LOU'S VIEWS: Hefty books weigh in on Columbus and Crown Hill

December 21, 2013

When it comes to holiday gifts, a Kindle or a Nook might be a great gift. But there’s not much unwrapping pleasure in an ebook itself. Things like pages and a cover are required. No gift card has ever wrapped as nicely as a hardcover book.

On top of that, some books simply aren’t translatable into the e-format. When it comes to novels, biographies and narrative non-fiction, ebooks can be fine. But when it comes to coffee-table books—those hefty tomes packed with oversized photos, well, you can just leave your Nook in its nook.

Two recent books provide terrific, weighty examples.

“Crown Hill: History-Spirit-Sanctuary” (Indiana Historical Society Press) takes a subject that could be, well, deadly. But Indianapolis’ highly photographable landmark cemetery contains plenty of good stories. More than just a photo essay—although there’s beautiful work from shooters Marty N. Davis and Richard Fields—the book smartly balances images with insightful essays.

ae-columbusbook-dsc-1543-15col.jpg Indiana Historical Society Press’ celebration of Crown Hill, top, and Rizzoli’s photographic look at Columbus architecture, above, won’t fit in any standard stocking. (IBJ Photos/ Susan Bertocci)

Primary writer Douglas A. Wissing provides the requisite history while also offering context in a way that never feels like a college lecture. In a chapter with the stoic title “Monuments and Remembrances, 1865-1875,” for instance, we not only get facts and figures, but also interesting info on 19th century burial—and reburial—practices.

“Through much of American history, ‘rest in peace’ was a fluid concept,” writes Wissing. “The practice of moving bodies, often multiple times, was common.” One of Crown Hill’s selling points, he notes, was that survivors would not have to move their loved one’s remains from one outdated cemetery to the next. “As a counterpoint to all the moving and shuffling, Crown Hill … promised eternal care, a place where the grieving could envision loved ones resting in perpetuity.”

I’ll confess that I haven’t finished reading yet. One of the distinct disadvantages of coffee-table books is that they are difficult to read in bed.

Text is given lower priority in “Columbus, Indiana: Midwestern Modernist Mecca” by Thomas R. Schiff (Skira/Rizzoli). Featuring large-format photographs often stretching across two already-lengthy pages, the book doesn’t aim to instruct (although a short essay by Justin Davidson gives enough anchoring background information). Rather, it lets you visually bask in the architectural wonders that lure scholars and impress casual visitors.

A big plus is that the book doesn’t treat Columbus architecture as something in the past tense. Included are such recent works as Kevin Kennon’s 2005 Columbus Learning Center and Wolff Design Group’s 2011 Playground at The Commons.

My only beef: The photographic distortion sometimes gets in the way of carefully crafted lines and curves of the buildings’ designers. It’s tough to get a handle on the geometry of Harry Weese’s Irwin Union Bank or Kevin Roche’s U.S. Post Office simply by looking at these photos.

All the more reasons to visit Columbus in person in 2014, I suppose.•


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.


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