By Regina Connell.
Even in California, winter can cause our bodies (not to mention minds) to want to hibernate. And there’s no better way than curling up with a decent book, one to open the mind, shift perspectives, and get ready for the year—or life—ahead. Here are a few of the things I’ve been reading, some new, some a little older. Not for kindling and e-reading, please.
The Good Life, by Jasper Morrison. A brief collection of photo essays that chronicle simple things and every day objects seen around the world. The images (not a single Instagrammed effect among them, thank goodness) are accompanied by simple, brief essays that muse about the object and design behind it. The perfect antidote to some of the hyper-designed, self-conscious books (not to mention objects) we keep seeing out there.
Made by Hand: Contemporary Makers, Traditional Practices, by Leanne Hayman and Nick Warner (editors). There are lots of books on hipster makers cooking up jams in their Brooklyn basements, but I do like this version on makers of specialty items such as spectacles, violins and neon signs. Their grit, their commitment to true artisanship, and their specialization seem to me a smart and welcome alternative to maker madness.
Conversations on the Hudson, by Nick Hand. Subtitled “An Englishman bicycles 500 miles through the Hudson Valley, meeting artists and craftspeople along the way”, this is the follow up to Nick’s extraordinary book, Conversations on the Coast. We were a little obsessed with that book and the sound slides that accompanied it, and while a little less revelatory (perhaps because it’s a little closer to home) this book is still magical, thanks to Nick’s charming writing.
How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton. An oldie but a goodie, if you haven’t tried it. de Botton, who has made a career of weaving together philosophy, personal narrative and psychology in a way that gets under your skin, mines Proust’s life and work for lessons in living better. My favorite, and most profound, I think, is How to Open Your Eyes – all about aesthetics and appreciation. But of course, there’s also How to Be Happy in Love or How to Suffer Successfully and the delightfully self-referential How to Put Books Down. Well worth a read, and it doesn’t even make you feel guilty for not having read Proust (I confess: I tried and failed.)
The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think, by Julian Baggini. Also a book on philosophy, this time about food, and how we think and deal with it. Our relationship with food is such a complex one that it’s a wonderful lens for looking at so much more in our lives, whether it’s how we relate to other people and ourselves, or the way we think about pleasure and sensuality, and the way we think about our place in the universe. Not in the least preachy, the book is light hearted, revelatory, and yes, even includes some recipes.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Yes, that book, the one that, despite much division among critics, won the Pulitzer Prize. It might seem like an unusual book to include on this list—it is, after all a slightly rambling novel about the adventures of a boy/young man navigating adolescence and adulthood—but the book is at heart a meditation on the nature and meaning of beauty, quality, and authenticity. Much of this education comes from a character named Hobie, a furniture restorer and antique dealer who becomes the emotional core of the story. As Hobie says to Theo: “And isn’t the whole point of things – beautiful things – that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one or another?” Oh yes.
Have a good read. Let me know what you think.