It starts to look like autumn and I love soaking up each ray of sunlight left, enjoy the leaves’ changing colour, take one last chance to appreciate nature properly until the cold settles in, and finally be able to catch a good film at the cinema since the beginning of spring. But my perfect kind of autumn day usually ends with a good book. These are the books I’ve been reading or plan to read this fall.
The Lonely City, by Olivia Laing. This is the book that has been recommended to me most often in the last year (and that’s the reason I’ve included it here) and I was looking forward to reading it. It explores the author’s loneliness in New York City, but mainly through the works and lives of artists of the 20th century who lived there. It is a very interesting approach, but it lacks personal depth, as the writer does not go much into her own loneliness. And the even bigger “but” comes from the fact that I could not relate to it simply because I’ve never felt lonely (not to confuse lonely with alone), so I don’t know if it would have made any difference had the author delved deeper into her own life (although I believe it would have). The bottom line is: this just isn’t a book for me. I appreciated the many art references though, and I think Olivia Laing’s work would have benefited more from that if it had been illustrated with photos of the artworks mentioned. But if I were to choose an artistic investigation into loneliness and the modern city, I would choose Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express, the quintessential film (yes, it is a different medium) about loneliness in the postmodern metropolis, in contemporary Hong Kong.
Georgia O’Keeffe at Home, by Alicia Inez Guzmán. “When I got to New Mexico, that was mine. As soon as I saw it, that was my country.” I have been fascinated with Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch home in New Mexico (its architecture and styling, but also the place where the artist’s daily routine was marked by her respect for simple rituals and the freedom to be fully present in each moment) for a long time and this is just one of those art books I needed in my home. And what I love the most about this sumptuous life history is that explores the influence of the various landscapes and cities inhabited by Georgia O’Keeffe on her life and artwork (yes, this one is generously illustrated, as it should be).
The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald. England, 1959. Florence Green decides to open a bookshop in a small town that does not want a bookshop. I have a keen interest in stories about bookshops, just as I have in coming-of-age movies. These are two crucial aspects in the development of a child and of an individual. I hope the book lives up to my expectations. On a side note though, I dislike whenever a book gets the cover showing the poster of the film adapted from it, like in the case of the latest edition of this book (not the one pictured above because of this exact reason). Keep them separately! They are two different worlds!
A Tokyo Romance, by Ian Buruma. A film student from Europe. The fascinating and bustling city of Tokyo in the 1970s which shaped the young artist. Moments on-set with Akira Kurosawa. I have to admit that the latter detail was what made me buy the book. That, and the fact that Ian Buruma is a former editor of The New York Review of Books (he left the position this September).
Woolgathering, by Patti Smith, and Devotion, by Patti Smith. Because I want to read everything written by Patti Smith.
A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. I wasn’t good at physics in school (I wonder what difference it would have made if I had had more open-minded teachers in some disciplines), but I think you are never too old to learn anything. My brother loved physics in school and understands physics (incidentally, unlike me, he had a great teacher) and he recommended this book. “It’s accessible, you should give it a go,” he said. A Brief History of Time remains a staple of the scientific canon, and its succinct and clear language (this gives me hope) continues to introduce people of all ages to the universe and its wonders.
Open, by Andre Agassi. I am well into this one and, all I want to say for now (I will write more in detail about it in the near future) is that not only is it a great memoir, one of the best I’ve read, but it is simply a great book. In fact, I liked it so much from the very first pages that I ordered a copy for my parents as well (oh yeah, the tennis love runs in the family). It’s also the first sportsman autobiography I’ve read and it’s new territory. I don’t think you can get a rougher and more raw view into the inside world of tennis. It’s haunting, the way Agassi recounts with extreme precision the highs and lows of his career, a career in a sport that he never chose, but which it was chosen for him by his father.
The Long, Long Life of Trees, by Fiona Stafford. I read a couple of chapters from this book last evening and I could have read it all in one-go, but I think it’s best to take one chapter at a time in. Because it is a wonderful book to have and to hold and Fiona Stanfford writes beautifully (it’s also beautifully illustrated). The synopsis reads: “Throughout history, trees have served humankind in countless practical ways, but they are also sources of great symbolism and creativity. In this lyrical tribute to the rich diversity of trees, Fiona Stafford explores seventeen species that have inspired stories, songs, poems, paintings, religious and patriotic devotion, and much more.”
The Devil Finds Work, by James Baldwin. Published in 1976, it is both a memoir of Baldwin’s experiences watching movies and a frank critique of the fraught intersection between Hollywood’s industrial practices and its limiting representation of black characters, with emphasis on films such as In the Heat of the Night (1967), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Defiant Ones (1958). I expect it to be razor sharp, witty and poignant. This book is not Baldwin’s only foray into film comment. In the 1955 collection “Notes on a Native Son”, he wrote about Otto Preminger’s all-black musical Carmen Jones (1954), and his essay “The Northern Protestant” (1960) is about Ingmar Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel (1953).
Note: I have added links to every book, in case you want to read more about it beforehand, but I hope you will first visit your favourite bookstore in town to search for any book that has captured your interest. My own favourite bookshop, where I regularly get my refill, is this one.