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emma who reads a lot (London)
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Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art
Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.89

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious., 11 May 2015
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Physically beautiful, with a chunk of a Howard Hodgkin splashed across the cover, these essays range across time from the Raft of the Medusa chapter out of "History of the World", through to the essay on Lucien Freud that appeared in the LRB late 2013. Inside, the paper's creamy, the binding is perfect, and there's a good amount of nice colour illustrations. There are seventeen essays in all, beginning with Géricault in the early nineteenth century and following mostly French art through its journey from Romanticism to Realism and onto Modernism. There's also an inviting personal essay to kick off the book explaining Barnes' own childhood and teenage experience of art, with thoughts about how looking at art works, what it's for.

The things I most enjoyed in this book were: Barnes taking tiny fragments of a painting, like the various sketches of Manet's painting of an execution, or the nape of a neck by Eduard Vuillard, and looking at them really closely. It's so enjoyable to watch someone taking the time to do this kind of really close looking, and thinking. (I didn't agree with every word: We might have to have a row about contemporary art, on which he confines himself mostly to some brief sharp remarks about video art.) And I went away from the book with a lot of thoughts about what art writing can be, what it can achieve, and what it never can. The last essay, where he finishes discussing the work of Hodgkin with the single line, "So that's enough words", is just completely delightful, and suffused with a tender love and regard that stay with the reader long after the book is shut.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 12, 2015 9:16 AM BST


The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life
The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life
by Andy Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As enjoyable as cake, which is saying something, 26 April 2015
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Andy Miller approached his late thirties with a sense that the things he'd valued as a young man - like reading - had somehow got lost. Sudoku gets quite a lot of the blame, along with the internet. He set himself to start reading again; this time, pointing his nose towards the 'Great Books' he'd always meant to tackle (the kind of books he'd occasionally fibbed about having read in pub conversations with friends).

He winds a journey through his reading of 50 great books - including Moby Dick, Anna Karenina and the Tiger Who Came To Tea (amongst many others) -which is always enjoyable and often very funny. But it also points up a ton of lightly-delivered but serious points about books and reading. Where do Serious Books belong, in our current internet-besieged life? Are books well-served by book groups, and social reading, or not? (Do not miss the book group reading guide at the back.) How should you decide to give up on a book? How many books should you own? What does it mean when you meet your favourite author, and what do you want to say to him/her?

As I read I reflected on all these questions. I came away from the book having enjoyed reading about Miller's life; feeling I'd acquired a friend; but mostly full of thoughts about what reading is actually for, and what it does. To me, that was the greatest success of the book: delivering such interesting and provocative stuff to muse over, in such entertaining form. In a completely English way it's the precise, solidly-grounded entirely material counterpart to high-blown American books like The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.


Tilly's Moonlight Fox
Tilly's Moonlight Fox
by Julia Green
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Rather too dreamy a dream-like book, 25 April 2015
This review is from: Tilly's Moonlight Fox (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Good points: this is a sweet gentle story that my five-year old has enjoyed over the last few nights at bedtime. It has a few very nice illustrations. The story is about a lonely little girl Tilly who moves to a new house, whose mum is ill whilst pregnant, and who becomes interested in the fox that lives in the garden. As her mum becomes iller, Tilly starts sleepwalking and meets another little girl, who seems to be imaginary, in the large overgrown garden, and together they watch over the fox and cubs, before Tilly makes friends at her new school and everything resolves happily. I don't think it's necessarily for over-9s, as the description would suggest: I think five, six and seven year olds would like it as a story, and that it would simply be too gentle for many over-9s.
My main issues with the book was that there was a LOT of description during every scene, which really slows everything down. I think even for a patient reader each scene is described very slowly and deliberately in a way which definitely diminishes dramatic tension. I think this book would be most popular with a rather dreamy, serious child who might be enchanted by the idea of having a real fox living in the garden, and who wouldn't be too troubled by the plot about the sick mum (which all works out fine).


Brick
Brick
by William Hall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.37

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brick shows off for once, 15 April 2015
This review is from: Brick (Hardcover)
I really liked this author’s previous book, Concrete, which was a really seductive visual essay exploring hundreds of different buildings made of that material. But Brick, I wasn’t so sure about - surely there aren’t any good modern buildings made of brick and basically it was going to be a lot of Oxford colleges and Tudor palaces? Wrong, wrong, wrong. The book is ferocious in its pursuit of the unusual and innovative in brick architecture; and even where the buildings are familiar, the view isn’t. Hampton Court appears as a single simple brick niche, which sums up the technical achievements involved in creating Wren’s new front for the palace.

I really love this format, actually: it's a series of large colour pictures of brick buildings, on thick paper, really nice textured cover, mega colour pictures you can really stare at for ages, short pithy captions summarising something about the building, which make you want to go away and learn more. There's an intro by Dan Cruickshank, but it's for the most part a big illustrated book... It’s a really sensually pleasurable experience to read the book - something it’s difficult to capture without you flicking through it, but hopefully after reading this review you will do. It’s actually a very relaxing book to read too- you can kind of get lost in the pictures, like you were wandering through an art show. V V enjoyable.

And as far as spectacular up-to-the-minute modern brick buildings go, it’s got plenty - from a 2012 church in Schillig, Germany, which arcs off into the grey North Sea sky with a wave; to a gravity-defying temporary pavilion in Barcelona, from 2013; to a shipyard stockroom from 2011, sitting on a port edge with solid intention. Plus mills, castles, courtyards, mosques, minarets, mausoleums, cathedrals, war memorials, fortresses, stupas, and of course… the Great Wall. They don’t come bigger or better. From Kings Cross to Harvey Court, Arnos Grove to Uzbekhistan, it’s a treat.


Practise & Learn: French (Ages 9-11) - with vocab CD-ROM
Practise & Learn: French (Ages 9-11) - with vocab CD-ROM
by CGP Books
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 4 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This has been a popular acquisition, as it is exactly the right level for our household. Starting with simple greetings, and moving through basic concepts like a range of animal names, numbers, clothes and colours, it moves onto simple phrases about what you like doing and where things are in your town.
I think the practice bits are useful, but we've mainly been using it as a way of confirming the first hundred words or so of French that form a good basis for later language learning. In reality, kids need to learn the sound of the language, the little phrases everyone uses like 'Doucement', for go gently, but this book does provide a way for children to confirm they have some basic words to use, that they can listen out for in their environment when they visit France. A really good basic starting place.
I suppose the only question I'm left with is about how we approach language learning in general - realistically, most children would be better off at this age with an entirely oral non-written approach, but that can't be helped, that's not how they do it in school! So I'm marking it for what it set out to do, rather than for what I wish it did in an ideal world....


Minecraft Construction For Dummies
Minecraft Construction For Dummies
by Adam Cordeiro
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Good information but difficult for the younger Minecraft fan to use without adult help, 4 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book covers a lot of stuff, but is purely concerned with constructing stuff in Minecraft. if you want a general guide, look for Minecraft for Dummies which is a different book :-)
It covers:
construction in Survival and Creative modes - obviously very different - so lots of tips for Survivalists
Tips on Quarrying, Cave mining, reshaping the landscape
Different types of builds - from floors right up to cities and secret passageways
Tips on colour and lights - essentially a whole couple of chapters on interior decoration - this my least favourite and least useful, but somebody might like it!
Using textures - some cool fally-down wall things here for those building castles, which we really liked.
Farming
Advanced building techniques like adding fountains
Gardens - one of my favourite bits.
Using glass - like even making stained glass
using redstone
ten steps for a large scale build.

What i would say though: I have taken stars off for two things. One, this was a portable edition, and the pictures were just too small to see any of the essential detail, so they became more like decoration than useful for reference.
But also secondly, the tone of this book is quite grown-up, and thus, totally NOT suitable for the person in our house who actually loves Minecraft! I have to read this kind of book out loud to my son anyway, as his reading wouldn't up to doing it independently, but "if you're feeling ambitious" - "what does ambitious mean?"...."temples and other aesthetic structures" "what does aesthetic mean?" I can't help thinking that for the 6-10 year old market, this isn't the right book, and you'd be better off with Minecraft The Official Construction Handbook which is much clearer about basically being for kids. Though this book has much more detailed info in it, I think it's more for the older gamer.


Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
by Sarah Manguso
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars slim and thoughtful - like a wonderful conversation with a friend, 4 April 2015
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This short (90ish pages, most only half covered with text) book is an intriguing venture: an attempt by its author Sarah Manguso to think about why she kept a diary for 25 years, and why in the end she stopped. The parts of the book where she concentrated on these questions, I absolutely loved, they had a tenderness, a delicacy, a willingness to strip herself bare.
But there is also a lot in the book that isn't about diaries - it's about babies, motherhood, and what it does to you - to your memory, to your desire to narrate your life, to your energy - and whilst I am in that exact position myself, i wondered how interesting all of that stuff would be to someone who wasn't.
The style is aphoristic, and I both underlined things, and used the big blank spaces at the bottom of the page to write my own thoughts about diary keeping - which I think I've done for completely different reasons than Manguso.
I loved her writing about why she wrote a diary, and her obsessional quest to capture, somehow, life's passing moments, like a person trying to press flowers or keep cherry blossom - i loved it so much that reading about her baby learning to walk didn't quite have the same magic :-) though it's clear it had MORE magic for her! Actually there were bits about the baby I loved - like when she retells one of her favourite memory of her child, and says that through her reliving it, retelling it to herself, it's becoming stronger.
So, very beautiful, and in some places, almost perfect!


The Irish Garden
The Irish Garden
by Jane Powers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A jawdropping record of what Ireland's rain has been achieving all these years...., 3 April 2015
This review is from: The Irish Garden (Hardcover)
I don't often go all gushy about a book but this one is just really seductively beautiful. For a London-based gardener, I am stunned to realise the lack of knowledge I possess about Irish gardens (totally zero, especially compared to Scotland - quite a bit - Wales - a bit - Cornwall - a bit more). Faced with this kind of idiocy, Jane Powers (Irish Sunday Times gardening correspondent) and her husband, more usually a film set photographer, have set out to capture the horticultural best from both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and they do it incredibly well.

The book shows the range of gardens on offer in Ireland, from Ballymaloe's kitchen garden through to the National Trust's Mount Stewart, stopping at Helen Dillon's for quite a few pages in between. The breadth of possibility is striking, as the Irish landscape provides a dramatic backdrop to many, whilst maritime conditions favour subtropical blues and palmy silhouettes in a way I wasn't expecting.

Most enjoyable of all, the text is really good. All too often with luxury garden photography books the text is a bit gushy and luvvie, and Jane Powers is completely the opposite. I don't mean disrespecful and matey, I just mean she captures the flavour of being in a garden in a way that makes you feel you've actually been there, rather than you've been told about it by someone slightly name-droppy. I really, really recommend this book.


Gardening on a Shoestring: 100 ways to create a garden on a budget
Gardening on a Shoestring: 100 ways to create a garden on a budget
by Alex Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.59

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of great ideas and properly researched, 3 April 2015
This book is rammed with ideas about how to save money in the garden. That does NOT make it drab though: it's much more about careful sensible budgeting than skip-diving. The contents page has:
How to be a shoestring gardener
pots for a pittance
style on a shoestring
Grow food for peanuts
How to make new plants for free
How not to waste money on gardening kit
Keep your garden healthy for (almost) nothing
My favourite bit was the pots, because it always stresses me out how much nice containers cost, and I loved the idea of old tins, and also ageing brand shiny new terracotta to have a more elegant feel. But all through the book, Mitchell brings the same sensible, levl-headed creativity to bear. Worried about weeding your veg? There's a WEBSITE to identify weed seedlings! Coveting a superpricey willow arbour? Weave one yourself under Alex's careful instruction. Fancy a cutting patch? Do it with six packs of seed and a 2m square of earth rather than A WHOLE BOOK of ideas. So you see - there's a simplicity to her approach - not wasting time, as well as money. In fact, for me, that was the biggest part of this book's appeal. I just really like Alex and her whole vibe, which is ingenious without being at all 'crafty' and hippyish, and extremely knowledgable about the plants themselves. Definitely five star.


The New Kitchen Garden: How to Grow Some of What You Eat No Matter Where You Live
The New Kitchen Garden: How to Grow Some of What You Eat No Matter Where You Live
by Mark Diacono
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable; beautiful; full of experience-based advice and gentle, funny persuasion, 29 Mar. 2015
All us regular addicts of new gardening book purchases are pre-disposed to like Mark Diacono, who has authored several of the most interesting titles in the last few years. (His "Taste of the Unexpected" prefigured recent books from more celebrity gardeners with its emphasis on growing unusual things for taste, over normal allotment fare such as spuds and onions, and his "Year at Otter Farm" carried on his gardening-slash-cookbook thing: esp a mackerel with gooseberry salsa I can still summon up in my memory, Proust-stylie.)

Now he comes along with one of those ginormous "how to do everything" bibles of kitchen gardening, of which there are already quite a few available - so why should we buy this? (Especially if we already own his River Cottage Vegetable & Fruit Handbooks?)

1) It's a beautiful, sturdy book. These are important considerations with something that might travel back and forth to the veg patch, get a bit of actual rain on it, etc. And I really love the photos, which Diacono also took. He just has a nice way of framing a peach so you feel like you could just start slurping into it.

2) It's massively encyclopedic. River Cottage handbook is fine for peas and beans and stuff, but this has Ostrich Fern, Japanese Parsley and Pineapple Guava. As well as being satisfactorily exhaustive re: peas and beans and stuff. More than 150pp of just growing tips and good varieties for a crazy number of things.

3) It then also includes a long section on how to begin kitchen gardening, and a good section at the end for keeping it all up.

4) It has lots of inspiring case studies from a kid's garden (that for once they seem to genuinely do themself) to the garden at Le Manoir (ooo-err).You can just tell that Mark D loves to get out and meet other growers and quiz them, enthusing about what they're up to.

5) it's aimed NOT at people who need to plan production for their 8-acre walled garden, but at normal people who want to do a bit of veg down the bottom of the garden or even on balconies and windowsills.

6) He is naggily enthusiastic, like a friend who just will not give up trying to persuade you to have a go. It would honestly get irritatingly if he wasn't also really quite funny.

I think that even if you are the most experienced grower, he'll have something in there that you'll still want to try; and if you're just starting out, please buy it, because out of all the books of this kind it has the best and most light-hearted, encouraging tone. And will make you keep going on the rainy windy days when you want to give up, and celebrate on the sunny harvest days that thrill you.


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