Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sweet Somethings

Are you looking for the perfect little something to give your literary friends? You know, the ones with their noses in a book? You might describe them as having a romantic sensibility. They are the ones who  want to dress like a Nancy Mitford heroine or read poetry while walking in the English countryside. They would rather be on the misty English moors than sitting poolside. They see the romance and nostalgia in a garden and feel the magic of an old manor house. Whenever Scottish tartans and tweeds show up on the runways, they feel validated. They swoon over discovering an old edition by Colette and are always inviting you to author signings. Maybe you need a birthday present, hostess gift or just a little something to say you care. Here are some recent discoveries I have made. They are some very special "sweet somethings" I received for my birthday, as well as some other little treasures I have discovered while traveling this summer.

Well-Read Women, Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines by Samantha Hahn

Nora Ephron said, "Above all, be the heroine of your life." Here is a book that will inspire you to do just that. Clarissa Dalloway, Dorothea Brooke, and Nancy Drew are some of the literary heroines that are brought to life in beautiful watercolor portraits by the artist Samantha Hahn. Along side each illustration is an inspiring quote. These great women in literature have resided in our imaginations forever and this book reminds us why.

One hundred postcards, each with a different quote by Jane Austen. Other than their obvious purpose, they would also make great party favors. It would be fun to put one of these at each place setting for your next book club meeting. They would inspire some fascinating conversation!

Fictitious Dinners by Dinah Fried

This book gives us photographic interpretations of famous meals from contemporary and classic literature. My favorite is the Boeuf en Daube from the dinner party scene in To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Along with a description of the scene from the book, the author tells us that Boeuf en Daube is a classic French stew made with beef braised in wine and herbes de Provence. She also tells us that To the Lighthouse was printed at Hogarth Press, the printing house in London that Woolf owned with her husband, Leonard Woof. And that the original dust jacket was illustrated by her sister, painter Vanessa Bell. You will love all the fascinating tidbits that come with each of these literary meals.

Walking Home, A Poet's Journey by Simon Armitage

 Simon Armitage is an award-winning poet who decided to walk the Pennine Way in England, ending up in the Yorkshire village where he was born. This book tells the story of that journey and explores how the traveling poet fares in the modern world. He walked for nineteen days and covered 256 miles, reading his poetry to those who wanted to listen. Part memoir and part travel guide, this book sounds perfect for the admirer of nature and poetry.

Living Life in Full Bloom by Elizabeth Murray

As a garden lover, I was intrigued by the title of this book. Not usually a fan of self-help books, I thought this one looked promising. The author offers us pathways and daily practices to deepen our passion, creativity and relationships. She divides the book into four personality archetypes -- Gardener, Artist, Lover, and Spirit-Weaver. This book promises to help us find the way to greater creativity and love for life. An invitation to live life "in full bloom" is hard to resist! 

Under The Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Nancy Horan's new novel tells the passionate love story of the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson  and his American wife, Fanny. Apparently their story was quite an adventure, as exciting as any of Stevenson's own famous tales. He wrote the classics Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. I can't wait to read this new book by Nancy Horan as I know nothing about Robert Louis Stevenson's life. It would be fun to then read one of his books, maybe Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

Diary Of A Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

And finally, one of my favorite books has just been published by Persephone Books. Written in the 1930's, Diary Of A Provincial Lady is a comic masterpiece. Persephone books always come with a bookmark (shown above) that reflects the pattern chosen for each book's endpapers. In this case, the design is taken from the Harper and Brothers, New York cover of 1931. This edition is a beauty! 

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Love with a Magazine

Bloomsbury purse from the Burberry Autumn/Winter 2014 Collection

Is it crazy to be in love with a magazine? If so, then call me crazy. I have put this particular one with a special stash of magazines I keep in my study for inspiration. The magazine in question is the July issue of "British Harper's Bazaar" with Emily Blunt on the cover. Have you seen it? As the editor-in-chief Justine Picardie writes, this issue is a "heartfelt celebration of British fashion this month -- along with everything else we love about our country." It is an Anglophile's dream. It may still be available at your news stand, though not for much longer since the August issue is due any day. Here are a few of the things that caught my eye and are making me swoon --

The Bloomsbury purse from the Burberry Fall/Winter 2014 collection (see photo above) 

I wrote about this collection here. Christopher Bailey took his inspiration from British artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant's country home Charleston. Burberry has become a patron of the Charleston Trust which supports the maintenance and restoration of this Bloomsbury home and garden. Look at the way this purse is displayed against a backdrop of Bloomsbury-inspired imagery. Swoon-worthy!

The perfect garden hat from Mulberry

Everything you need for afternoon tea

A house in the Cotswolds that belonged to John Singer Sargent

 Emily Blunt, the quintessential English rose

The Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

A story about the 18th-century slave's daughter at the center of the film "Belle"

The iconic London hotel, Claridge's

I hope you can find this issue. It is the perfect place to escape on a lazy summer afternoon! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ten Summer Favorites

Summer is all about simple pleasures and delicious escapism. Here are ten things I love about this summer. They include books, films, decorative inspiration, and stylish summer fashion. So here we go: June and July's greatest hits so far.

1. The Vacationers by Emma Straub

This may be the perfect summer book. The setting is gorgeous, the characters appealing and, despite its light and breezy quality, the book contains lots of truths and poignancy. It is also funny. It centers on a New York family who decide to go ahead with their vacation plans to rent a house in Mallorca for two weeks despite a major crises in the lives of the parents. The matriarch of the family is Franny, a fabulous cook and endearing character. Somehow in the midst of all the tensions, she manages to produce some delicious Mediterranean-style meals each night. Two guaranteed results of reading this book: you will want to go to Mallorca and you will want to cook like Franny. 

2. The film Boyhood directed by Richard Linklater

Already a big fan of Richard Linklater's films -- especially his trilogy "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset," and "Before Midnight" -- I was still unprepared for how good his latest film "Boyhood" would be. Beautiful and poignant, it is a coming of age story about a young man dealing with all the typical trials and tribulations of growing up, including two broken homes. But what makes the film so special is that it was filmed over the course of 12 years which means we get to watch the young boy Mason age from 6 to 18. Starting in 2002, Richard Linklater gathered his lead actors each year for a 3-4 day shoot. The resulting film is incredibly realistic and absolutely engrossing. More than anything else, it is about the passage of time. Go see this. It is one of those ground-breaking films that will be talked about for years. I can't wait to see it again.

3. The great articles about the 100th anniversary of World War I

 Did you see any of these? They made for riveting reading. Go here. Also, this great article about "Storybook London" will come in handy for my upcoming trip to England. 

4. The ultimate summer purse from Clare Vivier 
Unpretentious and cheerful, this tote is all about easy, breezy summer elegance

5. Summer produce: cherries, apricots and peaches are so good right now

And what to do with those peaches? This old-fashioned Peach Bread Pudding from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco is my favorite peach dessert.

6. Making homemade Focaccia! 
I am a little bit obsessed with focaccia right now after discovering how easy it is from Melissa Clark. I have already made two different kinds. Go here and here for the recipes. These are delicious!

7. Stationary from Thunderwing Press 

Nic and J.B. Taylor of Thunderwing Press are brilliant at designing custom items. When I asked them to design custom stationary and cards for me, they inquired about my inspirations. My answer was: the hand-painted interiors of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant's Sussex house Charleston and English country gardens. Bloomsbury and gardens came together in the finished product. I ordered note cards, envelopes, and calling cards. I smile every time I use these.

8. Mugs from Indigo Seas

This fabulous little store next door to The Ivy restaurant on Robertson Boulevard carries the hand-painted china used by The Ivy. The collection includes dishes, platters, bowls, and ice buckets. These garden-inspired mugs bring summer indoors. By the way, Indigo Seas also has a fabulous collection of rare books. Beautiful old editions by Colette, Nancy Mitford, and Virginia Woolf can be found there.

9. Piling on the pillows to create a cozy nook for reading  
Adding pillows to this little couch made it an enticing place for morning coffee and papers 

10. A scarf from Heather Taylor Home

Hand-woven in Chiapas, Mexico, this 100% cotton scarf is soft and gauzy, perfect for a cool summer evening. I wear mine all the time.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Virginia Woolf Exhibition in London

A portrait of Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell
Image via here

The National Portrait Gallery in London is one of my favorite places to visit. It contains portraits of some of the most well-known British figures from the past and present. It is a visual feast for the Anglophile. Everywhere you look are the faces of people you have read about. History comes to life. There are portraits from the Tudor times to the present day. And many of my favorite writers are there. The painting of the Bronte sisters by their brother Branwell, creased in the middle after years of being folded up and sitting atop a cupboard at Haworth House in Yorkshire, is one I always visit. I also always check out the Gallery's great collection of Bloomsbury portraits. There is a fabulous painting of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant and one of E.M. Forster by Carrington that I just love.

Today is the opening of a very special exhibition devoted entirely to Virginia Woolf: "Virginia Woolf:  Art, Life and Vision." The first exhibition of her in portraits, it is curated by the Bloomsbury Group biographer Frances Spaulding and features more than 100 items, including personal items such as family photographs, letters and diaries, as well as paintings and sculptures of her by the Bloomsbury artists. There are also works by Picasso and Man Ray, as well as first editions from the Hogarth Press. The exhibition is a visual biography of Woolf's entire life, from her birth in 1882 to her suicide in 1941. The goal is to shed light on her personal and public life and help people know her better.

When I found out about this exhibition, you may have heard me shouting for joy because I will be in London just in time to see it. Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers and I have been reading her, as well as collecting books on her and the Bloomsbury Group for many years. I have a postcard of her from the National Portrait Gallery that sits on my desk.

After doing a little research, I have learned a few things about the show. The three most poignant items in the exhibition are the two farewell letters Virginia wrote to her sister Vanessa and her husband Leonard before committing suicide, and her walking stick she left on the bank of the River Ouse, near Monk's House, before drowning herself. These items have never been on display before. I have the chills just thinking about seeing these.

Last October when I was in London I took a day trip to Monk's House, the country home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. It is an unpretentious house with many of the rooms painted Virginia's favorite shade of green and it feels as if she and Leonard have just stepped out for a walk. The beauty and serenity of the garden and Virginia's sunny book-filled bedroom reminded me of the bliss I knew she had found there. It was her sanctuary. The house and garden practically sang out with the conversations and creative work that occurred there during those years. It is hard to believe that this is where she ended her life at age 59.

It sounds as if the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery will give us the full spectrum of Virginia Woolf's life. Just like one of her novels, it promises to evoke all aspects of a life: the ups and downs, the pains and joys, the struggles and triumphs. Can't wait to see this.

  My study and Virginia

If you live in England or are planning to visit soon, I would love to know if you are going to see this exhibition. 
Are you a fan of Virginia Woolf?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Napa Goodness

How is your summer going? I just got back from a long weekend in Napa where my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. Napa was the perfect place to go; it's not that far from home and yet it feels worlds away. And it is one of the most magical spots for a celebration. We spent three days exploring and just hanging out...

There were quaint farms and wineries

Welcoming signs

Lush vineyards

Cooking demonstrations at the Culinary Institute

Champagne tastings

Beautiful spots to relax

Icy drinks by the pool

Country flowers

Favorite places for lunch

A magical setting for celebrating an anniversary

And great wines and champagnes for making that special toast

It was the perfect place to be!


I hope you have been enjoying the summer. The last couple of weeks were a great time for me to catch up on some reading -- a delicious summer novel as well as stacks of magazines and newspapers.

There is so much to talk about! Stay tuned...

But I am wondering, have you seen this?

Or this?

Two different covers of the August issue of British Harper's Bazaar and it is out now. There is a ten page article that features the women of "Downton Abbey" in a glamorous photo spread. The timing couldn't be better for those of us still going through "Downton" withdrawal. The fifth season of the show debuts in Britain this fall. Can't wait to get a copy of the magazine. Looking forward to reading about the "Downton Sisterhood"!