Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christmas Ideas: Biography

The Diary of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell - £14.99
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown - Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover's paradise? Well, almost ...

In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.

Adventures of a Young Naturalist, Sir David Attenborough - £25
In 1954, a young David Attenborough was offered the opportunity of a lifetime - to travel the world finding rare and elusive animals for London Zoo's collection, and to film the expeditions for the BBC for a new show called Zoo Quest.

This is the story of those voyages. Staying with local tribes while trekking in search of giant anteaters in Guyana, Komodo dragons in Indonesia and armadillos in Paraguay, he and the rest of the team battled with cannibal fish, aggressive tree porcupines and escape-artist wild pigs, as well as treacherous terrain and unpredictable weather, to record the incredible beauty and biodiversity of these regions. 

The methods may be outdated now, but the fascination and respect for the wildlife, the people and the environment - and the importance of protecting these wild places - is not.Written with Attenborough's trademark wit and charm, Adventures of a Young Naturalist is not just the story of a remarkable adventure, but of the man who made us fall in love with the natural world, and who is still doing so today.

Mr Lear : A Life of Art and Nonsense, Jenny Uglow - £25
Acclaimed historian Jenny Uglow brings us a fascinating and beautifully illustrated biography of Edward Lear, full of the colour of the age.  Edward Lear lived a vivid, fascinating, energetic life, but confessed, 'I hardly enjoy any one thing on earth while it is present.'  He was a man in a hurry, 'running about on railroads' from London to country estates and boarding steamships to Italy, Corfu, India and Palestine. He is still loved for his 'nonsenses', from startling, joyous limericks to great love songs like 'The Owl and the Pussy Cat' and 'The Dong with a Luminous Nose', and he is famous, too, for his brilliant natural history paintings, landscapes and travel writing. But although Lear belongs solidly in the age of Darwin and Dickens - he gave Queen Victoria drawing lessons, and his many friends included Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelite painters - his genius for the absurd and his dazzling word-play make him a very modern spirit.

He speaks to us today.  Lear was a man of great simplicity and charm: children adored him, yet his humour masked epilepsy, depression and loneliness. Jenny Uglow's beautifully illustrated biography, full of the colour of the age, brings us his swooping moods, passionate friendships and restless travels/ Above all it shows how this uniquely gifted man lived all his life on the boundaries of rules and structures, disciplines and desires - an exile of the heart.

Freud : The Making of An Illusion, Frederick Crews - £30
From the master of Freud debunkers, the book that definitively puts an end to the myth of psychoanalysis and its creator. Sigmund Freud is one of the most influential figures of western society. His ideas transformed the way that we think about our minds, our selves and even our thoughts.

But while he was undeniably a visionary thinker, Freud's legend was also the work of years of careful mythologizing, and a fierce refusal to accept criticism or scrutiny of his often unprincipled methods. In Freud: The Making of an Illusion, Frederick Crews dismantles Freud's totemic reputation brick by brick. Looking at recently revealed correspondence, he examines Freud's own personality, his selfishness, competitiveness and willingness to cut corners and exploit weaknesses to get his own way.

He explores Freud's whole-hearted embracing of cocaine as a therapeutic tool, and the role it played in his own career. And he interrogates Freud's intellectual legacy, exposing how many of his ideas and conclusions were purely speculative, or taken wholesale from others. As acidic as it is authoritative, this critique of the man behind the legend is compulsory reading for anyone interested in Freudianism.

Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker, A.N. Wilson - £25
Charles Darwin: The man who discovered evolution? The man who killed off God? Or a flawed man of his age, part genius, part ruthless careerist who would not acknowledge his debts to other thinkers?In this bold new life - the first single volume biography in twenty-five years - A. N. Wilson, the acclaimed author of The Victorians and God's Funeral, goes in search of the celebrated but contradictory figure Charles Darwin.Darwin was described by his friend and champion, Thomas Huxley, as a 'symbol'.

But what did he symbolize? In Wilson's portrait, both sympathetic and critical, Darwin was two men. On the one hand, he was a naturalist of genius, a patient and precise collector and curator who greatly expanded the possibilities of taxonomy and geology. On the other hand, Darwin, a seemingly diffident man who appeared gentle and even lazy, hid a burning ambition to be a universal genius.

He longed to have a theory which explained everything.But was Darwin's 1859 master work, On the Origin of Species, really what it seemed, a work about natural history? Or was it in fact a consolation myth for the Victorian middle classes, reassuring them that the selfishness and indifference to the poor were part of nature's grand plan? Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is a radical reappraisal of one of the great Victorians, a book which isn't afraid to challenge the Darwinian orthodoxy while bringing us closer to the man, his revolutionary idea and the wider Victorian age.

Endurance : A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly - £20
From the Nasa astronaut who spent a record-breaking year aboard the International Space Station - what it's like out there and what it's like now, back here. Enter Scott Kelly's fascinating world and dare to think of your own a little differently. The veteran of four space flights and the American record holder for most consecutive days spent in space, Scott Kelly has experienced things very few of us ever have and very few of us ever will.

Kelly's humanity, compassion, humour, and passion shine as he describes navigating the extreme challenge of long-term spaceflight, both existential and banal. He touches on what's happened to his body, the sadness of being isolated from everyone he loves; the pressures of constant close cohabitation; the catastrophic risks of colliding with space junk, and the still more haunting threat of being absent should tragedy strike at home. From a natural storyteller Endurance is one of the finest examples the triumph of the human imagination, the strength of the human will, and the boundless wonder of the galaxy.

Christmas Ideas: Cookery and Craft

Literary Yarns : Crochet Patterns Inspired By Classic Books, Cindy Wang - £11.99
What s the perfect gift for your friend who loves literature? How about an adorable crocheted Moby Dick? Or a delightfully miniature Elizabeth Bennet? Or an elegant and fuzzy Jay Gatsby? Whether you need some holiday decor (Ebenezer Scrooge!) or want to craft your own nursery decor (the White Rabbit), Literary Yarns is full of adorable amigurumi for book lovers of all ages. 

The easy-to-follow patterns are drawn 18 classic novels, plays, and poetry. Make them for your friends, decorate your house, or use them as pretty much the cutest action figures imaginable.  The materials are readily available and the instructions are suitable for crafters with beginning crochet skills.

Protest Knits, Geraldine Warner - £9.99
Protest Knits is the book for you. From pussy hats to protest scarfs and political pin cushions to shy anarchist socks. Make your point with a crochet hook or pair of knitting needles. From the easy peasy to the more complex, here are more than 15 projects for some crafty therapy.

Knitting and handicrafts have a long history in protesting - the pussy hat project has been particularly successful but it joins a long tradition of crafty activism. In Canada, there's the Revolutionary Knitting Circle, which first made headlines for their protest at the 2002 G8 summit. Australia has the Knitting Nannas, who protest about environmental issues by holding 'knit-ins'. In the UK, activists from Wool Against Weapons knitted a seven-mile-long pink 'peace scarf' to protest against the country's Trident nuclear weapon programme. Then, a year later, they repurposed it into thousands of blankets for those in need in warzones and developing nations. And down in Chile, it's the hombres tejedores (knitting men) who break down stereotypes and teach other men to embrace the creative hobby.

In cities across the world, 'yarn bombing' reclaims urban spaces with a pair of needles, covering everyday items in brightly coloured knits. Like other forms of graffiti, yarn bombing can convey a message of protest - or it can just be street art for the sake of art. Knitting for change is a global activity. So get your needles and hooks out and change the world.

Really Cross Stitch - £9.99
Inspired by the banners and signs at recent marches around the world, Really Cross Stitch takes all that anger, outrage and protest and puts it inside a pretty, decorative border. Along with some snarky commentary and general annoyance.  Featuring more than 40 truly original cross stitch designs, the book also contains instructions on techniques for new stitchers.

Stitching for public protest is not new. First-wave feminists in the US and in Britain used needlework in their demonstrations and public protest lectures during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Needlework and other handcrafts, however, declined throughout the twentieth century, with second-wave feminists arguing against 'the oppression of the needle'. In the 21st century however there has been a steep resurgence and many are turning to crafting, especially needlework, as an activist strategy. In Knitting for Good, feminist Betsy Greer makes this point strongly when she proclaims, 'I think every act of making is an act of revolution.'

River Cafe 30 - £28        
With River Cafe 30, Ruth Rogers and her head-chefs, Joseph Trivelli and Sian Wyn Owen, invite you to join them in marking 30 years of memories and good food at London's The River Cafe. 

Since 1987, The River Cafe has championed simple, good quality Italian cooking and, along with Ruth and Rose's cookbooks, it really did change the way we eat. Ruth, Joseph and Sian have revisited and updated the best dishes from the first blue cookbook and introduce 30 new favourites from the menus today - Panzanella, Ravioli with Ricotta, Raw Tomato and Basil, Risotto with Porcini and Girolles, Braised Beef Fillet and, of course, Chocolate Nemesis.

Including Ruth's memories and unseen archive images, Rose's careful tips and hand-drawn illustrations, new photography by Jean Pigozzi and Matthew Donaldson, bespoke menu artworks from the restaurant's friends and 120 classic Italian recipes, River Cafe 30 encapsulates the essence of the restaurant and its food. This is a beautiful cookbook of recipes you'll want to cook time and again - a must-have for all food lovers.

Comfort: Delicious Bakes and Family Treats, Candice Brown - £20
Secondary school teacher and pub landlord's daughter Candice Brown stole the show with her amazing bakes and weekly lipstick change in The Great British Bake Off tent of 2016. This year the Sunday Times columnist has brought out her first cookbook - all about home comforts.

These are the recipes Candice learned to bake from her nan and mum, recipes close to her heart, that should be served up as a big generous slice - and preferably on a vintage plate if you have one.  Candice's recipes are easy to make, no nonsense and hearty.  She has a recipe up her sleeve for every occasion - for baking with kids, birthday parties for all ages, Christmas, afternoon tea, quick savoury bakes for weeknights and fancier recipes for weekends.

Fantasy Cakes : Magical Recipes for Fanciful Bakes,  Angela Romeo - £16.99
Bake your dreams come true with this stunning collection of over 60 recipes for modern occasion cakes that will delight and surprise. Includes glitter, mermaids, unicorns, rainbows, drip cakes and more!  Even the wildest of imaginations will be satisfied with this collection of fantastical recipes. From trendy drip cakes to surprise inside centres, creative flavours and finishes ensure every fun celebration is catered for with a beautiful fantasy-themed centrepiece.

For that person in your life who loves a little bit of bling and sparkle, for the young at heart, the daydreamers and the glamorous people for whom a victoria sponge simply won't do. Each recipe includes detailed instructions to ensure that even novice bakers can create something truly sensational. A selection of basic sponge recipes includes gluten-free and vegan versions so that no one is left out of the fun.

The Little Library Cookbook, Kate Young - £25
Paddington Bear's marmalade, a Neopolitan pizza with Elena Ferrante, afternoon tea at Manderley... Here are 100 delicious recipes inspired by cookery writer Kate Young's well-stocked bookshelves. From Before Noon breakfasts and Around Noon lunches to Family Dinners and Midnight Feasts, The Little Library Cookbook captures the magic and wonder of the meals enjoyed by some of our best-loved fictional characters.