Reading with Grace: My Top 10 Books for 2011!

Have to confess that one of my self serving New Year’s resolutions is to lavishly wrap myself in the warmth of well imagined books. As the first week of 2011 has arrived, I am attempting to structure an initial list of favored possibilities to take full advantage.  I respect that the choice of a book is as personal as picking a friend, some more lingering with intimacy and others more short term after words are revealed.  Either outcome in my estimation is worth the pursuit and so I wish each of you many wonderful engaging literary affairs in this celebrated NEW YEAR!

1. FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald followed up his smash debut novel, This Side of Paradise, with this 1920 collection of 5 short stories. With titles such as “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”, “The Ice Palace” and “Benediction”, this collection takes a candid look at America in the early 20th century.

2. THE TAO TE CHING, Lao Tzu

The Tao Te Ching (also called “The Tao”, “The Dao”, or the “Dao De Jing”), by Lao Tzu is arguably one of the most influential sacred texts in history. It is the source of such famous sayings as “Those who know do not speak; those who speak, do not know” and “Even a 1,000 mile journey starts with a single step”. This genius  original sense of ‘ageless and timeless’ dates back to 270 AD.

3. THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING,  Milan Kundera

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera tries to determine whether our actions on this earth have any cosmic significance and therefore weight, or whether our actions have no ramifications and are therefore void of karmic consequence.  This question is examined through philosophical novel about two men, two women, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring of the Czechoslovak Communist period in 1968. This book was written in 1982 and published in 1984.

4. BEATON IN THE SIXITES: THE CECIL BEATON DIARIES AS HE WROTE THEM, 1965-1969

This compilation sets Beaton’s mesmerizing accounts in a wholly accessible format, illuminating an era close, yet very different from today. In this version of his diaries, Beaton is vibrant , smart, witty, labile and still seeking approbation. He presents the changing era through the prisms of art, film, music and society.

5. SOUTH OF THE BORDER, WEST OF THE SUN,  Haruki Murakami

Romance, accusingly bittersweet but still redemptive, is the theme of this novel written by one of Japan’s most famous authors. Two only children who were schoolmates and best friends meet again after a twenty-five year separation. In South of the Border, West of the Sun, the arc of an average man’s life from childhood to middle age, with its attendant rhythms of success and disappointment, becomes the kind of exquisite literary conundrum that is Haruki Murakami. On an interesting note, many of Murakami’s novels have themes and titles that invoke music and South of the Border, West of the Sun is no exception with the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole.

6. METROPOLITAN LIFE, Fran Lebowitz

Fran Lebowitz has a capturing dry and irreverent way of looking at life .  In Metropolitan Life, Fran does what she does best in her 1978 first publication with casually portraying the vicissitudes of contemporary urban life with all it’s fads, trends, crazes, morals and fashions!  Curiously enough, this New Jersey native was expelled from high school, but ended up earning a GED and was hired by Andy Warhol as a columnist for Interview.

7. WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Emily Bronte

Published in 1847, Wuthering Heights was not initially well received by the reading public, many of whom condemned it as a sordid, vulgar and unnatural portrayal. Author Emily Bronte went to her grave in 1848 believing that her only novel was a failure. It was not until 1850, when Wuthering Heights received a second printing with an introduction by Emily’s sister Charlotte, that it attracted a wide readership. It is not a pretty love story; rather, it is a swirling tale of largely unlikeable people caught up in obsessive love that turns to dark madness. A classic that warrants revisits.  An added bonus is that artist Ruben Toledo just did a special edition illustration cover released just last year (as pictured above)!

8. GREAT HOUSE, Nicole Krauss

History of Love, also written by Nicole Krass, is one of my favorite pieces of contemporary literature written by a fellow New Yorker. The novel, Great House, consists of four stories divided among eight chapters, all touching on themes of loss and recovery evolving around the commonality of a massive writing desk finding its way to each noted household. Great House was named a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in Fiction on October 13, 2010.

9. THE BEAUTIFUL FALL, Alicia Drake

It is said that this smart book, released in 2006, stitches together the lives, loves, personalities and obsessions of two iconic designers, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, into a work as finely detailed as any outfit they ever sent down a runway. Through a compilation of interviews with dozens of the designers’ friends and colleagues, the fashion journalist Drake offers revealing inside anecdotes and perspectives from those who were there for the Paris “fashion revolution” during the seventies.  Seeing glimpses of behind the curtain of Paris chic is always of my personal interest.

10. DELUXE: HOW LUXURY LOST ITS LUSTER, Dana Thomas

Deluxe is an engaging look into the history of the luxury product industry. The sheer fascination of this book is insightful with business strategies that are not void of a sociological perspective. Dana Thomas covers the emergence of the large luxury holding companies, the global and mass-market expansion of these luxury behemoths and their gleeful anticipation of the profits to be gained from the new consumer markets in Russia, China and India.  Forewarned is forearmed with this 2007 summary of fashion concerns.

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