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A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity: A Novel

por Whitney Otto

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1485142,744 (3.6)5
The bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt transports us to San Francisco in the early 1980s, a magical, fog-shrouded city suffused—as are many of its denizens—with possibility and restless energy. In A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, Whitney Otto’s charac-ters congregate night after night at a North Beach bar called the Youki Singe Tea Room, their lives conjoined by the bonds of friendship and shared experience. At the Youki Singe, the stories of these young people’s lives—their parties, their eccentric living situations, their passions for books and art and one another—are recorded in one patron’s “pillow book,” her version of the intimate journals of the courtesans of Edo Japan. Meanwhile, though, the careless joys of the drifting life are giving way to a desire to find something more substantial, a need to belong to something or someone. The title A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity is taken from a series of woodblock prints by the eighteenth-century artist Utamaro, a master at depicting Japan’s legendary Floating World, where, it is said, the patrons of the great pleasure quarters—and their escorts—devoted them-selves to the pursuit of music, sex, food, poetry, theater, and fashion. Now, two hundred years later and an ocean away, the young men and women of Otto’s San Francisco find themselves in their own version of a Floating World. Illustrated with more than two dozen beautifully reproduced woodblock prints, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity conjures an atmosphere both dreamy and contemporary. Whitney Otto engages the senses as well as the mind while exploring the intricacies, the trouble, and the rapture of human connection.… (mais)
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Mostrando 5 de 5


This is an interesting piece of "Modern Literature"..... poetic, waxing melancholia, & romantically depressing. The author earned rave reviews for "How to Make an American Quilt", which I did not read.

The beginning of each chapter offers us a B&W copy of a Ukiyo-e wood block prints and a brief explanation of the print the chapter that follows is likened to the story taking place in the print.

That being said; the book takes place in San Francisco with an odd group of friends 3-4 young women and one young man. One of the young woman is having a relationship w/ the young man and it all seems very casual..... Parties, drugs, and lethargic living.... people seemingly lost in a narcissistic culture.

I didn't like the characters, they had nothing to offer anyone..... they were shallow and uncaring people.

I would say that this book was a waste of my time, but as it filled the challenge requirement, it redeemed itself. ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jan 18, 2016 |
I found this an odd book. Not just the format- vignettes loosely bound together, styled after a Japanese courtesan’s ‘pillow book’ from the Edo period , each vignette featuring a different member of a group of friends. Set in 1980s San Francisco, these friends are late 20 somethings, all well educated but none working in the field that they are educated for. They float through life; drinking, smoking pot and sometimes doing coke, attending art openings and going to restaurants but mainly meeting at the Youki Singe Tea Room, a North Beach dive where pot smoking is allowed- but only in a small room.
Elodie is the woman who sets the tales down. She writes only when in the Tea Room, leaving her notebooks there. The characters- the collection of beauties- seem to have no ambition, content to simply live like butterflies, pushed by the winds of life. Connections between them turn to love, break up, and realign. There is no real plot; it’s just events happening in the vignettes.

While reading the book, I didn’t much care for most of the characters. Which makes it odd that I later found myself thinking about them, and going back and rereading sections of the book. The prose is beautiful.The vignettes are like little jewels. The book is physically beautiful, too, illustrated mostly with old Japanese woodblock prints but with a couple of 20th century works. To read this book is enjoyable, even if I didn’t connect with most of the characters. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Oct 15, 2014 |
Centered around the lives of young singles floating in and out of the Youki Singe Tea Room in SF. I loved it. ( )
1 vote bolero | Jun 20, 2008 |
I really like the Whitney Otto writes, she always creates some kind of unusual structure to base her story on. In this one she uses a Japanese pillow book and a series of beautiful Japanese portraits of women. The book is about a group of people, loosely connected to each other, who are all looking for something in their lives but aren't sure what it is. I also recommend How To Make an American Quilt and Now You See Her, also by Otto.
1 vote Lindsayg | Oct 9, 2007 |
This book delivers exactly what its title promises. Set in San Francisco in the 1980s, a gaggle of airy, attractive young people, all members of one fluid group of friends, live out their personal dramas in front of each other. Each chapter tells the story of a different friend from a different angle. These vignettes come together to speak loudly about the group as a whole, but say little of the individual players. Otto's characters live exclusively within their own stories, with scarcely more than a name-drop in the subsequent pages. This means that no light is shed onto any situation beyond its assigned chapter, and a lot of ends are left loose and hanging. A beautifully written, quietly engaging collection nonetheless. ( )
  kaitlynmarie | Jul 26, 2007 |
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The bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt transports us to San Francisco in the early 1980s, a magical, fog-shrouded city suffused—as are many of its denizens—with possibility and restless energy. In A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, Whitney Otto’s charac-ters congregate night after night at a North Beach bar called the Youki Singe Tea Room, their lives conjoined by the bonds of friendship and shared experience. At the Youki Singe, the stories of these young people’s lives—their parties, their eccentric living situations, their passions for books and art and one another—are recorded in one patron’s “pillow book,” her version of the intimate journals of the courtesans of Edo Japan. Meanwhile, though, the careless joys of the drifting life are giving way to a desire to find something more substantial, a need to belong to something or someone. The title A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity is taken from a series of woodblock prints by the eighteenth-century artist Utamaro, a master at depicting Japan’s legendary Floating World, where, it is said, the patrons of the great pleasure quarters—and their escorts—devoted them-selves to the pursuit of music, sex, food, poetry, theater, and fashion. Now, two hundred years later and an ocean away, the young men and women of Otto’s San Francisco find themselves in their own version of a Floating World. Illustrated with more than two dozen beautifully reproduced woodblock prints, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity conjures an atmosphere both dreamy and contemporary. Whitney Otto engages the senses as well as the mind while exploring the intricacies, the trouble, and the rapture of human connection.

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