What came first? My love for film or my love for books? Definitely, the latter. And if you have been reading my blog for a while, you clearly know that I love books, at least just as much as I love movies. But you may have also noticed that I rarely recommend fiction. One of the reasons is that I seldom read novels these days. I prefer books on film, photography, art, autobiographies of all kinds (although this has definitely been the year of musician autobiographies for me), travel journals. In short, writings that tell us something about the real lives and interests of others – it’s what motivates me most. The second reason is that I always find it hard to come across good recommendations on these selected fields. Sure, the tastes differ, but what I am trying to do is curate a truly great selection of titles any cultured person would appreciate. And when a reader recently told me that she always finds my features on books helpful and that her bookshelf is a subset of the books I write about, I rejoiced. Mission accomplished, and it’s heartwarming.
So today I thought I would gather the best publications on film, photography, fashion and music that I’ve bought this year. Maybe you will feel inspired to get one of them for yourself or gift it to someone dear. I have already featured most of them on the blog throughout the year and you can read my detailed thoughts on each one of them by following the respective link.
And, yes, the notebook you see in the top photo will soon be available in our online shop. Can you guess the inspiration source? Naturally, it’s for book lovers, movie lovers, dreamers and scribblers alike.
Left: Saul Bass poster design for Bonjour Tristesse / Right: book cover
Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design, by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham. I own a lot of film books. A lot. Most of them are about cinema in general, about film genres, or directors’ retrospectives (as you will see below). But there are other books related to film that I appreciate just as much. Like costume design (so few unfortunately, and even fewer good ones), or title sequence and poster design, another artistic field that is very much part of the cinematic story. Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design is not just about film (he was an all-around talented artist), but it is because of his visionary, unconventional, brilliant, out-of-the-box sequence titles and film posters that I bought this book for. The opening credits didn’t get the importance they deserved until Saul Bass transformed them into an artistic expression, a cinematical and psychological experience, his minimalist, yet highly effective, simple, yet expressive style cleverly setting the tone for what was to come.
I had already read a lot about Saul Bass and occasionally wrote about his film work, watched most of the films he did the title sequences for (I have come to recognise his work instantly) and knew many stories behind his legendary designs. But having all that artwork on paper, in the same place, is special. A book is (still) special. Because a book still is the most reliable source of information (I literally fret whenever I have an idea for a new style in film article and realise there is not much material I can leaf through and have to rely on Google). But, most importantly, a book is a beautiful thing to have and to hold. I like the book jacket, too, by the way (the artwork for The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955). But I love the cover – the artwork for Otto Preminger’s 1958 Bonjour Tristesse. Such a nice finishing touch and lovely surprise to discover.
Du cinématographe, by Jean Cocteau. Bold, witty and discerning, this book expresses some of the most eye-opening ideas about film, but also some of my fundamental concepts about cinema. If you are interested, our shop is carrying another book by Cocteau.
Making Movies, by Sidney Lumet. This is the kind of book you can’t just leaf through. You read every word and you do it on one reading, just like the director said he always used to read the scripts. Here are a few movie-defining things that stayed with me after reading it.
Woody Allen: A Retrospective, by Tom Shone. It has everything I like about Allen’s films, from writing, to cinematography and character study.
Terry O’Neill, by Terry O’Neill. I found this one on huge sale at a book fair. I grabbed it looking over my shoulder, paid for it in a hurry (almost feeling guilty, but mostly giddy for such bargain) and ran. I ran with a story book. Because each photograph has its own story to tell. And when my mom recently visited and couldn’t put it down, happy to see so many loved actors and musicians and personalities in one place and learning about the behind-the-scenes stories, that was the ultimate proof of how valuable this book is. I am thinking about buying it for her, too.
The Mind’s Eye, by Henry Cartier-Bresson. Lessons in looking, seeing, and simplicity, from the pioneer of street photography, the man responsible for the term the “decisive moment”, and one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century.
Diane Arbus Magazine Work. Arbus’ magazine photographs were seen by a large audience and were instrumental in establishing her reputation, but they have since been overlooked and become virtually unknown. Most of the work she did for magazines form a cross-section of 1960s popular American culture. Her style was direct, uncompromising, embodying a distinctive personal viewpoint.
In all honesty, my interest in fashion has significantly wound down in the last couple of years, but I still appreciate a good book about fashion, just as much as I do any other kind of book. Joe Eula, by Cathy Horyn, was a revelation. It is the first published work on the designs of Joe Eula, whom I consider a bit of an unsung hero of the 20th century fashion illustration.
As I was saying above, when it comes to autobiographies, the ones written by musicians sparked the most interest in me this past year, from the one that clearly stood out for me, Morrissey, to Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Volume One. But I also have a particular liking to Sidney Poitier’s memoir The Measure of A Man, which I also added to our online shop. It reveals the undeterred spirit, inner depth, emotion and intellectual fervour that have driven this actor’s, this man’s remarkable life.
And last, but not least, one of the best and most inspirational lifestyle books I have read in recent years, The Abundance of Less, by Andy Couturier.
Special mention: I love children’s books, too, and I have been sharing (and will continue to share) some of my son’s and my favourites on Instagram.
Related content: The Gift of Books / Truffaut, Kar Wai and Film Noir / The Abundance of Less
photos by me