Reading Maze For Book Reviews

Reading for the Young & Old

Reclaiming Style

OK. Here’s another cracker that fits well on the shelf beside Ilse Crawford’s Home that I reviewed below. Although actually, and this says a lot about both books, neither have actually made it to the shelves as both have become regular reference material and favourites with any guests.

It’s called Reclaiming Style, using Salvaged Materials to create an elegant home, and that rather long title does sum it up very well. It’s also an unashamedly blatant advertisement for one of the better salvage yards in the country, where less is left to the customer’s imagination, with a good web site and great imagery to help you see the potential of the product.

You pay, of course, you pay handsomely, but so what if you end up with something amazing and still pay less than a new equivalent.

The business is run by Maria Speaka and Adam Hills and they’re credited with the book too which is a case study on a few of their bigger design and restore projects. It includes their own place, designed and built by Adam’s dad in the 70s and sporting some amazing graphic tiles and carpets. There are London houses, barns and more.

I might sound critical in the way that the book is so much a promotional tool for the business, but how clever is that? And of course if the business wasn’t good enough it wouldn’t work as a book either. I love it. I couldn’t wait for it to come once I’d ordered it, and I can’t wait now to plan our next project. The copy is better than many books of this genre, the photography is excellent – I’d like to see a few of the places in the raw, but I do believe the photography too, it’s not like an issue of Elle Deco where everything seems so perfect it’s hard to believe.51IP7jFI27L._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_

If you love the book home, then get this as its natural shelf mate. Just don’t except it to sit long on any shelf.


Ilse Crawford’s Home Is Where The Heart Is?

I have just finished a quite joyous read, and before I start looking up its numerous references I wanted to pop on a quick post about the book.

Ilse Crawford's home is where the heart is?

This short volume will probably sit in Interior Design sections of book stores, but could as easily grace LifeStyle, or even Self Help.

The author has basically written a series of beautifully worded essays and, because of who she is, has been able to get them published.

It’s a little surprising to pay £20 for this. After all they are only really six reasonable length magazine articles. But if you subscribe to her life philosophy you’ll almost certainly be delighted to have your suppressed thoughts and desires expressed by someone who should know.

Ilse asks a question I have often pondered – why is the toilet usually in the bathroom. Someone’s foul air certainly doesn’t add to the sense of sanctuary you hope to find there. Locate the bog somewhere else.

This lovely little book talks about food, about love, security, work, and something that I consider hugely important – Respect, for yourself, and those around you. Photography by Martyn Thompson is beautiful, and fits the bill perfectly. I’d love to know who lives in the main apartment that features through much of the book.

I’m now going to spend awhile online looking up the many places she recommends buying from, and references for material, I suspect that the £20 it cost to buy the book will be vastly outweighed by the number of things I’ll look up and love. But as Ilse recommends, I’m a fairly frugal soul, and unless I need the thing I definitely won’t buy it just for the sake of it.



Wonder Boys. Michael Chabon.

I have to admit a fair degree of ignorance here.

I suspect that Michael Chabon is an established and probably well know author. But this is the first thing I have read of his.

And boy he writes well!

He has that wonderful confidence of great Americans like John Irving where he’ll not only tell you the story, but also include swathes of the story his character is writing.

This is the bitter tale of author and lecturer Grady Trip, on his third marriage (well, for the first few pages at least), seeing his college chancellor, fancied by his student despite his prodigious girth, and fast on the road to ruin.

At times hilarious, at times achingly sad, and frequently giving out classy one liners, this book deserves to be read at speed. In fact that seems to be expected. Grady says himself that he absorbed 120 pages of a student’s novel in two and a half hours. Blimey – I can’t even afford to read that fast, though I would like to.

it was fun looking the book up on line and seeing that Chabon has said himself that Grady Tripp is based on a college lecturer of his past – I wonder what the don thought and whether he sees it as a tribute!

I look forward to reading another of his tales.

wonder boys on Amazon

More Kinfolk

Wow, this is probably the first time I have written two posts on the same subject, and that is all the more interesting given that the subject in question isn’t even a book, it’s a periodical, a magazine.

Those who share my love of texture are likely to be hooked, just as I was that afternoon a few weeks ago in Edinburgh, as soon as they touch the cover. The over weight, folded card cover is the perfect silk.

The three editions I have managed to track down so far each have simple, yet intriguing covers.

It has changed its simple strap line from “A guide for small gatheringsâ€� to “Discovering new things to make, eat and doâ€�. I’m a little disappointed by this, it doesn’t feel as elegant, but I suspect that even among the attentive types buying Kinfolk, the change will be missed.

Inside the heavy pages are printed with care onto top quality uncoated stock, it must cost a lot, its almost a silk inside too.

The imagery is immediately identifiable as their style, despite being from many photographers, and something amazing has just occurred to me – there are no adverts, none whatsoever! How brave is that?

Kinfolk vol 6 - my first!

The writing makes me yearn for my college days and the chance to learn again to write university essays that sparkle, rather than merely delivering the required information. In fact that desire is so strong sometimes it makes me want to go back and start again, even at my age.

The only drawback so far is that I can’t find a stockist nearby. I have bought one copy in Edinburgh, followed by one on Manchester’s Paperchase, and another in a cool place that I can’t remember the name of in Chester Street off London’s Brick Lane.

The subscription is over one hundred pounds a year, and even though the individual mag is £13, £25 a pop is stretching even for my love of books. I’m trying to talk my local Waterstones into stocking it.


I was on holiday for a long weekend in Britain’s finest city (in my humble opinion at least), Edinburgh.

I love the place and happily wander around it in a dream like state.

I spend hours looking at things I have no intention of buying in the shops, just because of the state of mind the clam of Edinburgh induces in me.

It was in that state that I wandered into a shop I’d not seen before, called Anthropology.

It’s like a grown up version of Urban outfitters, which itself would be my favourite if I were in my teens, or early twenties. The fact that I’m way past its target age doesn’t stop me from popping in whenever I see a good one even now.

And in Anthropology I discovered Kinfolk.

Kinfolk is a magazine.

Kinfolk vol 8

Of sorts.

It’s that slightly bigger than A4 size of many mags.

It’s published regularly, albeit only four times a year.

But above every other point.

Kinfolk is beautiful.

It was with Kinfolk in mind that I started writing the last post about whether or not the book is dead.

And in fact I could just about cope without my regular and expensive deliveries of fine volumes, if I could just secure the flow of great magazines like this.

It’s simple.

It’s not a weighty and informative tome such as my also much loved Monocle.

But it’s about real life, with a sprinkling of fairy dust and the adept avoidance of the mundane.

I am going to write more about it in a few days as I can’t do it justice in a short post like this.


Media – is the book dead/

There has been so much commentary on this subject from people who actually know what they are talking about, and now here’s some from me.

It’s not researched. It’s pure gut feel, and it’s my gut and I’m not trying to pretend it has even a grain of authority.

I’m a sucker for reading physical books and magazines – that doesn’t mean that I shun the digital, if I’m going away, or even on a train journey, then I’m more likely to take my Kindle than I am to take a physical book.

However I want the full experience with my reading matter. With a story, well, it’s mostly just the story, and so holding a book should just be an inconvenience, although I do love to see what I have read on the shelves as a reminder of tales loved. So novels, even heavy weight pieces of literature, work fine for me in either media, and I admit that an old style, matt screened Kindle is dandy.

With a magazine, or any book with pictures, then the medium is vital.

The coffee table volume, the staple of publishers such as Taschen and Phaidon, both of whom I have lauded here in the past, just would not work in any other format.

I guess also publishers could not justify the cost involved and that pretty much have to be charged for first editions of monograms of famous photographers if digital was the only medium. You can’t charge £100 or more to flick through screens on your iPad (can you)?

As soon as you have images then the paper quality makes all the difference. In a day or two I’ll write about Kinfolk, it’s a newish magazine that I have only just discovered. It’s paper is almost as important as the images themselves.

I have fallen in love with it. I will tell you more. Regularly!


The Road To Nab End

I haven’t been reading enough lately.

This is largely because I wanted to feel the sense of loss after I finished Sahntaram for a week or so, to ruminate on the tale a while before launching into something new.

And the new is oh so very different.

I was working up in Blackburn earlier this year and commented on its faded glamour having been a deep slide from a not very high position in the first place.

One of the lads I was working with went out there and then to buy me this interesting autobiography, The Road To Nab End by a guy called William Woodruff.


Woodruff was born and grew up in Blackburn from 1916 and saw minor booms, which meant that his parents could afford food and drink, to deep depressions when his gran starved to death. That’s in this country, within living memory.

It’s hardly a rip roaring tale, but it is very real, and all the more captivating for that. The grime, the smells, the toil, and the occasional luxury all hit home and are recounted so very well.

I’ve take this image from Amazon as I have just ordered copies for my mum, sister and a friend in the states, all of whom I believe will love it, in part as they are all a lot older than me and so a bit closer to the times Woodruff writes about.

People may well have been a lot closer to each other back then, by my God did they have to work hard to make ends meet. Pride was huge too, and going to the poor house for hand outs inhibited our man’s family almost as much as their poverty itself.

It’s an easy, flowing read. I recommend it.

Kindle versus Book

I have started this post just because I want to confess.

After years of standing up for the physical book I have to confess that there is a damn good place in my life for its sort of nemesis the Kindle, and all its derivatives.

It hurt to say that.

Don’t worry. I know it’s a slippery slope, but I also have 100% confidence that books will always have a strong hold on my life.

So many of the items of beauty that grace my shelves are huge tomes that could not possibly work on screen.

Yes I do believe all that rot that some folk go on about. Things like the sheer heft of a volume having a vital part of the experience it imparts. Yes I believe that the joy of a glossy volume is increased immeasurably by the simple surface tension that creates a slight resistance to turning its pages when first opened.

And the smell. I love the smell of paper.

Even old paper. Like the olfactory affront you experience when walking into a second hand book shop. That’s history you’re smelling.

So what has caused this slight wobble in my conviction?

It’s that old devil called convenience. And in particular at my favourite reading time – when I’m in bed. A back lit kindle lets my other half sleep while I read on into that night with just a dim lamp, and the glow of the new devil.

Big books are hard. I have’t got over the need for the gratification of gradually working your way through. But 100 pages on the train – joy!

For the love of books

A few thoughts on writing

I love for a book to just take me away, to absorb me to the extent that I think about the characters even when I’m not reading it. And to have me wanting to share my love for it when I’m talking to friends, or even writing about other things.

Recent examples of this have been:

  • the mighty tome that is Sahntaram, the book I mentioned last week
  • the first Ken Follett I read, that was called Pilllars of the Earth. I still enjoy Follett, but find his formula is so tight that I can’t read more than one every couple of years, though I love the sense of learning they carry too,
  • A.L. Kennedy’s Everything You Need. Wow! I was amazed to find that she’s actually a funny woman. That book seemed so intense when I read it. Perhaps it was my state at the time reading too much in,
  • The first time I read modern Irish writer Niall Willam’s Four Letters of Love I just had to start again, and read and cry and think. Wonderful.
  • Norwegian Wood by Japanese master Harukai Murakami

Just because a book doesn’t garb you in this way doesn’t mean that it’s not a good read. But  it is utterly lovely when it happens.

I’m a lover of the spare tight style you get with Hemingway, Orwell and others, but also I love the way an Indian book may meander off into such beautiful rich description that in becomes a story within a story.

Sometimes even I may feel that there’s an exciting flow of words, but that really has little to say. But then I’d have to say that as I have just come back to this post half written and realised that I don’t know where I’m taking it!

I’d best stop right here!