Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas reading

Having my head in a book is one of my favourite ways to enjoy long periods out of an office and to make time speed while on long train journeys across the country. This little pile of reading has kept me happily occupied over this festive week.

It's hard to draw the distinction between fact and fiction in Diana Vreeland's DV but that makes it no less entertaining or fashion fabulous. It can't be unrelated that - roughly about the same time as finishing this book - I started wearing stacks of chunky bangles again, and bought myself a turban (yes, really). Like her famous column, this book really encourages the attitude of 'Why Don't You?'

I first heard about Joyce Maynard's Looking Back through a recommendation on the excellent Rookie. It's a collection of essays about what it was really like to be a teenager in the 60s and is the kind of book which you want to underline, memorise and, ultimately, wish you had written yourself. ("When I think of 1966. I see pink and orange stripes and wild purple Paisleys and black and white vibrating to make the head ache. We were too young for drugs (they hadn't reached the junior high yet) but we didn't need them. Our world was psychedelic, our clothes and our make-up and our jewellery and our hairstyles were trips in themselves.")

Paul Gallico's Flowers for Mrs Harris is the perfect kind of fashion fairytale. A London charlady saves up to buy her very own couture creation from Dior in Paris. Her innocent ways make a whole chain of delightful events come into being which are ultimately more fantastic than the most fabulous frock.

More escapism came care of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (not pictured because I've already lent it to someone). Four lonely women in the 1920s decide to spend the month of April in a medieval castle in Italy. The experience heals and soothes their weary souls and is every bit as enchanting as the name suggests.

I'm not sure why I haven't read Ronnie Spector's biography Be My Baby before. Perhaps I didn't want to break the magic of the vocal on that song. This book is evocative and honest (it takes you right back to the atmosphere of Spanish Harlem captured so well in Street Corner Soul). I don't think she portrays herself as an especially likeable person but, boy is she tough, and now I admire her for a whole lot more than purely her wonderful voice.

Finally, I'm currently about 100 pages into James Baldwin's Another Country which I bought after the William Klein exhibition. Like Klein's work, it captures and the pulsating energy and cruel hard edge of New York in the 1950s - the city in which, of course, a young Veronica Bennett was on her way to becoming Mrs Ronnie Spector.

And, yes, at the top of the pile is my brand new Persephone diary as 2013 is almost upon us. I'm slightly lacking the new year's optimism of previous years this time around. Don't worry: I have the usual lengthy list of goals and resolutions: I think my subdued approach this year is because I realise the implications, including the huge amount of hard work, needed to make them happen. But, however they work out, I'm encouraged by the fact it's always going to be an interesting adventure. Happy new year adventuring everyone!

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