Assigned Summer Reading
Hot Books for Hot Days
We are headlong into the desperate days of summer, when those of us with the means to get out do so, before the baking and broiling begins and the bad air settles in. Well-shod Dallasites flock to the beaches of La Jolla and Carmel, the high desert plains of Santa Fe, and the mountains of Aspen and Vail. Most of us, however, have to make do with a pool belonging to a friend or a country club or (yikes!) a public one. But no matter where summer takes us, books are as vital as sunscreen.
The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls (Scribner, $25): If you read only one book this year, this is it. Full disclosure: I used to work for Walls at New York magazine, and I consider her a friend. That caveat aside, plenty of my friends have written books that I have not recommended. But Walls’ odyssey from a childhood that was poor in money and rich in imagination to her sitting atop the gossip column heap of New York’s media elite is as engrossing as any novel. Written in a clean elegant style and with an unflinching eye for observing both good and bad, Walls’ story of her childhood is so remarkable as to be hard to believe at times. This is much more than just an expose of a bizarre family – it’s immensely satisfying and touching.
A Garden By The Sea, A Practical Guide and Journal, by Leila Hadley (Rizzoli, $35): I would not normally bother with a book like this, as we are obviously not near any large ocean. But Hadley’s diaristic style about her own salt-sprayed garden on New York’s Fishers Island is engaging, with its mix of personal anecdotes and useful information. It’s helpful for any gardener, landlocked or not.
New Classicism, The Rebirth of Traditional Architecture, by Elizabeth Meredith Dowling (Rizzoli, $50): Perhaps in response to the McMansion phenomenon, this book should be required reading for any homebuilder before they slap up some hybrid Italian/French/Tudor monstrosity without thought to scale, proportion or materials. New Classicism showcases the work of some of the best working American residential architects (five are English). This book is not just fun to look at, but could also be considered a “resource guide” when choosing an architect. And its focus isn’t restricted to famous names, although they are included-such as New York’s Robert A.M. Stern (who built the Baron house in Preston Hollow), and England’s father-and-son team of Quinlan and Francis Terry, (who built the golden stone, Palladian-influenced Muse house on Preston Road). There is also a plethora of some of the best working architects, even if they aren’t represented by a housewares line at Target. Great regional talents like Atlanta’s Norman Davenport Askins, New York’s Ferguson & Shamamian, and San Antonio’s Michael G. Imber all get equal billing. Even a native son, Fort Worth-based David M. Schwarz (of Bass Hall and Ameriquest Field in Arlington), is included in this dignified group. This book is a voyeuristic pleasure, and it also proves that not all good contemporary architecture needs to be “modern” in the Miesian sense.
New Orleans Style, Past and Present, by Susan Sully (Rizzoli, $50): There are more books on New Orleans decorating and its architecture than I can count. So I was particularly thrilled to find one that I had never seen before. New Orleans is unique in this country, even for the South (which has its fair share of charm-laden cities and old houses tended by ghosts and eccentrics). And since this book was produced under the aegis of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, I expected great things. As a listing of historic dwellings in New Orleans, this book serves a purpose. If you already have more than one book on New Orleans, then there is no reason not to have this one as well. But what makes the book fall short of my expectations is that there is only one decorator whose work is shown, and it’s England’s Nicholas Haslam. It would be one thing if the book simply was a survey of great houses in the French Quarter and the Garden District. But throwing in the work of one decorator, and not even a New Orleans-based one at that, seems insulting to a city that has produced the likes of Gerrie Bremermann, Angele Parlange, and Holden & Dupuy, to name but a few of the talents who call New Orleans home.
Front Row, Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue’s Editor In Chief, by Jerry Oppenheimer (St. Martin’s Press, $24.95): A truly guilty pleasure. For the media-obsessed, fashion-addicted, or just anyone who wants to read more dirt on the notoriously picky sunglass-wearing Vogue editrix. While Wintour’s business success is undeniable, the book does make me wonder how she managed to have conducted as many love affairs as she reputedly had while clawing her way up the ladder and raising two children. She must never sleep.
Cy Twombly: Fifty Years Of Works On Paper, curated by Julie Sylvester, with essays by Simon Schama and Roland Barthes (Schirmer/Mosel Whitney, $75): Published in conjunction with the show mounted at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the genius of Cy Twombly’s works have eluded me – until now. While I have always thought that they were interesting, I never had any emotional reaction to them. Twombly’s aggressive-yet-elegant drawings and collages over the past 50 years incorporate a use of written words and abstracted imagery. Seen as a whole, the work is startling in its visceral beauty. Twombly’s work just doesn’t reveal its emotional depth to you as easily as that of some other abstract artists. Perhaps I just needed to age into his work.
Frances Elkins: Interior Design, by Stephen M. Salny. Foreword by Albert Hadley (W. W. Norton, $65): Frances Elkins was the sister of Chicago-based architect David Adler, who built some of the North Shores’ finest houses in the early half of the 20th century (he also built two in Fort Worth as well as in other parts of the country). Elkins, who worked alongside him on many of these houses, was also a gigantic talent in her own right in interior design. Oddly, this is the first book dedicated to the work of the woman who brought the work of Jean-Michel Frank and Alberto Giacometti to this country. Although Adlers’ classically placid grand houses often had elements that were avant-garde in their time, such as his glass stair rail in the Georgian-style Reed house, Elkins was much more daring. Either by using bold color combinations (she favored bright blues and lemon yellows), shiny black terrazzo floors and flat hospital white walls, or exotic materials such as eel or shagreen, Elkin’s influence on her sibling may have been greater than commonly acknowledged. The library of the Reed house with its hand-stitched Hermes goatskin walls by Frank, the entry hall of the Schlesinger house in San Francisco with white plaster Giacometti albatrosses soaring up the walls of the black terrazzo-floored hall, as well as her own furniture designs are as fresh now as when first installed. Elkins’ own 1917 living room in Monterey, California, is as seminal a room in decoration as the famous London yellow room of Nancy Lancaster of Colefax and Fowler, or Billy Baldwin’s chocolate brown studio apartment in New York.