Tag Archives: illustrated book

Get Your Danish On!

America the Anxious: How the Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks by Ruth Whippman (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 247 pages)

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Happiness is so individualized and complex, so dependent on a myriad of factors – of circumstances and life events, upbringing, culture, relationships, preferences, and personality quirks – that anything averaged over a group is unlikely to do much to describe the lived experience of any one person.

Is it possible for a British writer and documentary filmmaker to capture the underlying cause of what seems to be a pervasive sense of anxiety in the United States of America?  Ruth Whippman is transplanted to Berkeley, California when her husband takes a job across the pond.  She brings with her the typical negative/sarcastic attitude acquired in her homeland. (“Cynicism is the British shtick, our knee-jerk starting point.”)

This slender gray volume appears to be a survey of what makes American anxious; however, it segues into a memoir of the author’s search for happiness in the Golden State.  Ms. Whipmann begins her residency with her husband and one toddler and adds another child along the way.  The local experiences she describes vary from playground interactions with other moms and kiddies to encounters with her apartment neighbors.

To her credit, Whippman travels to other regions of this anxious nation to gather a broader view of her topic.  The seemingly content and happy Mormons in Utah are the focus of her fieldwork.  She also delves into academia, parenting and workplace standards of contentment.

The accolades on the book jacket extolling the author’s wit and hilarious humor are relatively accurate, if exaggerated.  Although America the Anxious does have its share of laughs and comic relief, the quote above left this reviewer with a sense of being let down.  We may be portrayed as a nation of Nervous Nellies but not everyone is pursuing happiness with a negative result.

This may  have made for a fascinating inflight article.  As a book, it’s overly padded with one person’s viewpoints, anecdotes, and opinions. Therefore, it is recommended only for those with the preexisting view that the U.S. is a nation of sad, miserable people.

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking (William Morrow, $19.99, 221 pages)

little book of hygge

Right off, readers intent on quality of life improvement might recognize a physical similarity between The Little Book of Hygge and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy by Marie Kondo.  All three books measure slightly over 5″ x 7″ and their covers are coated in that smooth durable finish meant for ease in handling without wear and tear.  After all, if one is planning to absorb and implement the wisdom within its covers, a book must be portable and sturdy.

little book hygge all year around

The lovely illustrations generously sprinkled among the words of encouragement written by Meik Wiking are immediately recognizable as Scandinavian.  Just as Ms. Kondo’s cute and dainty illustrations are very much in keeping with the modern Japanese style of Hello Kitty.  While Ms. Kondo’s are neat and tidy primers on folding and storing one’s possessions, Mr. Wiking’s contain ample clues to the elements of Hygge that the Danes enjoy year round.  Clothing, candles, yummy recipes, fireplaces and, did I mention candles?

little book hygge definitionAuthor Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute located in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Readers may not be aware of the fact that Denmark is considered one of the happiest nations in the world.  (More than Disneyland?  – Ed.) Ample graphs and charts comparing Denmark to other nations establish this fact along with a more than sufficient amount of text explaining this phenomenon.

What secrets are lurking in this volume?  Well, maybe not exactly secrets so much as a comprehensive examination of the definition of Hygge that is parsed out into human, environmental and psychological elements.  These elements, when combined, can provide the comfort and even a sense of well being that each of us truly needs in the current world.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

 

 

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Babysitting Grandma

how-to-babysit

How to Babysit a Grandma by Jean Reagan; illustrated by Lee Wildish (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 32 pages)

Consider a sleepover at grandma’s house from her granddaughter’s perspective. Rather than grandma running the show, it’s the little girl’s turn. This book is one of a series of “How to…” books written by Jean Reagan. The text is directed at the child with gentle guidance for managing the visit. There are shifts in typeface from purple handwritten lettering to standard black 18-point New Century Schoolbook. The purple lettering focuses on fun and silly sounds to make during activities. The black typeface conveys the directions for what to do in each situation that happens during a sleepover.

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Mommy and Daddy make brief appearances in the story at the beginning (drop off) and at the end (pick up). They provide the premise for the story. The rest is pure fun for the lucky grandma and grandddaughter. Having a shift to a child’s list of activities is empowering and a delightful way for grandma to experience the visit. By the way, there is ample coaching for the little girl to let grandma know what to choose. I’m guessing the cute blond pigtailed girl depicted in this book is somewhere around five or six years old.

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Grandma is provided her choice of activities – going to the park, singing together and dressing up, to name a few. Making silly faces with food, playing shoe store and dressing as twins were new to this reviewer who happens to be the grandma of a nearly six-year-old blonde who sometimes wears pigtails. When shown the book’s cover during a Face Time visit recently, she immediately identified herself! The doggie in the story is white with black spots, just like my granddaughter’s. The only thing missing is the fluffy brown Maine Coon cat who adores her mistress.

The illustrations by Lee Wildish are bright and cheerful with spot on proportions for the characters in keeping with the drawings of someone who is six or thereabouts. Surprisingly, they were created digitally. Regardless of the method, their fresh, light-hearted quality is a perfect match for the text.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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The Low Spark of Organized Joy

spark joy

Spark Joy: an illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press, $18.99, 291 pages)

It’s Time to Pick It Up and Put It Away

Are you ready? Here’s part deux of Marie Kondo’s worldwide take on tidying up. You’d have to have been living off the grid not to have heard about Ms. Kondo’s methods for living a comfortable, streamlined life surrounded only by the items that bring you joy.

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Spark Joy is a handbook, literally. The volume is small enough to carry with you while working through the steps outlined and illustrated to bring peace to the unruly spaces in our homes. Book one, The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up, focused on the philosophy that Ms. Kondo has honed and practiced since she was a pre-teen in Japan. Spark Joy puts method to the magic.

Yes, this subject, clearing out the clutter, has been around for at least a decade on TV shows and in books. No, Ms. Kondo’s readers are not encouraged to get rid of anything that’s not in use daily. Rather, we are advised to surround ourselves with the things that are useful and joyful for us, not what others consider to be appropriate to have in our closets and rooms.

This book is well written and easy to understand. There’s no awkwardness in the translation from Ms. Kondo’s native language, Japanese, into English. I extend Kudos to Cathy Hirano, the translator of Spark Joy.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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38 Species x 9 Lives

Wild cats

Wild Cats of the World by Luke Hunter, Illustrated by Priscilla Barrett (Bloomsbury, $40.00, 240 pages)

Wild Cats of the World is a coffee table sized book that at first glance looks like it would be the perfect gift for any feline lover. The book examines 38 species of small and big cats, augmented with beautiful photos and sketches. It also imparts interesting information, like the fact that female cats are actually more efficient hunters than males – since they don’t stalk things they can’t kill, and that wildcats can live a full 19 years in captivity. It’s also repeatedly stated that wildcats can and do interbreed with domestic cats.

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Unfortunately, this book has several weaknesses. Hunter is far too concerned with what each type of cat kills and eats; there are too many photos of cats with their prey – which deems it unsuitable to be kept around children; and the book over-emphasizes the issue of extinction of species. What could have been a joyful celebration of the world’s most successful mammal – one that exists in both large and small forms – becomes a depressing, dragged-out, textbook-like read.

There’s not enough attention paid to the 43 breeds of domestic cats, which are far from extinct with 500 million of them serving as beloved pets, and an additional 500 million living as feral creatures. (500 million feral versions of Felis catus/Felis silvestris definitely equals a very successful type of wild cat!) And the high-priced book is poorly edited (“[a] survey must… continue for a long enough to sample…”).

Overall, a miss instead of a hit.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on October 13, 2015.

Note: There’s another book titled Wild Cats of the World, authored by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist (Chicago University Press).

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Elusive Hummingbird

Fastest Things Amazon

Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood by Terry Masear (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00, 306 pages)

When Frank and I first moved into West Hollywood, twenty years ago, it took me three months to attract one hummingbird to my feeder. Now, with the explosion in the local population that has resulted from over five hundred releases and their progeny, new sugar feeders immediately draw dozens of interested birds.

Hummingbirds, the zippy little colorful creatures that fascinate the young and old alike – humans and felines, are well documented in Fastest Things on Wings. Educator-writer Terry Masear has dedicated her “free time” to rescue and rehabilitate hummingbirds that have dropped from nests, been caught by cats, or fallen down while perched on tree branches trimmed by city maintenance workers. You name it, and Ms. Masear has heard of a way that these little birds have been put in peril. She takes calls from people who have found them in dire straights.

As there are two sugar feeders hanging from a gazebo just outside our kitchen door and a large bougainvillea climbing nearby, the daily visitors are often the subjects of excited viewing. Other than the recipe for their food (one-half cup of white granulated sugar dissolved in two cups of boiling water that is then left to cool) there’s not much this reviewer knew about our little buddies.

During the months that I don’t have to teach classes in the morning, I gather fresh flowers for the fledglings in large flight cages and young adults in the aviary.

Ms. Masear, like her subjects, flits between narratives of her own experiences fueled by an undeniable dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating the tiny birds and a somewhat repetitive discourse on the growth and development of hummingbirds in general. This back and forth between the styles is interspersed with in depth segments chronicling the challenges presented by one or two standout birds in particular. Ms. Masear’s writing style tends toward very long sentences. This book could have benefited from more editing.

The book includes color photos toward the last half of the text. These photos provide the reader with the opportunity to get up really close to the little buzzing wonders.

Well recommended to hummingbird and nature lovers.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “This is a book that is actually a book about love.” Los Angeles Times

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No Regrets

Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy by Judith Watt (Harper Design, $35.00, 288 pages)

“Alexander McQueen has been referred to as the fashion world’s darling, its rebel and pioneer.   He was all of these things…”   Daphne Guinness

“He likes to call his rivals ‘pretentious’…  (his arrogance is) his own worst flaw, second only to his ignorance.”   Daily Mail (London)

“Give me time and I’ll give you a revolution.”   Alexander McQueen

The fashion designer Alexander McQueen was a number of figures in one.   First, he was a fashion visionary – a man who saw the future of the industry and put his daring vision on stage years before the world was ready to see it.   Second, he was an infant terrible, a terribly antagonistic figure who loved challenging authority and upsetting others for seemingly no reason.   (In one instance, he began a fashion show exactly one hour late so that he could see the invited guests squirm.)   Third, he was literally a mama’s boy.   McQueen could so little handle the thought of living without his beloved mother that he committed suicide between the day of her death and her funeral service.

If it’s not already clear, McQueen was both a genius and a troubled figure.   This in itself would present problems for any biographer or tribute writer.   In Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy, Judith Watt does her best to present a calm portrait of a fashion designer most known for his “over the top runway shows,” and sometimes over the top personal life.   If a reader was to simply read the words of this generally complimentary account (clearly intended to present a positive spin on McQueen), he or she might feel the pro-McQueen case was aptly presented.   However, at least half of McQueen is filled with visual images of McQueen’s work and most of them are rather startling and uncompromising, if not unpleasant.   Strike that, they’re mostly unpleasant.

“You’ve got to know the rules to break them.   That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules…”   Alexander McQueen

“I want women to be afraid of the women I dress.”   Alexander McQueen

I began reading this account in the corner with the group that thinks of the late designer as a boat-rocking genius.   One might argue that he was a rock and roll designer, always seeking to rile up the establishment even when it was all for show (and for controversy resulting in P.R., resulting in becoming and being known for being controversial).   But the great majority of the images displayed in this self-proclaimed “in-depth look at the most controversial designer of a generation” are so often off-putting that it’s clear why McQueen had to issue this semi-apology for his work:  “I know I’m provocative.   You don’t have to like it…  you do have to acknowledge it.”

The release of this volume is unlikely to alienate existing fans of the late designer, but it is certainly not going to win him any converts.   It’s probable that some will pick up this book and rapidly set it down.   To give McQueen his due, he designed fashion that was – to use his own prophetic words, “ahead of its time.”   And he remained true to his vision first through failure and then success.

McQueen’s wild, unbridled form of genius sometimes led him to seem like a visitor from another planet – still he was a man, an artist of passion.   It will undoubtedly be many decades before his rightful place in fashion history will be determined.   But Alexander McQueen was fully correct when he told the world:  “If you don’t have passion for something, you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Put On Your High-Heeled Sneakers

Wear This Now: Your Style Solution For Every Season and Any Occasion by Michelle Madhok with Eileen Conlan (Harlequin Nonfiction, $12.99, 304 pages)

The field of self-help fashion books is crowded.  The first gurus on the scene were Trinny Woodall and Susanna Constantine, whose What Not To Wear book and television series in Great Britain came to the U.S. in the delightful form of the TLC series of the same name starring Stacy London and Clinton Kelly.   There have been countless other books and shows along the way, some targeting how not to look old or how to shop your closet.   If you take the no-nonsense, truly caring approach that the What Not To Wear teams have taken in helping the rest of us to get dressed, and add an internet shopping and blogging factor, you’ll arrive at this charmingly illustrated book.

Michelle Madhok and Eileen Conlan have earned their expertise through years of shopping (bricks and mortar and on-line) along with reporting on fashion.   Respectively, they are the founder and senior editor of SHEFINDS MEDIA which encompasses several blogs.   Michelle has appeared on numerous television shows and Eileen is widely published.

The audience for this book seems to be women between the ages of twenty-five and forty whose lives are busy, primarily at work and out with friends after work and on weekends.   The first chapter was a bit more choppy and bouncy than this reviewer anticipated.   Considering the age range for the targeted readers, it probably isn’t a deal breaker for these readers.   Fortunately, I stuck with the read and was rewarded with very helpful and specific advice.   From seasonal shopping lists and advice on how to score the best bargains, to several outfits for each event likely to be part of the reader’s life.

The beauty of this book is that it has a life beyond the initial read.   A set of tabs or flags posted at the chapters would be a sure way to streamline its use throughout the year.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Wear This Now was released on September 1, 2012.

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