07/25/14

10 Great Classic Books and Books Relating to Classics

P1010814‘Fictitious Dishes; An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals’ by Dinah Fried (HarperCollins Publishers) What a great idea for a book; meals that have been mentioned in classic books such as ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, ‘Emma’, ‘The Great Gatsby’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, Middlesex, ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’! Fried explains that her book grew out of a design school project; she had to cook, style and photograph meals described in various books. From my background in styling, I have set up many place settings for meals for photography, so it was fascinating to see her work. The book includes some snapshots of the locations as she was setting the shots up such as some images that were shot on very small patches of grass on an inner-city nature strip. I loved how Fried included information at the bottom of each page about the classic books the meal was from, little gems like that ‘Little Women’ was semi-autobiographical or how J.D.Salinger included many references to Swiss cheese sandwiches and how Salinger’s father was a cheese importer, what exactly are corn dodgers in ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, a moustache tea cup that Mr Bloom drinks from in ‘Ulysses’ and just remembering fabulous parts of books where food is integral such as Mammy bringing up the tray of food to Scarlett in ‘Gone With the Wind’, Tom Robinson’s father sending a chicken to Atticus in ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, Oliver asking for some more gruel in ‘Oliver Twist’ and Turkish delight in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. At the end of the book Fried lists each of the books and their summaries just to keep you wanting to read more!

P1010813‘The Women in Black’ by Madeleine St. John (Text Publishing) I’m not sure why I had never heard of this book until last year, but I loved it! Set in Sydney, Australia it’s the story of a young girl who works in an easily identified department store and the characters and challenges she meets there. After finishing my final year of school I got a summer job until uni started and then I kept the job as a casual for the next few years. My job was at a boutique department store which was annexed (and later bought by) the department store alluded to in this book. So I could completely relate to the wonderfully exotic older women that St. John writes about in her book, they were exactly like the spectacular women I worked for with fabulous accents from my French boss and Eastern European colleagues, fascinating conversation and all of whom were spectacularly groomed. Everything had to be done in particular ways and respect paid to loyal customers as I showed them the latest eye cream from La Prairie, Petit Bateau children’s clothing, measured men up for Ermenegildo Zegna suits and was spell-bound during gift-wrapping lessons by the Japanese expert! All this was just a day in the life as it is with St. John’s hero, Lisa, as she grappled with conversations to make, socializing with these new colleagues, what to bring for lunch and where to eat it and the glorious pay packet! A beautifully written book, perceptive in it’s views and thoughts of young Lisa meeting extraordinary characters, the feel of the rush of Christmas and sale time and her individual dream of buying a particular dress.

P1010805‘Happily Ever After; Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’ by Susannah Fullerton (Frances Lincoln) Susannah Fullerton has a gift; she writes in such a fascinating way, weaving a range of interesting facts that you have finished her book before you know it! Susannah Fullerton is the dynamic President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. This book celebrates the 200th anniversary of the first publication of one of the world’s most popular books, ‘Pride and Prejudice’. I was interested to read that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was one of the most popular reads for troupes in the trenches during World War I, infact Rudyard Kipling wrote a story ‘The Janeites’ about soldiers and their shared love of Jane Austen and it was again a popular read in the bomb shelters during World War II. Fullerton describes the history of this classic book before publication and then its journey after publication including the various different editions (stunning cover art for the Hungarian version!) and that, despite the daunting task of translating (even the word ‘pride’ has good and bad connotations in English and creates havoc when translating into other languages) there are at least 44 languages in which ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is available. The BBC TV series of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) is the most popular period drama series to date and sales of the book sky-rocketed when the series was screened on TV in 1995. Apparently British motorways were jammed with people eager to get home on the night that Elizabeth married Mr Darcy and Chawton House (where Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life) museum had to extend its opening hours and hire more staff to accommodate the visitors inspired by the TV series. Why is ‘Pride and Prejudice’ still popular today? Human nature has not changed so much in 200 years and we still come across similar characters and emotions that make us reassess what pride and prejudice actually means.

Read my interview with Susannah Fullerton here.

Visit Susannah Fullerton’s websites here and here.

P1010806‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte (Penguin) I reread this book recently and just adored it (again!). The story just flows so easily and it’s a real page-turner. Written in the first person, Bronte captures our imagination and emotions from Jane’s sad tormented childhood to her schooling, time as a governess, intriguing relationship with her employer and beyond; Bronte keeps us fascinated and spell-bound throughout. Bronte’s turn of phrase is really so beautiful; from the stoic conversations with Helen Burns, the cruelty of Mr Brocklehurst, the justness of Mr Lloyd, the kindness of the Rivers sisters, the reserved nature of St. John Rivers, the loyalty of Bessie and the stories and hope of the rejuvenating powers of kindness. After Jane’s cruel childhood, the expressions of gratitude and later of love are so beautiful; ‘it was the real sunshine of feeling – he shed it over me now’ and ‘the sunshine of his presence’. Bronte’s wonderful sense of humour is carefully and effectively placed so when a servant hears a very surprising piece of information she ‘did look up, and she did stare at me; the ladle which she was basting a pair of chickens roasting in the fire, did for some three minutes hang suspended in air’. Bronte was a master storyteller with her many twists and turns in the plot enhancing the mystery of the tale. Her writing is so beautifully crafted that it is a joy to read right up to and including the unexpected ending.

P1010808‘Emma’ by Jane Austen (Penguin) This is one of Austen’s most popular books. It’s easy to read, funny and unpredictable. The story is about Emma who likes to think she is a great match-maker, but misinterprets many comments, looks and situations and really makes a bit of a mess of it; one of the themes is the blinding power of imagination! It’s a bit of a lesson in life not to make presumptions about what people are thinking or feeling. I went through the full round of emotions with Emma; adoring her, being very frustrated with her, embarrassed for her, annoyed with her and, basically, doing exactly what Austen wanted: to make the reader see Emma from every side and through every emotion until we see her for what she is; a human not to be judged, but who has their faults, has learnt along the way, corrected herself and trying to do the best she can in the future. A wonderful collection of characters travels with us through the journey of discovery making this classic all the more fun and engaging. Once again, the fabulous Coralie Bickford-Smith has woven her magic with the gorgeous cover design of this edition of ‘Emma’ as part of her Cloth Bound Classics for Penguin.

download‘Rebecca’ by Daphe du Maurier (Penguin) With an opening line that’s sure to get you in, ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again’, this classic book doesn’t let up on the mystery and intrigue through the whole book. One of my nieces recommended I read this. Knowing I had never read this book, I was a bit unnerved that the eerie storyline was enhanced by the fact that when I was reading it I kept thinking ‘there’s something important about that boat shed’ or ‘that character comes back later’ without knowing the whole story. Partway through I realized it was one of the movies one of my sisters, brother and I watched on a Friday evening. We used to watch classic old movies including ‘The Birds’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘West Side Story’, ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘The King and I’ (quite a mixed selection of movies!). So even though I knew I hadn’t read the book, the half-remembering of the movie all those years ago really added to the spooky feel. Du Maurier writes beautifully and poignantly. She describes her characters so magnificently that we feel we know them. Even the house (Manderlay) takes on its own persona and her descriptions of the landscape are breathtakingly beautiful. We get taken in by these descriptions before we realize we are following an intriguing mystery. Du Maurier leads us to imagine one side of the story whilst building up the case for a completely different scenario so that at the very unexpected ending you think –  ‘Oh!!! of course, now I understand!’

P1010810Great Expectations; The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens’ by Robert Gottlieb (Picador; Macmillan) First of all, I’ve got to say, what a clever title! This book was fascinating. Charles and Catherine Dickens had nine children that grew to adulthood and this is the story of each of the children; what they were like, what it was like to be the child of the most famous writer in the world and the most famous person (apart from Queen Victoria) in England, how they reacted to their famous father and what they did during their lives. Dickens sounds like the ultimate neat freak with daily morning inspections of each of the rooms in his house, but he was an involved father when the children were young – he had a special voice he spoke to each of them and crazy nicknames. However, nine children were a lot of dependents and there were seven sons who needed jobs. Five of Dickens’ seven sons left England – some never to return – to be in the army, navy, India, Canada and Australia; one left when he was as young as 14! Dickens’ friendship with the richest woman in England (apart from Queen Victoria), Angela Burdett-Coutts, helped finance Dickens’ eldest son, Charley’s, education who later went into publishing and eventually Macmillan Publishers. Kate, Dickens’ second daughter became a respected artist and was the model for one of John Everett Millais’ paintings. Kate also painted scenes inspired by her father’s novel and she and one of her brothers, Henry, enthused people to send copies of her fathers’ work to soldiers at the front during World War I. Henry gave a series of talks, was a founding member of Boz Club (monthly dinners to celebrate his father) and the Dickens Fellowship which included the establishment of the Charles Dickens Museum in London which is a place I loved visiting. Each of the children are carefully discussed and documented in a fascinating mix of research from letters, dairies, contemporaries and biographies.

P1010812‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte (Penguin) Anne Bronte published this book under the pseudonym Acton Bell in 1848 (the other Bronte sisters also wrote under pseudonyms that begin with the first letter of their name; Charlotte was Currer Bell and Emily; Ellis Bell). This classic is about a new neighbour who moves into a quiet town, but doesn’t seem to want to make friends and guards her young son fiercely. The neighbourhood takes offence; all except one young farmer who is intrigued and confused by the new neighbour’s behavior. An interesting and quite sad story, dealing with relationships and the implications of law in Victorian England and, I can tell you, they were pretty dire for a woman; this book must have been quite provocative when it was first published. Anne Bronte wrote her explanatory famous preface at the time of the second edition, ‘if I have warned one rash youth from following in their steps, or prevented one thoughtless girl from falling into the very natural error of my heroine, the book has not been written in vain’. Beautifully crafted with wonderful descriptions, I enjoyed the message and the story of this classic. The scene where the young farmer makes a discovery towards the end of the book and he needs to get himself from one place to another tout suite is a masterful piece of writing as the words run, trip and hurry along with anxiety and expediency mirroring the actions and feelings of the farmer; simply superb reading!

P1010811‘North and South’ by Elizabeth Gaskell (Penguin) Called an ‘industrial’ novel, I really enjoyed reading about the difference between the manufacturing centres in the north of England and the city centres in the south of England in 1800s. I loved Gaskell’s clever turn of phrase and use of understatement; when the main family needs to move from the south of England to Milton in the north, their rooms are freshly re-wallpapered in a light colour; ’It needed the pretty light papering of the rooms to reconcile them to Milton. It needed more – more that could not be had’. This classic compares the south to the north through various characters and we see how their opinions are debated with others and how their opinions change over time and why. We read about workers, the businesses and managers, how both are dependence on each-other, misunderstandings, unions, strikes, conflicts and resolutions – we are forced to evaluate and then to re-evaluate our sense of social justice. Before being published as a book, ‘North and South’ had appeared in twenty weekly episodes in ‘Household Words,’ which was edited by Dickens. Apparently Charles Dickens requested Gaskell to change the title of this novel from ‘Margaret Hale’ (the main character’s name) to ‘North and South’ – a much better title, in my opinion. A great read about the differences between industry, country and opinions that constrict and enlighten.

P1010815‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens (Penguin) This is one of those books that you’ve always heard about, but might not have read. I reread it just before last Christmas and it quickly became a favourite. Bringing attention to the plight of poor conditions in contemporary London, Dickens highlighted the fact that the poor feel their conditions even more strongly at Christmas time. A theme that is current now as it was then. The mean-spirited Scrooge represents the ‘Bah! Humbug!’ reaction to Christmas with a ‘who cares?’ attitude. His past business partner in the form of a spirit visits Scrooge and warns him that he has a chance to redeem himself and change his fate of being punished for his selfishness and self-serving life. The ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ then visits Scrooge and we see how his former sweetheart leaves him because Scrooge cannot love anyone more than money. Scrooge is deeply moved. Next the ‘Ghost of Christmas Present’ shows Scrooge his employee’s Christmas and how that family is in need. Scrooge is shaken. The ‘Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come’ shows him how few people mourn Scrooge’s death except a poor couple who are relived they don’t need to pay their unforgiving creditor. Overwhelmed Scrooge repents and finds himself returned to Christmas Day where he gives provisions to the poor and treats everyone with kindness, generosity and warmth from now on. Dickens says ‘while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour’ – thus banishing the ‘Bah! Humbug!’ theme, the cynicism and reminding us to celebrate life. In this era of commercialism, doubt and sarcasm I think it’s a great book about the power of humanity, the ability to change and of hope and respect.

Read my reviews of other classic books here.

06/27/14

10 Great Films Adapted from Books

jane-eyre-2011‘Jane Eyre’ directed by Cary Fukunaga (BBC Films; Universal Pictures International, 2011) This is a beautiful adaption of Charlotte Bronte’s book, ‘Jane Eyre’. Bronte’s romantic novel is based on a young governess in the 1800s and her struggle for equality and independence. From the beginning, the mystery and misery of the story entrances us as the film opens with Jane Eyre running across the bleak moors where even nature conspires against her. In flashbacks, we are reminded of her bleak childhood as an orphan, her cruel aunt and cousin, her sadistic boarding school then and as a governess for a child who is under the custody of a brooding wealthy employer in a dark hall. The gothic aspects of the story and cinematography capture the building and surrounding Derbyshire area’s desolate nature. The film stars Mia Wasikowska as the wonderful elfin Jane, Michael Fassdender as the brooding employer Mr Rochester and Judi Dench as Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper. Combining rich imagery through locations, beautiful costumes and gorgeous acting, this wonderful classic with all its light, happy and dark, brooding contrasts is brought to life. Thank you to one of my nieces, Phoebe, for suggesting I watch this movie.

movie-poster-maos-last-dancerMao’s Last Dancer’ directed by Bruce Beresford (Village Roadshow, 2009) This is a fantastic adaption of Li Cunxin’s autobiography, ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’. The movie is fascinating as we travel with Li from his humble childhood in Shandong, China, then being dramatically chosen to be a ballet student in Beijing and experiencing the impact of the Cultural Revolution, his journey to USA and then to Australia where he became a principal artist with The Australian Ballet. Contrasting images of rural China and breath-taking dance sequences highlighting skill, determination and dedication highlight Li’s story and all dancers and sportspeople committed to their chosen discipline. This is a movie about taking an opportunity and running with it and, against all odds, achieving a dream through dedication and perseverance. The film won seven awards and has stunning dance scenes by the very talented dancers including Chi Cao and Chengwu Guo. Superb dancer, Chengwu Guo, has since followed Li’s career path by becoming a principal artist with The Australian Ballet who is wonderful to watch live. Inclusions of fellow principals of The Australian Ballet, Madeleine Eastoe and Steven Heathcote, add to the magic of the movie. I admire the rigour and dedication of all dancers, the history and perfection of ballet and loved the book, so I couldn’t wait to watch this movie – and I wasn’t disappointed! See my review of the book ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ here.

northanger‘Northanger Abbey’ directed by Jon Jones (Granada Television, 2007) This TV movie is a particularly beautiful adaption of Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’. A story warning about the dangers of jumping to conclusions before checking all the facts, Felicity Jones plays Catherine Morland who is invited to stay at Northanger Abbey. Catherine is hoping for an adventure like she has been reading in novels and her over-active imagination creates mischief as she imagines all sorts of weird and mysterious histories and happening at her hosts’ home. This wild imagination influences her thoughts and decisions and when it is discovered how far her imaginings are from the truth, it causes embarrassment and she realizes how ridiculous she has been. With screenplay written by Andrew Davies, this is a really clever lesson. Thank you to my eldest daughter for suggesting I watch this movie.

north and south dvd cover‘North & South’ directed by Ben Percival (BBC Worldwide; Roadshow Entertainment, 2004) This TV mini-series is a wonderful adaption of Elizabeth Gaskell’s book ‘North & South’. The story is a clash of Northern England no-nonsense and Southern England’s delicate sensibilities. The film tells the stormy relationship between Margaret Hale who moves to the north with her family, and John Thornton, a cotton mill owner who is terrified of losing his business. Around them are struggles between the workers, mill owners and basic struggles between the industrial North and the agrarian South. Daniela Denby-Ashe plays Margaret Hale and Richard Armitage plays John Thornton. Great scenes and costumes give this classic story the depth and attention to detail that it deserves. I watched this movie before I read the book – it made me keen to follow through and read the classic story.

MV5BMTg0MTI2NDY0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzk3NjQyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_‘The Borrowers’ directed by Peter Hewitt (Polygram Filmed Entertainment; Working Title Films; Universal, 1997) I saw this movie on TV; I came in part way through and was fascinated! I couldn’t wait to watch it from the beginning, having read the book as a child. Based on Mary Norton’s book, ‘The Borrowers’, this happy group of miniature people lives under floorboards in a house that is going to be demolished. This award-winning movie incorporates great props and clever special effects. The action-packed activities of these little people and their interaction with human beings are funny and poignant. John Goodman’s (from ‘Roseanne’) character is particularly hilarious as is Hugh Laurie’s (from ‘House M.D.’). I particularly love the props, hairstyle and names – Arrietty and Peagreen.

41B8RRTNHHL__SL500_AA300_‘Emma’ directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (A&E Television Networks, 1996) This TV movie is my favourite version of Jane Austen’s book, ‘Emma’. Kate Beckinsale plays Emma who loves to match-make which leads to comic and also disastrous results. Through the sharp words of Mr Knightley and the example of the opinionated Mrs Elton, Emma’s attitudes eventually soften. With all her interest in other people’s lives Emma fails to see the man who has been constant and loving to her. The costumes and casting are beautiful and insightful. One of the many wonderful performances is by Prunella Scales (from ‘Fawlty Towers’). This award-winning movie with screenplay written by Andrew Davies brings this wonderful book to life.

Sense_and_sensibility‘Sense and Sensibility’ directed by Ang Lee (Columbia Pictures; Sony, 1995) I remember going to see this movie when it first came out at my local movie theatre. This Oscar-winning movie is a great adaption of Jane Austen’s book, ‘Sense and Sensibility’. A story of the differences between showing to much emotion and not enough and the consequences of both, this adaption is a wonderful combination of humour, love and great acting. It’s fun, light-hearted and has beautiful locations and costumes. Emma Thompson (who also who the screenplay for this movie) as Elinor Dashwood, Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon just steal the show. Other wonderful actors include Kate Winslet (from ‘Titanic’) as Marianne Dashwood, Tim Wilkinson as Mr Dashwood and Hugh Laurie as the dry and long-suffering Mr Palmer.

Pride and Prejudice 1995‘Pride and Prejudice’ directed by Simon Langton (BBC, 1995) When the BBC produced this lavish TV miniseries version of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ it re-launched interest in Austen’s work. This series is BBC’s most popular period drama ever. Indeed, Austen cottages and museums had to put on more staff and extend their opening hours to accommodate the visitors after the series was aired. The story of how pride and prejudice can be misunderstood, decided on too early, altered or reversed has become one of Austen’s most well-known stories. This multi-award winning adaption with the screenplay written by Andrew Davies is often people’s first introduction to Austen. Jennifer Ehle plays Elizabeth Bennet, Colin Firth (from ‘The King’s Speech’); Mr Darcy, Crispin Bonham-Carter; Mr Bingley and Julia Sawalha (from ‘Absulutely Fabulous’) as Lydia Bennett. Having read this book at high school, I was so pleased to see the film version. See my review of the book ‘Pride and Prejudice’ here.

MV5BMjE0MzkwMDczNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzU1ODYxMQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_‘Little Women’ directed by Gillian Armstrong (Columbia Pictures; Universal; Sony, 1994) This is an award-winning adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s book, ‘Little Women’. With their father away fighting in the Civil War, sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy grow up in America with their mother in reduced circumstances. Susan Sarandon is the strong mother, Mrs March, and Winona Ryder is one of the daughters, Jo March. Thank you again to one of my nieces, Phoebe, for suggesting I watch this movie.

MV5BMTg1ODkzODczMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzM5NjcxMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_AL_’84 Charing Cross Road’ directed by David Hugh Jones (Columbia Pictures, 1987) This award-winning movie of the true story of Helene Hanff’s ‘84 Charing Cross Road’ is just beautiful. Set just after WWII, a humorous New York script-reader sees an ad in the paper for a bookstore in London that does mail order. She begins a very special correspondence and friendship with Frank Doel, the bookseller who works at Marks & Co., 84 Charing Cross Road. We learn of the food shortages in post-war London and the inability to find books at the same time in New York. Anne Bancroft’s portrayal of Helene Hanff, Anthony Hokins as Frank P. Doel and Judi Dench as his wife, Nora Doel are delightful. Connie Booth pops in as ‘the lady from Delaware’. I loved this book and was so pleased that the movie didn’t disappoint. It is about the joy of books and receiving wonderful parcels in the post. See my review of the book ’84 Charing Cross Road’ here.

05/25/14

10 Great Non-Fiction Books

'Charles Dickens; A Life'Charles Dickens; A Life’ by Claire Tomalin (Penguin) What a fascinating man Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) was! From very humble beginnings he became a popular and prolific writer with such a clever way with words, plots and characters who ‘celebrated the small people living on the margins of society’. As Tomalin says ‘Through his own energy and exceptional gifts he had raised himself out of poverty. But he neither forgot it, nor turned aside from the poverty about him. He drew his attention to it in his books’. Dickens considered going into law or politics, but ‘thought he could do more good as a writer who drew attention to abuses than in any other way’. He also raised lots of money for good causes. Tomalin has a great writing style that is very readable and fascinating, imparting lots of facts along the way with notes and sources listed at the back of the book. Dickens serials ‘established a new style in publishing and reached a new public, because the paper numbers were cheap to buy and could be passed around’. As Tomalin says, Dickens ‘was a star, the great man who was also the people’s friend; they came to worship and adore, queuing up to hear him, applauding him with shouts and cheers’. I loved reading about how Dickens planned out his novels which were often in serial form, how he sometimes worked on more than 1 book at a time, was hounded by his extended family for money, went walking for hours and hours each day and travelled to various countries including America, France, Italy and England to do his readings. I was fascinated to read that Dickens ‘kept his characters alive in his imagination for the rest of his life’. A complex man, as Tomalin says, ‘the spectacle of a man famous for his goodness and his attachment to domestic virtues suddenly losing his moral compass is dismaying’.

'The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects'‘The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects’ by Richard Kurin (Penguin) Oh, this was such a great read! Based on Neil MacGregor’s  ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’, this book goes through the history of America through the treasures in the 19 Smithsonian museums and zoo. Smithson (1765 – 1829) was an English scientist who, never having visited America, bequeathed his entire fortune to establish an institute to be called Smithsonian in America for the ‘increase and diffusion of knowledge among men’. For each of the 101 objects, we read of the social background, the object itself and how it came to be in the Smithsonian collection which is fascinating in itself; such as how Muhammad Ali personally delivered his boxing gloves, how the Hope diamond came via post or the live pandas via Federal Express! We learn how John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both involved in the Declaration of Independence, died on the same day, same year – July 4th (Independence Day in America), that the White House was painted with heavy coats of white paint to cover the scorched sandstone after it was set alight during America’s War of 1812, how the Star Spangled Banner song was written by an American prisoner waiting to see which flag (the English or the American) was flown over the fort the next morning which would indicate who had won the battle, that the restoration of the original Star-Spangled banner (flag) inspired a major donation from clothing manufacturer, Ralph Lauren, that the statue of liberty was originally designed as a lighthouse for the Suez Canal and that Mark Twain was amongst the donor to create funds for the New York statue’s base. We also learn about the top hat that Abraham Lincoln had by his side when he was assassinated, the ruby slippers from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ movie and Julia Child’s original kitchen all of which are in the Smithsonian’s collections. A great way to learn about history!

'Empty Mansions'‘Empty Manors; The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Loss of one of the World’s Greatest Fortunes’ by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. (Allen & Unwin) This book is a great example of fact being stranger than fiction! It’s a biography of Clark who was the youngest daughter of American copper baron, W.A. Clark, who was nearly as rich as Rockerfeller. Huguette grew up in the largest house in New York City with 121 rooms, including 31 bathrooms, 5 art galleries and a Turkish bath all for a family of four. Her father owned the finest collection of French art in USA. Huguette owned paintings by Degas, a Renoir that had not been seen in public since 1937, a Monet Waterliles painting that had not been seen in public since 1930 and a world-renowned Stradivarius violin. Huguette Clark was born in 1906 and only just died in 2011, having lived 204 years! Why have we never heard of this American heiress? Divorced and without children, reclusive Clark lived in a hospital room for the last 20 years of her life although she was in excellent health and owning grand estates in 3 states of USA. The last known photo of Huguette was taken in 1928 when Huguette was 22! An eccentric, at one stage one of her carer’s assignments was to record and transcribe every word of every episode of ‘The Flinstones’. Controversially Huguette gave millions of dollars to her main carer and then left most of her estate to this one carer and the carer’s family. It’s a fascinating book about extreme wealth and a battle over a $300 million inheritance. With conflicting wills, as Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr. (whose father was Huguette’s first cousin) said that ‘if anyone were teaching a law school class in estates and trusts, demonstrating how not to handle the signing of a will for an elderly client with hundreds of millions of dollars, this ceremony would be Exhibit A’.

Read my interview with Bill Dedman here.

Visit the ‘Empty Mansions’ website here.

'101 Moments of Joy and Inspiration'‘101 Moments of Joy and Inspiration’ by Meredith Gaston (Lantern; Penguin) Thank you to Karen who gave me this book for Christmas. What a beautiful collection of gorgeous artwork teamed with great sayings. Gaston has a beautiful lyrical style of illustration which she depicts in line and clear watercolours. The whimsy and vibrant colours are in a style evocative of Marc Chagall. Discovered drawing on a napkin at a Sydney Café, Gaston was offered an exhibition. Gaston’s artwork emphasises her passion about positive living and loving life. With her book she hopes to encourage people to find the joy and inspiration in their daily lives; to live life to the full and celebrate it. ‘Be what you are looking for’ is one of the fantastic quotes. Wanting to be a storyteller at twelve, a journalist and an artist all at once at eighteen, by her late twenties she feels this has come true. After reading and adoring this book I realized that I knew the name Meredith Gaston from her Kindergallery business which is a gallery of really beautiful fine art for children.

Read my interview with Meredith Gaston here.

Visit Meredith Gaston’s website here.

'Laughter is the Best Medicine'‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’ by Jean-Paul Bell (Hachette) An amazing group of people visit children’s hospitals around Australia. Known as the Clown Doctors, they visit children in emergency wards, intensive care, burns and oncology units making jokes, singing, entertaining and talk to bring laughter and moments of joy to over 100,000 patients and their parents each year. Bell teams his training in medicine with his practise in performing arts. The Clown Doctors help families, hospital staff and children forget their illnesses and fears for a while and live in a world that is about fun and play. The Clown Doctors check the mood around the sick-bed and in pairs they create routines that relieve some tension and entertain or they will simply be there to listen. The 55 Clown Doctors are part of most major Australian children’s hospitals. Here we follow a day in the life of a group of Clown Doctors, and go with them on their rounds, meeting patients, their parents and the hospital staff. This book is filled with special moments, courage, tears, sadness, smiles and laughter as the doctors tell us about their days.

'Everything I Need To Know I Learnt From a Little Golden Book'‘Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book’ by Diane Muldrow (Golden Books; Random House) This book is pure nostalgia and fun. Who doesn’t remember the gold foil patterned spine and shape of a Little Golden Book? I remember waiting at the supermarket check-out looking at the rack of Little Golden Books. This book is a Little Golden Book guide to life. Diane Muldrow, a long time editor of the iconic Little Golden Books, realised that, despite their whimsical appearance, there was hardly a real-life situation that hadn’t been covered in the more than 70-year-old line of children’s books—from managing money, to the importance of exercise, to finding contentment in the simplest things. This book is a trip down memory lane with a light-hearted look at tips for life as learnt by and illustrated by various pages of the numerous Little Golden Books. Messages from ‘The Poky Little Puppy’, ‘Scruffy the Tugboat’ ‘The Saggy Baggy Elephant’, ‘Tootle the Train’, ‘Chicken Little’ and other books with authors including adaptions from the Brothers Grimm to Richard Scarry are represented. The font with ‘this Little Golden Book belongs to’ which I practiced writing my name in crayons and the memorable endpapers are all lovingly reproduced. A humorous ‘guide to life’ for grown-ups!

'Artist to Artist'‘Artist to Artist; 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art’ (Philomel Books; Penguin) Thanks to my friend, Megan, who introduced me to this book and with whom I share a love of children’s picture books. In this beautifully produced book each of the 23 renown artists have a double-page spread dedicated to speaking to children about their art and how they got started. The artists share photos of themselves as children, their early work, studios, materials, sketches and finished artwork to help appreciate the art of the picture book. Eric Carle speaks of the ‘lovely feeling of my pencil touching the paper’, Quentin Blake’s writes of his drawings being accepted by ‘Punch’ magazine when he was 16 and Maurice Sendak explains that he was very sick as a child and how he loved Mickey Mouse and Charlie Chaplin movies. This book celebrates The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA is a place I am keen to visit!

'Paris Versus New York'‘Paris Versus New York; A Tally of Two Cities’ by Vahram Muratyan (Viking; Penguin) This book is pure visual joy! A very clever book of graphic designs with each page opening with a fantastic clean and clear image of an element in Paris compared to an equally stunning graphic of a paired element in New York, so we get baguette; bagel, metro; subway, Grand Palais; Grand Central, Amelie; Carrie, Pompidou; Guggenheim and so forth. Art director and graphic designer, Muratyan, was born in Paris and later moved to New York. He pays homage to each of the wonderful cities with the quirky, fun and insightful paired images. This is a beautifully produced book that celebrates the similarities and differences of these cultures and icons.

'You've Got To Read This Book'‘You’ve Got to Read This Book’ by Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks (Collins; Harper Collins) This is a great collection of stories from a range of 55 people who tell of the story of a book or books that changed their life and how they came upon each book. Authors, actresses, teachers and software gurus talk about the books that changed their life with a range of classics, non-fiction and fiction including ‘Don Quixote’, ‘Little Women’, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, ‘ Anna Karenina’, ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’, ‘The Power of One’ and ‘Gone With the Wind’. We read about why each of these books and indeed the reading process was important to them. The range of people interviewed such as the creator and producer of the TV show ‘The Waltons’, the founder of a cookie company and a president and founder of a charity is varied and far-reaching. It was interesting to read the stories of people in prison and books regarding acts of kindness and volunteer work which now inspire them. Also touching and poignant was a holocaust survivors story of how the book, ‘Mein Kampf’ changed his life.

'So Audrey'‘So Audrey; 59 Ways To Put A Little Hepburn in Your Step’ by Cindy De La Hoz (Running Press) This is a fun book with each double-page spread dedicated to a photo of Audrey Hepburn and a quote of how you can add a bit of ‘Hepburn’ in your life. Film and fashion historian, De la Hoz, includes little black dresses, ballet flats, sunglasses, beauty rest, head scarves, eyeliners and mascara, charity work, black, funny face, opera gloves, smiles and explains why they are ‘So Audrey’ in this whimsical book. This is a beautifully designed small book capturing the elegance and individuality of our beloved Audrey Hepburn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

02/28/14

10 More Great Books About History

On the noodle road‘On the Noodle Road; from Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta … a True Story’ by Jen Lin-Liu (Allen & Unwin) Chinese-American food writer and founder of a cooking school, Lin-Liu visited Italy for the first time on her honeymoon. There, attending a pasta-making class, she became fascinated with how similar the Italian pasta dishes were with traditional Chinese cooking. Returning home she resolved to follow The Silk Route to trace the origins and record the variations of pasta. In the book we follow Lin-Liu’s travels through barren desserts, mountains, green pastures, bazaars, mosques and kitchens starting in China and travelling through Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece and finishing in Italy in search of noodles. Interwoven with stories, anecdotes and history in each country, we enjoy reading about Lin-Liu cooking in private kitchens and each chapter concludes with a handful of recipes from the region from hand-rolled noodles, to Persian rice to cheese tortellini with sage-butter sauce. This book was a fascinating insight into a variety of cultures including their ingredients, landscape, cuisine, dress, attitudes and history. Lin-Liu writes with a real passion for food and interest in the cooks and their craft in a style which is both contagious and delightful.

one-summer‘One Summer; America 1927’ by Bill Bryson (Transworld Publishers; Random House) Bill Bryson is such a great raconteur – he structures his books in intriguing ways. In this book he picks a five month period (May – September 1927 which was summer in USA) when, in this very short space of time, some amazing things happened that changed the progress and history of America. Divided into chapters named after the months May to September, we start off in America in May1927 with a thriving stock market, an unusual president, a terrible flood, and we move through the five months that show how an aviator named Charles Lindbergh – a man who was completely unknown at the beginning of summer but became the most famous man on earth by the end. We hear of the improbable baseball hero, Babe Ruth, the reasons why Al Capone had a reign of terror, the eccentric nature of Gutzon Borglum (the sculptor of Mount Rushmore) and how Henry Ford’s company changed the face of the earth. An epilogue at the end of the book lets us know what happened to each of the main characters discussed in the book after September 1927. I am already looking forward to Bryson’s next book.

QI facts‘1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop’ compiled by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin (Faber & Faber; Allen & Unwin) I bought this book whilst on holidays with my eldest daughter and during the rest of the holidays I’m sure I pestered her with shouts of, ‘listen to THIS!’ The QI teams and their ‘elves’ seek out strange and outrageous facts for their TV show and books. Who knew that ponytails were outlawed in China in 1911; that the smallest known brain in a healthy person belonged to Anatole France (the winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize for Literature); that Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff was called Donald Regan; that George Orwell’s French teacher was Aldous Huxley; that Mozart once proposed to Maria Antoinette,;that Margaret Thatcher was offered the passport number 007 but turned it down; and that Chinese checkers were invented in Germany? This is another great book from that very funny team at QI.

Read my interview with James Harkin here.

Visit the QI podcast page here.

the men who united the states‘The Men Who United the States; the Amazing Stories of the Explorers, Inventors and Mavericks Who Made America’ by Simon Winchester (William Collins; HarperCollins) Divided into sections as the five classical elements; wood, earth, water, fire and metal, Winchester describes the history of USA and how the country was formed. Having recently become a US citizen, Winchester delves into what shaped and made America. We read of when America’s story was dominated by wood, when its story went beneath the earth, when the story travelled by water, was fanned by fire and told through metal. We hear of pioneers whose achievements helped to fortify and unify America including the early explorers, the influence of the landscape and the turn of world events that allowed the Louisiana Purchase and the annexing of Texas. Inventions of electricity, telegraph, telephone, railroads, radios, television and the highway numbering system (even numbers run east to west, increasing to the south and odd numbers run north to south, increasing to the west) and the bizarre naming story of Route 66 are all explained. Intriguing stories such as how  macadam construction of roads was named after John McAdam and that workers on the road knew if the stones were the right size by popping them into their mouths to check the stone’s size! The importance and navigation of the river systems, the development of the Panama Canal and the story of Matoaka who inspired the character Pocahontas are all lovingly described with engaging detail creating a thorough and interesting history.

Visit Simon Winchester’s website here.

Read my interview with Simon Winchester here.

the boy on the wooden box‘The Boy on the Wooden Box; How the Impossible Became Possible… on Schindler’s List’ by Leon Leyson with Marilyn J. Harran and Elisabeth B. Leyson (Simon and Schuster) Sadly, Leyson died just before this book was published. He was one of the youngest people on Schindler’s List. Not thinking that anyone would be interested in his story, Leyson rarely spoke about his experiences until the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ was released. Born in Poland, at ten years old Leyson was forced into ghettoes, concentration camps and was separated from his family during the Holocaust in WWII. Forced to work at Oskar Schindler’s Emalia factory in a sub-camp, Leyson was such a small 13 year-old that he had to stand on an overturned wooden box to reach the controls of the machine. This book is the only memoir written by a former Schindler’s List child and it captures the innocence of the small boy who had to witness and experience the horrors of the Holocaust.  Later in his life in USA, Leyson was re-united with Schindler who recognised and talked to him. This book is indeed a remarkable memoir of Leyson; of hope, bravery and a man of incredible dignity.

Read my interview with Elisabeth B.Leyson here.

the_games_2012‘The Games; the Extraordinary History of the Modern Olympics’ by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books; Walker Books) This is a great and fascinating history of the Olympics. Not only do we hear about the concept of the games from ancient Greece times, but the history and political changes. I loved reading that the first thing the competitors at an ancient Olympic games had to do was to pull up the weeds that had grown in the stadium since the last games! Other fascinating facts include that in the1900 Olympic Games in Paris fishing was one of the sports; in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis USA a runner hitched a lift in the marathon; in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm a wrestling match went on for nearly 12 hours; in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki a long-distance runner unnerved other competitors, spectators and policemen as he chatted to them all in various languages before winning the 5,000 race, 10,000 race and then the first marathon he had ever run; in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico building in the Olympic village site was delayed while archaeologists excavated a 1,000 year old Aztec pyramid that the workers had unearthed and in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow two sets of identical twins came 1st and 2nd in the rowing.

Visit Carole Wilkinson’s website here.

Read my interview with Carole Wilkinson here.

Have a little faith‘Have a Little Faith; a True Story’ by Mitch Albom (Hyperion; HarperCollins) Albom is asked by an 82-year-old rabbi from his hometown to deliver his eulogy. Whilst setting out to understand the rabbi better, Albom gets to know a Detroit pastor who preaches to the poor and homeless in a decaying church with a hole in its roof. This book explores the Christian and Jewish faiths, African-American and white people, impoverished and affluent situations and we are made aware how different people relate to faith; the rabbi reflects on his faith as his death approaches and the Detroit pastor relies on it to keep himself and his church afloat. Albom explores endurance under conflict, forgiveness and the importance of faith in trying times. The book becomes a perspective and reflection of faith, tolerance, service and love. Although the texts, prayers and histories of both the rabbi and pastor are different, we come to see that in many aspects beliefs are similar. Albom says that when he was asked to do the eulogy ‘I thought I was being asked a favour. In truth, I was being given one’. An interesting read about the strength of friendship and the power of faith.

A very short history of the world‘A Very Short History of the World’ by Geoffrey Blainey (Penguin) This book is a comprehensive tour of human history from Africa two million years ago to the world as it is now. We look at changes in diet to profound discoveries, mighty empires and the blurring of seasons, night and day and countries. It was a great reminder of why did the world wars start? How did apartheid happen? Which animals were domesticated and why? How did countries form? Why did certain people come to power? What impact does topography have on a nation? Which inventions and discoveries were the results of progress and which aided progress? How did languages begin? and a cornucopia of other fascinating and varied topics. Some parts of the book were a reminder of things I had studied and others were completely new and enlightening to me. Blainey writes in an engaging and clear style to create a very accessible read and overview of the history of the world.

Falling leaves‘Falling Leaves; The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter’ by Adeline Mah Yen (Penguin) One of my sisters, Kate, recommended this book to me and I found it a fascinating, but heartbreaking story. It’s the story of Yen Mah who was born in 1937 inTianjin around the time of revolution and civil war in her native country, China. As the youngest child of an affluent family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval, Yen Mah was rejected by her father as Yen Mah’s mother died giving birth to her and she was inhospitably treated by her stepmother and brothers. We see how China’s political upheaval was intermingled with Yen Mah’s childhood to create a period of fear, isolation and humiliation for her. This story is of Yen Mah’s determination to survive the pain of a lonely childhood and a testament to the most basic of human needs; love, acceptance and understanding.

War_Horse‘War Horse’ by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont; Hardie Grant) What I loved about this book is that it’s written from the perspective a horse, Joey, during WWI. As a young farm horse in the English countryside, Joey is sold to the army to be in the English cavalry and is thrust into the midst of war on the Western Front. We see the horse’s perspective of the waste and meaningless of war. Joey starts the war on the side of the Allies, gets lost on no-man’s land and spends some time on the German side of the trenches, so we see the plight of both English and German soldiers and the horrors they witnessed. The book does not have a political or biased agenda which is very refreshing and thought-provoking. According to the legend, this book was inspired by an elderly soldier from WWI who, one night by the fireside in an English countryside pub, told Morpurgo the story of his beloved horse and his time serving in WWI. I was lucky enough to see the magnificent ‘War Horse’ production where the Handspring Puppet Company brings the full-scale horses and other animals to life on stage. It was a wonderful realisation of the book.

01/29/14

10 Great Books about Design and Architecture

10 Great Books about Design and Architecture

book-design-book-phaidon‘The Design Book’ commissioning editor Emilia Terragni (Phaidon) This gem of a book is in compact format and runs through 500 important pieces of design in chronological order from Chinese household scissors (around 1643) to the Dyson Air Multiplyer (2009). Each page is dedicated to an item with a photo, name, designer (if possible to name), date, manufacturers and an often intriguing history and description of why it was so important. Who knew that clothes pegs were designed by Shakers, that Norwegians wore paperclips in WWII, that the white star on the top of Mont Blanc pens represents the snow cap and six glacial valleys of Mont Blanc, that the Rolodex is now available in a computer format, that a sleek spoon that was given away to purchasers to get the last remaining scoops of Kraft mayonnaise out of jars became a classic, that the Post-It note was originally thought of as a hymn bookmark, that OXO Good Grips were designed to help the designer’s wife who had arthritis or that the owner of the company Stelton was Arne Jacobsen’s foster son? We learn of the US Tunnel Mailbox which has become such an icon that it is used as the symbol for email and all the designs that were created by co-incidence, the influences of world economics and technology that affected the design processes and the results. Many of these items were familiar from my days studying design and my love of design and many were completely new and equally as fascinating.

marimekko‘Marimekko; Fashion and Design’ edited by Marianne Aav and Harri Kivilinna (DesignMuseo) I bought this book at a Marimekko shop whilst on holidays with my eldest daughter. I love Marimekko designs; I think it’s the playful colours and shapes and the clean, clear lines. My favourite Marimekko design would have to be Poppy in red and in red/orange. This book celebrates the history of the Finnish company which was created in the aftermath of WWII during shortages of materials and in a time that was yearning for beauty. The combination of Finland having recently acquired a cotton fabric factory (so they were not depending on imported fabric) and employing silk-screen fabric printing processes (rather than traditional weaving methods) saw the establishment of Marimekko. At the same time, textiles in interiors were seen as a crucial element to make modern interiors more human through design, scale, textures and design of fabrics so Marimekko was specified by architects and interior designers. Designers at Marimekko with an interest in nature and Japanese design were conscious of creating something different to the florals that other manufacturers were producing at the time. We read how Marimekko embraced the benefits of screen-printing by economically overlapping two adjacent colours to make a third and by watching the size of colour prints to create a strong, visual and lasting brand. Thank you to my husband who bought me a Marimekko purse which is beautiful and a dress which I love to wear.

at home with white‘At Home with White’ by Atlanta Bartlett and Karena Callen (Ryland Peters & Small) The antithesis of colour, this book promotes the use of white in interiors. Celebrating white as classic, timeless, pure and a mechanism for maximising light, we come to appreciate the use of white as a conscious tool to create stunning interiors. As the book notes, Leonardo Da Vinci said, ‘For those colours which you wish to be beautiful, always first prepare a pure white ground’. All colours and accents sparkle when the background or base is white and we see this through the multitude of really beautiful and inspiring images which have been carefully collated in this book. We read about the history of white, the multitude of shades of white and the use of white through the ages. The joy of this large collection of beautiful photos as we visit homes around the world including timber beach houses, Danish interiors, New York apartments, French farmhouses and modern London homes which have all embraced the use of white as reflective, commanding and peaceful in various ways is very inspirational and enlightening. This really is a beautiful and illuminating book.

wiener‘Wiener Werkstaette; 1903 – 1932’ by Gabriele Fahr-Becker, edited by Angelika Taschen (Taschen) For a long time I have loved Wiener Werkstatte. What started out as a deep interest in Austria from my wonderful high school German teacher (thank you, Frau Doc) who adored Vienna, my interest was fuelled at Uni studying the Viennese Secessionists. This is a particularly beautiful book about the wonderful architecture, interiors and product designs of this group of architects and designers based mainly in Austria from the turn of last century until just after The Great Depression. The concept of gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art where a designer is given a brief to design everything from the building to the interior to the cutlery – even to the owners’ jewellery in some cases) has always been a fascinating (if not indulgent) idea. To see what these designers created with these kinds of briefs with an emphasis on handwork, one-off designs, and incorporating beautiful and often rare materials is stunning. We read about Hoffman with his graphic chequer boards, use of line and beautiful materials, Olbrich with his gold details and Klimt with his use of pattern and gold – all supported with fantastic photos and images of beautifully rendered drawings. A wonderful list of each of the artisan’s trademarks and a biography of each member of the Wiener Werkstatte is listed at the back, making this a comprehensive and inspiring book about this style.

children rooms‘The 100 Best Children’s Rooms’ (Beta-Plus Publishing) I spied this book on the shelves behind the counter of my local bookshop and was instantly drawn to it. After debating the merits of the books in my pile at the cash register, I put some back and opted for this book. Now completing our third child’s bedroom (the electricians are installing the lights as I type), this book was refreshing and a treasure trove of ideas. Not that I used any particular idea in the book for that room, but it certainly put me in the head space. I remember one of my early editor’s reply, when I commented that I was writing and styling stories that were interesting, but how many people would actually MAKE that (the same way that we watch cooking shows and renovation shows) and she replied that it was aspirational – it’s not how many people make it, it’s what they enjoy reading about and watching. I often think about that comment. This book is a beautiful production of images of great interiors (bedrooms and living areas) ranging from humble to complex, created for children. What I like is that these spaces have all been especially thought of with the end user in mind which is what good design is all about.

shaker‘Shaker Built; The Form and Function of Shaker Architecture’ by Paul Rocheleau, June Sprigg and David Larkin (The Montacelli Press; Thames & Hudson) Shaker aesthetics, manufacturing and products have long held me spellbound. For our wedding gift, my sister Kate gave my husband and I a cherished Shaker box; classic Shaker in its oval timber shape and join techniques. A few years ago my parents gave my husband and I a beautifully made Shaker tray from Canterbury Shaker Village in USA. We love these pieces. Living in America from the late 1700s onwards, Shakers built truly beautiful timber and sometimes stone or brick buildings to house their communities. As well as the history and present situation of the Shakers, we are read about the buildings, interiors and furniture they created which had an emphasis on workmanship, practicality, proportion and clean lines. A gallery of wonderful photos throughout, we are made aware that efficiency and cleanliness were high priorities and we see this with the classic Shaker timber pegs along walls to help light-weight chairs and clothing be stored whilst floors were regularly cleaned, beds that were raised off the floor to allow easy cleaning underneath, beautifully designed and innovative joinery for storage which kept all items out of the way and that attics were carefully designed complete rooms with windows and where you could stand up and retrieve or store alternative season’s clothes. We learn how different Shaker communities developed different elements in their designs such as arches, higher ceilings, different colours or external chimney profiles. This is a beautiful read and a great reference book. Thank you to my friend, Anna, for introducing me to this wonderful book.

eilen gray‘Eileen Gray; Designer’ by J.Stewart Johnson (Debrett’s Peerage; The Museum of Modern Art, New York) My husband first introduced me to Gray in the first few years that I was studying design at Uni and I have been a devout admirer of Gray’s work ever since. Originally from Ireland, Gray (1879 – 1976) practised most of her professional life in France, establishing herself between WWI and WWII. She studied the fine art of lacquer and made exquisitely handmade screens (such as the one on the cover of this book) and rugs before creating rigorously functional architecture and furniture. The two houses she designed for herself which were built on the Mediterranean coast of France and an apartment she designed for a client in Paris are particularly amazing in terms of innovative ideas for small or intricate spaces, storage ideas, flexible living spaces and her use of materials. This book documents her life and projects with photos, quotes and plans which really bring her ideas to life and leave an indelible legacy.

florence‘Magic Moments in Florence’ by Adriana Silvestri (Mandragora) Florence is a beautiful place. I studied it for many years of art history, design and architecture before arriving there with wide eyes on my honeymoon and then twice since. The home of genius Michelangelo, the Tuscan landscape, terracotta roof tiles, laneways paved with stone, the leather and paper products and Italian food combine to make it a very special place. My husband bought this book on our last trip to Florence from a small English bookshop tucked down a lane. The book is like a scrapbook or sketchbook of many of the wonderful things we love so much about Florence. Silvestri’s clear watercolour and ink drawings and handwritten text illuminate the history, the arches, domes, paving patterns, coins, fountains, colours, artwork, mosaics, fashions, leather goods industry, plazas, typical dishes, transport, landscape and textiles that we swooned over. Enhanced with images of stamps, train tickets and artwork, the images are truly beautiful. Silvestri’s witty artwork muses about what happens at night in the art galleries; angels leaving the paintings and flying about and portraits arguing who is the most important. This is a great collection of elements that make this city so spectacular.

Read my interview with Adriana Silvestri here.

PALE_and_Interesting1‘Pale & Interesting; Decorating With Whites, Pastels and Neutrals for a Warm and Welcoming Home’ by Atlanta Bartlett and Dave Coote (Ryland Peters & Small) A great collection of interior images and details is combined with interesting and helpful text in this book. In working with a muted palette, Bartlett and Coote start with the philosophy; Keep It Simple, Keep It Relaxed and Keep It Real.  We are treated to a range of really beautiful photos of interiors using muted colour palettes. To me, it’s the joy of making an interior work for you; having it organised so you know where things are and it can be kept tidy and having things that are special in it to personalise it. Of course, I have a style and items that I tend to oscillate towards, but after years of listening to briefs and designing interiors, styling interiors, interviewing people and writing their stories, I really love to see what appeals to other people and to hear their stories and find out what is important to them. Interestingly this husband and wife team have a mail order business in UK with the same name as this book.

monet‘Monet’s House; An Impressionist Interior’ by Heide Michels (Frances Lincoln) Visiting Monet’s house on my honeymoon was pure joy. I thought it would be interesting, but I had no idea it would be so gorgeous. A master of colour, Monet transformed his house in Giverny, outside Paris and created an exterior of ochre-pink walls and brilliant green shutters and interiors of blues and yellows. This book documents, room by room, the contents, use and colour scheme of each of the rooms in his house. Monet’s love of Japanese prints was incorporated into his home and we see how important food and entertaining was to his family life. We are treated to images of the sublime blue and yellow dinnerware china that Monet had designed and had manufactured to his specifications. This book was a great reference of the interiors of this colourful, vibrant and creative home.

 

Celebrating ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens

I joined The Penguin Book Club/Google Hang Out on Air met to discuss ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NjEgRYTQgg

I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

11/24/13

10 Great Biographies

005‘The Butler; A Witness to History’ by Wil Haygood (Atria; Simon & Schuster) This is the true story of Eugene Allen who, fascinatingly, was the butler to 8 American presidents over 34 years; Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. What interesting and memorable conversations, meetings, guests, situations and issues he was exposed to! As an African American man he experienced firsthand the civil rights movement from both within and outside the White House. Emphasising the times he was born in to, Allen was a house boy in Virginia then worked at hotel and a country club before becoming a butler at The White House. Allen worked at The White House during the Little Rock School desegregation when Eisenhower sent in federal troops to protect black school children, when Kennedy had to protect James Meredith at the University of Mississippi as he was the first black student enrolled there, when Kennedy was contemplating the Cuban missile crisis and when Kennedy was shot. Later, Allen’s son was fighting in the Vietnam War when Allen was working for President Johnson and also during apartheid in South Africa when Reagan was in power. Throughout these difficult and testing situations working with people who were making decisions about race and war which had direct impact on Allen’s own family, he worked with honour and respect. I loved reading about Allen and his wife hosting dinners in their home basement with their friends and the wonderful personal photos of Allen and his times in The White House. The second part of the book is devoted to the making of the movie of the same name which I am keen to see.

004‘Jim Henson; The Biography’ by Brian Jay Jones (Random House) I must have been a toddler when the first Sesame Street TV shows were aired in my city, so I suppose I was exactly the right age for the show. I do remember being fascinated with the lively pre-reading and alphabet sections and the numbers sequences (who can forget The Count who loved to count!) The sections were eye-catching and attention-grabbing. What I didn’t know was how the Muppets (thought to be a combination of the words marionette and puppets) came to be; their struggles and triumphs. It was interesting to read that Kermit was actually a simple sock puppet that Henson made from his mother’s old fade turquoise felt jacket on the living room table whilst his grandfather was very sick. It was not until years later when this puppet was in the role of the narrator that he was dressed with a ruff collar and someone commented that he looked like a frog and he became Kermit the Frog. It was interesting to read that there was a specialist in the Henson company who placed the eyes on each Muppet (usually the eyes were placed slightly cross-eyed to give a feeling that the Muppet was focusing on the audience). I didn’t realised that both Kermit and Ernie’s voices are Henson’s, that Bert was played by one of Henson’s best friends, Frank Oz and that the characters’ personalities often closely resembled the performers’. Sometimes it took many trial periods with different people to create a Muppet’s character. Collaborating with George Lucas, the Henson team worked on Yoda from Star Wars. Henson was certainly an incredibly creative person with a great sense of humour; his companies were named HA! (Henson Associates), HO! (Henson Organization), HE! (Henson Enterprises), HIT! (Henson International Television) and HUM! (Henson Universal Music). Henson was the creator of many innovative techniques and I loved the fact that his typical work position whilst writing was lying almost flat on his Eames chair and foot rest.

Visit Brian Jay Jones’ website here.

Read my interview with Brian Jay Jones here.

003‘Vogue on Cristobal Balenciaga’ by Susan Irvine (Quadrille Publishing) This beautifully produced book with a bounty of gorgeous photos, typefaces and layout is a great history and reference of this Spanish fashion designer. Balenciaga’s father was a captain of a small fishing boat who took wealthy clients out for pleasure cruises during the summer and his mother was a seamstress. When Balenciaga was 12 years old a Marquesa allowed the young Balenciaga to make her a dress. She was so impressed with his work that he started his tailoring apprenticeship and, even though he put in years of hard work, his career was pretty much launched. This book examines Balenciaga’s style – the Spanish influence of reds, blacks and purples and the elegant cut of the clothes often incorporating boleros and lines from flamenco designs. As one of the only couturiers of his time that had come from a background of tailoring, he was revered by his contemporaries because he not only had vision to create his pieces, but he knew firsthand every nuance of constructing garments; the sewing, cutting and design techniques. Chanel said, ‘Only he (Balenciaga) is capable of cutting material, assembling a creation and sewing it by hand. Balenciaga is a couturier in the truest sense of the word. The others are simply fashion designers’. How interesting and revealing that Christian Dior said ‘Haute Couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives’. It shows how much Balenciaga was respected for his knowledge and mastery of design.

Read my interview with Susan Irvine here.

002‘The Italian Girl’ by Rebecca Huntley (University of Queensland Press) I bought this book before going on a trip to Italy because I wanted to read more about the differences between the Italian and Australian cultures as experienced by immigrants. This was an engaging book about an Australian woman’s quest to find out more about her grandmother who migrated from the island Elba off the coast of Italy to the cane fields of north Queensland in Australia in 1922 and the trials she faced in such a foreign culture. It was interesting reading about the conflicts and differences Huntley’s grandmother faced coming from a very small community where people often had the same surname to the harsh life of the canecutter in the energy-sapping tropical heat. We travel with Huntley as she researches in different locations; reading hard copies and on-line, visiting memorials and interviewing family members and other key people. The contrast of Hentley’s grandmother’s life in Italy with its traditions, food and religion and what she experienced in Australia was startling and told in a sympathetic and enlightening way. As an Italian, Hentley’s grandfather was interned during WWII and her grandmother was left to drive the vehicles, negotiate the business dealings and run the extensive farms in an unnerving time of unrest.

Visit Rebecca Huntley’s website here.

Read my interview with Rebecca Huntley here.

001‘A Century of Wisdom; Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer’ by Caroline Stoessinger (Two Roads; Hachette) This book is about the world’s oldest living survivor of the Holocaust; Herz-Sommer has just turned 110. The concept of the book was captivating; lessons to be learnt from someone who survived what she did and also for living such a long life. Surviving Theresienstadt concentration camp, the death of her mother, husband and friends, Herz-Sommer somehow brings us, through all these atrocities, to lessons of optimism and resilience. Born in Prague, Herz-Sommer was well on her way to becoming a concert pianist when war broke out. She sites her love of music as a source of immense strength that focused her thoughts and pulled her through bleak times. Herz-Sommer’s life lessons such as never grouping people, ‘Behind every man and woman is a story. I am interested in learning about the best in each individual’ are at a universal level. She enthuses people about the power in the mandate ‘Love to work’ in order to enjoy life and feel fulfilled. As a breast cancer survivor, she embraces each day and attended university classes when she was 104 years old. When Israel’s 70 year old prime minister, Golda Meir, asked Herz-Sommer to teach her piano, she replied, ‘It’s never too late to try’; another of Herz-Sommer’s lessons. The combination of her stories, anecdotes, interviews with past students and family members create a well-rounded view of her. We are treated to Herz-Sommer’s recipes for chicken soup and her mother’s apple cake. She speaks of the effects of universal appreciation music, even in the concentration camps and, with her optimistic spirit, says, ‘I never give up hope’.

Sadly, since writing this post, Alice Herz-Sommer died on 23.02.14.

009‘The Other Dickens; A Life of Catherine Hogarth’ by Lillian Nayder (Cornell University Press) Earlier this year I read a different book about the life of Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine Dickens (née Hogarth). Not knowing much previously about Dickens’ personal life, I was fascinated, bewildered and surprised by the content of that book and the fact that it had no references so I could not be sure what was truth and what was not. Turning to my go-to-girl for all things Dickens, Michelle, I asked her to recommend a book so that I could find out what was indeed fact. Thank you, Michelle, for recommending this book to me. Wow! What an interesting read it was. This books is basically from the point of view of Catherine Dickens who was married to the very famous (both in his time and now) Charles. Catherine Dickens came from an established family in London, her father was a music critic for a newspaper and the family were well-read and enjoyed the theatre. Charles came from a very humble background. Charles and Catherine married in 1836 (which is the same year Dickens begun serialising his novels) and had 10 children that survived infancy in very quick secession. Charles was obviously a genius and became enormously famous, but had some very unusual idiosyncrasies and his wife’s life and her experiences have been completely over-shadowed by her brilliant husband’s career. When Charles later shunned Catherine from their family home and forbid his children to contact her, Charles’ sister-in-law stayed in the family home. Catherine obviously had a vital role in the family and wrote her own cookbook, but apart from that I don’t think it would have been too much fun being a Victorian woman or married to Dickens.  It was interesting to read which books Dickens was writing during which years and what he was experiencing on the home front. This book had foot-notes and references to back up Nayder’s findings – otherwise, I might not have believed some of the content!

Read my interview with Lillian Nayder here.

008‘Carl Larsson; Watercolours and Drawings’ by Renate Puvogel (Taschen) As a child, my parents and also a dear family friend often gave me birthday cards with Larsson’s work on them. I used to pour over the images with their delicate sense of colour and line work; I loved those cards. Larsson (1853 – 1919) was a Swedish artist who drew and painted scenes mostly from his own domestic life. From absolute poverty, Larsson was a gifted painter and became a Swedish national figure. He married fellow artist, Karin, and they created a beautiful self-sufficient rural home, ‘Lilla Hyttnas’, in Sweden with their seven children. The home is a beautiful combination of thoughtfully designed built-in furniture, timber trims, paintings and Karin’s textiles. Larsson created family albums of his paintings with his wife and children around their home in traditional clothing. He later turned the albums into very popular books such as, ‘Our Home’, ‘At Home’ and ‘A Farm’. Filled with family photos, sketches and paintings this book celebrates happy family times and celebrations. I love the rusty reds, soft greens, ochres and creams that Larsson uses combined with a sense of peace, his delicate line work, detail and elegant lettering. ‘Lilla Hyttnas’ is open to the public – it looks so stunning and would be a great place to visit!

10‘Frank Lloyd Wright; Architect, An Illustrated Biography’ by Alexander O. Boulton (Rizzoli) I first studied the very influential architect, Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959), in high school and then at uni. FLW created what would be known as the Prairie Style; houses looking like they had grown out of the ground with horizontal lines and earth tones blending in with the surroundings. Embracing new technologies of steel and glass, he cantilevered construction which freed up interior spaces which then altered the way people could live; more of an open plan living concept. This book was a fascinating insight into his childhood, life and projects. As a child FLW played with the educational Froebel ‘Gifts’ (toys) which I am keen to source as a friend of mine is from the Froebel family. Moving to Chicago, FLW worked with the legendary architect Louis Sullivan and saw the growth of skyscrapers and, in turn, the creation of suburbs. He then married, had 6 children and built his own house. FLW built his home, Taliesin, and with a brilliant marketing ploy to help with costs, he created the Taliesin Fellowship where he accepted paying apprentices to reside and work with him. These apprentices laboured on buildings, worked in the fields and learnt architectural skills from the master himself. This book has a peppering of FLW’s designs and rendered watercolour drawings which are so beautiful in themselves and stand alone as works of art. A few years ago my family and I went to Chicago on a bit of an FLW architecture crawl. We had a fantastic tour of the Robie House and then did a hands-on LEGO workshop (marrying two of my interests; FLW and LEGO in one!) where we designed homes in FLW style and then made models of them in LEGO. What fun we had!

007‘The Man Who Painted Roses; The Story of Pierre-Joseph Redouté’ by Antonia Ridge (Faber and Faber) I love Ridge’s style of writing; it is so graceful and respectful. Belgian born painter and botanist Redouté (1759 – 1840) moved to Paris where, through his painting and botanical work, he was introduced to the court of Versailles. He became an official court artist of his patron Marie Antoinette and he painted the Petite Trianon at Versailles for her. During the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, Redouté was appointed to document gardens which became national property. Later, with the patronage of Empress Josephine, Redouté’s career flourished; he became famous for the beautiful flowers he painted at Chateau de Malmaison (where her rose garden was legendary) for her and his sumptuous books depicting plants from distant countries such as Japan, South Africa, America and Australia as well as Europe. What interesting and turbulent times her lived in and would have been privy to. This book is a dip into French history and culture in Ridge’s personal and affable writing style. I loved reading her book ‘For Love of a Rose’ and will now try to source the other two books Ridge wrote, ‘Family Album’ and ‘Cousin Jan’.

006‘Alexander Calder’ by Jacob Baal-Teshuva (Taschen) My dentist used to have a Calder mobile just in front of the dentist’s chair. It was a welcome source of distraction and wonder for me. With the window slightly open the wind would blow the fine shapes and create a myriad of different arrangements. Calder (1898 – 1976) was an American sculptor. Born in to a family of sculptors, he started out as a painter and then illustrator. His friendships with fellow artists Miró, who had a wonderfully whimsical style, and Mondrain, who enjoyed primary colours, black and white, both had a profound influence on Calder’s thoughts and style. During a visit to his studio, fellow artist Marcel Duchamp christened Calder’s moving motor or air driven constructions as ‘mobiles’ (the French word for movable). Calder’s wind-driven mobiles in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours made him world famous, but he also created large-scale metal sculptures. His red flannel shirt he habitually wore became legendary; contemporaries said that it was symbolic of his personal warmth. My favourite piece of Calder’s art would have to be his ‘Untitled (Peacock)’ mobile for its colours, lines and gentle movement. Superb!

10/27/13

10 Great Books About Fashion

IMG_0474‘The Coat Route; Craft, Luxury and Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat’ by Meg Lukens Noonan (Scribe) This book celebrates the history, intricacies and skills of trades in the clothing business. It is a timely reminder of the importance of personal skills that have been learnt and developed over centuries and respecting items made to last in a disposable world. The true story of a journalist who sets out to trace the story of the making of the world’s most expensive coat using the best of each element as a way of keeping these skills and trades alive, this book is written in the style of a fascinating travel journal. The chapters are divided in to the fleece, lining, cloth, buttons, calligrapher and tailor and in each we delve into the history and intricacies of each specific element. We visit the Andes in Peru to find vicunas who produce the fleece which is finer than cashmere for the coat, Florence for the silk lining, Paris for the cloth merchant, West Yorkshire for the mill, Halesowen in England for buttons, Sydney for the engraver of the label. (I remember interviewing this engraver, John Thompson, for a story for a magazine a few years ago. Thompson was given the last hand-engraving apprenticeship ever offered in England. A very talented man; he created the invitations for Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding) and Sydney for the 4th generation tailor, John Cutler. Throughout the book we learn about the fascinating history of Savile Row in London, silk worms, the history of fastenings and buttons, the industrial revolution and the fashion retail trade. Lukens Noonan talks about the culture of handmade clothes and the importance of keeping centuries-old trades alive. Many of the skilled tradespeople we are introduced to in this book have no-one to teach their trades to. It’s so important to celebrate and nurture, whenever we can, those who work with their hands creating beautiful and lasting items. On this note, I applaud my dear friend Kylie who is relaunching her dress-making business.

Visit Meg Lukens Noonan’s wesbite here.

Read my interview with Meg Lukens Noonan here.

IMG_0473‘Style’ by Kate Spade (Simon & Schuster) This is a great book written by the fabulous Kate Spade of New York fame. Spade made hers a household name with her accessories company – wonderful shoes, bags, wallets, sunglasses, stationery and home wares. In this book Spade’s easy writing style is teamed with 230 gorgeous watercolour illustrations by Virginia Johnson. Spade talks about her style inspirations with a fascinating list of books, movies art, design and architecture. There are sections on clothes for different occasions, organising your wardrobe, caring for your clothes and travel tips. I love her sections on colour and combining colour – did you know that Dr. Seuss wrote ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ after his editor dared him to write a book using fewer than 50 different words? or that Kipling painted his golf balls red so that he could spot them in the snow? or that the girl scout group called Brownies got their name from a book called ‘Brownies and Other Tales’? Anyone who describes colours as turquoise, tangerine, aqua, coral, watermelon, taupe, canary yellow, navy, cornflower and mocha is speaking my language. The inclusion of Spade’s Diana Vreeland inspired ‘Why Don’t You……?’ creates a fun, spirited and inspirational read.

IMG_0472‘Lessons From Madame Chic; 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris’ by Jennifer L. Scott (Harper Collins) This was a fun, rollicking read as I followed American author Scott on exchange when she finds herself living with a very sophisticated, elegant yet grounded Parisian family which she playfully and lovingly refers to as Family Chic. Scott reveals the beautiful sense of style, restraint and joie de vivre that the family encapsulate. We read of Madame Chic’s pared-down wardrobe, the no snacking concept, their tiny kitchen facility which produces delicious food, the idea of dining well and food presentation, minimal make-up, the delights of perfume, the expected dress code (and the ensuing embarrassing clash of cultures) and what makes Scott’s experience in Paris really so much fun. Scott talks of the horror of discovering that she is to house her clothes for her 6 month stay in a very tiny, freestanding wardrobe with a handful of coathangers and the revelation of the 10 item wardrobe (+ accessories) for each season. Scott looks at choosing the right clothes and colours for the individual, personal presentation and being forced (and therefore, forces us) to reconsider quantity over quality, taking the time and care to look after yourself and ‘bien dans sa peau’ (being comfortable in your skin). This is a fun, easy read which certainly made me think and celebrate fashion and life.

Visit Jennifer L.Scott’s website here.

Read my interview with Jennifer L. Scott here.

IMG_0470The Dress Doctor; Prescriptions for Style, From A to Z’ an adaption of the book by Edith Head and illustrated by Bil Donovan (Harper Collins) This book is an adaption of the bestselling book by Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head. Head won 8 Academy Awards for her designs and was nicknamed the ‘dress doctor’ because of her skills to clothe and fix costuming issues. Apparently the fabulous Edna Mode in ‘The Incredibles’ movie was based on Head. The Dress Doctor, Head, was called on daily to design costumes and became the go-to girl for stars to ask fashion questions, whether it was Deborah Kerr wanting to know what she should wear to a benefit or Sophia Lauren wondering if she should wear fur. Head shares tips on style and dozens of entertaining anecdotes from her time in Hollywood. We read about Katherine Hepburn’s innate sense of style, Marlene Dietrich’s attention to detail and Head’s fun neighbour, Ginger Rogers, all interspersed with Head’s wit. Illustrated throughout with phenomenally beautiful images by Bil Donovan we are reminded of Head’s most famous designs such as those in ‘Roman Holiday’, ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Vertigo’. Head’s message of the importance of creating and building a good quality wardrobe based on each individual’s personality resonates today as it did in her lifetime.

IMG_0480‘Dior; A New Look, A New Enterprise (1947 – 1957)’ by Alexandra Palmer (V&A Publishing: Bloomsbury) This was a beautiful read about Christian Dior’s life, style and influence on fashion. We learn of his childhood at a seaside town and later Paris, his rise to fame, why hound’s-tooth pattern became a good-luck charm and signature for him, the effect of his ‘New Look’ which was based on historical references of femininity and why this style was so new and appealing. In his lifetime Dior faced the effect of world economies and wars, the issues of copying and created ground-breaking control of global licensing agreements for Dior products branching out to accessories such as shoes, handbags, stockings and perfume. One of my first jobs when I finished school, waiting for my results, was working at the Christian Dior counter at the Georges store. Scents create powerful memories and the fragrances of ‘Miss Dior’, ‘Diorella’, ‘Diorissimo’ and ‘Dioressence’ still bring back wonderful recollections of that time. I wore with delight a Dior perfume at my wedding and still continue to wear it with joy.

IMG_0478‘Fashion House; Illustrated Interiors from the Icons of Style’ by Megan Hess (Hardie Grant Books) What a fun book! With her wonderfully free and colourful style, illustrator Hess designs 31 whimsical rooms to swoon over to suit various fashion clients including the imagined von Trapp Sisters, Donatella Versace, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. Hess’ use of colour and line to depict fabrics and style is really stunning. l love that Hess includes quotes from Anna Wintour, Diana Vreeland, Picasso, Albert Einstein, Kelly Wearstler, Mahatma Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt and incorporates clothes from some of my personal favourites – Collette Dinnigan, Diane von Furstenberg and Pucci. This coffee–table book is beautifully designed and brings a playful, light-hearted, soul-warming view of fashion. I smiled reading that Hess illustrates all of her work with a bespoke Montblanc pen that she calls Monty. Pure indulgent fun! Thank you, Megan Hess!

Visit Megan Hess’ website here.

Read my interview with Megan Hess here.

IMG_0477‘Vera; The Art and Life of an Icon’ by Susan Seid (Abrams; Thames & Hudson) Thank you to my husband who gave me this book for Christmas. Vera Neumann was a designer and artist who made fine art available to a wide range of people through her graphic silk scarves. This book documents Vera’s inspiration, sketches and designs. Named after the author of the book her mum was reading when she was pregnant with her, Vera was encouraged by her school teacher who asked Vera to draw pictures on the blackboard for her class. This reminded me of my Year 2 teacher who used to draw the most amazing and intricate chalk drawings on our board. She must have spent hours on them. Each Monday we would rush into her classroom to see what our theme for the week was. I especially remember her chalk designs on our blackboard of fish and also the alphabet week. Vera designed for books and then fabric before moving to scarves. One of her closest friends was the sculptor Alexander Calder and the Bauhaus architect, Marcel Breuer, design Vera and her husband’s house. I love Vera’s colour and use of line, her designs of birdcages, parasol, watermelons, her interpretations of cultures and especially her trademark, the ladybird.

IMG_0476‘Manolo Blahnik Drawings’ forward by Anna Wintour (Thames & Hudson) Maybe because I have ridiculously small feet; 21cm long – yes, I really am a size 3 or 34 (offensively this is listed on the international shoe size chart as the size of a small 8 – 10 year old child – yes, you get the picture; no heels!) that I look longingly at shoes, knowing that they won’t have them in my size! Blahnik is somewhat of a creative genius. Born in the Canary Islands, he lists movies as a major visual reference and he is renown for his hawk-eye attention to detail. His shoe designs are beautiful, startling and fascinating. This book includes a collection of his beautiful drawings (yes, he can illustrate with aplomb as well!) My favourites are the bamboo leaf inspired designs, the cherry ties, suede pumps with pompoms, gold mules with pearls, beads and semi-precious stones, the silk and satin red pumps from the dancing collection and the brocade designs. Grace Coddington aptly describes Manolo as ‘The Picasso of shoes’, Cynthia Marcus laughs, ‘If he (Manolo) wanted me to change the name of the store to Neiman Blahnik, I’d do it in a heartbeat’ and I love Paloma Picasso’s comment, ‘I am never without my Manolo shoes in my dreams’. A seriously talented man.

IMG_0494‘The One Hundred; A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own’ by Nina Garcia and illustrated by Ruben Toledo (Harper Collins) Whilst renovating her apartment, fashion director Garcia and her husband left their wardrobes under tarpaulins whilst they lived in an apartment around the corner. Garcia started to make a list of which items in her wardrobe she needed to always run back for and began the search for; what are the essentials? What can’t she live without? and why? Fabulously illustrated by Ruben Toledo, we go through the list of Garcia’s 100 top fashion items. It’s an extensive and fascinating list ranging from ballet flats, Converses, Havaianas, luggage, pyjamas and yoga gear and includes great fun facts about the history of Ray-Ban sunglasses (in 1936 the US government commissioned sunglasses which would provide pilots with the protection of their aviation goggles without the bulk), in 1854 the Earl of Cardigan needed an extra layer of warmth under his uniform during the Crimean War – thus we have the cardigan, the joy of charm bracelets, how Yves Saint Laurent’s inclusion of espadrilles in his 1960s collections saved the espadrille company from going into liquidation, former Olympic athlete Ottavio Missoni designed the tracksuits for the 1948 Italian national Olympics team and how the trench coat was created for British soldiers to wear during World War I. This was a really interesting and informative read.

IMG_0492‘V&A Gallery of Fashion’ edited by Clare Wilcox & Jenny Lister (Bloomsbury) When I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London I was entranced; I had no idea how vast their collection was. The Victoria & Albert Museum developed from the initial museum which was set up after The Great Exhibition of 1851 which Prince Albert was so passionate and involved in. This initial museum was set up to ‘make works of art available to all; a school room to educate working people and to inspire British designers and manufacturers’. From there the museum grew to incorporate a fantastic and wide range of design, architecture and decorative arts references including fashion. Spanning four centuries, the V&A’s fashion collection is the most comprehensive in the world. This book chronologically covers pieces in the collection including an embroidered velvet dress coat, silk satin and linen shoes, a crinoline, bustle to show how they created the fashion silhouettes, a 1900s parasol with a gold and diamond handle by Russian jeweller Faberge, Japanese silk brocade evening coat, gas mask bag, Balenciaga hand embroidered dress, Christian Dior dresses and Calvin Klein clothes. A great reference, history and insight into fashion.

 

10/10/13

Celebrating Edith Piaf

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the death of Edith Piaf. I was invited by Bloomsbury Publishing to participate in an online video forum with author Carolyn Burke in New York who wrote ‘No Regrets; The Life of Edith Piaf’ (Bloomsbury). I hope you enjoy it:  http://www.youtube.com/user/BloomsburyPublishing?feature=share&v=m1ilqzrwKBg

 

09/28/13

10 Great Books About Famous People

P1000266‘My Life in France’ by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme (Anchor Books; Random House) What I like about Julia Child is her optimism and ability to get things done. Her energy and sense of humour is contagious. No French or knowledge of the country before she arrived there for a posting with her husband? No problem. No experience in cooking (Child asked ‘What is a shallot?’)? No problem. No kitchen? Nothing to worry about. No expertise in publishing? Not an issue. No television background (actually, they didn’t own a TV)? Not to worry. She dives right in and, with her energy and joie de vivre, she just gets things done. This book, written with Child’s grandnephew, Prud’homme, is about the Childs’ life in France in the 1940s – 1970s, her life at Cordon Bleu Cooking School and how she immersed herself in the French culture and celebrated it. France inspired Child to write cook books later in her life (including ‘Mastering the Art of France Cooking’), bringing French cooking to the American table and her TV cooking programmes (such as ‘The French Chef’). The book is peppered with beautiful, fun and crazy photos taken by her husband who was a keen photographer. I love how this book is written; you can just hear Child’s exuberant and magnetising personality with her ‘WHOOOOOSH!’ and ‘Whew!’, tales of their car called The Flash, antics of Child’s husband and his twin brother, their amazing dinner parties and their absolute love of entertaining. A girl after my own heart!

P1000265‘Miss Potter; A Novel’ by Richard Maltby, Jr (Frederick Warne) Based on the movie by the same name about Beatrix Potter’s life (Icon Films), this book reminders us mere mortals that authors and illustrators have lives outside their books. We learn of Potter’s childhood, her love of animals and nature, the writing and illustrating process and then the publishing steps she takes. Faced with numerous obstacles in the form of era, gender, social expectations and technology, we follow Potter’s progress as she begins to illustrate and write her famous books (such as ‘The Tale of Pater Rabbit’) and, eventually, to have them published. The gentle, poignant Victorian romance between Potter and the son of her publisher is woven throughout the book and is evoked with restrained and careful conversation. The book is interspersed with beautiful photos from the movie. After an absolute tragedy, Potter eventually picks up the pieces and starts to build her life again. A truly amazing and courageous person. It made me look at her children’s picture books in a whole new light.

P1000267‘Audrey Style’ by Pamela Clarke Keogh (Hodder Headline) Hepburn had a dog named ‘Famous’ which was given to her by her first husband, Mel Ferrer. It is said that Famous ‘was a professional, did his job, was very photogenic and could be relied upon to come up with the goods’ when the camera or film was rolling; which are possibly all good attributes for someone or something famous. In this book we read about Hepburn overcoming insecurities about her body and a sad childhood; on Hepburn’s 16th birthday, her home, Holland, was liberated. We follow her persistence and discipline instilled as a young dancer, her friendships, family, her triumphs when she came into our lives in movies such as ‘How To Steal a Million’ (20th Century Fox) and ‘My Fair Lady’ (Warner Bros.), her reaction to fame and trying to create a private life. Beautifully illustrated with photographs and illustrations by Kate Spade and Manolo Blahnik, I loved the photos of Audrey on set which are exactly how, as a stylist, we do it – with clothes pegs holding the clothes in from the back view to make them sit just right, models having their lunch in full make-up between shoots whilst trying to avoid messing up their hair and make-up and being swaddled in blankets to keep warm on night shoots or when the clothes are in the opposite season. To me, Hepburn dressed in Hubert De Givenchy clothes is a match made in heaven – imagine being dressed by Givenchy! Grace, posture, style and work with UNICEF; all fabulous. As Gregory Peck said, ‘It was easy to love her’.

P1000268‘Monet’s Garden;Through the Seasons at Giverny’ by Vivian Russell (Hodder Headline) Monet is probably the most famous of the Impressionist artists and must be amongst the most famous painters of all time. His paintings are beautiful, reflective and prolific, but he was not taken seriously until much later in his life. Passed off as creating ‘unfinished’ work by the establishment of the times, it was not until decades later that Monet’s work was respected, sought after especially by Americans and marketed. Monet came from humble beginnings, but scraped together to buy a big house for his very large family. Over the years, as his success grew, Monet planted and extended the garden of this house to create a spell-bindingly beautiful oasis. Called Giverny, it is the most visited garden in the world. Monet cleverly created and composed his own motifs for his, by then, hugely successful and very much in demand paintings. He could, therefore, mostly control and have unique access to his painting content. This book talks about Monet’s life, what was important to him, his inspirations, visitors, Giverny’s construction, the garden’s restoration after neglect, the seasons, planting layout and their effects, maintenance and Monet’s stunning paintings.

P1000269‘Forever Liesl; My Sound of Music Story’ by Charmian Carr with Jean A.S. Strauss (Macmillan) Liesl was Carr’s character in ‘The Sound of Music’ movie (Rodgers & Hammerstein; 20th Century Fox), so it was great fun to read about the behind the scenes of one of my favourite (and one of the world’s most famous) movies. We read how Carr won the role of Liesl without any acting experience, missing the cue for her first line (twice) because the thunder was so loud, acting 16 when she was 21, her sprained ankle which had to be cleverly avoided whilst filming the summerhouse scene with ‘Rolf’, false teeth for little ‘Gretl’ when her baby teeth fell out, boys growing 6 inches from the start to finish of the movie and their costumes having to be altered, hair being dyed overnight, filming out of sequence, the captain being only 34 years old, dodging the rain, scenes cut from the movie, how ‘Gretl’ didn’t know how to swim, Carr’s younger sister singing in the group of backing music and meeting the original Trapp children. Carr talks about the publicity after the movie, her life afterwards, fame and the feeling that the movie siblings have of ‘family’ and camaraderie; that no one else knows what you’ve been through.

P1000270‘Van Gogh’ by Judy Sund (Phaidon) This book gave a thorough account of Van Gogh’s life which seemed so very sad and tragic. Possibly a much misunderstood man, Van Gogh had very humble beginnings and, devastatingly, did not sell one painting in his lifetime. Only after his death did he become famous and now his paintings sell for exorbitant amounts of money (his ‘Portrait of Dr. Gachet’ sold for US$148.6 million and 5 of his other paintings have been bought for more than US$68 million!) I remember spending hours and hours and hours as a child playing ‘Masterpiece’ (Parker Bros. now Hasbro) which had postcard-sized prints of paintings (thank you for your patience, Carolyn!). How I loved that game – it gave me a life-long love of art. I coveted the card of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ and used to wonder what sort of person painted it: I suppose I still do. Van Gogh’s paintings are very personal, lively and emotional. He was interested in the everyday man, nature and the then newly-available Japanese art. I love his use of strong colour and will always remember lying with my new-born baby staring up at the branches above which looked like the painting Van Gogh painted to celebrate the birth of his nephew. Our house is painted a bright, happy yellow in homage to Van Gogh’s ‘Yellow House’; this is a place he longed to occupy and represented such an optimistic, creative and happy time in his life.

P1000272‘Georg Jensen; Silver & Design’ by Thomas C.Thulstrup (Gads Forlag) I am a big fan of Georg Jensen – beautiful combinations of Danish designs, skills and workmanship in silver. As a first year design student at university, we each had to choose a different country to study. I was at the back of the line and the last one to choose. ‘What countries are left?’ I asked my lecturer. He suggested a  Scandanavian country. Exasperated as I knew nothing about Scandanavia, I reluctantly chose Denmark. Only then we were told that EVERYTHING we were to design or research for the rest of that year had to be in the style of our country. Thus began a passionate and enduring love of Denmark and I realised then and now what a gift it was that Denmark was the country I chose. Thank you to my Danish lecturer, Rolf, who later employed me and to Hans at the Danish Design Centre (now DeDeCe) who took me under her wing and showed me the beauty of Arne Jacobsen, Paul Kjaerholm, Jorn Utzon and other Danish designs. This book is a beautifully produced history of the Georg Jensen style using superb lines and semi-precious stones. I always thought Georg Jensen was a recent designer until I read that he lived 1866 – 1934; everything looks so modern and clean! The skills were carefully continued after Jensen’s death. I was fascinated to read about the ‘Kongemaerket’ brooch which was designed to celebrate Danish King Christian X’s 70th birthday in 1940; the brooch became a wonderful national emblem and production kept Georg Jensen in business throughout World War II. The gold-plated silver year spoons that my mother used to collect and we used on special occasions I read were the result of an in-house competition at Georg Jensen and kept the company in business at a crucial time when silver prices skyrocketed in the 1970s. Achingly beautiful home ware and jewellery, my parents gave me a Georg Jensen letter opener (which sits in front of me as I type) to celebrate my graduation, my husband and I chose matching Georg Jensen wedding rings, we use our Georg Jenson cutlery given to us as wedding presents every day of our lives and I have been fortunate to receive gifts of a Georg Jensen brooch, candelabra and key ring for various celebrations. The Bernadotte thermos jug is next in my sights!

P1000275‘Renoir’ by William Gaunt (Phaidon) Represented in the game of ‘Masterpiece’ by a print of ‘Les Parapluies’ (‘The Umbrellas’), Renoir’s paintings are pure joy. They celebrate the everyday, friendships and family. It is revealing that, before Renoir became a painter of pictures, he was a porcelain painter so he learnt how to let colours shine through, use the brush precisely and he understood glazes to create beautiful luminous skin tones. I can’t help looking at Renoir’s painting and admiring his skill. In this gorgeous book with large colour plates of Renoir’s paintings that are chronologically arranged, we can see his style evolve and develop. I remember writing many essays on Renoir’s ‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ and it was fascinating to read who each of the people in the painting were; friends including his girlfriend (later to become his wife), the owner of the restaurant, a journalist and a financier. Other portraits of Renoir’s celebrate family, friends, ballet dancing and the opera; all things I hold dear to my heart. Looking at the images of his paintings reminds me of all the happy discussions and times in my art class with beloved Mrs Oakley.

P1000273‘This Time Together; Laughter and Reflection’ by Carol Burnett (Three Rivers Press; Random House) When my eldest daughter was about 3 – 4 years old, I switched on the TV and found it was part-way through an amazing version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. We were both entranced by this movie. I remembered the credits listing that the actress playing The White Queen was called Carol. For years I tried to find a copy of this movie so we could watch it from the beginning. I was probably drawn to this book thinking that Carol Burnett was the actress (it was actually Carol Channing), but I was hooked on this book as soon as I started it. It’s a book about comedian Burnett’s experiences on her TV shows, including ‘The Carol Burnett Show’, and people she met along the way. I loved her stories of, as a young aspiring actress, putting $5 in with 4 other young actresses and buying an orange ‘audition dress’ to share, her fabulous and hysterical Nanny (grandma) who revelled in Burnett’s success, introducing her own husband with the wrong name, meeting her idol Jimmy Stewart then putting her foot in a bucket of whitewash and walking away hoping no-one would notice, reading her computer manual, her contact with fans and dealing with her fame and bizarre questions at her Q&A time from her audiences. I really admire the skill of great timing and delivering a perfect line, improvising in front of live audiences; all skills that Burnett shines at. I loved hearing about her acting with some of my favourite comedians; Carol Channing, Victor Borge, Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), Lucille Ball and Walter Mattheau. I found myself laughing out aloud at almost every chapter of this book. What a wonderfully funny lady she is!

P1000274‘Profiles in Fashion; Kate Spade’ by Margo Freistadt (Morgan Reynolds Publishing) Starting out as a handbag designer, Spade has grown from strength to strength and is synonymous with her strong sense of style of fashion accessories, stationery and home wares. I was thrilled to read that Spade is born on the same day and the same year as one of my older sisters, also named Kate – both strong, wonderful stylish gals. After working in the magazine industry in New York, Spade  and her husband from the advertising industry launched their business. Laughing as her husband sent out invitations to their first dinner party with copies of the Heimlich manoeuvre (warning that Kate was cooking), the couple embraced a creative and fun lifestyle. The Spades produced great window displays and advertising campaigns for their company which were always fun to follow and it was great to read about the development of an idea, then evolving to a young company which grew into a huge company and the trials and triumphs this metamorphose entailed.

 

07/25/13

10 Great Autobiographies

IMG_0272‘Running With the Kenyans; Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth’ by Adharanand Finn (Faber and Faber; Bloomsbury) I bought this book for one of my daughters last Christmas as she is very interested in sport and fitness and is an athlete herself. She loved reading the book and when she had finished I asked her, ‘So, why are the Kenyans such fast runners?’ She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and said, ‘Well, you’ll have to read the book!’ It was actually great advice because firstly I really enjoyed reading this book and secondly there are many reasons and situations that combine to make the Kenyans such fast runners. Finn is an English sports writer who enjoys running and competing in marathons. He decides to take his young family to Kenya so he can live and run with the locals and try to work out why, for such a small nation, they produce such an enormous number of the very fastest runners in the world. We follow Finn’s love of running and his interest in people as he travels and competes in Kenya. He meets elite runners, trainers, managers and talks in detail about the intricacies of their culture, history, responsibilities, techniques, diet, education, physique, expectations and personalities in Kenya that make these runners tick. I found this book an enlightening read about runners and their drive plus an immersion into a strong and fascinating culture.

Read my interview with Adharanand Finn here.

IMG_0279‘Alex & Me; How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence – and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process’ by Irene M. Pepperberg (Scribe) Pepperberg is an American research professor and this book covers her life of care, love and research of birds and her astounding findings. In 1977 Pepperberg bought an African Grey parrot which she named Alex. At this stage the world believed that birds did not possess any potential for conscious thought and decision making. Over the next 30 years Pepperberg worked with Alex and we follow their struggles, setbacks and their unexpected and stunning achievements. Pepperberg taught Alex to think and talk – not to mimic, but to relate to her questions and then independently answer them. Alex added numbers, could tell what colours items were, what shapes they were, knew when he wanted to go back to his perch or to eat and communicated all this; he had his own thoughts and intentions. Pepperberg shows that for a creature who had ‘the brain the size of a shelled walnut’ his cognitive abilities and intelligence were not to be underestimated; he developed skills that no one thought were possible. The two became very attached and when Alex died at 31 years old, he said to Pepperberg, ‘You be good. I love you’. Amazing! Pepperberg shows her love for animals, urges us not to dismiss creatures just because they may have a small sized brain and opens up a world of possibilities with her scientific findings.

IMG_0276‘Life On Air’ by David Attenborough (BBC; Random House) This book just gallops along; it’s easy to read because you can hear Attenborough’s voice reading it to you; it’s written just as he speaks and he has a wonderful sense of humour. I knew of Attenborough as the presenter of nature shows on TV, but this book was a great insight into the start of television in England, the later development of more channels, his travels, the stories of his documentaries and the development of camera and film. From a young presenter who worked on live TV with animals brought in to the studio to discuss, Attenborough thought it would be more interesting to travel to see the animals in their natural habitat. His enthusiasm sees him travel to a huge variety of often previously unfilmed locations including being taken by boat to Komodo; when, after being at sea for days on end and seemingly lost, he says to the captain, ‘You have BEEN to Komodo, haven’t you?’ the captain answers ‘Not yet’. Attenborough meets notorious cannibals with an extended hand of goodwill and a greeting of ‘Good morning’, was mistaken for the Duke of Edinburgh (apparently it sounded like the name David Attenborough on early radio waves), recalled a wonderful story of his Christmas message broadcast with the Queen, his meeting with both Joy Adamson who looked after lions and Dian Fossey who researched gorillas and his embracement of new film, lenses and recording breakthroughs. After I had read the book, I was fortunate enough to see and listen to a very engaging Attenborough at a talk. His passion and love for his work and the natural environment is utterly contagious and makes me want to watch his ground-breaking documentaries all over again.

IMG_0271‘Round the World in Eighty Dishes’ by Lesley Blanch (Grub Street) When I was a few chapters into this wonderful book, I thought ‘Who IS this woman?’ Lesley Blanch was a features editor at ‘Vogue’, a gourmet who travelled far and wide and lived to 107! Her book is a retelling of her observations of cultures and recipes during her extensive travel whilst most people’s travel and eating experiences were limited during the post-World War I era. Through her eyes we see first-hand accounts of people, architecture, national dress and customs that she recorded in The Balkans, The Middle East, Africa, The Far East, The Pacific, Central and South America which are enhanced by her own quirky and fun illustrations.  For each country and dish she has wonderful anecdotes, history and stories all told in a very conversational style; General MacMahon in the Napoleonic Wars who, when told that the fish could have no sauce as there was nothing left but some oil and a few eggs replied, ‘Then look sharp and make a sauce with them’ (thus mahonnaise – which become mayonnaise – was created), bonfires and Gypsy music that Blanch enjoyed on the beach after fishing catches were hauled in on the beaches in Portugal, eating with puppeteers in Sicily, rose-leaf jam in Turkey and supping with hunters who still had their falcons perched on their shoulders in North Africa. The stories and recipes brought to mind a dear friend of mine; for many years our families celebrated a different country every few months with food, drinks and trivia. On these days we have enjoyed French snails, Mexican hot chocolate with chili and making croissants from scratch. I am really looking forward to having you travel back home soon, Kate.

IMG_0277‘Le Road Trip; A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France’ by Vivian Swift (Bloomsbury). Thank you to my dear childhood friend, Meredith, who recommended this book; it’s so wonderful to have found you and have you back in my life. Beautifully illustrated by Swift, this is a carefully designed and presented book about the American author’s honeymoon in France. It takes you off the beaten path to Normandy, Brittany, Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, Chartres and back to Paris. Swift portrays the ups and downs of her trip (such as the unexpected delight of seeing couples waltz on a bridge in Paris and the frustration of travelling so far so see a less- than-impressive group of rocks) and compares travelling to relationships. Peppered with interesting facts such as The Bayeux Tapestry (who knew that in 1885 an English woman decided to gather a group to create a replica of the Tapestry?), the differences between the Louis XIV, XV and XVI styles and the labyrinth set into  the floor of Chartres Cathedral which many people puzzle-out on their knees!. I loved learning that in the early 1980s a specific shade of vert-de-gris was mandated for all public furniture to give harmony for the public spaces in the city, the different shapes and names of bread and Mont Saint-Michel; a monastery built on top of a granite mountain in a plain of quicksand! The use of space, graphics and typeface make this a really enjoyable book to read and to dip back into.

Read my interview with Vivian Swift here.

IMG_0274‘The Happiest Refugee; A Memoir’ by Anh Do (Allen & Unwin) This book was given to my husband for Christmas. Whilst reading it he would burst out in to uncontrollable laughter with tears rolling down his checks. Once he gathered himself together he would say, ‘Listen to THIS!’ and read me a passage. I had to read it. I knew Anh Do’s face as a comedian on TV, but I didn’t know his story. As a child, Do left war-torn Vietnam under extraordinary circumstances on a very overcrowded refugee boat and battled high seas, drifting, hunger, dehydration and pirates to reach the Australia. Starting a new life in Australia he excelled at school and tried to overcome the many obstacles in his way socially and culturally. We see his trials and set-backs as Do moves from law to comedy and success. We enjoy Do’s wonderful and honest sense of humour as he speaks of the clothes his brother humbly wore when they arrived in Australia, his stand-up comedy bookings and the clash of cultures at his engagement party. This was a funny, uplifting book which was a great insight into the plight of refugees. After I read the book I went to listen to Do speak. He was incredibly funny and engaging. The whole audience was roaring with laughter at his anecdotes, photos and commentary. His story is one of happiness, being grateful and of hope.

IMG_0269‘Tuesdays With Morrie; An Old Man, A Young Man, & Life’s Greatest Lesson’ by Mitch Albom (Hodder; Hachette) This was an intriguing story of American Albom who hears that his favourite former university professor, Morrie Schwartz, is very unwell. Albom visits his professor and continues to travel to see him weekly for fourteen weeks, on Tuesdays. The pair sit in Schwartz’s study at his home and the professor imparts little gems of wisdom from his childhood, reactions to newspaper stories,  current affairs, to family and the importance of relationships. Albom calls their times and discussions ‘their last thesis together’. The joy of this book is Schwartz’s honesty and wit and the journey he talks us on, via Albom, through discussions of renewal, identity, honesty, finding and retaining happiness. It makes you think of fabulous teachers and mentors and what a powerful role they had in your lives and were able to ‘turn on a switch;’ and engage you in their subject. I know who some of mine were; an art teacher that made me literally run to class to hear more about the techniques and history of art, an English teacher who had us all begging to finish the chapter before going to the next class and a choir teacher that instilled a life-long love of singing. This was a thought-provoking and poignant book.    

IMG_0278‘Let Me Tell You a Story; A Memoir of a Wartime Childhood’ by Renata Calverley (Bloomsbury) Calverley was born in 1937 in Poland and as a Jewish child she witnessed unbelievable, inhumane horror. Having lost her beloved mother and grandmother who didn’t return from work at the Jewish ghetto, she was left at the age of 5 years old with no one to look after her. Hidden in a variety of temporary places she escaped a sniffer dog when her aunt and cousin are removed and shot and was ironically saved at an orphanage by her Ayrian looks. Throughout her childhood books are Calverley’s escape and coping mechanism. From when her grandmother initially suggests ‘Let me tell you a story’ when there are gunshots outside, to when a stranger who is paid to hide her teaches her how to read, Calverley learnt how to ‘fly’ into stories when she was doing hard physical labour and focusing on survival. She was told and later re-told to others stories when there were no books to break the boredom and divert fear and, when she is removed from the orphanage, Calverley’s speaks of the joy of a limited wartime library. Indeed stories and books, when they are available, become crucial and an intricate part of Calverley’s survival. A visit to the Jewish Museum brought back all the horror of this era and it was admirable that Calverley found salvation in the magic of stories although the trauma she must have experienced is unfathomable.

IMG_0275‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ by Li Cunxin (Penguin) Ballet, books and culture; all things I love. This was a wonderful read about Li’s childhood in Qingdao, China under Mao Zedong’s rule and the implications that had on his family life, education, standard of living and opportunities. From a humble, rural background Li is the sixth of seven sons. His fate turned when he was 11 years old when a delegation from Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy visited his school scouting for dancers. Li was eventually chosen to attend the Dance Academy and he was plunged into a strict regime of exercise and discipline. Simply and clearly written, this book is a treasure trove of Chinese culture, the finale of Mao Zedong China, the rigours of dance and the effects of inspirational teachers and mentors. Excelling at dance, Li later moved to USA and then Australia where he is now Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet and is married to an Australian born ballerina. Li’s story is not only astounding, but profoundly inspirational. How I love ballet and admire the dancers with their discipline, creativity and elegant lines. A friend of mine, Lynne, tells me of a time when she was visiting a friend of hers in Queensland and her friend’s neighbour dropped in; it was Li!

IMG_0268‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’ by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (Text Publishing) I admit that I was intrigued by the title of this book! What sound does a while snail make and who can hear it? Bailey has a long illness from a virulent flu which keeps her bedridden for months at a time. A friend brings her a gift of a pot plant which has a woodland snail amongst the foliage. For many days Tova Bailey is so unwell that all she can do is to watch the snail from her bed. She becomes intrigued by its anatomy, eating habits and nocturnal travels. The process and the snail renews her and, in turn, our sense of wonder and helps Tova Bailey through a difficult time. Bailey talks about the snail seeming to be confident that whatever it was looking for was just a few inches ahead and so it continues on and, in turn, Tova Bailey is able to keep going. Absorbed in snail watching, Bailey feels that time had flown by, unnoticed. The book is written in a slow, delicate, reflective style which enthuses us to appreciate the small things and appreciate the natural world. It is a personal story of the healing power of nature. I cannot see a snail and watch it’s slow movement and beautifully structured shells now without thinking of this book.

Read my interview with Elisabeth Tova Bailey here.

06/23/13

10 Great Books About Slices Of History

IMG_0240‘Buried Treasure; Travels Through The Jewel Box’ by Victoria Finlay (Sceptre; Hodder Headline) I thoroughly enjoyed Finlay’s book ‘Colour; Travels Through The Paintbox’ about colour pigments, so I was eager to read her book about jewels. Finlay travels the world to mines, markets and museums to tell the stories of each jewel. Research, interviews and anecdotes combine to create a rich, readable account of why, in an era when we can manufacture synthetics, jewels still hold their appeal. Each of the chapters is devoted to a jewel in ascending order of hardness; from amber to diamonds. We are introduced to the jewel with its own fascinating story including ancient conifers producing sap in The Baltics to produce amber (sometimes with 40 million year old insects in it), the history of jet worn for mourning in Victorian times, the fascinating evolution of Mikimoto pearls, underground towns in Australian for opals, how Nero used emeralds in the lenses of his theatre glasses and the advertising coup of diamonds, birthstones and anniversary stones. A fantastic read.

IMG_0234‘The King’s Speech; How One Man Saved The British Monarchy’ by Mark Logue and Peter Conrad (Quercus; Pan Macmillan) This book gave an intriguing insight in to The English Royal Family, speech and speech therapy. Based on the recently discovered diaries of Lionel Logue, a self-taught Australian speech therapist, and written with Logue’s grandson, we learn about  the Duke of York’s unexpected rise to king (King George VI) after his eldest brother Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936. Never considered to be trained to be king, the Duke of York was a married man with two small daughters (the eldest of whom is Elizabeth, later to become Queen Elizabeth II) and was a nervous, tongue-tied speaker. The introduction and demands of radio impacted on the new king’s speech as he was required to make broadcasts. We live through the king and his wife’s (the late Queen Mother) anguish and concern. The combination of Logue’s casual, informal style and the required formal style of the Royal Family is awkward, funny and endearing.

IMG_0238‘The Story Of English In 100 Words’ by David Crystal (Profile Books; Allen & Unwin) Crystal picks 100 words and lists them chronologically since the first English word was written down in the 5th Century to create a highly entertaining read. We learn of words inspired by trade (taffeta, gingham, calico, chintz, khaki, cameo, volcano, mosquito, potato) and economic and cultural factors (robot, earthling). We read about how, with the use of English, Latin and French in the English language, terms were adopted to make sure everything was covered; therefore we get the phrases goods and chattels, peace and quiet, will and testament. We hear of how hello became popular when the phone was invented, places which have loaned their names to words; brie, champagne, banish, jerseys, Brussels sprouts and words associated with people; cardigan, leotard, wellingtons, pavlova, sandwich. Crystal writes about nouns turning into verbs; Google was launched in September 1998 and by December 1998 people were googling and words that are replaced in different version of book; British versions of Harry Potter have crumpets, crisps, cookers, dustbins, jumpers and philosophers whereas in the US editions we find English muffins, chips, stoves, trashcans, sweaters and sorcerers. I really enjoyed this book.

IMG_0242‘Tsar; The Lost World Of Nicholas and Alexandra’ by Peter Kurth (Back Bay Books; Hachette) Kurth establishes the history and culture that Nicholas and Alexandra inherited as a young couple who ruled one sixth of the world. Tracing both their childhood and family histories and combining these with images from their private collections creates a fascinating document. Beautiful photos from the family’s own photo albums are interwoven with stunning contemporary photos of the palaces and places the Romanov family knew well. Happier times in The Imperial City, Faberge eggs, Russian Imperial Ballet, wonderful holiday places, the Imperial Train, exerts from the family members’ diaries, the Imperial daughters’ portraits when they were war nurses are all depicted and explained right up to the family’s devastating finale and aftermath. The richness and beauty of the Russian culture was fascinating and captivating.

IMG_0235For Love Of A Rose; The Story Of The Creation Of the Famous Peace Rose’ by Antonia Ridge (Faber and Faber; Allen and Unwin) I really enjoyed the gentle and warm way that this book was written. It’s the true story of two families who loved roses. We are introduced to each of the main characters from 1884 onwards and we get a great sense of their character, French and Italian cultures and interests in life. We are enveloped in life in Italy and France, to becoming a gardener in French parks, to rose-growing, developing roses, the rose industry and the business of naming roses . Two of the characters later marry and we follow their passion and development of roses. Their work results in what is eventually known as the famous Peace Rose at the end of World War II. It reminded me of my dear maternal grandfather who loved to potter in his garden and had quite a ‘green thumb’. My grandfather helped his three younger brothers buy florist shops in Collins Street, The Block Arcade and Kew in Melbourne when they came back from the war and later bought land in the Dandenong Ranges where they grew flowers for their businesses.

IMG_0236‘China; Land Of Dragons and Emperors’ by Adeline Yen Mah (Random House) I loved reading about the first paper made and the invention of silk, porcelain, printing and matches which were all invented in China. Yen Mah’s love and fascination with her country of origin is endearing and contagious. She walks us through the different Chinese dynasties and discusses why they were so important and powerful. Lucky numbers, what different colours mean, festivals, dragons, The Terracotta Army, The Silk Road and The Great Wall of China are all integral parts of Chinese history and culture and are all discussed and analysed.  We learn about how and why rice and tea became synonymous with China. This was a fascinating study of a rich and intriguing culture.

IMG_0239‘The Children’s House Of Belsen’ by Hetty E. Verolme (Werma Pty. Ltd. ATF) This memoir about a horrific time in history was informative, devastating and powerful. It’s one of the remarkable, largely untold stories of the Holocaust ; the extraordinary struggle and survival of this group of children through unbelievably inhumane situations. Verolme’s  family in The Netherlands was torn apart in 1943 during World War II. Separated from her parents, Verolme is sent to the Children’s House within the Belsen concentration camp and she becomes the ‘little mother’ there; helping to care for her siblings and other children in dire circumstances. Many, many times during this book I cried at the terrible and almost unimaginable situations these children were in. A story of triumph against all odds, Verolme survives to emigrate to Australia and becomes a successful business woman.

IMG_0237‘Long Walk To Freedom’ by Nelson Mandela (Abacus; Hachette) When my parents moved out of the house I was born in and they had lived in for 36 years, this book was needing a new home. I thought it would be a good book to read as it was about an area of history I didn’t know so much about. The book is Mandela’s memoir of his times from his childhood until his release from jail after 27 years in 1990. Mandela started writing this book when he was in Robben Island prison. The manuscript was confiscated and later retrieved. The submersion into African culture was immediate from the start of the book and you get a real sense of history and culture of the various tribes, areas and groups. We get a real and alarming insight into the racial conflicts and inequalities. Mandela’s foray into law was fascinating and the leadership style which he developed resulted from his history of conflict and persecution is inspiring. I enjoyed reading such an eloquent story about this courageous, interesting, powerful and important contemporary man.

IMG_0241‘Flower Hunters’ by Mary Gribbin and John Gribbin (Oxford University Press) Who knew that botany could be such a risky occupation? Why is tea grown in India? Have you ever wondered how Botany Bay in Australia got its name? Where did the Douglas Fir tree initially come from?  Looking at 11 early explorers and botanists who sailed the globe before travel was made easier, we read about men and women risking disease, hunger and life to find specimens in hostile environments including being chased by hyenas, lions, buffalos with some of the botanists exploring 12,000 miles on foot, horseback and canoe often through unexplored territory. Many specimens including monkey puzzle trees, orchids, azaleas, Bird of Paradise flowers, magnolias, proteas and two of my favourite flowers ; gardenias (from Tahiti) and orchids (some from North America) were sought out or stumbled across by accident and brought back to countries as prized specimens. A great read about scientific discovery and the adventurous, determined people behind the discoveries.

IMG_0233‘A Shorter History Of Australia’ by Geoffrey Blainey (Vintage; Random House) This book guided me through history and events which have challenged, surprised, frustrated and delighted inhabitants of our dry, vast and isolated land. Starting when the water level of the sea was higher and some of the areas which are now underwater were then land, we read about Tasmania becoming separated from the Australian mainland, to Aboriginal travel, to exploration and travel routes, sheep grazing, modes of travel to and also within the continent, gold rushes, multicultural societies, the establishment of parliaments and the role of Antarctica. Blainey explains how and why Australia’s love of sport grew, how the unusual native Australian animals, birdlife, trees and flowers combined with strong light inspired unique paintings, poetry and songs, including ‘Waltzing Matilda’, the attitudes to and the conflict of war, Australia’s proposal to become a republic in 1992, the recognition of Aboriginal past and how new inventions changed the social and environment of Australia. We are illuminated as to the intricacies and changing identity of Australia in a most engaging way.

 

05/26/13

10 Great Books That Have Become Classics

 

IMG_3396‘The World Of Jeeves’ by P.G.Wodehouse  (Arrow; Random House) I am always fascinated by which books people have on their bookshelves. Last year, whilst reading a book about what a variety of people list as their favourite books, I was amazed that so many of them listed this book. Years ago I had the search engine ‘Ask Jeeves’ on my computer and I realised that Jeeves must be a very helpful, knowledgeable type of guy, but I didn’t know his literary reference. This is the first Wodehouse book I have ever read and I just loved it. There are a myriad of Jeeves books, but this one is a really good place to start as it introduces  the characters in order from the moment of Jeeves’ employment . Set in England early last century, we meet the hapless young Bertie Wooster who has an independent income, quirky personality and gets himself into all manners of strife and awkward situations. He employs the all-knowing, capable, rational Jeeves as his man servant and Jeeves gets Wooster out of all sorts of crazy situations. The combination of Wooster’s fabulous and flamboyant expressions and Jeeves’ deadpan, unemotional responses made me laugh out loud time and time again. My second eldest daughter is really enjoying reading this book now. A wonderful, light, but clever read.

IMG_3397‘The Diary Of A Young Girl’ by Anne Frank (Puffin; Penguin) My dear friend, Harriet, recommended this book for the Book Group we were both in a few years ago. It was the first time I’d read it. It’s the true story of 13 year old Frank and her family and friends who hid very quietly in an annexed area of a warehouse (whilst other people worked downstairs) in Amsterdam to avoid the horrors of Nazi occupation during World War II. Franks wrote her diary for 2 years whilst in hiding and it’s an intimate reflection of family life, hopes of freedom, fears of discovery and the perils of hunger. The diary ends abruptly when the family and friends are discovered.  The pages of the diary were found and given to Frank’s father, the only member of her family who survived the concentration camps, after the war. I found this book a terribly moving and very sad tale of persecution. It is often referred to as the single most poignant true-life story to emerge from World War II.

IMG_3398‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen (Penguin) This is the first Austen book I ever read. I remember my wonderful English teacher, Mrs Mitchell, read it aloud to my high school class and I was so captivated by the characters and plot. One of those books you HAD to just go home and read what happened next BEFORE the next English class – what more could an author want from a reader! I have read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a couple of times over the past years and I marvel at Austen’s wonderful character descriptions and developments. They are so rich that you really feel like you get to know each character through their spoken words and actions. This year celebrates 200 years since the book was first published and even though Austen was writing about the issues of her time, her wit and clever twists and turns of the plot keep readers today intrigued. My eldest daughter and I share a passion for this book. I am a huge fan of designer Coralie Bickford-Smith’s work. This edition of cloth-bound edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in mustard yellow and butterscotch is designed by Bickford-Smith and is sumptuous, tactile and just a beauty to behold!

IMG_3399‘84 , Charing Cross Road’ by Helene Hanff (Penguin) This short, surprising book of letters was a real joy to read. It’s the true story of Hanff who, as a free-lance journalist, writes from New York and asks used book dealer, Marks & Co. booksellers in London (84 Charing Cross Road, London), for out of print books she is trying to find. What follows is a wonderful correspondence and professional friendship that develops between Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Co., from the letters and parcels between them sent across the ocean for 20 years between 1949 and 1969. We learn of the day-to-day happenings, family celebrations of both parties and wartime deprivations in London. The letters are quite candid, warm and often funny – actually, hysterical. Hanff and Doel never meet, but share a fondness and rapport bound by their love of books. As a lover of letters, especially hand-written ones, I loved this celebration of friendship, books and the joy of receiving correspondence and parcels in the mail.

IMG_3400‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss (Fourth Estate; Harper Collins Publishers) If I was told that this book was a book about punctuation, I might have run a mile, but one of my sisters and one of her daughters both consider it a great read. Now that I’ve read it, I totally agree – so thank you to Kate and Phoebe for suggesting it to me. Truss is a magician because she actually makes a book about punctuation hilariously funny, which is quite a tall order! The title is an example of how punctuation can be used in different ways – a panda eats a sandwich, fires a gun and then leaves. The panda explains that,  ’in a badly punctuated wildlife manual’ it describes a panda as ‘eats, shoots and leaves’ (obviously the comma is not supposed to be after the word eats and it should be ‘eats shoots and leaves’). When I asked the wonderfully flamboyant lady in a local bookshop for this book, she threw her hands up in the air theatrically and exclaimed, “Oh, THAT book! I’m SOOOO sick of explaining the joke in the title!’ This book is funny, witty and demonstrates the use of apostrophes, commas, semi-colons and other tricky punctuation rules of the English language. I never knew punctuation could be so much fun!

IMG_3401‘The Story Of My Life’ by Helen Keller (Bantam Classic; Random House) I remember that my one of my sisters, Kate, had a copy of this book with grass green edging that she had chosen to buy from the treasured book order brochures at school. I didn’t know anything about Keller, but the back of the book had a raised copy of the Braille alphabet which intrigued me. Recently I read this book and was amazed by the story of Keller. Born in 1880 in USA, Keller suffered from an illness when she was 19 months old which left her with complete loss of sight and hearing. Blessed with an amazing and insightful teacher, Keller was taught to read and then write, initially by the teacher writing out letters with her fingers on to Keller’s palms. Keller explains the moment when the teacher finger-spelt ‘water’ on her hand whilst they were at the water-pump and connections were made. Written by Keller when she was 22, the book traces her frustrations and also breakthroughs into the world of communications including her graduation at college in an era when the very fact of a woman going to college was unusual. This book is an amazing and inspiring account of someone overcoming almost insurmountable obstacles with great courage, grace and peace.

IMG_3402‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens (Penguin) This was my first Dickens, once again read aloud by my fabulous high school English teacher, Mrs Mitchell. I can still hear her blood-curdling rendition of Magwitch’s voice and see her change of posture when reading Miss Havisham’s words. ‘Great Expectations’ was originally published as a serial in the newspaper each week and, basically, I don’t know how the readers waited! The suspense must have been dreadful! I have read the book a few times recently and loved it anew. With a wealth of sad, poverty-stricken stories to draw on from his own childhood (and then, presumably, some stories of his tremendous rise to fame), Dickens weaves his stories with examples of inequality, child labour, the effects of the industrial revolution and a range of other topical subjects of his day (and, sadly, many still relevant today). His characters are so well defined that I can hardly remember life before them. The end of the book is unpredictable, astonishing and clever. Once again that talented Coralie Bickford-Smith has designed the most glorious cover in royal blue with the aged yellow chandeliers of Miss Havisham’s mansion.

IMG_3403‘George, don’t do that…’ by Joyce Grenfell (Hodder; Hodder Headline) I was first introduced to this fictional account of a wonderful English Nursery teacher by one of my sisters, Kate. She must have been doing it for a skit (which she was fabulous at doing) and rehearsing it at home. This thin book is divided in to 6 quick sketches of different times in the nursery room filled with boisterous, noisy, active 3 and 4 year olds and a very harassed teacher who tries so earnestly to calm each child down, solve problems and include them all in the activities that it is priceless. The hysterically funny monologues are brilliantly observed and witty. Apparently when Grenfell was 28 she was asked to give an impromptu speech at a dinner party – she was so hilarious and clever that her genius and for comedy dramatic monologue was discovered there and then. In the book, we hear the nursery teacher cope (just!) with a boy hiding a hamster in his jumper, girls biting boys and 2 day old toast and marmalade found in pockets. We never do hear what George is repeatedly asked NOT to do, so, as the reader, we can make our own version up.

IMG_3404‘I Can Jump Puddles’ by Alan Marshall (Puffin; Penguin) I knew she was good, but I didn’t realise she introduced me to so many of my favourite classics! Here again it was my wonderful high school teacher, Mrs Mitchell who introduced me (this time in Year 7; first year of high school) to this book. I have read it a few times recently and remembered why I loved it so much. A memoir of his childhood in rural Australia, Marshall follows his family and schooling life in the early 1900s. Marshall contracts poliomyelitis (polio) as a child which he was determined not to let him stop climbing, horse-riding, swimming and all the other joys of childhood. The book gives an insight to life in Australia in that era with stories of bushmen, farmers and people who were self-reliant by necessity. An inspiring Australian tale of a humble and courageous boy.

IMG_3405‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Roald Dahl (Puffin; Penguin) My brother was the first person I ever knew to read a Dahl book. I used to wait until he’d read them before I borrowed them from him. Dahl has a wickedly perceptive way of seeing and describing people and events. Pure storytelling magic! I re-read this book recently and loved the story of the humble Charlie Bucket and his grandfather winning a ticket to see the chocolate factory. I must admit that I think that illustrator, Quentin Blake’s, lively line drawings really enhance the text. You get the impression that Dahl must have loved imagining the rooms in the factory, the descriptions of the lollies and the various characters. When my family and I were in England we made a special trip to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden which was particularly well designed and interactive. You could dress up in outfits from Dahl’s various books, there were drawing rooms, an area to ‘bottle’ your own dreams and even Dahl’s original chair which you were encouraged to sit on just like he did with his writing board over his knees. I loved that this book was inspired by the fact that when Dahl was a child he boarded at school and nearby was a sweet factory which used to send the boys boxes of test lollies and chocolates from time to time. The boys would have to try them and then rate the sweets! As a family, we then made a trip to the Cadbury Factory in Birmingham which was a real treat seeing the production lines and creating your own chocolate mixture.

 

04/21/13

10 Great Books That Are Beautifully Designed

 

 

IMG_3212‘Paris In Color’ by Nichole Robertson (Chronicle Books) This beautiful photo montage of scenes of everyday life in Paris by photographer, Robertson, is broken up into strikingly designed chapters by colour. The chapter ‘noir’ shows blackboard menus, ironwork and bicycle tyres, bleu; vespas and street signs, marron; freshly baked bread, wicker bike baskets, leather and cheese boxes, vert; garden trellises, clocks and park benches, orange; window boxes, awnings and stacks of fresh produce and blanc; fresh eggs, cheeses, and architectural details. Robertson speaks of the French concept of flanerie; to wander and admire with curiosity, pleasure and open eyes. The layout of the images gives your eye time to wander and reflect with enough white space and pacing of images. The collection of superbly composed photos compiled from her walks around Paris celebrates colour and the essence of Paris and reminds me of unexpected jewels of colour, design and life that I have so enjoyed in Paris. Really beautiful!

IMG_3209‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ illustrated by Michel Streich (Allen & Unwin) This compact book goes through the document of the right for nations and individuals to recognise, protect and promote basic human rights and freedom; I like to look at it from time to time to remember and reflect. It explains the history of The Declaration of Human Rights being adopted by the United Nations General assembly on 10th December, 1948 and how it has endured through world changes to encompass dignity, equality, fairness and universality. Streich’s black and red illustrations are joyous and whimsical which is quite a feat considering the weight of the subject! Each article of the document is illustrated with a poignant design which makes you stop and reflect on the point. Beautifully designed handshakes, footprints, keys, hands, parachutes and newborn birds are incorporated to emphasise points in a wonderfully poetic way.

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Visit Michel Streich’s website here.

Read my interview with Michel Streich here.

‘Audrey The 60s’ by David Wills and Stephen Schmidt (Harper Collins) My maternal grandmother was Audrey H. (that’s Audrey Hannah!) so the name Audrey has always been very special to me; indeed one of my daughters has the middle name Audrey and another daughter has the middle name Hannah. Ever since childhood I have loved the movie ‘My Fair Lady’, however it wasn’t really until I started my first full-time job that my boss really introduced to Audrey Hepburn’s other movies. My favourite Audrey Hepburn movie would have to be ‘How To Catch A Thief’ – fabulous, clever and crazy! This large coffee-table book is a beautiful compilation of Hepburn during the 1960s; each chapter is devoted to a movie of hers – full page photos (oh, what a luxury from my background in print!) of stills and candid images from movies produced in this decade. Great typeface, stunning use of images and gorgeous quotes. A pleasure to read! Thank you to my first full-time boss, Robert, for introducing me to the range of Audrey Hepburn movies.

Visit Stephen Schmidt’s website here.

Read my interview with Stephen Schmidt here.

IMG_3217‘The Tulip Anthology’ photographed by Ron Van Dongen (Hachette) Tulips are one of my all-time favourite flowers; their beautiful shapes and colours entrance me and this gorgeous over-sized book depicts them in all their glory. Photographer, Van Dongen, creates images of a wide variety of different species of tulips combining carefully chosen backgrounds to compliment the bloom and natural light to honour the light of the Dutch painters of the Golden Age until he feels he has captured each species’ ‘personality’. The result is a book of stunning, vibrant, larger-than-life images of tulips in their elegant, majestic forms interspersed with images of tulips that have inspired painters, ceramic artists and textile designers throughout history. The book refers to the madness of tulipomania in the 1630s and explores species with fabulous names such as ‘Those That Burn The Heart’, ‘Diamond’s Envy’, ‘Slim One of The Rose Garden’ ‘Flaming Parrot’, ‘The Lizard’ and ‘Angel’s Dream’. What’s not to like?

Visit Ron Van Dongen’s website here.

Read my interview with Ron Van Dongen here.

IMG_3207‘Ask Me’ by Antje Damm (Frances-Lincoln Books)  This book was displayed on the counter of a bookshop when I was buying other books and when I picked it up I just fell in love with it. On each of the 100+ colourful, double-page spreads is one of Damm’s illustrations, photo or image with an accompanying question such as ‘What would you change if you were the king or queen?’, ’Which story can you tell?’, ’What have your grandparents told you about their childhood?’, ‘What kind of house would you like to build for yourself?’ and ‘How did your parents choose your name?’ I have spent many times looking at and reading this book with each of my children and it is fascinating what their answers are and the discussion that these provoke. When I have revisited the book with them years later the answers are often different. I love this book for both adults and children and have given it to many people as a gift. Beautiful and thought-provoking.

IMG_3210‘Cristobal Balenciaga, Philippe Venet, Hubert de Givenchy; Grand Traditions Of French Couture’ by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery (Rizolli) This stunning book is like a little jewel encased in its own slip-case; indeed the book was designed to be like a compact – a treasure to hold within a bag. The content of the book covers an exhibition of evening gowns by three couturiers, Balenciaga, Venet and de Givenchy, that was held at the Chateau of Haroue in Lorraine in France. Full-page images of details of dresses, brocades, satins and jewellery are carefully and lovingly teamed with beautifully rich images of the chateau’s architectural elements, ironwork, family portraits, vintage mirrors and velvet and silken wall linings to create a sumptuous book of images. The history of the designers and their work is woven amongst the images and the result is a breath-takingly beautiful experience. The presentation, content and story of this book make it a delight to read and savour. Pure joy! Apparently the Chateau de Haroue participates in an outdoor opera festival in September – can you imagine how beautiful that would be!

IMG_3215‘Kate Spade New York; Things We Love’ (Abrams Books) This fabulous and decadent book celebrates 20 years of the Kate Spade brand. I love the fun element of Kate Spade designs; the colour combinations and graphics are usually upbeat and quirky. My polka dot Kate Spade mobile phone cover and orange and hot pink bangle always bring a smile to my face. Each of the 20 chapters in this book is dedicated to a theme that the Kate Spade team love and are inspired by. We look at inspirations including the colour red, New York icons, humour, movies, typefaces, iconic photos and images, travel, flowers and books (they even have a book list that they love!) We see how these have inspired fabulous Kate Spade advertising campaigns, handbag, clothing, accessories and stationery design. The pages are boldly laid out and inspiring in themselves – a little bit like a big mood board of favourite things. To cap it all off, the edges of the book are tinted gold – love it!

IMG_3220‘Room For Children; Stylish Spaces for Sleep and Play’ by Susanna Salk (Rizzoli) This gorgeous book is filled with photos of beautiful interiors especially designed for children; from nurseries, to toddlers, young children, teenagers and young adults – bedrooms, studies and lounge areas. The use of bold, inspiring photos, texts and graphics throughout the book are a treat. It’s just pure eye candy – showing great ideas for incorporating artwork and illustrations into rooms for children, beautiful modern, ironwork or custom-made furniture, colour, graphics, mobiles and clever solutions for storage. I enjoyed the ideas for designing rooms that would work for the future as the child grows up, incorporating their own artwork and personalising their rooms whether their passions be music, art, reading or dance. The rooms cover a myriad of budgets and cultures creating a wonderful reference book. The results appeal to designers, kids and their parents alike. With a background in design and having styled hundreds of homes through my styling work I admire and appreciate the work and forethought that has gone into each of these rooms.

Visit Susanna Salk’s website here.

Read my interview with Susanna Salk here.

IMG_3221‘Chanel; Collections and Creations’ by Daniele Bott (Thames & Hudson) I have had a fascination with Chanel since I was at uni studying interior design and had to design a showroom in 1930s style. I researched Chanel and found such a fascinating woman who came from a very humble background who developed in to a woman who really analysed the way women needed to dress for the changing world they live in. For the project I designed a showroom that I though Chanel might inhabit and in the process gained a lifetime hero. From start to finish this beautiful book is packed with stunning images. The first time I opened the book it opened to a double-age spread of lipstick colours; I was hooked! My favourite lipstick is a Chanel colour. After an introduction about Chanel’s history, each chapter focuses on a theme; her iconic suits, camellia motif, jewellery in pearls, diamonds and precious jewels, defining fragrances and the concept of the black dress in all their glory. Thank you to my dear friend, Anna, who gave me this inspiring book for my birthday this year.

IMG_3222‘Inspire’ (kikki.K) My eldest daughter gave this book to me for my birthday last year and I just love it; thank you!  A compact book by that clever company, kikki.K, it is full of beautiful quotes and inspiring thoughts. I particularly love the use of calligraphy and artwork which is light and ethereal, yet poignant in content. I have a deep love and respect of hand writing and calligraphy; my mum and I completed a wonderful calligraphy course with Belinda and David many years ago which opened our eyes to beautiful handwriting in all its personal and quirky forms. I often think that to inspire someone is a very powerful thing indeed. To turn a light on or a switch is a very exciting ability. I have had many people who inspire me, sometimes just a very simple act has made a difference – such as a very close family friend who gave me a huge anthology of fairy tales one Christmas when I was very young; I was totally overwhelmed, but at the same time so immensely thrilled that she thought I would be able to read it that I did – I read it from cover to cover. My husband and children inspire me to be a better person every day. I enjoy dipping in to this beautiful book for inspiration. By the way, the jacket also folds out to be an inspiring poster; those clever Swedes!

03/22/13

10 Great Books About Art

A Brush with Mondrian‘A Brush With Mondrian; Uncovering Secrets Of Art And Family’ by Yvonne Louis (Murdoch Books) This beautiful memoir is about a woman who helps evacuate her mum from her home on two separate occasions because of threatening bushfires and her mum urges her, above all, to save two paintings which have been in the family for as long as Louis can remember. Louis later inherits these paintings and becomes intrigued as to why they are so special. She traces her family history and the role these two Dutch heirlooms have played amongst her family. Intriguingly the author and her family grew up in what must have been streets away from my childhood home and I also remember the alarm of being evacuated from approaching bushfires. Louis was apparently the librarian at my Primary School, but not when my siblings or I were there. The book follows the mystery and intrigue and is beautifully and sensitively written. A history of Dutch painting, traditions and family unfolds.

Tintin; Herge and his Creation

‘Tintin; Herge And His Creation’ by Harry Thompson (Sceptre; Hodder and Stoughton) I didn’t really discover Tintin until after University. l was drawn not only by the wonderful drawing style, but especially by the colours that Belgian Herge (Tintin’s creator) used. The creator of Tintin is actually named Georges Remi; Remi inverted his initials (GR to RG); and in French, phonetically these inverted initials sound like Herge. This biography of Herge is divided into chapters which go through each book he wrote chronologically. I read each chapter then stopped and read the related Tintin book and was able to see and understand what Herge was working on, how his life, peers, world events (wars, conflicts,  Al Capone and Fidel Castro) and discoveries (the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb and man walking on the moon)  influenced and affected his work. It was fascinating to see Herge’s style change and develop as I was reading through each book. The stories are fast-paced mysteries and usually relate to some then-topical event. In terms of Herge’s mastery of colour, my favourite book would have to be ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws’; the blues, yellows and economy and elegance of line are breathtaking. My youngest daughter’s white teddy is named ‘Snowy’ after Tintin’s dog.

Girl in a Green Gown‘Girl In A Green Gown; The History And Mystery Of The Arnolfini Portrait’ by Carola Hicks (Vintage Books; Random House) Every art student studies this famous 1434 painting by Flemish artist, Jan van Eyck. I was fortunate enough to have two inspiring art teachers in high school and I would eagerly look forward to each art class. Some of the mysteries of this painting are who are these people? what are they doing? who is reflected in the mirror? and why did the artist sign his name top centre of the painting? This book is a loving portrait of this important and mysterious painting. We learn of the history of the painting (every single owner of this artwork has been documented), discuss why it was commissioned, who owned it and how they came to own it. Each detail of the painting is discussed; the fascinating fashion and what it said about the couple, the symbolism, the furniture, the effects and development of light that the painter could demonstrate, the history of the time and the importance and symbolism of the chandelier, the dog and the oranges. Analysis of established and new painting and perspective techniques are examined as well as painting mediums and pigment development. I found this book really fascinating. Thank you to Mrs Oakley and Mrs Lumley for bringing paintings such as this and many more alive to me as an art student. Art classes were always fascinating, engaging and fun.

Colours Travel Through a Paintbox‘Colour; Travels Through The Paintbox’ by Victoria Finlay (Sceptre; Hodder Stoughton) This book travels through the history and symbolism of colours and pigments in the order they appear in a rainbow. Each chapter is titled a colour and we learn how each pigment came to be in the artist’s paintbox. We follow Finlay’s research and extensive travels through a myriad of countries and experiences. She explains the fascinating history of when lime washing was thought the best precaution against the plague, carmine red was made from the blood of the cochineal beetle and how British post boxes were originally painted green, but people kept bumping in to them! We read about orange varnishes for string instruments and that camboge in yellow paint is so poisonous that no cockroaches or bugs will eat the paint. You need stamens from 170 000 crocus flowers to make 1kg of saffron used in pigments, that butterflies see purple well and that historically, violet is the colour most legislated about regarding who, where and when can use and wear it. Thank you to my friend, Toni, who recommended me to read this book. I love it!

When My Baby Dreams‘When My Baby Dreams’ by Adele Enersen (Balzer + Bray; Harper Collins Publishers)  I enjoyed Finnish Enerson’s blog and website so I looked forward to her first book being published. First time mum, Enerson wonders what her daughter is dreaming about and creates scenes with her sleeping newborn baby, Mila, as the main character of her images. Apparently, Enerson waits for her daughter to sleep and then creates the scenes from textiles, rugs, cushions, socks, toys, paper plates, books and objects from around her house. I was fascinated, amazed and humoured to see what she would think up next. We see Mila as an astronaut, a bookworm, a bee, butterfly, mermaid, flying, ridding an elephant, a leopard, a Chinese dragon, surfing and hanging out with the washing. I love Enerson’s sense of humour and fun! In each image her baby looks very peaceful and blissfully unaware of the bizarre and creative scene she was in. I am in awe of her having the time to do this when her baby is sleeping. Apparently Mila was a very sound sleeper as a baby!

Monet‘Monet’ by Carla Rachman (Phaidon) Beautifully illustrated with paintings and photographs, this is a very readable and thorough book on the French painter Claude Monet. A talented painter and entrepreneur, we learn why Monet was such an important painter and why he was and still is so popular. We read of his role in the French army, his early financial constraints, his love of the effects of light, family life, his stunning home and garden; Giverny, and his rise to fame. The opening up of Japan and its unseen woodblock prints influenced Monet’s work in terms of flat planes and outlines as was the impact of invention of the camera. Monet moved away from straightforward portraits which were being created by cameras and became fascinated by depicting the effect of light on a single theme such as haystacks, building facades or lily ponds. Monet became very passionate creating and developing his stunning garden. On our honeymoon we visited Giverny. I don’t think I was prepared for how breathtaking the house and garden would be! 

Beatrix Potter‘Beatrix Potter; The Extraordinary Life Of A Victorian Genius’ by Linda Lear (Penguin) I bought this book in a small bookshop when I was holidaying with my family on the coast of Australia. As a young girl my maternal grandparents in Melbourne would send a five dollar note in a birthday card for me and I would peruse the bookshelves of our local Grace Bros. store as if I had a king’s ransom in my pocket. Each year I would choose one or two Beatrix Potter books to buy. So I knew Potter’s work, but not much about her. What I wasn’t expecting to read about was a Victorian rebel! Potter was a pioneering scientific researcher. From a young age her governess encouraged her interest in art and her outstanding talent as a botanist specialising in fungi and fossils gave her entrée to the Linnean Society (biological society); almost unheard of for a woman in Victorian times. Potter was an avid student of natural history and probably would have had a career in science if such opportunities were available to women at that time. This book was a fascinating account through journals, letters, photos and artwork of Potter’s childhood, her work and inspiration, how her publishing came about, her first unbelievably tragic romance and how she went on to find love and happiness. Later in life Potter bought Hill Top Farm and became an avid sheep and English Lakeland countryside expert. So I learnt that Potter’s children’s books are just one aspect of her extraordinary life and that she really was a truly fascinating woman in Victorian England.

‘Carl Warner’s Food Landscapes’ by Carl Warner (Abrams) This is an amazingFoodlandscapes_2 book about a contemporary English photographer who shapes food into landscapes. You can’t help but be intrigued at the images he creates entirely out of food – seas of smoked salmon with dill trees, peapod boats, nut stone walls, mozzarella ball clouds, pinto bean paving and red cabbage seas. From my professional background as a stylist, I loved reading about the photography shoots, drawing layouts, the hours of preparation that goes in before photography, model making, fine work, attention to detail, the trials, tribulations and solutions behind the scenes.  Warner started out making images from food for his own interest, but then received commissions from commercial companies such as an Italian pasta sauce company, one of the major UK supermarkets, a Romanian brand of ice-cream, a Swedish fish and seafood company, an Italian cured meats company, The Lakes District Cheese Company and Betty Crocker cookie mix and recipes. What he and his team come up with is just stunning!

Read my interview with Carl Warner here.

Visit Carl Warner’s website here.

photo 2‘Degas’ by Keith Roberts (Phaidon) Edgar Degas was a French Impressionist painter who loved to paint scenes from the ballet and horse races; two particularly beautiful subjects where he celebrated highly skilled and trained people. Generously illustrated with large colour photos of his work, this book follows and gives a comprehensive discussion of the development of Degas’ style including his childhood, influences, peers and how he captured the effect of light on fleeting moments of scenes with high energy or natural elements such as falling rain. His work with pastel celebrates these transitioning light effects with a subtlety and beauty. I love how Degas focuses on the arts and highly skilled characters; ballerinas, orchestra players, opera singers and elite sportsmen, horse racers and horses. Having seen Degas’ ‘Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’ sculpture in an exhibition in Canberra, I was given a copy of this beautiful work which graces our lounge room. It is an apt addition to our household with three daughters who have enjoyed classical ballet classes; two continue to dance and all of us adore and appreciate watching ballet.

Fairie - Ality Style‘Fairie-ality Style; A Sourcebook Of Inspirations From Nature’ by David Ellwand (Walker Books) What an intriguing book! This is an beautiful large format book of contemporary English photographer, Ellwand’s, observances of textures and colours in nature combined with his thoughts and fanciful designs for clothes and furniture. Ellwand’s photographs are stunning. His delicate and ephemeral designs are inspired by nature, so we see fern fronds, bluebell meadows and peacock feathers inspire celestial designs for dresses feathers and homes under waterfalls. A complete step-back from reality, this is a book of fantasy and whimsy just to enjoy.

When my youngest daughter was 7 years old, this book inspired her to design a set of the most startlingly beautiful dress designs made from feathers and leaves. I treasure those drawings.

For other great books about art on my book blog please see also:

‘Good Living Street; The Fortunes of My Viennese Family’ by Tim Bonyhady (Allen & Unwin)10 Great Books To Read’ post

‘The Private Lives Of The Impressionists’ by Sue Roe (Harper Perennial; Harper Collins Publishers) 10 Great Books To Read’ post

02/21/13

10 Great Books About Different Countries

A Daughter Of The SamuraiJAPAN: ‘A Daughter Of The Samurai’ by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto (Tuttle) This memoir describes the intricate traditions and culture of the Japanese Samurai world. The isolation of Japan from the rest of the world for long periods of time developed a fascinating and individual culture. Starting with Sugimotos’ beautiful traditional childhood in Nagaoka, Japan, she describes the festivals, tradition of kiminos and its knots and folds, the language of bowing, traditional ceremonies and the role of the family council. As a young bride, she had to respect the flower on her husband’s coat of arms to the extent that she could not eat plums. We follow as she moves to Tokyo as a new bride, and experiences different values and ideas from her rural childhood. There, she has her first experiences of westerners where ‘pipe-shaped sleeves’ were described by her relations as ‘lacking grace’ and the ‘bigness of everything; everything seemed made for a race of giants’. This book captures the beauty and grace of traditional Japan based on discipline and respect which is quite awe-inspiring. Thank you to my friend, Suz, who suggested and then generously gave me this beautiful book.

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CHINA: ‘Lions’ Head, Four Happiness; A Little Sister’s Story of Growing Up In China’ by Xiaomei Martell (Vintage; Random House) The youngest of four daughters, this book is the story of Martell’s childhood in rural Communist China and the importance of food in her life; the scarcity of it, what the usual meals were and foods for special occasions and treats. The usual greeting in her childhood was ‘chilema’ meaning ‘Have you eaten?’ showing the value of food, sharing meals and a full stomach. Her incorporation of food stories are fascinating and give a real indication of the lifestyle and culture of the time. The title of the book, Lion’s Head and Four Happiness, were two of Martell’s special meals and we learn why these meals and treasured childhood toys such as painted pig toes were so such an important part of her culture. We follow Martell’s lifestyle as a young child, the few opportunities she was given and how she seized upon them and realised her dream.

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GREECE: ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell (Penguin) This book is the very funny memoir of the author’s childhood when his eccentric mother moves with her four children to Corfu, Greece after the death of their father. Gerald is the youngest of the children by quite a few years and we see his family through the lively and hilarious conversations they have with each other; the local larger-than-life taxi-driving Spiro who takes them under his wing, the Durrells’ house guests and insects and animals Gerald collects and keeps in secret in the house. I definitely laughed out loud many times whilst reading this book. I was introduced to this book when I was in my first year of high school and I was fortunate to have a wonderful English teacher who read parts of the book out in her fantastic uninhibited style. I have re-read this book twice since then and each time I can hear my teacher’s vivacious voice as she brought each character with their idiosyncrasies and whimsies vividly to life. Durrell’s descriptive writing means you can just about hear the cicadas with the ear-piercing screeches and see the sparkle on the azure-blue water. Beautiful descriptions of a fascinatingly langid way of life in an idyllic setting. Thank you to my Year 7 English teacher, Mrs Mitchell, who introduced me to this book. The sequel, ‘Birds, Beasts and Relatives’ by Gerald Durrell (Penguin) is equally as funny and enjoyable.

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USA: ‘Tales Of New York; Some Will Surprise You’ by John Keatts (Legwork Team Publishing) My brother, who has lived in New York, insisted that one of things you really need to do when visiting New York was to take a ferry tour of The Statue of Liberty. Despite freezing temperatures and a long queue, my family and I persisted and went on a tour. We were fortunate to have a brilliant licensed tour guide, John Keatts, who had an engaging style and great sense of humour which really brought the tour alive. At the end of the tour he happened to mention that he had written a book and, having so enjoyed his tour, I went up and asked to buy a copy. The book covers the history of New York, stories about immigrants, The Statue of Liberty, the buildings and how their height depends on the rock they sit on, the skyscraper race, how the various areas of New York were established, the concept and of Central Park, The United Nations and the Gotham city ideas with many anecdotes such as how police were called cops because of their copper badges, why there are so many people named Tony in New York and the use of the term ‘The Big Apple’. You get a real sense of how the mix of immigrants, the geography of the island and the personalities which made New York what it is. This book is a celebration of New York itself. What an asset Keatts is to New York!

Visit John Keatts’ website here.

Read my interview with John Keatts here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATANZANIA: ‘St Jude’s’ by Gemma Sisia (Macmillan) I loved reading about Sisia’s travels and how she unexpectedly fell in love with Tanzania and it’s culture. Sisia grew up in Guyra in northern NSW, Australia and enjoyed a country childhood before travelling to South Africa. The book follows her inspiring story of how she built a school named ‘The School of St. Jude’ (St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes) and how she raised the funds entirely from sponsors. An opportunity for bright children in poor areas, the school addresses inadequate education and illiteracy. We follow the school as it develops to accommodate 700 children, the building of new facilities and the successful academic records. As Sisia settles in Tanzania and marries a local man, then raises their children, we travel with her on her journey of discovery of the Tanzanian and Maasai cultures, their love of the land and family structures.  Sisia describes with respect the traditions, culture and surprises she encountered. This book is a very inspiring read about one person helping to change the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFRANCE: ‘The Piano Shop On The Left Bank; The Hidden World Of A Paris Atelier’ by T.E.Carhart (Vintage; Random House) I first read this memoir when my youngest child was just born. I read it again recently and remembered why I loved it so much. The descriptive passages of the back streets of Parisian life where the piano shop is situated are so atmospheric and beautiful that you are absorbed into the culture. Cleverly, we are introduced to the charms of Paris by the various real people that Carhart meets in a piano shop; owners, other customers, restorers, piano tuners, piano removalists and piano teachers. We learn of Parisian customs, the pace of life, the love of culture and music in Paris, it’s influences from other nearby countries, priorities of Parisians all whilst learning a beautiful history of pianos. I felt completely absorbed in the gorgeous culture of Paris and the rich history of music and pianos. This was Carhart’s first book: I hope he writes more. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAUSTRIA: ‘The Story Of The Trapp Family Singers; The Story That Inspired The Sound of Music’ by Maria Augusta Trapp (by Harper Perennial; Harper Collins) This is the story of the real family that inspired the musical ‘The Sound Of Music’. A fascinating read about the original Maria; how she fell in love with the Baron, their marriage and life with Baron’s children and later, the children they had together. The book describes their life in Austria where the whole family had a strong love of Austrian culture, customs, family celebrations, landscape and wildlife which are beautifully and lovingly described.  You can tell the author just loves her homeland, Austria. Covering the discovery of how their singing voices were beautifully matched, the musical talents within the family, their music concerts and tours we follow the family during their flight from Austria to Vermont in America and the life they created there incorporating the home and buildings they built to accommodate their music camps. Thank you to my friend, Harriet, who not only recommended such a great read to me, but then insisted on giving me the book.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAITALY: ‘Under the Tuscan Sun; At Home In Italy’ by Frances Mayes (Bantam Books; Transworld Publishers) Travelling to Italy with my family in 2012, I searched for books that would immerse me in the culture. I had read this book years earlier, but read it again whilst we travelled through Tuscany and it resonated with the picturesque landscape, delicious regional food and lifestyle we experienced and enjoyed. This book is a biography of Mayes’ experience of buying a holiday home in Tuscany and renovating it, her friendship with local people, discovery of the language, the pace of life and her love of the buildings, food, local specialties and her travels. The Italians seem to have a natural affinity to their landscape and make the most of their produce, landscape and history. Mayes becomes an advocate for Tuscany and her descriptions, way of life, Italian phrases that are spoken throughout the book and the local recipes she includes makes it a really evocative, apt and a wonderful read celebrating Italy.

The sequel ‘Bella Tuscany’ by Frances Mayes (Bantam Books; Transworld Publishers) is a wonderful continuation of her experiences and the Italian culture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAUSTRALIA: ‘Black Kettle And Full Moon; Daily Life In a Vanished Australia’ by Geoffrey Blainey (Penguin) This book is a fascinating history of Australia between 1850 during the first gold rush and about 1915 at the beginning of World War I. It traces the effect of isolation of the Australian continent from Europe and the Americas and importance of the night sky and, later, of the telegram wire. We learn about communication in such an expansive country; how the ‘coo-ee’ sound travels so well, the effect of church and cattle bells and the importance of powerful narrators, speakers and storytellers at gatherings of those eager for news. Legends such as Ned Kelly, Burke and Wills and Cobb and Co. are described and we see their importance and relevance in Australian history. Diet and how it was influenced by the availability of livestock and ice, the invention of the Coolgardie and food safes and the value of billy tea is explained in an engaging history. The importance of communication over vast distances and how the different times and ranges of railroad gauges in different Australian States were resolved are explained. We get a real feel of the times and culture of Australia during this time; the concerns, priorities and developments. Thank you to Geoffrey Blainey who, when I wrote to him to ask him about which of his books I would enjoy next, suggested this one. He was right!

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Three Cups of Tea

PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN: ‘Three Cups Of Tea; One Man’s Mission To Promote Peace…One School At A Time’ by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Viking; Penguin Group) This book introduced me to a part of the world I didn’t know very well. Basically, it’s the true story of how an American guy, Greg Mortenson, was mountaineering with a team attempting to climb K2 (the second highest mountain after Mount Everest), got separated from his team and became  terribly lost in the treacherous, snow-covered mountain range. He stumbled into a mountain village where the inhabitants, unfazed by cultural and language differences, saved his life. Moved by the villagers’ kindness whilst recuperating there, Mortenson promised to return to the village and build a school for girls. The book follows his return to America, raising of funds and return to the village to build first one, then fifty-four more schools for girls! We learn about the Pakistan and Afghanistan cultures through the people Mortenson encounters, the landscape, history and priorities as well as the building issues that had to be addresses with such isolated sites. The book is a tribute to a man with such determination and passion.

The sequel, ‘Stones Into Schools; Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan’ By Greg Mortenson with Mike Bryan (Viking; Penguin Group) follows the progress of the school and building programs, promoting peace through education and literacy.

02/5/13

10 Great Books To Read

IMG_3019 ’Appetite For Life; The Biography of Julia Child’ by Noel Riley Fitch (Anchor Books; Random House) Having watched a movie which referred to Julia Child, I was keen to learn more about her real life. This book follows Child’s life: including her childhood in California from 1912, her working life in India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and China, marriage and her travels with her husband to France, Germany and Norway. One of the many things I loved about this book was that, after attending The Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and then teaching some classes, it was only at about 50 that Child decided to write her first book. Child was keen to bring the mystery of French cuisine to USA home cooks. The story of how her first book was written, published and then took off lead to her initial sessions cooking on TV. Child was one of the first people ever to cook dishes on TV. This book relates Child’s wonderful marriage to Paul, her close friendship with her sister, Paul’s twin-brother and his wife, friends, the Childs’ travels, experiences and the interesting story of her cookbooks and television shows.

‘At Home; A Short History Of Private Life’ by Bill Bryson (Doubleday; Random House) IMG_3016My dad recommended that I read this book. Inspired by his own home in Norfolk in England, Bryson divides the book into chapters of each room in a house. Each chapter then describes the history and evolution of each room. Through Bryson’s extensive research we discover a myriad of fascinating facts, including why hallways are called halls, why out of all the hundreds of spices it is salt and pepper that we keep on our table and that during the late 1800s people suffered from arsenic poisoning from wallpaper! He makes learning about social politics, food preferences and availability, health issues, fashion, design, architecture and electrical advances interesting and relevant.  Bryson’s style is informal, so reading the book is like walking through a home with a very informative, interesting and funny guide. I was astonished, but delighted to receive a hand written postcard from Bryson in reply to my letter to him thanking him for writing such an interesting book. Thank you to my dad for recommending this wonderful book.

IMG_3015‘Coco Chanel; The Legend And The Life’ by Justine Picardie (Harper Collins Publishers) This is a beautifully respectful book about the legendary Coco Chanel. From a very humble, bewildering and lonely childhood, Chanel was influenced by the nuns’ clothes from  her early childhood and equestrian clothes from her early adulthood. Looking at alternatives to the restrictive women’s underclothes of the early 1900s, Chanel started combining men’s clothing and created much more streamlined and practical clothes for women from about 1920 until the 1970s. Chanel created the simple, pared-down look and this book is well-illustrated with personal photos and clothing designs. This book explains in detail Chanel’s personal history as well as the history of fashion during that time and describes how and why she was so influential and became so famous. A great read.

‘A Short History Of The World’ by Geoffrey Blainey (Viking: Penguin Group) IMG_3020I thoroughly recommend this book. It covered world history in a very readable, interesting style. Starting from Africa and working through the rising of the seas and population dispersement through to the present connection of the world through the internet, I was fascinated. Blainey discusses the isolation of America, Australia, the Islands and Japan and the cultures that were created because of this isolation, the importance of the night sky, the impact of the discovery of fire, origins of religions, cultures, the impact of the invention of the wheel, clocks, paper, glass, steam, political as well as social change, warfare, the space race, what triggered the wars and their aftermath. I was riveted! I was also amazed to receive a hand-written letter from Blainey in response to my thank you letter to him for writing this fascinating book.

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‘Good Living Street; The Fortunes of My Viennese Family’ by Tim Bonyhady (Allen & Unwin) When I was studying design at uni I was fascinated by the fabulous Viennese Secessionists who were working in the early part of 1900s. One of my favourite designers, Josef Hoffman, created the most beautiful complete apartment including custom-designed furniture, wall coverings, glassware and silverware for the Gallia family in Vienna. The Gallias then commissioned a portrait of Hermine Gallia by Gustav Klimt for their apartment. Unfortunately the apartment was destroyed during the World War I. It was rumoured that some of the beautiful items from the apartment were rescued before the apartment was ruined. At uni, I was fascinated by the Hoffman designs and the story that some of the pieces may have been rescued. To my surprise and delight, this book is the true story of the two Gallia daughters and how they rescued much of the furniture and some of the artwork from the apartment before it was ruined and fled with them to nearby Cremorne, Sydney! The story is told by Bonyhady, a grandson of one of the Gallia daughters. The books tells of the history and journey of these beautiful pieces. Stored in a compact apartment, post-war, they probably looked quite out-of-place, but what treasure! After much heartache, the Klimt portrait was sold by London dealers and the furniture was eventually bought by the National Gallery of Victoria. This is a sensitively written book covering family relationships, life in Vienna during the early 1900s, design, style, art, the tragedy of war and assimilation in a new country. I loved this book!

‘Love & Hunger; Thoughts On The Gift Of Food’ by Charlotte Wood (Allen & Unwin)IMG_3013 I heard the author, Wood, talking on radio about this book. It sounded intriguing! The book follows her life and important food-related events, family traditions and ideas. Wood grew up in at a similar time as I did and I roared with laughter about some of the events and ideas of her childhood. I loved her mum’s wonderful friend, Mrs Spain and remembered a fabulously stylish friend of my mum’s. As well as sections on soup recipes, how to chop an onion and what to stock in your pantry, I loved the section on food as gifts, was interested in the section on food for those in need and had my eyebrows raised for the whole chapter on mailing food. Who would have thought! I have tried a few of the recipes (the Lamb Tangine with Dates and Raisins is delicious!) and intend to try more – Mild Salmon Curry, Whole Orange Cake, Florence Nightingale Soup and Jane’s Citrus Couscous. A fascinating book. I have recommended this book to so many people.

IMG_3012’1,227 QI Facts To Blow Your Socks Off’ Compiled by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin (Faber and Faber; Bloomsbury House) I love the “QI” TV show hosted by Stephen Fry, so I was very excited to discover this book of fascinating, funny and, at times, alarming facts. Apparently the research team read a huge range of books and took notes of things that are interesting.  Then they collated the facts to see which were the strangest. Who knew that ‘most bees buzz in the key of A, unless they are tired, when they buzz in the key of E’, or that ‘Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was Moon’, ‘ants nod to each other when they pass’ or that ‘The Netherlands exports more soy sauce than Japan’. A fun, fascinating and bizarre read!

Read my interview with James Harkin here.

Visit the QI podcast page here.

‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ by Neil MacGregor (Allen Lane; Penguin Group)IMG_3011 I loved reading MacGregor’s ‘A History Of The World In 100 Objects’, so it was no surprise to me that I enjoyed this next book of his so much. MacGregor was previously Director of the National Gallery in London and is now Director of the British Museum. This book focuses on 20 objects during the late 15oos and early 1600s when Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. The objects include medals celebrating navigational feats, silver goblets showing the changes of religion, eating forks showing food preferences and availability, paintings alluding to succession issues, discovered gold treasure and the evolution of the Union Jack flag. MacGregor has a wonderfully readable style, interwoven with quotes from other experts and beautiful photos. The history of this era with it’s political, religious, scientific issues and ideas are brought clearly and fascinatingly to life through this wonderful and enjoyable book.

IMG_3018‘The Fossil Hunter; Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World’ by Shelley Emling (Palgrave Macmillan) My youngest daughter brought home an early reading book from the school library a few years ago which she read with me. The book was about a young girl who found pieces of interesting stone on the beach near where she lived to sell to tourists to help support her family. The ‘interesting pieces of stone’ turned out to be some of the earliest known fossils. I became fascinated in finding out more about this girl, Mary Anning, who lived in Lyme Regis on the English coast in the early 1800s. ‘The Fossil Hunter’ is the true story about Mary who combed the beaches and sold these curious pieces of stone to visitors to the area until one day a scientist bought some of the stones and asked her to show him where they were from. When they pieced the fossils together, the scientific world was shocked – first presuming it was a crocodile and then discovering that it was another creature altogether – the first dinosaur had been discovered and named an Ichthyosaurus. This book describes Mary’s dealings with the scientists of the day and her further discoveries such as the Plesiosaurus  and Squaloraja. A beautifully researched read about a girl, her discoveries and the difficulties she had in her era both because of her gender and the religious and scientific thoughts of the time. Thank you to my youngest daughter for inspiring this read.

‘The Private Lives of The Impressionists’ by Sue Roe (Harper Perennial; HarperCollins Publishers)IMG_3017 Wow! This was  a great read. Introducing the history and political climate that the Impressionist group experienced, this book discusses the artists’ painting developments, friendships, exhibitions, careers and what was going on around them. I loved reading about Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissaro, Cassatt, Sisley, Morisot, Manet and Cezanne; what they did day-to-day, their struggles and triumphs and what made them tick. Roe discusses what  the Impressionists were trying to achieve, the impact of the camera, their struggle with the established art world and public, what they achieved and why they are so famous now. Roe’s research and respect for the artists is evident in this very readable book about such an important painting style.