Moss,Tara; photographs by Rebecca Love. Nantucket: The Ultimate Playground. Schiffer Books, 2022. 272 pp. ISBN: 978-0-7643-6476-1. $50.00
This coffee table book features photographs of white people in expensive clothes walking exclusive beaches with their beautiful children eating gourmet food on an a prestigious island off the New England coast. Divided into sections, images document treasured sights, tastes to savor, timeless activities, toys, playgrounds and traditions and celebrations. Inspired by a life-changing childbirth experience, the author, a long-time seasonal resident, wanted to capture the famous island with a child’s playful wonder. It didn’t quite land that way for me–I’m not sure this book knows what it wants to be or who it’s for.
At first glance, and from the foreward, the book seems geared to parents taking their kids places on Nantucket, but it’s not really a guidebook, and the activities are also aimed at those young at heart who want to rent a jet ski or charter a boat (maybe while the nanny watches the kids?) Several playgrounds are mentioned–few captions, no addresses. Two little free libraries are mentioned and although the Nantucket Atheneum is referenced twice, it is never disclosed that the Atheneum is Nantucket’s public library, which has a cozy children’s room that is a destination in and of itself; it is simply mentioned as a provider of children’s programs. The only travel guide nod is a list of bike paths–no map, no addresses, not even a starting location in most cases, just a mention of the road the path parallels. There is no index, and a list of locations is alphabetical, rather than grouped by chapter, and is mostly limited to commercial businesses.
While the photos are consistently gorgeous, the content itself feels inconsistent. Captions have varying degrees of detail from several sentences to… none at all. Some images feel like teasers–just a glimpse of the attraction. I wanted to see all of the famous Bartlett Farm, not just pictures of tomatoes and corn. There are lots of lighthouses shown, which are fun to see but don’t really convey “playground.” Isolated stretches of barren beaches and waterways leave me wondering: where are the tourists? There are nods to all seasons, but if these were taken in the off-season, when?
A multi-page spread of dogs has no captions or context–are the dogs of Nantucket? Do they belong to vacationers in pet-friendly places? Or are they family members to the creative partners who produced the book? Same with vintage vehicles: are these familiar sights every season? Or novelties that came over on this year’s ferry? More disturbing than an arrangement of dried tuna tails whose mounting pins seem to stare back at the viewer are multiple pictures of naked baby bottoms that steal the agency from those too young to choose whether their nudity be sold for profit.
Perhaps this will find an audience with fans of the queen of beach reads Elin Hilderbrand: those who can only afford a coffee table book (and not a Nantucket vacation). That said: do art books need to have a purpose beyond just being beautiful or evoking a response, whether it’s nostalgia or envy or longing?
The photography, by islander and portrait/landscape/wedding photographer Rebecca Love, is absolutely breathtaking and #goals, but is too pristine, capturing way more Pinterest-perfect stills than people actually playing. An artist’s statement on the collection would have been a welcome addition. An outtakes section of dropped ice cream cones, sunburned toddlers and crying kids who can’t have what they want at the toy store might have balanced out this perfect collection. Purchase for your coastal AirBnB guests to thumb through and enjoy with a glass of Veuve Clicquot.