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A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity: A Novel Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 5, 2002


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Hardcover, Bargain Price, March 5, 2002
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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: - (March 5, 2002)
  • ISBN-10: 0375505458
  • ASIN: B0001GMIT4
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,386,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Set in San Francisco in the 1980s, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity is a novel of late youth--the final indulgences and excesses of a group of friends before paths are chosen, before character is set. Whitney Otto (How to Make an American Quilt) takes as her inspiration the floating world depicted in Japanese prints of the Edo period. Her characters, most of them denizens of the Youki Singe Tea Room in North Beach, live in the moment. They are unambitious, minimally employed, well-educated, and self-indulgent. Dreamers of various kinds, the women (who have artful names like Jelly, Coco, Gracie, and Theo) are passionate about their friendships, their parties, and their appearance. The narrative is as fluid as the characters, sometimes delivering a perfectly formed short story about a minor figure, and other times tracing back to explain a pivotal high school incident. Readers who give themselves over to this flowing story line, and to the shifting array of characters, will find this a rewarding and oddly moving novel. A Collection of Beauties perfectly evokes a particular mood of watchfulness, as its characters wait for their world to form around them. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt experiments again with a patchwork narrative, building an elaborate, piquant story of the loves and lives of a group of young 1980s San Franciscans around a series of 18th-century woodblock prints that depict the women of Edo, Japan. Each of the 12 chapters begins with the reproduction and explication of a print; all the prints date from a long period of peace in Japan, stretching roughly from 1615 to 1868. Out of this peace came a flowering of the arts of pleasure, and it is the pursuit of pleasure that Otto documents in 20th-century San Francisco as well. Against the backdrop of a North Beach fringe bar, the Youki Singe Tea Room, dozens of Otto's expertly tailored characters drink, adjust and readjust their senses of loneliness, acceptance and desire in a series of short vignettes. Among them are Roy, "a purveyor of `artificial paradises,' who is neither sinister nor extraordinary in any way"; Jelly, who travels with a coterie of beautiful women and adoring men; Pirouz, Iranian born and raised in France, who falls in love with San Francisco and marries Jelly to secure a green card; and Raphaella, singer with a golden voice, who usurps Pirouz's attentions. Many more characters come and go in Otto's merry-go-round of parties, connections, break-ups, art and glittering San Francisco skyscapes. Stylish almost to a fault, the novel makes a fetish of beauty and unusual art objects, but it is the intricate web of human connections that gives it deeper appeal. 10-city author tour. (Mar. 12) Forecast: The eclectic format of Otto's latest will be familiar to fans of How to Make an American Quilt, though the young, hip, multicultural protagonists will appeal more to those who enjoyed The Passion Dream Book, her most recent novel.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By erica on September 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book. It is beautiful, enchanting, and a little bit cynical. The plot weaves in and out among itself: the book is composed of a series of what at first appear to be independent short stories, but soon begin to link and spread, forming a connecting and disconnecting network. The stories skip in and out of time and place, following a pattern in theme rather than in chronology; the discontinuity can be confusing if you want to remember everything, but it contributes wonderfully to the dissipative, collectivist mood of the book. Each story opens with a copy of a Japanese print and a description that is meant to parallel the events of the story, and the book as a whole is meant to reflect a famous Japanese diary. These connections are occasionally obvious and often obscure; searching for them is part of the excitement of reading such an interwoven work. The prose is always smooth and often beautiful, and the characters and plot are developed with a distinct sense of artistry. The book as a whole is amazingly balanced, readable, and occasionally stunning. It deserves to be read slowly and in a quiet room.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By G. Arino on September 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book was brillant. If you only read one book this year, make it this one! It was enchanting, engrossing and I couldn't put it down. The japanese prints were a nice and fitting touch to intricately woven stories and the characters, while not always accessible (I think that was the point) were interesting and warm. I loved the back drop of San Francisco and the descriptions of the inside of the tea room.
Otto is an amazing writer. I have read all of her books (more than once!) and would recommend all of them highly. She is creative, articulate, intelligent and has a way with words. You won't regret it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Condon on May 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I found this book very charming. The front page of each chapter contains a lovely pictorial reference to the Japanese floating world of Edo, a reinforcement of the feeling the book evokes, of an ephemeral age and time - a signature of a particluar generation - this one in the 1980's in a city that itself is a delight - San Francisco. Its characters are an ensemble of detached, almost superficial, visually cued men and women (boys and girls?) of late twenties redeemed by their sense of kindness and by open caring and affection. It reminded me very much of a book of equal sweetness set a decade ealier in the 1970's - Vibram Seth's The Golden Gate, a lyrical poem set in the Bay Area that captured the mixed up romances and changes of a different, more hopeful, pre-AIDS generation. Both books have a lightness and loving nature with the City itself more a stage than stadt.
The chapters intertwine characters and timelines like a Shakespearean Oberon, Titania and the path-crossing lovers. The only shortfall is that we never get to know any one character very well. All educated, some are users, some self-consciously detached, a few with a described past, none with exact ambitions. What they all share is a "floating" before landing into the not yet arrived-at weight of jobs, marriage, committment, irrevocable choices or downhill slides, as they pass into their 30's. Maybe many of us landed earlier, especially now that marriage is a sooner thing than it was in the 70's and 80's. But even without a connection to either a belated coming of age, being young in the 80's or a feeling for S.F. (I lived in S.F. in the 70-80's), this is still a reading pleasure, at least a light read for the beach, a cut above the predictable romances. It's bound to refresh.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. Bradley on May 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Whitney Otto writes (in her usual wonderful prose) a tale of the late twentieth century's "lost generation." Using a storeline loosely inspired by a series of Japanese prints of beautiful courtesans, Otto writes of a group of intelligent young women struggling for purpose and love in 1980's San Francisco. Her observations on friendship vs. love, ambition vs. worth, art vs. celebrity, and youth vs. age are all dead-on and often gently humorous. My only complaint is the over-all tone of melancholy, but perhaps that is how many clear-sighted people perceive modern life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Betty Burks on April 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
All of her little books have Oriental book jackets, all similar, and she uses the same format of short vignettes to tell varied and many stories. A COLLECTION OF BEAUTIES, goes back in time to the late-twenties and early-thirties to the fetish of beauty and youth. No age is perfect.

These characters will realize sooner or later that beauty fades as they age, and there is nothing they can do about it. These related tales are reminiscent of her earlier books, and she seems to be searching for her Japanese roots in this one in particular.

Sometimes, beauty is on the inside of a person, no matter what age; some older women are still beautiful until their eyes get sunk in. The changing hair is fascinating, and who cares whethre you dye it some outrageous color or not. Natural is better but, let me tell you, there is no "aging gracefully." These women have much to learn before they can truly be beauties.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By H. Rose on October 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
I bought this right after reading The Passion Dream Book by her - which I loved. I liked this one a lot too. This one is a little less coherently linear and a bit harder to fit together but still it's wonderful! The writing is exceptional, the images evoked are ethereal and realistic, the characters are people you come to care about (and get disappointed when they don't return!) Quote from page 172 - "As her mind wanders she censors none of the random thoughts that blend, melt, give way, and transform into other random thoughts. This inconsequential circling around a central pressing thought. It is pleasant to sit this way, allowing her mind to clip along, relaxed, feeling its muscle as it sorts through the ridiculous and the profound." Otto is an excellent writer and I look forward to reading more by her - she's fast becoming a favorite author.
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More About the Author

Whitney Otto is the bestselling author of "How To Make an American Quilt" (also made into a feature film starring Winona Ryder), "Now You See Her," "The Passion Dream Book," "A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity," and her newest novel, "Eight Girls Taking Pictures." "Eight Girls Taking Pictures" was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

Please visit her at her website: www.whitneyotto.com, and on Facebook and tumblr.

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