Olds Friends

The week after I finished my journalism course I became a business reporter.

It was not a great time to be alive. 

I'll insert a Venn diagram to explain it:

As part of my job (the only bit that was remotely bearable) I covered social events in the business world.

I met Daniel at one such event, a charity dinner. He was the PR guy for the organisers. I didn’t want to like Daniel because...PR...but he turned out to be alright. 

We were put on the same table as the evening's entertainment: a magician. The magician seemed to be very on edge and emotional. I overheard as he explained to a child that he used to be a very famous actor.  Grim. After the meal, he pulled ten pence from behind my ear. He was pretty good, I mean, how did my salary get behind my ear?

Daniel was a bright spot on the evening. He was funny and thoughtful and we had enough in common for a viable friendship to commence and so we did that. We lived in the same neighbourhood and hung out on the weekends in Hyde Park and Holland Park.

Daniel gave me Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds when it came out in 2012. It's a collection of poems about the end of her marriage and hope that comes with healing. Olds won the T.S.Eliot Prize in 2012 and a Pulitzer prize for it in 2013.

I changed jobs, flats and some life stuff happened. We lost touch and three years passed. 

About a month ago I had to travel across town to a meeting. Mid-meeting I remembered that he worked in the same building. As I had no other means of contacting him, I sent him a message through Linkedin (who knew that would be useful?) 

Anyway, to conclude the story, he’d moved to China and wasn’t in the building. We're now back in touch. Good news. 

Throwback Thursday: The Great Gatsby

Late spring makes me excited for summer. And the thought of summer and of leaving the city makes me think about The Great Gatsby.

This week’s Throwback Thursday gift is a first edition of The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby book auction gift | Laughing Heart

The author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, gave this to fellow writer and friend Harold Goldman.

Goldman and Fitzgerald worked together in Hollywood in the 1930s, after the book was first published. 

They worked together on the film A Yank at Oxford which was released in 1938. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby famously assets himself an ‘Oxford man’ (a half-truth) and says and all his ancestors were educated there (a full lie).

Not much is known about the friendship between the two writers but this gift suggests that they were close enough to joke around.

The inscription humorously reads: ‘For Harold Goldman, the original ‘Gatsby’ of this story, with thanks for letting me reveal these secrets of his past. Alcatraz Cell Block 17 (I’ll be out soon, kid. Remember me to the mob. Fitzgerald.)’

The name of the high-security prison, Alcatraz, was a nickname for MGM studios. Cell Block 17 is a reference to the office where the pair worked. It’s more than a hint at Fitzgerald’s feelings about the place.

When The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, critics called it a ‘dud’. It is now considered one of the greatest works of American literature.

The copy above was sold in 2015 at Bonhams’ ‘Voices of the 20th Century’ auction for $191,000, doubling the estimate.

Buy a copy of the Great Gatsby for £5.99

Books on Display

In which I give advice on how to pick the right coffee table books and why you should avoid putting books in the loo. 

For some, a coffee table book is a conversation starter. For others, it is a decorative prop. 

Whatever a person’s intention, the book or books you choose to put on display are a shorthand way of telling someone something about you. It points to the bit of yourself that you like and want people to know about.

It is unlike other books. It is specially selected for display, perhaps with a two or three other carefully curated books. These books live a separate life from the creased A-level texts and self-help books.

They have a particular look, they are glossier, picture-laden, showier. Sure, Anna Karenina might’ve shaped your world view, but it’s not a coffee table book. You can’t casually flick through as you wait for your host to make you a mojito. A Child Called It is certainly thought-provoking but is that the conversational tone you want to set when guests come over to celebrate your birthday?

I have a friend called Patty and that isn’t her real name. I noticed that she had a Vogue coffee table book out on display. She said, with a laugh, ‘I haven’t even looked through it!’

She wanted the book to be a shorthand for ‘I am interested in fashion, the visual arts and high-end clothing’ but it felt as phony as her pseudonym. Can you imagine owning a book which you have never opened? Don’t be a phony.

Coffee table books lends themselves to being excellent gifts. Here are a few tips to help you buy a fitting gift for a friend or for yourself.

DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY IT’S COVER (ALONE)

It’s show-homey, gauche and inauthentic to pick a book because the beautifully-bound cover works with the rest of the décor. If the subject matter isn't true to you, then all the book will say is 'My owner knows how to match colours'. Obviously, the best path to tread is the one down the middle: pleasing on the outside and the inside.

Pretty, yes. Believable, no. 

Pretty, yes. Believable, no. 

Get the subject right

Don’t pick a book that you think will make you look clever/creative/quirky. Be yourself! Imagine a visitor saying: ‘Oh wow! A hardback book on glove-making in Holland in the 1590s! I had no idea you loved the craft!’ Then you have to admit you’ve never seen a Dutch glove, let alone one from the 1590s. The horror! And it goes without saying, don't buy a book on religious iconography for your atheist friend. 

SENSE THE TONE

One of my husband’s friends bought us ‘Amazing Places Cost Nothing’ when we got engaged. This was a triumph of a gift because it was a nice thing for us to look through together when planned our honeymoon. It felt completely appropriate for the occasion: a forward-looking, positive, beautiful book. 

Consider DIY

Why don't you make a coffee table book? Fun times, cool pictures, places you love? I've made two using Asda digital photobooks and I've not been disappointed. You just upload the pictures you want, crop and edit them and Bob's your uncle. A glossy photobook which is totally bespoke. The tool even lets you know whether your pictures are high enough quality to use. 

Some inspiration

My thoughts on books in the loo

Don’t do it. There are no wins, only fails. It’s unhygienic. You can’t antibac a book.

If you find yourself saying ‘It’ll be nice for guests’, things have gone too far. No one shouldn’t worry whether their visitor is having a stimulating time in the loo.

Fun fact: the worst book I’ve seen on display in a loo was ‘The Candida Cookbook’. 

Book gifts for children

I wanted to put together a recommended reading list of books that help equip children for life.

Still not being fully equipped myself,  I asked my friends which of the books they read as a child influenced them the most and would recommend as a gift.

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame 

£10.99

Recommended by Guy: ‘I read it as a child but influenced me more as an adult than as a child. It is beautifully written, and captures a kind of England that has a great appeal. But it is also about discovery and escape - Mole finds a whole new world. Friendship, the river, picnics, Christmas, the country house, the past, freedom, spring.’

“It'll be all right, my fine fellow," said the Otter. "I'm coming along with you, and I know every path blindfold; and if there's a head that needs to be punched, you can confidently rely upon me to punch it.” 

“It'll be all right, my fine fellow," said the Otter. "I'm coming along with you, and I know every path blindfold; and if there's a head that needs to be punched, you can confidently rely upon me to punch it.” 

LITTLE WOMEN by Lousia May Alcott 

£7.99

Recommended by Natasha: 'Little Women was one of the first 'classics' I read when I was nine and I was hooked. That book now gives me a special connection to my mum as she was the one who suggested I read the book in the first place. It taught me the importance of family, and the importance (and difficulty) of following my dreams. I was brought up with those ideas and so the book really resonated with me. I still love the story, and parts of it still make me cry!'

"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship."

"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship."

 

A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE WORLD BY E. H. GOMBRICH

£7.19

Recommended by Grace : I read this book an adult and since then I have bought three copies to give to my little cousins as gifts. It ought to be recommended reading for every child in the world. The tone is clear without being patronising. Its aim isn't to make children feel like they ought to know names and dates. It encourages children to enjoy history, and if anything, teaches children about equality and that every culture is valuable. The book was banned by the Nazis for being too pacifistic, which is a very good sign.  

"One can be attached to one's own country without needing to insist that the rest of the world's inhabitants are worthless."

"One can be attached to one's own country without needing to insist that the rest of the world's inhabitants are worthless."

THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER by A. A. Milne

£6.99

Recommended by Ben: At the end of the House at Pooh Corner, Christopher Robin has to leave his animals at The Hundred Acre Wood and go to boarding school. It's a sermon on the impermanence and contingency of all relationships, especially in childhood. And that growing up involves loss. 

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.  "Pooh!" he whispered. "Yes, Piglet?" "Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you.”

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 
"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you.”

 

ABSOLUTELY NORMAL CHAOS by Sharon Creech

Recommended by me: A teacher gave me this book when I was ten. I started reading it at the beginning of the long summer holiday, the same point at which protagonist Mary-Lou Finney starts her diary. Absolutely Normal Chaos book contained all of the themes I sought and enjoyed in future literature: humour, the confessional, trying to do the right thing, Americana, situations which could not be resolved (and that being ok) and boys. And in a not-too-forceful way, introduces Homer, Dickens and Frost.

"But the party was the stupidest (I know there is no such word as stupidest) thing I have ever seen, with the girls all giggling in the middle of the room, and the boys all leaning against the walls...I keep forgetting to reflect on things. I will reflect on these parties. If I was a boy, I would wish they would plan something interesting, like maybe a game of basketball."

"But the party was the stupidest (I know there is no such word as stupidest) thing I have ever seen, with the girls all giggling in the middle of the room, and the boys all leaning against the walls...I keep forgetting to reflect on things. I will reflect on these parties. If I was a boy, I would wish they would plan something interesting, like maybe a game of basketball."