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As Beauty Does

Courtesy Ruth Gendler

DRAWN TO IT: Gendler employs chalk when she reads at bookstores.

In the ’80s, J. Ruth Gendler wrote The Book of Qualities, a collection in which she personified 76 traits with a quirky specificity that led HarperPerennial to take up the self-published book and make it widely available. Artists and creative-writing teachers have kept it a favorite, drawn by such passages as “[Detachment] rarely calls before he comes over. Usually I am so pleased to see him that I don’t object” and “Trust rarely buys round-trip tickets because she is never sure how long she will be gone and when she will return.” Last October, the book’s characters Courage, Compassion and Truth inspired a performance by the Lineage Dance Company at the Pasadena Arts Festival.

Beauty, who in Qualities was seen wearing a gold shawl and selling seven kinds of honey at the flea market, inspired Gendler’s new book of essays, Notes on the Need for Beauty (Marlowe & Company, $15.95). An artist who lives in Berkeley, Gendler, ’77, examines the many uses and enchantments of loveliness, quoting experts as diverse as Jungian psychologist James Hillman, anthropologist Edmund Carpenter and a fourth-grade poet who writes that her face is a museum of expressions and moods (“There’s even a little restaurant on the first floor:/ My mouth./ People take the nose elevator up to my eyes . . . ).

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