A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity

“Readers in the mood to be seduced will be beguiled by this thickly atmospheric book and its restless lovers who float languidly through...a place of seductive allure...where anything is permissible.” The New York Times


The bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt transports us to San Francisco in the early 1980s, a magical, fog-shrouded city suffused—as are many of its denizens—with possibility and restless energy. In A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, Whitney Otto’s characters congregate night after night at a North Beach bar called the Youki Singe Tea Room, their lives conjoined by the bonds of friendship and shared experience. At the Youki Singe, the stories of these young people’s lives—their parties, their eccentric living situations, their passions for books and art and one another, as well as their eventual longing for a more substantive existence—are recorded in one patron’s “pillow book,” her version of the intimate journals of Sei Shonagon, a courtesan of Edo Japan.

The title A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity is taken from a series of woodblock prints by the eighteenth-century artist Utamaro, a master at depicting Japan’s legendary Floating World, where, it is said, the patrons of the great pleasure quarters—and their escorts—devoted them-selves to the pursuit of music, sex, food, poetry, theater, and fashion. Now, two hundred years later and an ocean away, the young men and women of Otto’s San Francisco find themselves in their own version of a Floating World. Illustrated with more than two dozen beautifully reproduced woodblock prints, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity conjures an atmosphere both dreamy and contemporary. Whitney Otto engages the senses as well as the mind while exploring the intricacies, the trouble, and the rapture of human connection.

Select Reviews

“As elaborate as origami...beautifully conceived: a small gem.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The book radiates with what it portrays--those charged years of early, unburdened adulthood that fade so quickly.” —Seattle Weekly
“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.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“Highly pleasurable and intelligent...a surprising mixture that has its own idiosyncratic appeal.” —Newsday
“Oddly charming and charmingly odd...an intricate weave of stories.” —Orlando Sentinel