Saturday, 24 September 2016

№ 4 early autumn 2016 reading list

Saturday morning, coffee and books. In the background on repeat, Cat Power performing her cover of Troubled Waters; I never tire of this song. It's time to share my early autumn reading list - yes, there will be a late-autumn one, I already have some works lined up. I wanted to include Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys on the list but it wasn't available at the library and my ordered copy hasn't arrived, yet. I loved Michael Douglas in the film (2000), directed by Curtis Hanson, who passed away last Tuesday. I have already finished two books on the list and one of them is The Little Book of Hygge, which I recently reviewed on the blog. At the moment I'm reading five books at once. Some are short story collections so I pick up the one I'm in the mood for. Here is the list:

· Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
· The Outsider by Albert Camus
· The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
· A Winter Book: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson
· Anecdotes of Destiny by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)
· In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
· Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
· The American by Henry James
· Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
· The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

At the library I spotted Yoshimoto's Kitchen, her first book, and had to borrow it to read again. Japanese authors are so wonderfully different. Many years ago I worked in a bookshop with school and took the risk of recommending it to a customer, who struck me as a reader ready for something different. Sometimes it was tricky recommending books to customers, not everyone has the same taste (luckily) and I didn't want anyone to waste money on something they didn't enjoy. Well, this one came back to tell me that she had loved it, that it was 'different', and she went home with a stack of my favourite books.

Stéphane Audran as Babette in Babette's Feast (1987)

Two Nordic authors are on my list. You know already about my love for Karen Blixen. Many years ago I read her story Babette's Feast and have since treasured it. It's featured in the story collection on the list and I'm looking forward to reading it again. Have you seen the film (1987, original Danish title Babettes gæstebud)? It's one of my favourites. It won the Oscar in the category Best Foreign Language Film. The other Nordic author on my list is Tove Jansson, who became famous for her books about the Moomintrolls (see my recent post about The Moomin Shop in London). She also wrote fiction for adults and I don't understand why I hadn't read any of them before. I'm so enjoying the two on my list. The Summer Book, first published in 1972, is a beautifully written story about a six-year-old and her grandmother, who spend a summer on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland (Jansson herself had a cabin on a tiny, remote island in the same Gulf). The story has no plot, it's about life and nature. Such a quiet and calm read.

Tove Jansson at her cabin on the Finnish island Klovharun

The other book on the list that I have also finished is Casino Royale, Ian Fleming's first book about James Bond. I was not impressed, which is the reason I didn't include it in my photo! Perhaps my expectations were too high because I enjoyed the film. The plot is interesting but I was simply bored during the reading. There were also sentences that I had to read twice to believe my own eyes ('the sweet tang of rape' (p. 201); it was published in different times, in 1953, but hello, misogynistic much?). One day I will probably give Fleming another chance and read From Russia with Love, which many consider his best. Just not yet.

1: image by me | 2: still via BFI · credit: Panorama Film A/S, Det Danske Filminstitut, Nordisk Film + Rungstedlundfonden · director + screenplay Gabriel Axel | 3: via Tove Jansson

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

arrival of autumn

Early morning yesterday I quickly went into the garden and for a moment sensed the arrival of autumn when I noticed the fading colours of the hydrangeas. Without wishing to sound dramatic, I almost felt a pang in my heart because the weather has been so wonderful lately - the proper Indian summer I wished for - and I'm not quite ready for colder days. It's a luxury to still being able to enjoy a cup of coffee on the sunny patio, but it seems to me that from this day forward I will be drinking it inside and looking out the window.

The arrival of autumn was very different when we lived in Iceland, where it arrives earlier and more rapidly. Going berry picking was essential and driving to the Thingvellir National Park to see nature dressed in its finest autumn apparel. Over here big and juicy blueberries from Poland arrive in stores, apple and plum trees bear fruit, and hydrangea shrubs start to fade well before the leaves change their colours.

For me another sign of autumn is Virginia Woolf. In August last year I started reading her diaries and this summer having just read a few pages of her diaries, and letters, I feel the need again to read a few entries before going to sleep. It feels as if she is always writing by the fireplace, which is particularly comforting. Speaking of Woolf! This weekend I saw new Woolf paperback editions from Vintage Classics. The Finnish artist Aino-Maija Metsola illustrated the covers (for a few years she has designed for Marimekko) and I think it was love at first sight when I saw the cover of Mrs Dalloway. The other books in the Woolf series are The Waves, The Years, Orlando, To the Lighthouse and A Room of One's Own that also contains the sequel Three Guineas.


Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

Book review: The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa Hjalt

Last weekend I got a copy of The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, which explains the Danish concept of 'hygge'. The author is Meik Wiking from The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, whose job it is to research what makes people happy. It's published by Penguin and comes in a neat format, not too big, which makes it quite thick, 288 pages. It's readable and fun and beautifully designed, filled with photographs and illustrations of Scandinavian motifs. Wiking thoroughly explains the idea of hygge and how the Danes, the happiest nation according to studies, know the art of creating an intimate atmosphere. He uses researches and charts to support his case, but the book never feels dry or academic. He strikes a balance between facts and figures with a flowing, light, and often humorous text.

Before sitting down to tell you about the book it felt fitting to create an atmosphere of hygge. I made hot chocolate and a delicious bread roll before lighting the fireplace.
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa Hjalt

For an Icelander the concept of hygge isn't unfamiliar. Danish culture is similar to ours and we learn the language at school (or any other Nordic language of choice). In Iceland we would probably use the word cosy to explain hygge but it doesn't quite grasp the idea. This is the way Wiking explains it:
Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. (p. 6)
Most Danes connect hygge with autumn and winter but the warmer months aren't excluded from hygge. I found it interesting that Wiking compares the Danes with the Dutch, who have a similar concept called 'gezelligheid'. The difference, however, is that the majority of the Dutch associate it with going out, to a café or a bar, while the majority of the Danes associates hygge with the feeling of home.

Having lived in Denmark, I have many fond memories. I also happen to have Danish ancestors: On one branch of my family tree is a Danish great-grandmother and on another branch is a great-great-grandfather. I often notice that foreigners view Denmark as some kind of utopia and seem to think that it's free from the social problems other countries deal with. I was glad to see Wiking mentioning this view. When you live in Denmark you definitely become aware of a certain sense of community, which I cannot quite explain, and you realise that the welfare of its citizens is important.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa HjaltThe Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa Hjalt

How do the Danes create hygge and what makes them happy? Wiking mentions many factors, such as cosy homes and togetherness, inviting friends over to enjoy food and drink. Candles and the correct lighting are very important - 85% Danes connect candles with hygge. The Christmas month is particularly hyggelig (adjective). I have lived in a few countries and it's my opinion that no other nation knows how to better create the perfect Christmas mood. Copenhagen is my dream city in December and nothing compares to strolling its cobblestone streets, seeing the candles in the windows and experiencing the ideal Christmas spirit. Wiking devotes a chapter to Christmas and when talking about the food he mentions risalamande, which is one of our Christmas traditions. I have already shared the recipe of this Danish rice and almond pudding with cherry sauce on the blog.

One thing in the book caught my attention because it's something I have often thought about. Wiking refers to a survey that shows gratitude having an impact on happiness. The results show that being grateful not only increases happiness, but also makes us more helpful, more forgiving, and less materialistic (p. 280). This is what Wiking has to say about hygge and gratitude:
Hygge may help us to be grateful for the everyday because it is all about savouring simple pleasures. Hygge is making the most of the moment, but hygge is also a way of planning for and preserving happiness. Danes plan for hyggelige times and reminisce about them afterwards. (p. 281)
Book review: The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking · Lisa Hjalt

During the reading I was convinced that my daily life has hygge in abundance - perhaps it's in my blood - but if I have to mention one thing that I do every day it would be enjoying a cup of quality coffee and reading a book. Each time my choice of hygge-corner in the house simply depends on my mood.

If you feel that you need hygge in you life I highly recommend getting a copy of this book. It's full of ideas.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well
By Meik Wiking
Penguin Life
Hardcover, 288 pages, illustrated

Friday, 9 September 2016

New coffee table books

The west coast of Scotland doesn't look autumnal, yet, but I'm already in the mood for autumn. I have started to light candles in the morning and occasionally I let fire burn in the fireplace, just for a short moment. Soon I will give the summer shirts a rest and start wearing sweaters and shawls in darker shades. What I find exciting about the autumn is that it always sees the publication of new coffee table books. I would like to share with you a list of the ones I have in sight this year.

· Nomad Deluxe: Wandering with a Purpose by Herbert Ypma. Actually, this one was published earlier this year but it only recently caught my attention. Ypma's photographs available for preview on the Assouline website look stunning.
· Neisha Crosland: Life of a Pattern by Neisha Crosland. A book by a textile designer full of patterns ... no words needed!
· Map Stories: The Art of Discovery by Francisca Mattéoli. I believe this one is a gem for lovers of vintage maps, published in French last year and now soon available in English. If you are unfamiliar with Mattéoli's work you may want to take a look at her blog, which she writes in both French and English.
· Cecil Beaton at Home: An Interior Life by Andrew Ginger. I cannot wait to browse through this one. I think it will find its way to my coffee table one day.
· François Catroux by David Netto. I believe this is a book many have been waiting for. Remember the Paris home of Lauren Santo Domingo that I posted on the blog designed by Catroux? One of my favourite house tours is his Paris apartment.
· Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants by Igor Josifovic + Judith de Graaff. Igor is a dear blog friend and I'm so excited to see his book published. Head over to his Happy Interior Blog to take a look at what was going on behind the scenes during the work on the book.
· Wanderlust: Interiors That Bring the World Home by Michelle Nussbaumer. My textile heart is already beating faster. See more below.
· Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi + Sami Tamimi. This is a new edition of the one published in 2008. Not a coffee table book per se, but their cookbook Jerusalem is one of those that regularly ends up on mine because it's more than just a cookbook.

It is not my intention to let any one book on the list shine brighter than others but when I saw the textiles and colour palette in the Swiss bedroom of designer Michelle Nussbaumer I simply had to share it on the blog. (I think this photo appears in the book, which features, among others, her homes in Swiss and Texas.) Not everyone has the knack for arranging mismatched textiles stylishly, however, Nussbaumer seems to do so effortlessly. The images I have seen of her design have a few things in common; they are rich of antiques, patterned textiles and global finds. She runs a very popular design shop in Dallas, Ceylon et Cie.

Bedroom textiles in designer Michelle Nussbaumer's Swiss chalet

1: image by me | 2: bedroom photo · Melanie Acevedo via WSJ

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Moomin Shop, Covent Garden, London

Today I'm taking you back to London, this time to admire the beautiful shopfront of the Moomin Shop, located at the Jubilee Market Hall in Covent Garden (across from St Paul's Church). It was one of our destinations; a promise to the kids. It's such a cute little shop and a mecca for all Moomin fans. If you are unfamiliar with the Moomins and their world they are the creation of Tove Jansson (1914-2001), Finnish artist and author. Her books were translated into many languages and these stories have become classics.

I cannot remember a time when the Moomins weren't part of our lives; we have all the DVDs. In these last years, with our frequent relocation, they have been our constancy. We even named our Calico Persian cat after one of the characters, Little My. Perhaps it's a Nordic-roots thing, or just our way to hold on to the innocence of childhood. I'm not an anxious person - I think nature gave me a healthy dose of carelessness - but when the children no longer want to watch the Moomins; that will be the moment when my world collapses. For sure.

I think it's the quietness of the Moomins that does the trick for me. I'm not exactly the animation type because I often find them so over-the-top. Watching the Moomins is a completely different experience. It's a world of wonder without all the noise. I think that's my way of describing it.

While the kids were browsing and shopping I ended up in the corner where they keep the books. It's a wonderful corner!

The first Moomin book was The Moomins and the Great Flood, published in 1945. This beautiful hardcover to the right is illustrated by Tove Jansson herself, of course. Then there are the Penguin paperbacks, in chronological order:

After the publication of the second paperback, Finn Family Moomintroll, all doors opened for Tove Jansson, which led to the creation of the comic strips (see e.g. Moomin: Bk. 1 : The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip) that first appeared in the London newspaper The Evening News, in 1954. You can look up a documentary about Tove Jansson on YouTube if you want to know more about her. Now that the colder season is just around the corner, I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Finn Family Moomintroll (the Moomins hibernate in winter):
Don't worry we shall have wonderful dreams, and when we wake up it'll be spring.
- Snufkin

images by me | credit: cover of The Moomins and the Great Flood via Sort of Books | paperback covers via Penguin