Books For Christmas

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Books For Christmas
The book store was bustling. I had popped in just to purchase the holiday issue of my favourite magazine, British Country Living, and was now inching my way up to the front of a line full of Christmas shoppers. Having an insatiable curiousity about the reading habits of others, I busied myself in an attempt to appear disinterested and nonchalant all the while sneaking secret glances at their choices.
There was the young fellow in the Apple sweatshirt with his reading glasses perched on his nose, already an eighth of the way through the new biography of Jack Kennedy by Chris Matthews. The tall woman in a camel hair coat whose lipstick matched her nail polish perfectly, her hair piled atop her head and secured with a sharpened pencil, smiling dreamily as she flipped through the massive new book, Entertaining, by Martha Stewart. Directly behind me stood a three foot high little boy, clutching a copy of A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead. By the look on his face as he held this wonderful story of a zookeeper close, I could tell this book was an early Christmas present for himself alone. He had no intention of giving this one away.
There was a little round lady directly in front of me, paying her bill with a grin on her face. The total rang up to be quite astronomical, but she didn’t bat an eye. Instead she triumphantly said to the clerk, “That’s me done! Every present is in here!”. As I watched her walk away, a heavy sack in each hand, I thought about how much fun she’d no doubt had selecting those presents.
I hope you are planning to give books this holiday.
I can think of no better gift to give, or receive.
Here are some to consider this year!


1. Pilgrimage
by Annie Leibovitz
For someone so adept at photographing others, Annie Leibovitz claims to abhor having her own picture taken. I can sympathize, I hate it as well. You won’t find any portraits in her new book, however. In Pilgrimage, just released a couple of weeks ago, Ms. Leibovitz visits some of the most inspiring locations in our world. From the houses of Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf to Georgia O’Keefe and Freud. She wanders the trails above the Yosemite Valley, in the footsteps of Ansel Adams. She photographs the site of Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond. This is a truly remarkable book and one that’s on my list to give as well as, hopefully, receive.


2. The Eye Has To Travel
by Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Let’s face it. We all have need of those steady, solid sorts of people. The ones we depend on to balance our checkbooks when they get out of joint and fill out our tax forms each April. Those who make sure the firewood’s stacked before the snow starts to fall and the cars are filled with gas before before the journey begins. They are the ones who occasionally grab our feet and pull our heads down from the clouds so we can see where we are going and where would all be without them?
But then there is Diana Vreeland. The legendary doyenne of fashion and style who, in her once famous monthly column for Harper’s Bazaar entitled “Why Don’t You” suggested,
Why don’t you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?.
Other suggestions....Why don’t you....
put all your dogs in bright yellow collars and leads”
buy a geranium chiffon toque”
or, my personal favourite,
paint a map of the world on all four walls of your boys’ nursery so they won’t grow up with a provincial point of view?”
A swirling dervish of creativity and unpredictability, the incomparable Vreeland was a standard bearer for wit and a champion of individuality. This beautiful book, The Eye Has To Travel, chronicles her remarkable fifty year career in fashion and it promises not to disappoint.


3. The Art of Eating
by M.F. K. Fisher
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is often called a food writer, a label I have always found to be a staggering limitation of her luminous work. MFK Fisher wrote about all the tiny miracles of life, miracles too often disguised as commonplace. Her graceful words seep into one’s psyche like honey on a biscuit, they marinate in the soul and, as evidenced in this glorious collection, just recently re-released, they age like the finest of wines. Fisher can describe the peeling of a tangerine with such natural, sensual passion that one can practically taste their magic orangeness. Five of Fisher’s wonderful books are here in this grand new edition of The Art of Eating, a book that is always within reach in my kitchen.
You simply must read this!


4. Charles Dickens Set
You’ve been burning the candle at both ends”.
These irritating eight words were directed at me by my hairdresser last week as I sat, almost dozing, in his chair.
How do you know?”, I asked.
“I know you. I can tell”, he replied.
Realizing I had just been informed that I looked tired (something no lady wants to hear), I decided to treat myself to a leisurely lunch out alone and pointed my car towards my favourite cafe where, over a lovely lunch of grilled salmon and salad with blackberries, I pulled a small copy of “A Christmas Carol” out of my hand bag and began to read. Though the words were so familiar I could practically quote them, they were such a joy to read and I remembered how much fun Dickens can be. I was fascinated by the names of his characters when I was a child. It didn’t require a blazing imagination to clearly picture Uriah Heep, or Wackford Squeers. Abel Magwitch and Tiny Tim, Mr. Micawber and Pip. Miss Flite and her attic full of tiny birds. The tragic Little Nell. And of course, the penultimate miser of fiction, Ebenezer Scrooge. Such fun to fall into this aureate writing, to feel the language wash over you. The everyday world evaporates as you are transported back to the age of Victoria. This is the gift of Dickens and one of the many reasons to read him. Penquin has just released a gorgeous new set of Dickens and it would make a wonderful gift, don’t you think?
Particularly for someone who’s been burning the candle at both ends.


5. Flush
by Virginia Woolf
There have been lot of dog books on bookstore shelves these past few years. From Good Dog Carl to Marley, they are all charming, I’m sure. But my favourite without doubt will always be Flush. Written by the peerless Virginia Woolf, Flush is the “biography” of the beloved cocker spaniel of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The book follows Flush and his mistress from their confining London rooms to the liberating freedom of Italy. He is even dognapped - a true adventure. This being Woolf, there are deeper waters flowing between the lines as through the brown eyes of this wise cocker spaniel we are invited to consider topics as wide-ranging as feminism and the crushing restrictions of social class structure in Victorian England.
Trust me, you and anyone on your list will love this book.


6. Sister Parish - American Style
by Martin Wood
If John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster were responsible for celebrating what became known as English Country Style, then surely Sister Parish did the same for American Country Style. One of the first professional “decorators” here in the states, Sister Parish was known for her beautiful, and especially comfortable, rooms - rooms that were often cluttered and homey, yet all the while utterly elegant. She was fond of fat, comfy chairs and four-poster beds, painted furniture and floral chintz. And she always made certain there was a table beside every chair where one could rest a cup of tea or a glass of champagne.
Sister Parish once said, I try to instill the lucky part of my life in each house that I do. Some think a decorator should change a house. I try to give permanence to a house, to bring out the experiences, the memories, the feelings that make it a home."
I so adore that philosophy.
Martin Wood has written marvelous books on both John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster. I own them both and highly recommend them. He now turns his attention to Sister Parish in the lovely new release and it is sure to be a treasure.


7. Children's Books
I always give books to the children in my life, for I remember how much they meant to me as a child. It’s always such a treat to spend an afternoon in the children’s section of the bookstore, turning the pages of all the new wonderful ones from which to choose.
Here are two of my favourites for this year.

Happy Christmas Shopping,
and Reading!