Encyclopedia of the Exquisite


In her introduction, author Jessica Kerwin Jenkins refers to her collection of encyclopedia entries as “Why I like it here.” Everything she writes about inside this tome “lit a spark” or “excited intense delight” in her.

Arranged alphabetically, each two-to-four page entry contains interesting bits of historical information. The word yes has a long history, but the author focuses on the 1960s and how the word brought John Lennon and Yoko Ono together. Jenkins’ “love notes” entry is dedicated to the 1,162 love notes exchanged between Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin in the late 1700s.

The author read extensively (as seen in the bibliography) to find interesting quotes for her book. The Kumari entry contains quotes from Rashmila Shakya about her experience being a living goddess of Nepal. The author also gives examples of many well-known people throughout history who shared her passions. Harry Houdini and Count Leo Tolstoy both enjoyed the Japanese art of folding paper. Houdini wrote a 1922 book entitled Houdini’s Paper Magic about origami, and one of Tolstoy’s folded-paper birds still exists in a museum near his family estate.

This is not a colorful, visual encyclopedia, but some of the entries are supplemented with recipes, others with monochrome illustrations. The ornate decorations featured on the cover of the encyclopedia complement the designs appearing alongside the page numbers and entry headings. While some of the entries (sequins, confetti, silence) are obvious examples of the exquisite (characterized in this case as luxuries that don’t require much spending), others are unexpected (lightning, string, the Bob). The author defines unfamiliar entries (xenia, ruff and cravat and thaumatrope) briefly under the headings and lists her sources for each entry in the bibliography located at the back of the book. This personalized encyclopedia is quite entertaining, especially the pages about faux jewels and sotelties.

Jessica Kerwin Jenkins has worked as an editor and writer for several magazines including Vogue. If you would like to win this book, be the fourth person to email me at [email protected] with a picture of something you own that is exquisite.