Encyclopedia of the Exquisite

by Chris Barsanti

9 December 2010

 

It’s hard to know exactly what kind of book you’d expect from somebody who used to work at both Women’s Wear Daily and W (European edition, but still), but this book isn’t it. According to Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, she compiled this “homage to frivolity” in large part from the random ephemera she’d accumulated over the years of writing for slick magazines where she specialized in adding romantic luster to high-end consumer product. The result is an A-to-Z of things that range from the pointless (ogi, or Japanese folding fans) to the purely essential (felines) and things somewhere in between (truffles, omelets, unicorns, hot-air balloons).

Kerwin could have turned this book into just a goof, some gaudy bauble of the precious – and to be sure, the things she defines as her favorite “uncommon delicacies, carefully selected” can tend toward the twee (far too many things that appear to have originated in French or Italian royal courts), but her writing is too precise and historically attuned (even the entry on gloves turns out to be a well-constructed mini-essay) to aim low. Perfect bedside reading or literary cabinet of curiosities for those who appreciate the grace notes in life, this is rapture – with pretty illustrations, to boot.

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