While we all love a good novel, there’s nothing like getting stuck into a candid celebrity memoir, a gossipy society diary or a good fashion monograph as you dip into the Quality Street. Here are some of the best new books to give or get into…
It’s impossible to put down The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir by Paul Newman, (SC Century), which includes revealing anecdotes about the making of films such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as Newman’s feelings of low self-esteem and his persistent alcoholism.
From the actress most known for her role in Thelma and Louise, Geena Davis’s acerbic memoir Dying of Politeness, (Wm Collins), reveals her thoughts about women being “too nice” in Hollywood, alongside gems about a pimple on Brad Pitt’s bottom and stories of a furious Bill Murray.
Do we need to read another biography on one of the most famous actresses of the 20th century? Possibly. Kate Anderson Bower’s Elizabeth Taylor The Grit and Glamour of an Icon (HarperCollins) has been authorised by the Taylor estate which means she had access to Taylor’s diaries and letters as well as friends and family (including Colin Farrell). What we learn in this tome is not only Taylor’s excesses – jewellery, surgery, husbands – but also her business acumen and pioneering activism, especially for Aids. Some of the profits of her potent White Diamonds perfume still go to the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation.
Big Red by Jerome Charyn, (No Exit) is a novel which dips into the Hollywood’s Golden Age and in particular the life of Rita Hayworth. After reading, you’ll want to know much more about Hayworth. Barbara Leaming’s biography If This Was Happiness, is considered one of the best.
Madly, Deeply, The Alan Rickman Diaries, (Canongate) have been described as “deliciously scathing” and document the late actor’s social whirl, hobnobbing with megastars and politicians, as well as his thoughts on critiques of his many films (Love, Actually, Die Hard, Harry Potter, Robin Hood: The Prince of Thieves, Sense and Sensibility …).
Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru by Hugh Bonneville (John Murray), charts the British actor’s life from his big break as Third Shepherd in the school nativity play, to mistaking a Hollywood star for an estate agent. Bonneville discusses what it’s like working with Judi Dench and Julia Roberts and playing Robert de Niro’s right leg. Though a funny raconteur, Bonneville also writes poignantly about his father’s dementia and of his mother, whose life in the secret service only emerged after her death.
One to put on the wish list is the pensive, layered and enthralling memoir: Love, Pamela by Pamela Anderson, (Headline) which is published on January 24 – just before a Netflix documentary on her (Pamela, A Love Story) which lands on January 31.
Anna: The Biography by Amy Odell (Allen & Unwin) was one of 2022’s top fashion bestsellers which revealed snippets such as the Vogue editor’s coffee order (full-fat latte with a blueberry muffin), her facelift in 2000, as well as lots of info on her assistants and management style. However, I found Kitty Kelley’s unauthorised biography of Wintour much juicier.
You can’t mention Anna Wintour without Karl Lagerfeld. Recently Wintour wore a vintage outfit from Karl Lagerfeld’s SS83 debut collection for Chanel to a White House gala in honour of French President Emmanuel Macron. Be prepared to hear and see a lot more of Karl Lagerfeld’s designs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Spring 2023 Costume Institute Exhibition will celebrate Lagerfeld’s work with approximately 150 designs from his 65-year career. Essential reading is Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Fashion by Alfons Kaiser, (Thames & Hudson) who knew Lagerfeld for many years. This biography encompasses all eras of the designer’s life from his teenage years in “North German flatlands” to his later years as a “Prussian workaholic”.
Peter Lindbergh: On Fashion Photography (Taschen) takes a look at the photographer’s work with the 1980s supermodels and beyond.
Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style (Reel Art Press) chronicles a time when the preppy look was adopted and subverted by cultural figures such as John Coltrane and Sidney Poitier.
If you know someone who wears Chloé perfume – I love Chloé Rose Naturelle – why not gift a bottle with this 70th anniversary celebration – Chloé Catwalk (Thames & Hudson) featuring designs by former creative directors Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo and more.
Dressed To Swill: Runway-Ready Cocktails Inspired by Fashion Icons, by Jennifer Croll, (Prestel) is the perfect stocking filler for the fashion obsessed. With 60 cocktail recipes, gift this with some chic champagne saucers from The Sidecar at The Westbury, Dublin 2.
Something of a cult read and the book to be seen with, (or artfully styled for an Insta pic), is Katherine Dunn’s dark reflective book Toad. The story centres on a loner pondering old friendships and romances.
Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink by Veronique Hyland (Harper Perennial) is a funny and detailed collection of essays on fashion, feminism, politics and marketing.
Rare Birds, True Style by Violet Naylor-Leyand, (Rizzoli) brings together some of the Vogue-insider’s friends and family who happen to be designers and style icons such as Luke Edward Hall, Alice Temperley, Beata Heuman and Nicky Haslam. The book is a great peek inside their homes and unconventional wardrobes.
Still not convinced that Viva Magenta – the Pantone Colour for 2023 – is for you? Making the case for red is Valentino Rosso, Assouline, a definitive “catalogue raisonné” featuring over 180 of Valentino’s most iconic red dresses and accessories. From legendary silk ball gowns and haute couture chiffon, this title illustrates Valentino’s unparalleled connection to one of the most passionate, seductive, powerful, and culturally symbolic colours.
Best to get a huge box of Quality Street to enjoy with Yves Saint Laurent at Home, (Assouline) which features the multiple houses of the former designer and his partner Pierre Bergé created with legendary interior designer Jacques Grange. With photographs by Marianne Haas, there are special contributions from Yves’ tribe – Catherine Deneuve, Betty Catroux, Laurence Benaïm, Louis Benech and others.
Darling by India Knight (Fig Tree) is a clever, contemporary retelling of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, which like the original novel is a love letter to boho, aristo Englishness.
One of my all-time favourite reads is Deborah Davis’ Party of the Century, about the black and white ball author Truman Capote organised in November 1966. Adding to my “Trumania” is Deliberate Cruelty: Truman Capote, the Millionaire’s Wife, and the Murder of the Century by Roseanne Montillo, (Atria) which focuses on Truman Capote’s friendship and eventual downfall with glamorous female socialites, in particular Ann Woodward who famously shot her husband William “Billy” Woodward Jr at their Oyster Bay estate in 1955. She was later exonerated for murder – a grand jury accepted her explanation that she had mistaken Billy for a prowler. If you are familiar with Dominick Dunne’s bestselling novel The Two Mrs Grenvilles – he suggested that the murder was a cover-up and that Billy’s mother was in cahoots with Ann Woodward.
Politics and parties are the main subjects of the gossipy The Diaries of Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, 1943-57, Hutchinson), quite prescient given recent parties at Downing Street …
Already half price at certain outlets is Spare by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, (Transworld) due to be published on January 10. Will you resist temptation and purchase it? Expect more “truth bombs” and revelations about life as a royal insider. Harry will be donating proceeds to his favourite charities such as Sentebale and WellChild.
Do you pick up a book based on its blurb, rather than its cover? Author Louise Wilder has “blurbed” more than 5,000 books during her career and in her Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion, (Oneworld), she has provided a compelling guide to blurbs, first lines, puff pieces, hatchet jobs and self-help spiel. This is a great present for creatives.
Art, travel and lifestyle
I was gifted the first two books by tidying guru Marie Kondo, and have half-heartedly adopted her KonMari method of only keeping things that “spark joy.” Her latest book Kurashi at Home: How to Organise Your Space and Achieve Your Ideal Life (Bluebird) seems like a great way to start 2023.
Simon Watson’s Afternoon at Palazzo Altemps (Durer Editions) explores a sublime 15th-century palazzo in Rome. The building, which houses significant collections from antiquity, is very familiar to Watson from his days living in Rome. During the course of an afternoon in June 2021, he returned to the palazzo and started the process of making photographs. Watson explains, “Even though I only spent three or four hours there that afternoon, this work is a culmination of the many visits and observations that I made over the long stretch of time. It wasn’t my intention to make a book, but back in my studio the characters willed their way from my archive and onto the pages of this volume”. The book can be purchased at Stable of Ireland in The Westbury Mall, Dublin 2. It certainly inspired me to book a trip to Rome in 2023.
Gerard Byrne’s monograph Turning Corners, with text by Susan Stairs (EBE Editoriale Bertolazzi) is not only for art enthusiasts but those interested in architecture and design, nature-lovers and gardeners. It features a spectacular collection of 150 plein air and figurative works completed in Byrne’s modern Impressionist style during lockdown in Dublin and can be bought at his eponymous gallery in Ranelagh.
If you’re plotting and planning your annual leave for 2023 over Twixmas, then Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2023 (Lonely Planet) features 30 must-visit locations around the globe. On trend apparently for next year: the overlooked peninsula of Halkidiki in Greece, the historic sunshine island Malta, and future-facing Jamaica. Long haul destinations on its radar include Nova Scotia, South Africa and Zambia.
There’s no need to travel far in search of the exotic. An Irish Atlantic Rainforest: A Personal Journey of Rewilding by Eoghan Daltun (Hachette) recounts his vision to rewild a 73-acre farm he bought on the Beara peninsula in West Cork, where a temperate rainforest flourishes. Part memoir, part environmental treatise, Daltun’s book considers burning issues such as climate breakdown, ecological collapse, and why our very survival as a species requires that we urgently and radically transform our relationship with nature.
For those who love slow travel, The Eco Conscious Travel Guide: Inspiring rail journeys across Europe for the no-fly adventurer by Georgina Wilson-Powell offers 30 themed routes from ski escapes to wine-fuelled wanderings.
For lovers of boutique hotels, Graduate Hotels by Benjamin Weprin, (Rizzoli), is a collection of meticulously hand-crafted hotels in university towns, designed to evoke the nostalgia of the glory days, sleepless nights, and the spirited memories of college years. Graduate Hotels will appeal to interior design devotees, as will the latest book by The White Company. The Art of Living with White: A Year of Inspiration by Chrissie Rucker & The White Company (Mitchell Beazley) features ten very different homes owned by architects, fashion designers and antique dealers, who have mastered their own way of living with white. This gorgeous coffee table book also has seasonal styling ideas, so if you are planning a “white Christmas” there are some invaluable tips.
Main featured image: Designer Alice Temperley as featured in Rare Birds, True Style by Violet Naylor-Leyand, (Rizzoli).