Atlantic's Christmas Reads
One of Ours: I’ll be giving Julian Barnes’ The Pedant in the Kitchen to my father who is a keen cook and likes to annotate his cookbooks with precise measurements and timings where ‘a slug’ or ‘a drizzle’ is called for in the recipe or cooking ‘until done’ is suggested.
One of Theirs: And I’ll be hoping for a copy of Grace: A Memoir. Grace Coddington is a legend and I’m dying to sneak a peek at her life behind the covers of Vogue.
One of Ours: Spilt Milk , Chico Buarque. There is something lovely about giving or receiving a novella. I think of Embers, Roth’s Everyman, Barnes’ Sense of an Ending - all wonderful gems.
Spilt Milk is a very moving and absorbing meditation on life by a dying centenarian. The life is also that of Brazil, and as with that troubled and vant country, the narrator’s life is complex, at times glorious, and sometimes shameful. A really beautiful and daring book, something of a mini Marquez.
One of Theirs: The Modern Century, Henri Cartier-Bresson. While youdon’t give in order to receive, I’d have to give away 5 copies of Spilt Milk to justify receiving this sumptuous compendium of perhaps the greatest of all photographers. Every image the great man took is a textbook example of how to capture The Decisive Moment or shows the Truth or Beauty of life around us. A glorious collection, that like all good books will lead you on to others.
One of Ours: Ms Hempel’s Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum I first fell for Sarah Shun-lien Bynum in one of last year’s best Christmas presents, the fairytale collection My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, so when I spied this slim, butterfly-adorned black volume on a dusty Atlantic bookshelf, I had an idea of the treat I was letting myself in for. Bynum’s voice is clear and beguiling, and Ms Hempel Chronicles, a fragmented portrait of a young schoolteacher, is utterly absorbing. It’s chockfull of wise observations that reveal the magic in the mundane, with a sly sense of humour that offsets any sentimentality. I think everyone should discover Ms Hempel’s deliciously bittersweet charm for themselves.
One of Theirs: The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy (Simon & Schuster) Mr McCarthy’s slightly turtle-ish face makes me weak at the knees. As any 80s fan knows, Andrew McCarthy is ALWAYS the answer. So naturally, I want to support him in all his endeavours, even indulgent literary ones. But I’m not sure I can bring myself to pay for a book described as the male Eat Pray Love, so I’ll love you forever if you do the dirty for me. And then I know I’ll definitely read it, because it’s rude to let your Christmas presents go to waste.
One of Ours I’m cheating. I’m giving two – the Atlantic sleepers, the ones that got away, the lost quirky treasures of our backlist. Both books come with the gap-year seal of approval since my kids took them with them when they went travelling and copies are probably still circulating in Vanuatu and Argentina: Both are rip-roaring adventures and great companions both in your bag and on the page.
Fieldwork, the more literary of the two, is a truly excellent novel about a foreign correspondent who becomes obsessed with the suicide of an American anthropologist , and it's so utterly convincing that you’ll have trouble remembering it’s a novel – think The Poisonwood Bible, transposed to a remote tribe in Thailand. The Dolphin People is The Mosquito Coast crossed with Raiders of the Lost Arc – I loved it – especially the unusual twist at the end which, sadly makes it unfilmable, I fear in this PC age, but otherwise, it’s extremely cinematic and just crying out for Harrison Ford.
One of Theirs: I want a cookbook, but not just any cookbook. I want one with glossy food porn pictures and oodles of atmospheric location shots - books that take me out of the kitchen and into that lovely fantasy world where I can speak fluent Portuguese and wrestle a squid into the pot while I'm sailing round Brazil. The Wahaca Cookbook would suit me nicely, and if I hadn’t already bought Jerusalem, and cooked my way through it (if you don’t have it, get it) I’d plead for this. Otherwise, I’d like a pony.