38 pm

    Sounds like this one wasn’t a bad read, just not exactly what you were expecting. Thanks for taking the time to read and review this one for the tour.

  3. April 3, 2012 3:02 pm

    I agree with what you said about the book being more memoir than art history…however, I think the art is very much a part of Benfey and his family’s life and who his ancestors were individually, so in this particular case, it would be difficult to remove one aspect of the story from the other.

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