Ideas for Christmas Reading

Can’t think of what to read over the break or in need of some gift inspiration? Here are a few ideas from vicbooks.

Ed King, David Guterson

‘This is such a clever idea for a novel that it’s a wonder no one has thought of it before. Or if they had, perhaps they would have decided against it, because it’s so hard to pull off. David Guterson, author of the best-selling and much-loved Snow Falling on Cedars, has written the 21st-century novel of Oedipus Rex, a “myth for our times”. Ed King: get what he did with the title? It’s the story of a baby boy given up for adoption, who goes on to become one of the world’s richest and most powerful men. While, of course, killing his father and sleeping with his mother along the way.

There is so much going on in this novel, packed as it is with cultural references and knowing winks to the zeitgeist, that it’s worthy of several spin-off mini-series. I lost my way a few times but was – mostly – pulled back on course by Guterson’s seductive, if occasionally smug, storytelling. And if you’re thinking of flipping forward to the chapter “where a mother has sex with her son”, Guterson has already got your number. (But it’s on page 240.)’ Source: The Guardian

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, Don Delillo

Biases up front: I love Don Delillo White Noise was my gateway drug, Mao II gave me a taste for it and Underworld (oh Underworld…) was the point of no return. His short, rich sentences, the paradoxical dialogue and easy insight, never laboured or didactic, often jumps from the page into the pleasure centre of my brain.

The Angel Esmeralda is Delillo’s first short story collection and it is all I hoped for. Collected over the last three decades it takes the chaos and unease of the world and filters it through his characters’ need for understanding and patterns – the gaps between these realities, carved out by his words, is where the beauty of Delillo’s writing lies.

His words touch on the weft of reality, his characters describing our distance from it, be it near or far. There’s confusion and love, fear and posture. In the title story, Nuns and passers-by seek the sacred in understanding the senseless death of a homeless girl. Arguing inmates, pre-teen stock market analysts, moralising bomber pilots; Delillo is wry, inventive and elegant.

Just try one – how could it hurt?

The Art Museum

“The Art Museum” is the finest art collection ever assembled between two covers. This revolutionary and unprecedented virtual art museum in a book, features 1,000 oversized pages of over 2,500 works of art. It is the most comprehensive and visually spectacular history of world art ever published. Ten years in the making, this unique book was created with a global team of 100 specialists in art history, who have collected together important works as they might be displayed in the ideal museum for the art lover. Unrestricted by the constraints of physical space, this volume contains an unprecedented wealth of masterworks spanning three millennia and culled from 650 museums, galleries and private collections from 60 countries to tell the history of world art…This is the only museum to house Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa,” a collection of Rembrandt’s finest self portraits, Vel zquez’s “Las Meninas” and Picasso’s “Guernica,” as well as ceramics from China, Hokusai’s woodblock prints, gold artefacts from Peru, and works by Jackson Pollock in one place.With intelligent in-depth text throughout, explanatory labels for each artwork, a comprehensive glossary and detailed location maps, “The Art Museum,” is accessible for everyone from casual art fans to experts in the field. Source: BetterWorldBooks

Twelve Minutes of Love. A Tango Story, Kapka Kassabova

‘An exquisitely crafted blending of travelogue, memoir, dance history and some seriously good writing on the human condition, it delves deep into the obsessive nature of tango fanatics and vividly depicts a world full of beauty and heartbreak, of love and loss. The 12 minutes of love that the title refers to is the length of time that it takes for a succession of tango dances.

This mix of travel writing, personal experience and history is something that Kapka Kassabova has done before, and she’s frankly brilliant at it. Bulgarian by birth, she was raised in New Zealand and has spent her adult life dealing with some heavy duty wanderlust, winding up in Edinburgh most recently. In her 2008 memoir Street Without a Name, she revisited Bulgaria, a trip that was bittersweet to say the least. A similar mix of conflicting emotions pervades Twelve Minutes of Love, in which the author details her decade-long obsession with tango, and travels the world in search of the perfect dancefloor embrace, confusing lust for love and sex for dancing along the way.

Twelve Minutes of Love is sharp, clever and engaging, a wonderful mix of self-deprecating humour and genuine insight. Kassabova brings the people and places she encounters to life with vivid precision, and strikes a near perfect balance between her own personal experiences and the wider context of the dance.

The complex psychology of tango is picked apart, and the combination of physical, mental and emotional extremes on display on the world’s tango dancefloors is startling.’ Source: The Independent

Blue Nights, Joan Didion

It was with the expectation of infinite sadness I started Blue Nights. I don’t like biographies, at least of the living, knowing so much about someone leaves me arid. Yet 2005’s The Year of Magical Thinking, its Spartan beauty, stark and essential pain, compelled me to read Blue Nights. It was meant to be about the death of Didion’s daughter, Quintana Roo. It is about far more: Mortality and memory, the life left behind and the life departed. Can you assess the life, let alone the death, of someone vital to your existence? What spaces are left vacant in their passing?

Death and mourning doesn’t make for happy reading, but when difficult and piercing subject matter is written about with such skill and honesty it offers us a companionship and capacity for reflection that we can take with us into our own lives when we ourselves are confronted with pain and loss.
Didion has created, through an evocation of memory, an aching, hopeful revocation of mortality. It is an incantation, beautiful and staggeringly complete, of a life. The wonder of it is that, in the end, I didn’t know whose: Didion’s or her daughters. They are inseparable.

Janet Frame: In Her Own Words

‘It is the desire really to make myself a first person. For many years I was a third person – as children are, ‘they’, ‘she’, and as probably oppressed minorities become, ‘they’.

– Janet Frame, radio interview about writing her autobiography (1983)

‘For the first time ever, this collection brings together Janet Frame’s published short non-fiction in one collected volume, as well as material never seen before. Letters spanning 50 years of Frame’s life are published alongside essays, reviews, speeches and extracts from interviews. This startling collection provides an unprecedented range of factual writings about herself, her life and her work. It reveals many aspects Janet Frame’s character that will challenge some long-standing myths and preconceptions about New Zealand’s most famous author.’

Go the F@#k to Sleep , Adam Mansbach

It started with a sardonic comment on a Facebook page and transformed into the Indie publishing sensation of the year. Go the F**k to Sleep is a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world, where a few snoozing kitties and cutesy rhymes don’t always send a toddler sailing blissfully off to dreamland. Profane, affectionate, and radically honest, Adam Mansbach’s verses perfectly capture the familiar (and unspoken) tribulations of putting your little angel down for the night. In the process, they open up a conversation about parenting, granting us permission to admit our frustrations, and laugh at their absurdity. With illustrations by Ricardo Cortes, Go the F**k to Sleep is beautiful, subversive and pants-wettingly funny – a book for parents new, old and expectant. You probably should not read it to your children.

Free Range in the City, Annabel Langbein

If you loved Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook, you’ll adore this new book. Annabel invites you into her city home and shows how her free range cooking style can help you create a sustainable lifestyle in the city. With over 150 delicious recipes and menus for every occasion, Annabel Langbein Free Range in the City is more than just another cookbook – it’s a recipe for living well in today’s busy world.

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