This December, there are quite a few great new books worth giving and receiving, and I couldn’t possibly start but with one: A Book of Days, by Patti Smith. Patti Smith is one of my favourite writers and singers/songwriters, so every book of hers is a celebration. A Book of Days is aesthetically unique, the artist book I always want to have nearby, the rare artist book that truly offers you a rare view into the mind, soul and inspirations and aspirations of an artist, a rare coherent story of a life devoted to art, “charting the passions, devotions, obsessions and whims”. Patti Smith appends Polaroid photographs from her life on and off the road with snapshots from her daily life, as posted on Instagram. “Within a calendar year, A Book of Days presents 366 miniature windows into the world of the visionary writer, poet and performer. An inspirational map of a life devoted to art, a timeless offering, day by day, for deeply uncertain times.” Each photo is accompanied by a text that is kept short but carries on that signature Patti Smith quality that resides at this crossroad between reality and realm. It’s beautiful. This is the entry for 18 September, under the photo of a phone booth: “With heaven’s dime I would call time past.”
Quentin Tarantino gave us Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, the book, but the book I have been truly waiting for is Cinema Speculation. Organised around key American films from the 1970s, all of which Tarantino first saw as a young moviegoer at the time at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles (“if the Tiffany had a year, it was 1970”, the year when Quentin, aged seven, first attended a show at the Tiffany with his mother and stepfather), his book is “at once film criticism, film theory, a feat of reporting, and wonderful personal history”. Quentin Tarantino talking about the movies of the 1970s in his singular, gutsy voice – that’s pretty damn cool, entertaining and perspective-changing.
There are few Hollywood stars whose story I would like to read, and they are all from the time when the expression “Hollywood Star” had value to it. Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood are two of them, and we are still waiting for their autobiographies. Another star was Paul Newman and his is the memoir recently published, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, which comes 14 years after his passing. In 1986, Paul Newman tasked his best friend, Stewart Stern, with interviewing the people who had shaped his life in order to create an oral history of it. A task that took years. After hearing and reading what they had to say, Newman dictated his own version. I am saving this one for Christmas, but what I can say is that I am interested in the story because I am interested in the story of the man, the actor, the family man, but mostly because I was interested in his movies – that’s how he first came into our lives, through the movies, this one-of-a-kind medium that makes actors seem larger than life, who fill the screens with their hearts and presence and activate our souls and lives, and makes us even more fascinated with them when we discover that their humanity is above their stardom. I believe Paul Newman was one of them and I am curious to find out from his own words.
A tribute to Satyajit Ray on his centenary birth anniversary, Satyajit Ray Miscellany: On Life, Cinema, People & Much More brings to light more than seventy essays on film making, screenplay writing, autobiographical pieces and rare photographs and manuscripts. Satyajit Ray believed in the craft of film making and made films according to his unique vision. He wrote, directed and scored his films and often designed their publicity materials as well. Matt Zoller Seitz called him “an auteur before the word became commonplace,” and Akira Kurosawa said of Ray’s films that “to have not seen the films of Ray is to have lived in the world without ever having seen the moon and the sun”. This may very well be one of the best books on making movies.
*Note: It’s always been my intention to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, but even more so in these trying times and especially this time of year. Therefore, I am leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and paying them a visit in person to purchase your own copy of the book you are interested in. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.