Sunday, 31 December 2017

New books | Happy New Year

New books | Happy New Year · Lisa Hjalt

On this last day of the year I'm sitting at the computer with a patterned turban on my head, a glass of Christmas beer, and tortilla chips in a bowl; the steak is slow-roasting in the oven, my gang is watching The Hobbit, and there is nothing better for me to do than blogging about new books. I wanted to share this entry earlier in December but I never found the time to finish it. At Christmas it kept popping up in my mind and since most of these works, fiction and coffee tables books, were published in 2017, I thought it best to share the list before the new year. To save time I skip commenting on each book because all the links, apart from one, lead to the website of Book Depository, where you will find a short intro. I would like to read all the books that appear on the list above the thumbnails, so chances are high that you will one day find them on a reading list on the blog. I wish you a peaceful New Year.

New books:
· Spy of the First Person  by Sam Shepard (Knopf). The final work before his death in July this year.
· Debriefing: Collected Stories  by Susan Sontag (FSG). Edited by Benjamin Taylor.
· Sing, Unburied, Sing  by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury). Winner of The National Book Award 2017.
· The Origin of Others  by Toni Morrison (Harvard UP).
· In Search of Ancient North Africa: A History in Six Lives  by Barnaby Rogerson (Haus Publishing).
· The Rub of Time  by Martin Amis (Random House).
· Philip Roth: Why Write? Collected Nonfiction 1960-2013  by Philip Roth (Library of America).

· Persian Art: Collecting the Arts of Iran for the V&A  by Moya Carey (V&A).
· Modern Art in Detail: 75 Masterpieces  by Susie Hodge (Thames & Hudson).
· Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment  by Henri Cartier-Bresson (Steidl). Originally published in 1952, embellished with a collage cover by Henri Matisse.
The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits  by Mihaela Noroc (Penguin).
· Morris  by Charlotte and Peter Fiell (Taschen). Richly illustrated book about the life and work of the designer William Morris (1834-1896).
· Map Cities: Histoires de cartes  by Francisca Mattéoli (Chêne). Currently available in French only but here is hoping for an English translation. I have already featured Map Stories by Mattéoli on the blog.
· Haute Bohemians  by Miguel Flores-Vianna (Vendome Press).

From Haute Bohemians by Miguel Flores-Vianna, pp. 80-81, Vendome Press

Sunday, 24 December 2017

№ 13 reading list | Happy Holidays

№ 13 reading list | Happy Holidays · Lisa Hjalt

Earlier this week, I promised to share a short reading list - this one is № 13 - before the holidays (I snapped the photo a couple of days ago between the gift-wrapping; you should see how much the hyacinths have grown since then!). At this moment, I'm enjoying a coffee break while leafing through the latest issue, January 2018, of The World of Interiors, which our oldest brought me from the UK. Tonight and tomorrow's desserts are ready and soon we will start preparing our Christmas Eve feast. The Nordic tradition is to celebrate Christmas on this day with a fancy meal, following the opening of presents.

№ 13 reading list:
· The Underground Railroad  by Colson Whitehead
· Giovanni's Room  by James Baldwin
· Der Gute Mensch von Sezuan  by Bertolt Brecht
· Jane Eyre  by Charlotte Brontë

Last summer I bought a copy of Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin and I have been waiting for a more quiet time to read it. If my last blog post escaped you, he has become my new favourite author. Over the holidays, I have made it a habit to reread one classic and this year I chose Jane Eyre. It's been years since I read it and last Christmas my husband gave me this beautiful Penguin clothbound edition. It's been staring at me for a year and I swear I can sometimes hear it whisper, Read me!  The other two you may have spotted on Instagram already; Whitehead was part of a book gift from a dear friend in Iceland and the play by Brecht was the first book I bought in German after the move (here is a Bloomsbury edition in English, The Good Person of Szechwan, translated by John Willett). I'm already reading it, but slowly. Very slowly. It's my way to try to reclaim my German vocabulary.

I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Reading journal 2017: Baldwin, Bandi, Bellow ...

Reading Journal 2017: Bellow, Baldwin, Bandi · Lisa Hjalt

My Reading journal posts, remember those? I have fallen behind with the blog (which gave me the idea to use my Instagram photos for this category). I'm just going to play my moving-to-Germany card. We are still navigating our new surroundings and getting used to the language. There have been good moments, but also frustrating ones and the occasional setbacks. Oh well, we will get there. Shortly after the move, our oldest returned to Scotland for school and I may have left part of my heart behind at the airport. Not that it was a dramatic scene, it simply hit me that one day the nest will be empty. (I could pull a Faust and make a pact with the devil, exchanging my soul for the kids choosing to go to university in the area when the time comes. The problem is I don't believe in its existence.) At Christmas the family will be reunited; ahead is leisure and good food (during a recent Skype moment I mentioned the presents and two of the kids responded: 'Mom, we don't care about the presents, we just want the food!'). Before the holidays I intend to share a reading list, a short one. Just have to find the time to take a photo.

№ 8 reading list (5 of 8):

· The Accusation by Bandi. I gave this collection of stories, smuggled out of North Korea, a special mention when sharing the reading list. They still haunt me, especially one called 'City of Specters', which is the second story in the book. Every time North Korea is on the news - that would be every day - I'm reminded of these stories, of the injustice, the hopelessness, and inhuman conditions of its people.

· Another Country by James Baldwin. I knew he would become my new favourite author when I reached this character description on page 18: '[H]e had discovered that he could say it with a saxophone. He had a lot to say.' The moment one starts reading this book one picks up its rhythm. I read somewhere online that it was jazz and thought to myself, Jazz, that's it! The novel is set in the late 1950s, in Greenwich Village, NY. It's not for everyone (if you're a prude don't even think about reading it; I have to add you're missing out on a superb writing style), as it deals with daring themes such as affairs, homesexuality, bisexuality, and interracial relationships. Keep in mind it was published in 1962! I am ashamed to say that this was my first work by Baldwin. I had only read old interviews with him and magazine features citing his works and now I intend to read everything he has written, his fiction and essays.

· Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. My first Bellow, a memorable novella set in NY, which, honestly, didn't quite grab me from the start (I say this with the greatest respect for all his fans: during the reading Bellow may perhaps have slightly paled by comparison to Baldwin, who had consumed my inner bookworm). It wasn't until after I had finished that the story kept popping up in my mind and I'm eager to read it again.

· The Blue Touch Paper by David Hare. A memoir I enjoyed reading, though some parts were more interesting than others. Often when reading memoirs the childhood part bores me (sometimes it's a lack of honesty on the author's part; sometimes an author paints a too rosy picture), which was not the case with Hare. Before reading the book, I knew nothing about his upbringing and he kept me reading with an entertaining and honest, or so I believe, account. There is plenty of politics in this book, which may not appeal to everyone, but the London theatre scene becomes alive on its pages and the reader gets to share in Hare's triumphs, and failures.

· Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. I didn't finish this one. Not my cup of tea. Here we have a fictional poet, Shade, who has written a long poem before his death. A neighbour and colleague, Kinbote, writes a long commentary on it and very soon the reader realises that Kinbote is way off. I lost my patience with Kinbote's commentary, with his delusion (it had nothing to do with the writing of Nabokov).

[As I have said before, in my 'Reading Journal' posts I don't comment on my rereads or on books already featured on the blog. Please visit separate blog entries for these two from the list: A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45 and the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.]

image by me, appeared on Instagram, 29/07/2017

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Astrid Lindgren's war diaries: A World Gone Mad

Book review: Astrid Lindgren's war diaries: A World Gone Mad · Lisa Hjalt

One of the books on a reading list I shared in March was A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45, published last autumn in English by Pushkin Press (translated by Sarah Death). Astrid Lindgren was a Swedish author who wrote fantastic books for children. When we lived in the UK it seemed as if people only knew Pippi Longstocking and not the other wonderful characters she created. I still remember moments in primary school when the teacher read Seacrow Island during breaks; one of the books from childhood that I have read countless times and hold dear is The Brothers Lionheart. I doubt children think much about the personal life of an author, they simply forget themselves in the world he or she has created, thus the war diaries showed me a side to the author I knew nothing about: Lindgren as a young mother trying to grasp the horrors of the war, not without the feeling of guilt in a neutral Sweden.

Do Lindgren's war diaries have anything to add to what already has been written about the Second World War? What I found interesting is that she is barely 32 years old when the war breaks out and clearly feels the need to record its progress. She collects press cuttings and writes entries of various lengths in leather-bound journals, a total of seventeen which were found in her home in Dalagatan in Stockholm after her death in 2002 (published in Sweden in 2015). The book only contains the entries, and some illustrations, and it surprised me how thorough she was in her accounts. I thought I was about to read Lindgren's personal thoughts but soon realised that this was a book about the war in layman's terms.
Astrid Lindgren's war diaries: A World Gone Mad · Lisa Hjalt

Lindgren comes straight to the point without overdramatising, although she naturally experiences fear and anger. The first entry is written on the 1st of September 1939 when the Germans invade Poland. With a constant voice she compares the peaceful life in wartime Sweden - where there was no conflict, only the effects of rationing - to the horror elsewhere in Europe, especially in the neighbouring countries Finland and Norway. When she starts working for the Swedish Intelligence Agency, in its postal control division reading overseas mail, the war gets closer; she mentions this one 'profoundly sad Jewish letter' from the Continent to a friend in Sweden.

By Christmas 1944 the reader realises that something serious has taken place, she has experienced a breakdown which many who don't know her story could interpret as a consequence of the war and her work: 'I've had a hell of a six months this second half of 1944 and the ground beneath me has been shaken to its very foundation; I'm disconsolate, down, disappointed, often melancholy - but I'm not really unhappy.' She never writes in the diary what exactly is the cause but those who have read about her life know that there were troubles in her marriage. Her husband had met someone else and had asked for a divorce, which he then didn't go through with.

The diaries predate Lindgren's fiction writing but on its pages we witness the birth of an author; during the war she is writing her first children's books: 'I'm the happiest when I write.' However, the book is not a diary of an author, as I have heard people say, that is, hers is not a diary with entries about fiction writing and style. Her first book, about a girl called Britt-Mari, was published in 1944 and for that one she received an award. In March 1944, when her daughter is bedridden with measles, Lindgren is working on the first book about Pippi Longstocking and on the book's last pages there is an illustration of the rejection letter she received after submitting the manuscript in April 1944. A year later she talks about Pippi again, about rewriting - 'to see if I can make anything of that bad child.' We all know how that turned out.

I can recommend the book, which is very readable and, as stated above, showed me a new side to my favourite author from childhood. My quibbles have to do with the book not containing more illustrations. There are photos of Lindgren and her family but I would have liked to see more photos of the diary entries and press cuttings, particularly those relating to some key battles that Lindgren writes about in her entries. It would have helped to connect more visually with her experience of the war.

A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45
By Astrid Lindgren
Pushkin Press
Hardcover, 240 pages, illustrated

Monday, 30 October 2017

№ 12 reading list ... from the Land of Ideas

№ 12 reading list | Ayobami Adebayo, Peter Hedges, Isambard Wilkinson  · Lisa Hjalt

My № 12 reading list was supposed to appear on the blog in September - that stack of books looks good, doesn't it? - but I got busy packing. As in moving, to Germany. Ich bin ein Bremer! Not quite a declaration carrying the weight of Kennedy's Ich bin ein Berliner ... except for us, the family. We are settling in our new home and exploring our surroundings. My first task was arranging the books and creating a reading nook, and then, to feel more at home, setting up the kitchen and making the first Friday pizzas. Bremen has many cafés and restaurants and everywhere I have been the atmosphere has been the way I like it, relaxed and unpretentious. I have already visited two bookshops in the centre but no library, yet. Because of the move the time for reading has been somewhat limited, but I have finished the first two works on the list and I'm well into a few others. Three publishers provided books for the list, for which I'm grateful: Canongate [1], Eland Books [2] and Fox, Finch & Tepper [3]. I will be reviewing these three books on the blog later.

№ 12 reading list:
· South and West: From a Notebook  by Joan Didion
· Stay with Me  by Ayobami Adebayo [1]
· Travels in a Dervish Cloak  by Isambard Wilkinson [2]
· What's Eating Gilbert Grape  by Peter Hedges [3]
· The Unwomanly Face of War  by Svetlana Alexievich
· Autumn  by Ali Smith
· Hitch-22: A Memoir  by Christopher Hitchens
· How Fiction Works  by James Wood
· Against Interpretation and Other Essays  by Susan Sontag

Usually there are a few library books on my reading lists but this time the books are all mine. A dear friend in Iceland gave me a generous Waterstones gift card on my birthday, which I used to purchase the works of Didion, Sontag, Wood and Alexievich (if you're following on Instagram you may have noticed). Later I was viewing the works of the late Christopher Hitchens in a bookshop when I spotted his memoir, which had escaped me - so glad I bought it. Reading Autumn by Smith felt right this autumn and something tells me I will be reading her new one, Winter, this coming winter. I also have my eyes on some new Icelandic titles that I would like to feature on the blog. And then there is a new publication this autumn that I'm very exited about: Patti Smith's latest, Devotion. She is such a wonderful writer.
№ 12 reading list | Ayobami Adebayo, Peter Hedges, Isambard Wilkinson  · Lisa Hjalt

The three works to be reviewed later:

The 'fiercely independent' Canongate is the publisher of Stay with Me, the debut novel of Ayobami Adebayo, a young Nigerian author who I can only hope is working on another fiction. Without giving away the plot the synopsis reads: 'Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything - arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.' The book was shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

The focus of Fox, Finch & Tepper is to publish 'literary fiction titles with a strong sense of place that have already been published and that deserve resurrection.' What's Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges is a perfect example. I had only seen and enjoyed the film, starring Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliette Lewis, but how wonderful it feels to read the book. Hedges's writing style is pure delight.

Eland Books - 'keeping the best of travel writing alive' - recently published Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson. He first visited Pakistan as a teenager and during the War on Terror he worked there as a foreign correspondent. I waited for a proper Wi-fi connection in our new home before starting this book because I wanted to be able to look up things and places. That is what good travel writing makes you want to do. I believe Wilkinson will teach me a lot about Pakistan and its culture.

Bis bald!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Schuyler Samperton Textiles

Schuyler Samperton Textiles, designs, patterns: Nellcote, Cordoba, Celandine · Lisa Hjalt

The world of textile design got richer this year when Schuyler Samperton, a Los Angeles–based interior designer, took the plunge and introduced her own fabric collection under the name of Schuyler Samperton Textiles. With the launch of the fabric line, a dream came true for Samperton, who has been collecting textiles since her teenage years. The word stunning describes my first impression of her collection, which exists of eight fabrics made of 100% linen, available in various colourways. For two months I have been admiring the details of her patterns and asking myself, Where do I even begin to share this beauty?

Schuyler Samperton Textiles, design: Nellcote petunia
Nellcote/Petunia by Schuyler Samperton Textiles

You may have seen some of the fabrics by Schuyler Samperton Textiles on my Instagram account this summer, but for the first blog post I landed on the Nellcote/Apricot in a leading role, a bohemian pattern that to me depicts a certain playfulness. (The detail above shows the colour Petunia.)

The Nellcote/Apricot is the fabric and colour I would like to use for a cushion or two in our new living room, after we have purchased a new sofa - I'm moving soon, about to start packing! I have been playing with ideas and every time this is the pattern that feels right, plus its colours match well with the textiles I already have and the ones I have my eyes on.

Schuyler Samperton Textiles, design: Doshi persimmonSchuyler Samperton Textiles, designs: Nellcote, Caledonia, Celandine · Lisa Hjalt

Left: The Doshi fabric in Persimmon. Right: In foreground, Nellcote/Apricot;
top, Caledonia/Mandarin; bottom-left, Celandine/Sunset

Of the eight designs, the Doshi fabric is the one with a loosely printed pattern, a simple botanical motif. You can easily use any of its five colourways to draw out another colour, resulting in a beautifully decorated space. For this post I chose the Doshi/Persimmon but I also have a crush on a blue version, Doshi/Lake. The floral fabric also seen in my image above is Celandine/Sunset.

Some other time I would like to feature the Caledonia design in more detail on the blog. It's the floral fabric with the butterfly in my image above, in the colour Mandarin. This fabric also has a bird motif.
Schuyler Samperton Textiles, designs: Nellcote, Cordoba, Celandine · Lisa Hjalt

Another Schuyler Samperton design I'm fond of using in my new home is the Cordoba fabric with a paisley motif, seen folded in the colour Spice in my image above, and in detail below (also spotted in Indigo under the ceramic vase). I have yet to decide between the Cordoba/Spice and Cordoba/Dahlia.

I will be featuring more fabrics later. In the meantime you can view the full range of fabrics on the website of Schuyler Samperton Textiles, where you will also find a list of showrooms.

Schuyler Samperton Textiles, design: Cordoba spice
Cordoba/Spice by Schuyler Samperton Textiles

A few years back I featured the work of Schuyler Samperton on the blog. The suzani lovers out there may perhaps remember this particular post where, among others, I shared an image of a West Hollywood bedroom (scroll down), belonging to a residence she designed. She studied art history and decorative arts at Trinity College, NYU and Parsons School of Design, and for four years she worked for American interior designer Michael S. Smith. Her interior design projects are accessible online. Throughout September I will be adding some of my favourite Schuyler Samperton spaces to the Lunch & Latte Tumblr page.

Textile and interior designer Schuyler Samperton and her dog. © Schuyler Samperton Textiles/Alexandre Jaras

Sunday, 23 July 2017

№ 11 reading list | Middle Eastern and crime fiction

№ 11 reading list | Middle Eastern and crime fiction · Lisa Hjalt
№ 11 reading list | Arundhati Roy and my Persian cat · Lisa Hjalt

Sunday morning coffee, a new reading list and Gilead by novelist Marilynne Robinson. Take my word for it, it's an excellent start of the day. July hasn't finished and already I'm presenting a new list, the second in one month. The reason is simple: there were many short books on the last one. The new list has a taste of the Middle East. For years I have wanted to read Palace Walk, the first book in the Cairo trilogy by Egyptian author and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Another first for me is the Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. A fellow lover of literature on Instagram recommended her second novel Waking Lions (translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston) and gave three reasons: 1) It takes place in Beersheba (Beer-Sheva), which, according to him, is unheard of in Israeli literature. 2) It's the perfect setting for the characters, living on the margins of society. 3) The story sheds some light on racism in Israel; it revolves around Eritrean and Sudanese refugees. I was sold and luckily my library had a copy when I picked up the new novel by Arundhati Roy.

№ 11 reading list:
· The Ministry of Utmost Happiness  by Arundhati Roy
· Palace Walk  by Naguib Mahfouz
· Waking Lions  by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
· The Black Prince  by Iris Murdoch
· Gilead  by Marilynne Robinson
· So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood  by Patrick Modiano
· The Redbreast  by Jo Nesbø
· Instead of a Letter  by Diana Athill
· Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls  by David Sedaris

I am still reading Jigsaw by Sybille Bedford that was on my last reading list but I have already finished The Redbreast by the Norwegian Jo Nesbø on the new one. At some point this third book about Detective Harry Hole (the first in the Oslo series) became a page-turner and I couldn't put it down. Crime fiction isn't exactly my go-to genre but occasionally I have read everything available by a particular crime author (mainly the Nordic authors; it all started many years ago with the Icelander Arnaldur Indridason and his Detective Erlendur). Nesbø's Harry Hole is an interesting character and I intend to see what happens in Nemesis, the next book in the series.

I have started Sedaris's book but I had to stop reading it before bedtime because my son, who likes to read with me, was unable to concentrate on his book because of me laughing. This is tears-running-down-your-face laughter. I tried to stifle it but it didn't work. Sedaris is, simply put, dangerously funny and I cannot wait to pick up his Diaries. Marilynne Robinson is an author I'm revisiting; I read Home when we lived in Luxembourg. I don't understand why it has taken me so long to pick up Gilead (both books take place in the same period and town, also her work Lila). The prose of Gilead is beautiful; no wonder it brought her the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005.
№ 11 reading list | Middle Eastern and crime fiction · Lisa Hjalt

I would like to finish with a quote by author Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) that I have already shared on Instagram and wanted to keep on the blog as well. Asked about her method of composition in an interview that appeared in the summer 1990 issue of The Paris Review, Murdoch replied:
Well, I think it is important to make a plan before you write the first sentence. Some people think one should write, George woke up and knew that something terrible had happened yesterday, and then see what happens. I plan the whole thing in detail before I begin. I have a general scheme and lots of notes. Every chapter is planned. Every conversation is planned. This is, of course, a primary stage, and very frightening because you've committed yourself at this point ... [Moving on to the second stage.] The deep things that the work is about declare themselves and connect. Somehow things fly together and generate other things, and characters invent other characters, as if they were all doing it themselves. (Issue 115, Summer 1990)