Miss Billings is on vacation. Here are her previous recommendations:
Miss Billings has assembled quite an eclectic list of wonderful books. She's been so busy reading, she hasn't had time to put them in Dewey Decimal System virtual shelves. So pretend you're at a glorious garage sale in a courtyard of a misty castle, and all the books are brilliant, and you can have them all.
Getting Over It, by Anna Maxted.
The perils and adventures of a twenty-something, Helen
Bradshaw, who finds her whole life crumbling. Her crappy job, her awful
choice in men, including her most recent boyfriend, a veterinarian with an
over fondness for some of his patients, roommates and friends who drive
her crazy, and then the jolt of the death of her father. All this sends
Helen into a tailspin that is funny, wry, and deeply human. We can all
relate to something about Helen's life. Purchase it.
Antonio Gaudi: Master Architect, by Juan Bassegoda Nonell, photography by Melba Levick.
Gaudi is considered one of the most admired architects of the 20th Century. Most of the wondrous, marvelous buildings he created are in Barcelona, Spain. This book has splendid photographs of Gaudi's art (we wanted to show you two below), and his work can send you into spasms of ecstasy. Miss Billings remembers seeing an exhibition of some of Gaudi's furniture (yes, he did furniture too), at the Alan Stone Gallery in New York a few years back, and was just blown away. Enjoy the imagination and fantasy of this man who must have known real joy. Purchase it.
The Magus, by John Fowles. A can't-put-it-down, erotic, mysterious tale of the adventures of a young man on a Greek island, who becomes involved with some very curious but alluring people. A definite must. Purchase it.
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. An oldie but a goodie. One of the great novels. This one is sensational, and you can't get through life without reading it. It will change you. Purchase it.
The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies. Miss Billings recommends just about anything written by this wonderful Canadian writer, but start with this one. It's fantastic, and once again, a page turner. Purchase it.
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. The 19th Century was certainly a time of the great novel, Russian, French, English, etc. Don't be intimidated; this isn't War And Peace. A beautiful book, and you know from the first paragraph that you are just going to be in heaven reading this tragic, gorgeous tale. You can't go through life without reading this one either. Purchase it.
Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong. Let's do the time warp again! Back to the 70's when this book was all people were talking about. Jong put the capital W, S and R in Women's Sexual Revolution with this book. It probably reads like the Middle Ages now, but it's very funny and people don't change even if mores do. So prepare for landing. Purchase it.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Miss Billings read this amazing novel about 10 years ago in Paris, and it is unforgettable. Columbian born Marquez is a Nobel Prize recipient, and his other books are also must reads. But this one holds a special place in Miss Billings' heart, and the ending...she doesn't want to give it away, but it's incredible. Purchase it.
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands: A Moral and Amorous Tale, by Jorge Amado. Also from South America, this time Brazil, a happy, sweet, poignant and lusty tale of a remarried widow who pines for her first husband. Marvelous. Dona Flor was also made into a charming movies with Sonia Braga. Catch it on video or at a film festival. Purchase it.
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, by Paul Theroux. If Gina's editor's letter didn't get you inspired to wanderlust, this book will. One of the greatest of travel writers, Theroux's account of his journey is life altering, and will have you packing your bag to go go go! Purchase it.
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. You've seen the miniseries, now it's time to read the book. This is a fabulous work, and Miss B thinks it's one of Waugh's kinder and gentler tales. How can anyone forget, in the miniseries, the splendid estate of Brideshead (in real life Castle Howard), the Venetian Palazzo of Lord Marchmain, with its Baldichino bed? A very memorable, and favorite scene, comes when Charles Ryder (Jeremy Iron's character) first meets the golden and glamorous Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews), and his ever present stuffed bear named Aloysius. Charles and Sebastian are both at university (Oxford or Cambridge), and they meet at a luncheon. Sebastian brings quail eggs from Brideshead for the luncheon. Charles sees the eggs on the table and Sebastian says, with a sweet ironic smile, "They always nest early for Mummy." Charles is smitten, and so are we. To be read, and watched, again and again.
Tom Brown's Schooldays, by Thomas Hughes. This wonderful book was also made into a miniseries in England. It's a delightful, but also at times horrifying account of 19th Century British public school life at Rugby, one of the most prestigious and famous public boarding schools in England. Tom Brown is our young protagonist, and we follow him on his adventures and misadventures. He spends a lot of time dodging a formidable older boy -- the infamous bully, Flashman. Great fun.
The Glittering Prizes, by Frederic Raphael. Well, another great book that was also a British miniseries. It starred the wonderful Tom Conte (whatever happened to him?). Frederic Raphael is just great; he also wrote Darling, which was made into a movie with Julie Christie (a must see!), and the screenplay for the marvelous movie Two for the Road with Albert Finney and the ultra chic Audrey Hepburn (she wears some great clothes in that flick). Raphael was a classics major at Oxbridge (Miss B can never remember who went to which of these two venerated universities), and hung out with the likes of Jonathan Miller, David Frost, and such. So as a classicist, Raphael has a special place in our hearts. Getting back to The Glittering Prizes, this is a witty, wonderful book about a brilliant bunch of students at Oxbridge, their lives and loves and growing up. The Glittering Prizes is just fabulous. Don't miss the book, or the miniseries if you can catch it. Shamefully, this excellent book is out of print, but there's always your local public library.
Goodbye Mr. Chips, by James Hilton. A great movie too -- the old version, not the horrible musical version with the dreadful Petula Clark and a miscast Peter O'Toole as Mr. Chipping. We mean the one with the elegant and handsome Robert Donat, and the beautiful Greer Garson. Goodbye Mr. Chips is about a classics teacher at a boys public school, doing a sort of remembrance of things past. It's another really beautiful story of a classics teacher -- why are they such moving people...? (See The Browning Version in a past Books You MUST Read listing). Goodbye Mr. Chips is a real tear jerker. James Hilton, the author, was a pro (he also wrote Lost Horizons -- a Himalayan Brigadoon, Miss Billings likes to say) at hacking out this excellent, corny story, but right on in dealing with the sentimental truths about life. A beloved favorite.
Tea & Sympathy, by Robert Anderson. Tea & Sympathy is a play, and it was also a movie, with the beautiful Deborah Kerr as a headmaster's wife who becomes overly fond of a boy student who is the brunt of a lot of cruelty. Catch this one if it's on TV, or rent it. There's a famous, great, line that Deborah Kerr says to the boy: "Years from now, when you talk about this -- and you will, be kind." Yes indeed.
If.., screenplay by David Sherwin. A movie recommendation, not a book. Called the English Rebel Without a Cause, If... is a powerful movie. Again, it takes place at a boys school. A beautifully acted, and touching movie, with a very young Malcolm McDowell playing the lead.
Miss Billings also recommends To Serve Them All My Days, by R.F. Delderfield, but she thinks she's already suggested it in a prior Books You MUST Read column -- uh oh, could that be a pot blackout? Or all that pink acid she dropped in the Sixties!
Also, for your visual and artistic delight, a few books from Abbeville Press:
Remedios Varo, Unexpected Journeys, by Janet Kaplan. A chronicle of the Spanish artist Remedios Varo, who is considered one of the only women surrealist artists. Very interesting and striking visuals.
At Home In Bali, photographs by Isabella Ginanneschi, text by Made Wijaya. A lovely book of gorgeous, idyllic homes on the beautiful island of Bali. This book makes you want to go make a killing on Wall Street so you can afford one of these Xanadus.
Valentino's Magic, by Maria Paule Pelle, text by Patrick Mauries. A luscious pictorial biography about the life and career of one of the great designers of the 20th Century, and having seen Valentino's recent collection, the 21st Century as well. A must for anyone studying or interested in fashion.
Colors of the Vanishing Tribes, by Bonnie Young, forward by Donna Karan. A beautiful and significant record of the indigenous clothing, textiles, colors, jewelry, and so on, of peoples all over the world. An important work that raises the awareness of what we are losing worldwide with the homogenization of cultures.
The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. One of the world's great love stories. And this one is true. Abelard was Heloise's teacher. She was a bright, intelligent, modern woman (even though this was the Middle Ages). Abelard was a brilliant young scholar. Of course, they fell hopelessly in love. There were tragic repercussions, but we won't give the ending away. Their letters, the sensitivity toward one another, their insight into each other's souls, is so moving and touching. You will never forget these two very brave people.
The Romance of Tristan and Iseult. Another of the world's great love stories (thank you Emily, one of our readers, for reminding Miss Billings of this beautiful work). It has all the ingredients: two beautiful young people, an Irish Queen and a French nobleman, a love philter, a passion that must be hidden, and, what else, tragedy. We're not saying anything more -- you've got to read this one.
The Divine Comedy by Dante. Don't panic, you don't have to read the whole thing (though you should, it's definitely one of the most sublime works of Western Literature). Let's just stick to The Inferno for the moment -- Canto V, the story of Paulo and Francesca. Lovely. And don't forget Dante's passion for Beatrice (Canto II). He spotted her on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and the thunderbolt hit. He was hers forever.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. We all know the story, we've read it, but let's reread it. Who wouldn't like to be described by a young man with the words "It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear!" Pretty nice, hmm?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The moors, the heather, Heathcliff and Kathy. You'll just weep your eyes out. Don't miss the old Hollywood movie version with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier at the pinnacle of their beauty.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. In fact, Miss Billings suggests anything by or about the Brontes, from their other sister, Anne, and their brother, Branwell, -- their letters to each other, their drawings, their poetry -- they were quite an extraordinary set of siblings.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. A prequel novel to Jane Eyre. The story is about how Mr. Rochester met his first wife -- the one in the attic. Eeeek!
The Green Parrot by Princess Marthe Bibesco. A forbidden, all consuming loving swirls around an aristocratic Russian family exiled in a village near Biarritz in the South of France.
Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden. Miss Billings' all time Rumer Godden favorite. English nuns set up quarters in a remote abbey in the Himalayas, and the dark, handsome, and erotic Mr. Dean lurks about and drives them all crazy. Also a fantastic movie by the great team of Powell and Pressburger, in glorious Technicolor. A must see for any romantic, and film buff.
As far as poetry goes: You can always rely on the Irish poet William Butler Yeats for some good old passion, sex, and nationalism (Leda and the Swan is a good one); for the platonic, idyllic romance, read the English poet John Keats; for the cynical side of love, look to the Latin poet Catullus. And, of course, let's hear it for the ladies, the ancient Greek poetess of love, Sappho.
For the Texas fans out there:
Giant by Edna Ferber. The legendary epic about two generations of Texans (this was before Dallas and JR). Also a fabulous movie with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Dennis Hopper, and the incomparable James Dean -- it was his last film before his untimely death.
Three books by Texas born and bred novelist and screenwriter, Larry McMurtry:
Lonesome Dove. This epic cowboy story is fantastic. It has all the great themes: heroism, bravery, romantic love, the love-bond of friendship between men, suspense, sadness, and redemption. Lonesome Dove was also a wonderful mini-series with our number 10 Texas hunk Tommy Lee Jones, and also the great actor Robert Duvall.
Cadillac Jack is another terrific novel by Larry McMurtry. Jack is an ex-cowboy turned antique dealer who glides between the back roads of Texas and the social and political scene of Washington, DC. His worlds, both in Texas and DC, are peppered with great eccentric characters.
The Last Picture Show. A wonderful study of life in a small Texas town during the 1950's. Also a marvelous movie with a great cast, including Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, and Eileen Brennan.
Texas by James Michener. The prolific Michener was known for his mega-sagas, his historical research, and his entertaining story telling. Texas has all this: an epic spanning 400 years, four great dynasties of families, oil, money, outlaws, cowboys, rangers -- the whole larger-than-life thing you equate with the mighty yellow rose, the lone star state.
The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki Shikibu.
Considered the oldest full novel in the world (and written by a woman!),
Genji was written toward the start of the 11th Century. The novel tells of court life during that period, and the story centers around the loves of the alluring Prince Genji and the many different women is his life. Incredibly keen depictions of human emotions balanced with the beauties of nature,
The Tale of Genji also reflects the Buddhist conviction of the vanity of this world. A masterpiece.
Contemporaneous to The Tale of Genji,
The Pillow Book is a non-fiction account of daily court life: anecdotes, ceremonies, character sketches, lists, reminiscences and impressions. Recounted by the Lady Sei Shonagon, the book is essentially a series of random jottings divided under headings such as "Amusing Things" and "Vexatious Things." It was customary during this period of Japanese history for such journals to be kept by both men and women in their sleeping quarters, which is probably the origin of the title of the compendium. A wonderful book to dip into, and visit another time and place.
Regarded as one of the greatest Japanese novelists of the 20th
Century (and what a looker, too, according to Miss Billings). Mishima's novels are sensuous, imaginatively appreciative of natural detail, combined with probing psychological analysis and an understated humor.
Mishima's exquisitely beautiful, and beautifully written, books made him an internationally
praised author. Spring Snow is one of four separate novels which comprise his last work, and are regarded as his most lasting achievement.
Spring Snow is the first of the four. The novels stand alone or together. Don't miss reading anything by Mishima; his short stories are also phenomenal. Mishima became increasingly disgusted with the political and cultural state of Japan after
World War II. In 1970, he made a speech urging his followers to overthrow Japan's post World War II constitution. Immediately after the speech, on a balcony, at the age of 45, Mishima publicly committed
seppuku in the traditional manner, disemboweling himself with his sword, followed by decapitation at the hands of a follower.
Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968.
Snow Country is his best-known novel, a story of a forlorn country geisha. It took him
twelve years to write. Kawabata's style is episodically lyrical; juxtaposed
with startling incongruous impressions. These same qualities are present in
the 15th Century Japanese writing called renga (linked verse). In the later years, as in
Snow Country, Kawabata seems to draw nearer to this renga composition. He committed suicide shortly after the death of his friend
Another great Japanese novel of the 20th Century. An amateur entomologist (someone who studies insects) searching for a rare beetle in a remote seaside village is taken prisoner by the townspeople. The entomologist is held captive in a sandpit with a young widow, where they are condemned to try to shovel back the ever encroaching sand dunes that threaten the village. Both allegorical and existential, this moving tale examines self-identity, myth, and the human condition. Also made into an acclaimed movie in 1964, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara.
The only non-Japanese writer on Miss Billings' list, yet a fantastic, incredibly researched, exquisitely told
epic that is achingly beautiful. You will not forget this book. The story is about the first European
naval expeditions to Japan in the 17th Century. The tale centers around the love affair between a court lady, Mariko, and the hero, the Englishman John
Blackthorne. Again in
Shogun you learn and read about the meticulous detail of court life and Japanese society of the period.
Shogun was also made into a miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain, which was pretty good, but don't miss the book. It's long and big, but believe Miss Billings, it's a page turner.
The Magic of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, with original illustrations by John R. Neill. A beautiful new edition from the Books of Wonder imprint of William Morrow. The Magic of Oz is one of the 14 books Baum wrote in the great series of Dorothys adventures. The early 20th Century illustrations are just charming. A wonderful escape for those of us who know all too well that were not in Kansas anymore.
"Fern Hill" is from The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. This wonderful, crazy, Welsh poet should be savored over and over again. Also read A Childs Christmas in Wales with your children, or if you dont have kids, read it to yourself, or a friend(s).
A Shropshire Lad, by A.E. Housman. Another wonderful English poet, this time from the early 20th century. "When I was One-and-Twenty" is a beauty. A prevailing theme in Housmans poetry is the passing of youth and mans mortality. Good stuff.
The Poems of Wilfred Owen, Jon Stallworthy, ed. This beautiful and brilliant young poet died at the age of 25 on the fields of France, fighting the Germans during World War I. Owen's poetry is powerful with the horror and tragedy of war; there isnt a message in these poems that doesnt apply to now.
Rudyard Kipling Complete Verse: Definitive Edition. Kipling has tragically fallen out of favor in the last decade or so, and it is the loss of many. Miss Billings urges you to enter the incredible world of this consummate weaver of poems and tales. Ignore those grouches and have yourself a great time. We guarantee it. Miss Billings suggests, of course, you read Kiplings most famous poems "Gunga Din," and "Mandalay." Kipling also wrote stories and novels, such as: The Jungle Book (theres a marvelous technicolor movie version from many years ago by the ultra-talented Korda brothers, starring the beautiful Sabu), Just So Stories, Captains Courageous (another fabulous movie with Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Mickey Rooney, and Freddie Bartholomew what a cast!), The Man Who Would be King (also a great movie with the gorgeous trio of Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer). These are just a few from this amazingly prolific writer. The Fashion Finds staffs very favorite Kipling novel is Kim. Like any book that is a classic, Kim is for childrens delight, young adults fecund imaginations, and for adults from middle age to old, who when reading it again and again, see more of its rich tapestry. Miss Billings reread Kim about a year and a half ago, and it still wafts around in her mind everyday. A gem.
Poems of Alexander Pope, by Alexander Pope, John Butt, ed. Well, what can we say about one of the greats who occupies the Pantheon of Poets. Dip into this wonderful collection, and get acquainted with one of the mighty English poets.
The Iliad, by Homer, and The Odyssey, by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles. The Iliad and The Odyssey (described below) are the zenith of epic poems. Miss Billings has a very interesting theory about what The Iliad is really about, but shes not ready to shock the foundations of Western civilization just yet. However, a paper is in the works.
Once you start reading The Odyssey youll be hooked (its Miss Bs personal favorite of the two). Dont miss the passage where Odysseus returns to his home on the island of Ithaca. The reaction to his arrival from his old dog Argus, who has been waiting for his return for so long, will break your heart. The death of Bambis mother was a cake walk compared to this scene.
Miss Billings highly recommends Professor Fagles wonderful translations. He writes in modern poetry (that is to say it doesnt have the "antique" quality of some earlier, but still marvelous translations the great Alexander Pope penned a translation). These versions are very accessible, and are ideal for the uninitiated.
The Mythic Image by Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell was really a wonder as a thinker, and Miss Billings is proud to have attended the college where he taught for many years. Regrettably, he had long retired by the time she arrived, but Miss Billings has had the pleasure of reading many of his books, and the pleasure of watching the series he did for PBS (which is available on VHS). The Hero with a Thousand Faces is also highly recommended.
Tutankhamun The Untold Story, by Thomas Hoving. Thomas Hoving is a former head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was a legend in his time. People may disagree over his cavalier "provenance" practices while at the Met, but one cant argue that he is a great story teller, and a larger than life character. If youre interested in archeology and art history, Miss Billings also suggests King of the Confessors by Mr. Hoving.
The Oxford History of Classical Art, John Boardman, ed. A very fine comprehensive and informative guide to Classical Art, with very nice plates.
Hammond World Atlas. Miss Billings is adamant that one must have a good atlas, and I mean a hard cover book one, not software, and one must USE IT. Its not there to hold up the sofa with one short leg.
A Town Like Alice,
by Nevil Shute.
A lovely story of two courageous people who meet while on a Japanese forced march during World War II in the Pacific theater. A Town Like Alice was also wonderfully and charmingly adapted into a Masterpiece Theatre series a number of years ago, starring the ever handsome Brian Brown.
On The Beach, also by Nevil Shute.
The Harp of the South, by Ruth Park.
England , by Clive James.
An Autobiography in
Three Volumes: To the Is-land, An Angel at My Table, The Envoy from Mirror City, by Janet Frame.
Eucalyptus, by Murray Bail.
And on a slightly different note locale-wise, but recommended, is:
Swimming With Jonah, by Audrey Schulman.
Independence Day, by Richard Ford.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. This book is superbly written, and the main character, New Jersey real estate agent Frank Bascombe, is wonderfully drawn in the tradition of the American "everyman" archetype. The scenes between Bascombe and his adolescent son, particularly at the Basketball Hall of Fame, are perfection.
The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux.
This novel was made into a very good movie with Harrison Ford. The narrator is 14 year old Charlie Fox , and we see his family, particularly his rather dark and eccentric father, through his eyes. Sort of a Swiss Family Robinson story, but with some disturbing and frightening overtones. Theroux is a brilliant writer, and The Mosquito Coast is just one of so very many fabulous books he has written.
With a nod to the theater in honor of our interview on acting with Roy Dupuis, Miss Billings suggests two classics:
The Tempest, by William Shakespeare.
If youre looking for a complicated father/daughter relationship, look no further than Prospero and Miranda. Picture this: youre shipwrecked on a lonely island with your dad, a wily spirit, and an ugly feral creature. Plus, your dad has magical powers try getting the car keys out of him. A delightful "romance" play, its a little easier on the psyche than King Lear, which will have you dialing your analyst in mid-read.
Antigone by Sophocles. The idea that its not easy being a daughter wasnt lost on the ancient Greeks, and Antigone is one of the classic dramas. Antigone was the daughter -- and sister -- of Oedipus (and you think you have problems!). Maybe if the writers of Melrose Place read Greek tragedy, theyd still be on the air. Honoring thy father, personal integrity, defiance of authority, family duty its all here.
And in the brotherly love department:
The Paperboy by Peter Dexter.
Dexter is a great storyteller, and The Paper Boy is a wonderful novel of two brothers in rural Florida who both work for their fathers small town newspaper. Dont miss this fun. A good book for the beach or vacation.
To Serve Them All My Days, by R.F. Delderfield.
This novel was made into a great PBS Masterpiece Theater series a while ago. A beautiful, poignant story of a schoolmaster in a British public (private) school. Youll love it.
The Browning Version, by Terrence Rattigan. Miss Billings couldnt resist one more play and this one is a beaut. The Browning Version is also an old movie with Sir Michael Redgrave, and if its ever on TV or playing at a film festival near you dont miss it. A very touching story of a physically and emotionally ailing classics schoolmaster, again at a British public school. What touches the heart so about the subject of young people and the adults that shape their lives?
The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari. The definitive collection of art world gossip in Renaissance Italy. Vasari was the portraitist and painter for the mighty Medici family, and he designed the Uffizi, as well as other memorable churches and palaces. A truly fascinating account.
The Autobiography of Benvento Cellini. One of the Renaissance's greatest metalsmiths and sculptors, Cellini led a totally brilliant, wild and crazy life. The first rock star.
And to add to the fashion fare, Miss Billings recommends:
The Rise and Fall of the House of Barney's by Joshua Levine. A captivating inside look at the family that created a fashion institution and threw it all away. The Ewings of clothing stores.
The Dress Doctor by Edith Head. This book was a suggestion from Miss Billings'
friend Annie Knapp, who tells us, "Head never says a bad word about anyone, but I
just love the description of Hedy Lamarr scarfing down pot roast sandwiches during her
The Power of Style by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins. A very interesting and informative book, and an excellent learning tool.
The Power of Glamour by Annette Tapert. The greats of movie star glamour: Harlow, Hepburn, Crawford, Lombard and the rest.
Then by Alex Liberman, a Conde Nast giant. A remembrance of things past in photographs. A beautiful pictorial account of a life well-lived, and of a time that is gone forever.
The Fashion Book. A beautiful "coffee table" book, but packed with lots of information. Really a must for any fashionista.
Valentino's Magic. A lovely book, with plenty of photos, about the wonderful Italian designer.
Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism. Learn about an innovative American designer who really knew what American women wanted. Not in print; look for it at your library.
The Art of Haute Couture by Victor Skrebneski. Gorgeous photographs of magnificent clothes, beautifully lit. Skrebneski is a marvelous fashion photographer.
Chanel: A Woman of Her Own by Axel Madsen. The author worked for Elle, then served as editor of French Vogue for 12 years. A good, accessible read. Scheduled to become a TV miniseries starring Jane Seymour
Model by Michael Gross. Everything you wanted to know, and could have lived without knowing, about all the top models through the decades.
The Happy Summer Days by Fulco di Verdura. The consummate jeweler Verdura's account of his childhood in a family of Sicilian aristocrats.
Front Row by Lisa Armstrong. Great fun about being on the front lines of the fashion world by the British Vogue fashion writer and novelist.
(Hard to find. Try your library or used book store.)
Diana Cooper An Autobiography by Lady Diana Cooper. A woman of beauty, style, intelligence, breeding--she had it all. Very interesting individual. Coopers bio is in three parts: The Rainbow Comes and Goes, The Lights of Common Day and Trumpets from the Steep.
Marlene, by Maria Riva. A biography of the great Dietrich, written by her daughter. This one you won't be able to put down. If there ever was a German Open she was it.
Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life by Slim Keith with Annette Tapert. The account of the style-setter Slim Keith and her marriages to the director Howard Hawks, the agent Leland Heyward, and British rich guy Lord Keith. A great looking tall California blonde (way before that phrase was coined), Slim epitomized the all-American look. While married to Hawks, Slim discovered Lauren Bacall in an issue of a fashion magazine, and Bacall's film career began. Hawks essentially fashioned the "Bacall look" after Slim's style. Very interesting stories about lots of famous people she knew, like Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Babe Paley and many others.
Mommy Dressing by Lois Gould. Gould's memoir of growing up with her mother Jo Copeland, a fashion designer of the Forties. Sort of a Mommy Dearest of fashion, yet loving, sad, and poignant.
Love, Loss and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman. A wonderful, touching book.
For you jewelry lovers out there:
The Necklace by Daniela Masceti and Amanda Triossi.
Traditional Jewelry of India by Oppi Untracht.
Greek Gold: Jewelry of the Classical World by Dyfri Williams and Jack Ogden.
Diamonds: A Century of Spectacular Jewels by Penny Roddow and Marion Fasel. Yummy.
Charmed Lives by Michael Korda. Just the greatest. The most funny, fascinating, insightful book about living inside the movie business. Michael grew up surrounded by the three British movie mogul Korda brothers (Michael's father and his two uncles), with the indomitable Alexander Korda as the pater familias. A book you will read and reread.
Queenie by Michael Korda. Kordas novel about an Anglo-Indian beauty who fights her way to the top to become one of Hollywoods most glamorous movie stars. A very thinly veiled account of Merle Oberon, who was also Kordas aunt for a time (Oberon was Alexander Kordas second wife). Lots of fun.
My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor by Alec Guinness. Also, check out Blessings in Disguise, Sir Alec's first book of memoirs. Both are wonderful books written by one of the world's preeminent actors. Sir Alec is also a very sweet man and once took the trouble to write a very sweet note to Miss Billings in reply to her fan letter.
With Nails, The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant. A no holds barred account of the movie business, by the very talented star of Withnail and I.
Gentleman Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos. What was true then, still holds true now.
Crime Scenes by Lawrence Bassoff. A collection of film noir movie posters.
Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford. An account of one of France's greatest writers, and his love affair with the Marquise du Chatelet, a great lady of her day.
Picasso and Dora by James Lord. Wonderfully gossipy memoir.
The Erotic Lives of Women by Linda Troeller and Marion Schneider. Interesting photographs and interviews with women from every walk of life.
Lartique's Riviera. A beautiful book of Jacques-Henri Lartique's photographs of the French Riviera during the 1920's.
On Stage, by Lord Snowdon. Lord Snowdon is the ex-husband of Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth's sister. He is a very good photographer and just about EVERYBODY has "sat" for him. He took many pictures of Diana, Princess of Wales, especially early on in her marriage. This book contains wonderful photographs of some of Britain's greatest actors and actresses on stage and off.
1936-1942 San Onofre to Point Dume: Photographs by Don James. An wonderful book of photographs documenting the early days of the California surf culture. Long before Moon Doggie and The Beach Boys hit the scene.
Cherie and The Last of Cherie by Collette. Miss Billings feels another Colette attack coming on, and these two novels are a good place to start if you haven't read anything by this truly marvelous writer. She also wrote Gigi (which was made into a charming movie with Leslie Caron), and My Mother's House, and many, many other beloved books. Don't miss reading SOMETHING by Colette.
Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier. A very good book by a master of the romance novel, and also a terrific movie with Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Rebecca's bedroom in the movie is something you'll never forget.
The Sheik by Edith Hull. The book which was made into a silent movie. And the movie that made Rudolph Valentino a screen legend. Quite racy for it's day and pretty wacky, but great fun and a really enjoyable way to pass a Sunday afternoon.
The Diviners by Margaret Laurence. A really fabulous novel by one of Canada's leading women writers.
My Fathers Glory and My Mothers Castle by Marcel Pagnol. Pagnol is another author you must read before leaving this earth. The love, insight, and humanism that emanates from this man is just wonderful. The end of this book will break your heart. Also by Pagnol is The Time of Secrets and The Time of Love, another delight. The end of chapter seven where Pagnol as a young boy observes the differences in boys and girls is just about as charming as something can be. Also by Pagnol is Jean de Florette (wonderful movie--remember the red carnations), and Manon of the Springs (also a movie, but no Florette). Pagnol wrote plays as well, great plays, and if you can find them in translation, or if an occasional film festival near you shows the old film adaptations (at least one is directed by Pagnol himself), enjoy them. The Bakers Wife and the trilogy Marius, Fanny and Caesar are some to look for.
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden. All of us here at Fashion Finds are great fans of Rumer Godden, who, sadly, died recently. In time, Miss Billings will add all of Rumer Goddens books to the list. But Miss Billings is thinking that she will feature one Rumer Godden book a month, just to whet your appetites. Greengage Summer is a wonderful place to start. Were telling you, once you enter this world, theres no going back. This one is a gem. Heres a brief passage: "He had a carnation in his buttonhole, a dark red one, and it seemed to symbolize Eliot for us. Why are flowers bought by men so much more notable than those bought by women? I dont know, but they are. Father brought flowers into the house but they were dried, pressed brown, the life gone out of them; with Eliot the flower was alive; we could smell its clove scent, and it was heady." Dont you want to read on? Well, if you do, you wont be disappointed. We certainly have carnations on the brain over here at Fashion Finds between Marcel Pagnol and Rumer Godden. But, we do like the passage about a boutonnière, and we are sad that no one wears them anymore. Our editor-in-chiefs grandfather always wore one, every day, and we think its time to bring them back. And not just for men! Women! Start wearing them!!
Aztec by Gary Jennings. Author Jennings died in February. This is an extraordinary adventure story and historical novel in one. Jennings spent 12 years living in Mexico to study the Aztecs, and the detail in the book is a complete mind trip. His descriptions of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital upon which Mexico City was built, are dazzling. Imagine a city with Times Square-size banners made from the glorious feathers of tropical birds, visible from miles off. This, and much more, was the glory of the Aztec culture, destroyed by the Spanish. Top vacation reading.
More recommendations, as always, next time.
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