Accompanying me over Christmas were three glorious women all of whom, at different points, called a grand palazzo in Venice their home. An eccentric, reclusive countess, a gold-digging seductress and an art-collecting heiress. The Unfinished Palazzo is a hugely entertaining biography which firmly sits in the ‘you-couldn’t-have-made-it-up’ category. If you’re looking to brighten up January, this will do!
Do yourself a favour. Take a moment out from whatever you have to do (now is the perfect time, as we approach the Christmas rush at work, school and home) and read this little book. It’s written by Erling Kagge, a publisher, writer and the first person to reach the North Pole, South Pole and climb Mount Everest. Kagge knows a thing or two about silence, having spent 50 days alone on his trek to the South Pole.
Did you know that Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Hallelujah’ took him two years, ‘ 50,000 cigarettes and several swimming pools of whiskey’ (to deepen his voice) to make? Or that ‘Amazing Grace’ was not actually written by a slave but a repenting slave trader. Or that Ronald Reagan used Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ on his campaign trail, promising that he, just like the song, would make the electorate’s dreams come true, without realising that the song was actually about a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, unable to find work? Neither did I, until I stumbled upon Cheal and Dalley’s compelling little book The Life of a Song, a compilation of the stories of 50 well-known songs written by music critics. A perfect present to your music loving friend, or even yourself.
The Life of a Song is published by Financial Times and Brewer’s, 208 pages.
Imagine you’re out in a small dinghy fishing with your best friend. While you bob around, watch the stars and wait for the big catch, you swap stories about fishing, extreme weather, stunning nature, anecdotes about island life, fascinating facts about life in the oceans, art, poetry and much more. That’s what Shark Drunk is like. I loved this meditative gem of a book which will teach you things I’m willing to bet you didn’t know and leave you pining for a life in the slow lane. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Morten Strøksnes, see what the author says about his book here.
I confess to approaching this book with trepidation. Bereavement will happen to all of us, some more tragically than others, but it is still the kind of bad news that most people would rather not read about. In the event, I was wrong to worry. Renowned grief psychotherapist Julia Samuel has 25 years of experience and you can tell. It’s almost as if you can feel her presence in this book. She’s compassionate, interested and non-judgemental and writes about death and mourning with a comforting yet pragmatic voice. Read full Review
As bigoted, chauvinistic, bare-chested horseback riding men seem to be taking over the world, it’s a relief to read Grayson Perry’s call for a gentler masculine ideal in The Descent of Man. Perry, a transvestite British artist who (apart from his much-hailed art) is known for dressing up in pink baby dolls, might not be the obvious person to go to for advice on masculinity, but in his book he gives us just that, and with wisdom, honesty and humour.
A heavenly combination of one of my favourite authors writing about one of my favourite cities: Javier Marías’ little essay on Venice. For reasons unknown (a failed love affair?), Marías spent a great deal of time in Venice in the 1980s. His reflections on how history and geography have shaped Venice and Venetians are captivating. ‘Venetians see life from “the view point of eternity” ‘, not surprising perhaps when you grow up in place that’s hardly changed for 500 years? The decay, the dark back alleys, the smells, the sense of doom, the colours of the water (‘blood red, yellow, white’ by day, ‘like ink’ by night) combined with dazzling beauty, Marías perfectly evokes the city’s atmosphere and hands you a delicious sliver of Venice.
Venice, An Interior is translated by Margaret Juul Costa and published by Hamish Hamilton, 64 pages.
Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life.
This is not just a book about tea. It is an exceptional book about life, philosophy and beyond. Japanese philosopher and historian Kakuzo Okakura initially wrote the book 110 years ago, aiming to dispel the Western myths of Japanese barbarianism. He recalls the origins of tea, its philosophical ties to Zen and Taoism and the nuances of tea as an allegory for a philosophy of life. A unique book full of a wit and sagacity that makes it impossible to ignore and one of my favourite discoveries this year.
The Book of Tea is published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 54 pages.