This is a transcription of The Story of a Special Map & Two New Books — 17 February 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, the book you need to read if you loved Knives Out and Thursday Murder Club.
David: A meditation on all the beauty in the world.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: My recommendation is a book that has lots of buzz, but I couldn’t resist recommending it. I read the first few page and had to force myself to put it down and get to my the requirements of my day as an adult when all I really wanted to do was crawl into a blanket fort and read. The book is ‘Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone’ by Benjamin Stevenson.
Melissa: Most of the action takes place at a tense family reunion at a mountaintop ski resort in Australia. The family is gathering to celebrate the release of one of their clan from prison — and then things get murdery. Really murdery.
Melissa: The first line of the book is, ‘Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.’ The narrator is Ernest Cunningham. ‘Call me Ern or Ernie,’ he says. He frequently breaks the fourth wall to talk to us directly, and he is a little obsessed with the rules of Golden Age mysteries.
Melissa: The author Benjamin Stevenson is not only a novelist — he’s also a stand-up comedian. He said in an interview that he wanted to write something fun after the turmoil of the last few years. His previous books were gritty crime stories, so he decided to write something that’s a joyous escape, even though it’s murdery.
Melissa: The book has been described as Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle meet ‘Knives Out’ and ‘The Thursday Murder Club.’ It’s already been picked up by HBO to be developed as a limited series.
Melissa: We’re going on a trip in March, and this is the book I’ll be reading as soon as my butt hits the plane seat. It’s ‘Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone’ by Benjamin Stevenson.
David: Patrick Bringley was once an employee at The New Yorker. But then, his brother was diagnosed with a severe form of cancer. And Bringley decided he wanted a quieter life.
David: He got a job at the most beautiful place he knew. He became a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And he worked there for a decade. He developed a personal relationship with the museum and the work there. And he overcame his grief. He wrote a book about it. The book is called ‘All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me.’
David: Here’s a paragraph from that book:
Too many visitors think of the Met as a museum of Art History, where the objective is to learn about art rather than from it. Too many suppose there are experts who know all the right answers and that it isn’t a layman’s place to dig into objects and extract what meaning they can. The more time I spend in the Met, the more convinced I am it isn’t a museum of art history, not principally. Its interests reach up to the heavens and down into worm-ridden tombs and touch on virtually every aspect of how it feels and what it means to live in the space between. There aren’t experts about that. I believe we take art seriously when we try to discern what, at close quarters, it reveals. It feels like the more I explore, the more I will see, the more I’ll understand how very little I’ve seen.
David: The early reviews have been great on this. It’s Patrick Bringley, ‘All the Beauty in the World.’ Also! If you like this book, you can tour the Met with the author. We’ll put a link in the notes.
David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: Sometimes when I’m researching Two Truths and a Lie, I come across a story that I want to tell you that doesn’t really work in the show. This is one of those stories. This is a story that I found when I was researching for our Spain episode.
David: It’s about a map. But not just any map. This is the Map of Juan de la Cosa. There are two really extraordinary things about this map.
David: The first is that this is the first map we know of that shows the New World – or what the Europeans thought of as ‘the new world.’ It’s drawn on a huge piece of ox hide — six feet by 3 feet or about 180 cm by 95 cm. If you think about a dry-erase board and then make that half again as big.
David: On the right side is a map of the old world and the Atlantic. On the left are the Americas, North, and South. And the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. In the center is the first known drawing of the equator and the Tropic of Cancer. There’s a killer resume builder: ‘I invented the equator.’
David: In a little box on the right side of the ox skin, it says, in Spanish, ‘Juan de la Cosa made this map in the port of Santa Maria in the year 1500.’ Juan de la Cosa was a friend of Columbus. He was the owner of the Santa Maria and went with Columbus on his first two trips to the West Indies. During his lifetime, Juan traveled to the new world seven times. But he only came back six.
David: Juan made that map in 1500 and died a few years later. He died near what is now Cartagena in Columbia. I suspect he was trying to enslave the local population. Instead, the natives introduced him to a poison arrow.
David: But the map. Columbus gave the map to Ferdinand II in 1503 with, I imagine, a lot of pomp and circumstance. Ferdinand gave it to a golf buddy of his.
David: And then we get to the second extraordinary thing about the map. It disappeared for 300 years. We know it was in Spain in about 1510. It was seen again when it was found in Paris in 1832. Some people speculate that the Vatican had it, and then Napoleon took it from there. But that’s a guess.
David: We only know that in 1832, a mildly eccentric baron who was into spiders and reference books was browsing through a junk shop in Paris. He found this cool map he liked and took it home. Maybe to decorate. His name was Baron Charles Athanase Walckenaer. Walckenaer became the conservator of maps for the Royal Library of Paris.
David: After his death, the map was bought by the queen of Spain. And now, for three euros, you can see the Map of Juan de la Cosa in the Naval Museum in Madrid, which is open seven days a week.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more about the books we discussed and to put your eyeballs on that map.
David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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