Saturday, 13 May 2017

reading journal 2017



The other day I came across a fantastic word you won't find in a dictionary: readlief. It means when you finally get around to start a book you have been meaning to read for years. My reading lists have led to many readliefs. It's rewarding to cross a book off the list, more so when it's a good read. My to-read list doesn't get any shorter, though, as I'm constantly coming across books to add to it. The book lover's dilemma. Below I'm sharing some thoughts on books from my № 7 reading list, which I posted in February. I have created a new category for these kinds of blog entries that I call Reading Journal (the year in the title indicates when that particular list appeared on the blog).

№ 7 reading list (6 of 9):

· Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. This short story collection, described as original, is literary and philosophical, and not for everyone. I have never read anything like it. The first two stories didn't quite grab me but as soon I started the third one, I was hooked. That one is called 'Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote' (appeared in the Argentine literary journal Sur in May 1939), about a man who rewrites Don Quixote by Cervantes, line-for-line. The idea is brilliant.

· The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. When I finished the book my first thought was: powerful. Since then I have heard other people use that same word about the book, which was Lessing's first novel, published in 1950. It starts with the murder of the main character Mary Turner and as you read on you learn about her background and what led to the tragedy, basically the disintegration of her life on a farm in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Lessing grew up there and masterfully describes the African landscape. It's been months since I finished the book and I'm still thinking about it. A good psychology study.

· The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. This one has become a classic but it's not for everyone. There were parts that I struggled with, parts that I found either repetitive or too long, and it took me quite some time to finish it. However, one cannot argue with the fact that this is an influential literary work. Its good parts have really stuck and I'm glad I finally took the plunge and turned it into a readlief.

· Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernières. I read somewhere that this was a novel with heart and that is exactly how I would describe it. The only thing that bothered me just slightly during the first 100 pages or so were the character introductions (each gets a chapter), which were unavoidable because the novel has so many. Bernières made up for them with delightful, and often comic, details, especially descriptions of life in the village (it takes place on a Greek island during WWII).

· Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend by Diana Athill. I'm fond of reading letters but towards the end of this collection I was growing a bit weary. Athill and her friend were getting old and the later letters had too much talk about health issues, which is perfectly normal between close friends but isn't a fun read. She comments on this in the postscript and it's the reason she didn't include more letters in the book. Her work Stet is on my to-read list and I have heard nothing but praises, so perhaps you should consider starting with that one if you would like to read something by Athill.

· Local Souls by Allan Gurganus. I decided to postpone the reading. In my blog entry I wrote that I wanted to read his book Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All  before reading this one, and that is what I decided to do.

· In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910 by Sue Roe. I'm not an art historian but I think this book was well researched. I found it interesting but I would have preferred more photos of the art pieces (I was constantly looking up the works in the text online to make sure I had the right ones in mind or to see the ones I didn't recognise). I enjoyed reading about Picasso, Matisse and other artists but sometimes there were stories about people related to them that, in my opinion, were of no importance. Each time I came across these stories, more like snippets, I felt the book could have benefitted from another round of editing.

Have you experienced any recent readliefs?

Currently I'm finishing the books on my № 8 reading list and will be writing two reviews, about Astrid Lindgren's war diaries, A World Gone Mad, and the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.


Monday, 17 April 2017

remembering Karen Blixen



Happy Easter! Today is the birthday of Karen Blixen (b. 17 April 1885, d. 7 September 1962), a Danish author who wrote many tales under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen (Babette's Feast and Other Stories, Shadows on the Grass, Seven Gothic Tales, Winter's Tales, and Last Tales). She was a gifted storyteller, best known for her book Out of Africa, often described as a lyrical meditation on her life in Kenya, where she had a farm, a coffee plantation (the book has no chronological order). Most people know of Blixen because of Sydney Pollack's film adaptation: While the film may give you an idea of Blixen's life in the stunning African landscape, only by reading the book will you experience its true atmosphere. For me it depicts an Africa I will never experience. A bygone era.

In one of my journals there is a quote by Blixen. Once she was asked how a story begins for a writer and this was her reply, in Danish:
Det begynder med atmosfære, et landskab, der for mig er vidunderligt skønt, og så – så kommer menneskene pludselig ind i billedet. Med det er de der, de lever, og jeg kan lade dem leve videre i bøgerne.
Basically, she is saying that first comes atmosphere, a landscape, which she finds wonderful and then, suddenly, people enter the scene. With that they are there, they live, and she can let them live on in the books. (I found the quote on the FB page of Karen Blixen Museet.)

In February came great news for Karen Blixen fans when it was announced that her book Out of Africa will be turned into a TV series.

image by me | the photo of Karen Blixen appears in the book Letters from Africa 1914-1931


Monday, 10 April 2017

a talk with textile designer Lisa Fine



The late American photographer Ansel Adams once said: 'You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.' One can apply his words to any kind of creative art and I used them to start an email conversation with textile designer Lisa Fine. On the blog I have already described her as a designer with a sense of history and I stick to my words. She has a knack for colours, for patterns, and it feels as if each fabric by Lisa Fine Textiles tells a story. She was born and raised in Mississippi. Today she lives in New York with her dogs and travels widely, often to India and other exotic places. Miniature paintings have inspired her career, and so has painter Henri Matisse.

Wherever possible, also in direct quotes, I have added links to e.g. short essays on museum websites that I found interesting and educational. Except for the Matisse paintings, all the images were chosen by me.

[Fabrics by Lisa Fine Textiles shown in my top image (click each for info): Cairo, Kashgar,
Luxor, Malabar, Malula, Mandalay, Pasha, and Rajkot. See the books further below.]

Persian miniature: Mir Sayyid 'Ali, Night-time in a City, c. 1540, Tabriz, Iran, Safavid Period

To go back to Adams's words, what has left its mark on Lisa Fine (given how much she has discovered through her work and travels).
LF: My life is very much about people, however, books and art not only inspire and teach but are the best refuge.

My favorite painter is Matisse. I love his mix of color and pattern, especially in his orientalist portraits. Irving & Fine [collaboration with textile designer Carolina Irving] peasant blouses were very much inspired by his work. I also love the Fauvism movement.
Her other two favourite artists are Kees Van Dongen and Amedeo Modigliani.

Henri Matisse, Zorah on the Terrace, 1912

She doesn't have a favourite Matisse painting but said: 'I love his Moroccan period most, especially the portraits.' Later I found his work Zorah on the Terrace in my inbox with the words: 'Love Moroccan portraits.' The other two by Matisse followed, the one below with the words: 'Love odalisque series.'

Saturday, 1 April 2017

colourful fabrics by Lisa Fine Textiles



Motifs, patterns, textiles, colours. Having recently received a batch of samples from Lisa Fine Textiles, I have spent my latte moments with hand-printed, colourful fabrics and textile books spread all over my desk, as captured in my images. Here we have three designs she introduced last year, Kalindi, Cochin and Ayesha Paisley, which are a beautiful addition to her exotic collection, inspired by her travels. Soon I will be sharing with you a little chat I had with Lisa Fine herself through email, about books, art and other inspirations.

Cochin by Lisa Fine Textiles, colour in foreground: rose

Of these three designs, the floral fabric Cochin is the one that has won my heart and soul, especially the colour rose with a saffron background. The pattern is hand-printed on 90% natural linen blended with 10% nylon, available in four colours: rose, cinnabar (the red and blue one - see image above, top-right), burnt sugar, and saffron (with pink flowers). Many of Lisa Fine's designs bear an Indian name. Cochin is the colonial name of the Indian city Kochi, situated on the southwest coast in the state of Kerala.

Ayesha Paisley, colour in foreground: ruby

The Ayesha Paisley fabric is hand-printed on 100% natural linen, available in four colours: ruby, sapphire, coral, and spinel (I don't have a sample of the last one).

Ayesha Paisley, in the foreground: sapphire

In foreground: Kalindi in every available colour (under my cup are two samples of the fabric Luxor)

The Kalindi fabric has a floral pattern with dots, hand-printed on 90% natural linen blended with 10% nylon. It's available in five rich colours: monsoon (the light blue one), indigo, saffron, dusty rose, and lipstick. I'm assuming the fabric is named after the Kalindi River in the state of West Bengal in eastern India.

To view the full range of fabrics, visit the website of Lisa Fine Textiles.


Perhaps some of my readers are in the mood for a new look for one of their spaces or even thinking about redesigning their home. In an interview that appeared in Lonny a few years ago, when her guest flat on the Left Bank in Paris was featured in the magazine, Lisa Fine gave a solid advice: 'Never be a victim of trends. If modern is in style and you love Victorian, go Victorian. Style is an expression of yourself and not what fashion dictates' (Inspiration India, Dec/Jan 2010). In the same feature she shared a few design tips and this one could help you start: 'Similar to how many designers will start with a rug and then build a room, choose a fabric to inspire the space and work from there.' My choice of fabric would be clear.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

carnations in my study



The other day my son and I were having breakfast when he asked me what were my favourite flowers. Without thinking I said carnations (on the table was a vase with yellow ones). 'Why?' he asked. 'Because they are durable,' I said, 'they last long.' A few years back I would have said white tulips or peonies, without a doubt. When I think about it I cannot really choose between these three, but carnations are the flowers I buy most of the time (the Spaniards were on to something when they chose the red carnation as their national flower). This is an image I snapped in my study this morning while enjoying a nutmeg latte. Carnations and stacks of books on my desk is a common sight. Happy hump day!