Summer Reads by Chloe Blades
Slim Aarons: The Essential Collection (Abrams, $285) - Photography
This is for you if there’s someone special you want to impress with a gift without having to think too hard. Like the “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places” that Slim famously photographed, Slim Aarons: The Essential Collection is ‘visual prozac’. It’s the most comprehensive ever, including not only the best of his work but more than 100 rare and previously unpublished photos and a blend of essays that document decades of cultural shifts throughout his lifetime. From Slim’s work in 1945 to 1991, you’ll bear witness to his beginning as a war photographer through to his foray into Hollywood and eventual royalty. There are photographs from eras of by-gone glamour and inspirational, wholly unattainable holidays that will make you feel like you’re not living your best life. Because as Nicholas Faulks, historian and Vanity Fair contributing editor, says in his essay on the influence of Slim today, “to really understand what living your best life means, it is necessary to consult the oeuvre of Slim Aarons”. Turning these pages does, if only for an hour, transport you into a world that doesn’t feel like it’s gone to shit. His work is utterly breathtakingly beautiful and it’s impossible not to be wowed by every page in this shelf-bending tome.
Doppelgänger by Naomi Klein (Penguin Random House, $42) - Politics
Naomi Klein is the author of many great political reads, including The Shock Doctrine which is about capitalist opportunism and how governments use states of emergencies to push through unpopular policies. Doppelgänger isn’t dissimilar, only it takes on governments, political leaders, tech billionaires, super spreaders of bullshit, and, mainly, Naomi Wolf - one of the most dangerous spreaders of disinformation since the pandemic began. Wolf is the 70’s feminist pinup and once revered author of The Beauty Myth who, since turning into a conspirator, adopted an unlikely ally in America’s right-winged money laundering fraudster, Steve Bannon. Having been mistaken for Wolf for over a decade, Klein goes down a rabbit hole of research to confront her unfavourable doppelgänger and investigates the fatally warped politics that Naomi Wolf has brandished while investigating a history of doubling, the ‘Mirror World’ and the end of reality. Klein said this wasn’t an attack on Wolf or an attempt to explain the psychology of why Wolf went to the dark side, but it absolutely is. It’s the only thing a self-serving anti-vaxxer who was de-platformed on sites like The Guardian for inciting hate and spreading medical disinformation deserves. It’s a confronting but brilliant political biography, one where every page requires your undivided attention.
Politics On the Edge by Rory Stewart (Jonathan Cape, $60) - Political
Memoir The first thought I had when reading Stewart’s memoir was about that recent online trend of asking men, how often do you think about the Roman Empire? “I too had admired Achilles, who wanted to ‘die young and far from home, to be the best among the best, now and in perpetuity’”. That’s great if you too think about the Romans as much he does, but I persisted because I enjoyed his 2002 book The Places in Between. From 2010-2019 he was the MP for Penrith and The Border, and he has an OBE for his work in Iraq having governed an Iraqi province after the US-UK led invasion. Politics On the Edge is aptly timed, as Luke Harding says for The Guardian - it’s a “blistering insider portrait of a nation in decline”. There are many anecdotes about the biggest names in recent British politics that confirm them as the inadequate morons they are - Truss prized “power and manipulation” over “truth and reason”. In Iraq, “Boris didn’t ask many questions” and looked (unsurprisingly) dishevelled. In Kabul, David Cameron “came across like a host at a pheasant shoot, rented for the day, courteously presiding”. It’s a scandalous expose spanning a decade in politics, one he admits will piss off many of his colleagues, but he believes that “government of, by, and for the people should be exposed properly to the public eye”.
Brutto by Russell Norman (Ebury Press, $85) - Food
We receive boxes of new books daily and very rarely does one stop us in our tracks to appreciate as a team. But Brutto is like no other cookbook you’ve seen before. From the bold red title lining half the front cover to the stitch bound spine, it’s book-perfect. The photography captures a rustic Florence and not rustic in the bougie sense, but in the dark dead-end alley-way sense that reflects the location and meaning behind this unique Florentine restaurant. Brutto ma buonomeans ugly but good - the epitome of chef Russell Norman’s creations. As he acknowledges, “the British chef Shaun Hill famously replied, when asked the secret to good cooking: Buy the best ingredients and don’t fuck it up.” And so this restauranteur’s cookbook opens with a mouth-watering antipasti of anchovies, cold butter & sourdough and whisks you off on a traditional Tuscan food odyssey of recipes found not only in trattorias but domestic households too. Every recipe, whether it’s the antipasti, insalata, primi, or dolce course contains “the other important ingredient” - simplicity. And if there’s a vegetarian in your house, 40% of Brutto’s recipes are suitable! Perfetto.
The Young Man by Annie Ernaux (Fitzcarraldo, $20) - Essay
Annie Ernaux is the kind of author who’s work you read and then wonder what rock you’ve been living under, given she has written more than 20 books over a 50 year writing career. She became the first French woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature with A Man’s Place, her “unsentimental” biography of her father who she scrutinises with an admirable coldness, unlike other writers of misery memoirs, for “the importance he attributed to manners and language that came so unnaturally to him”. My favourite of hers, so far, is the essay The Young Man, which across 49 pages of succinct, effortlessly brilliant writing chronicles the affair she had with a man 30 years her junior. The affair conjures memories of her youth, recalling the “scandalous girl” she once was while capturing the insecurities and agelessness that come with such an adventure. Some memories shock but they’re delivered with a self-assured confidence that puts our preconceptions about women and their place in society in the bin. Rachel Cusk, for The New York Times, writes that “the harrowing beauty and brevity of these books and their apparent simplicity disguised somewhat the punishing cost of their honesty.” There’s even more beauty in these books when read in the Fitzcarraldo editions, especially as you can make an aesthetically pleasing collection out of them.
The Future Future by Adam Thirlwell (Penguin, $37) - Fiction
A young socialite named Celine, married at just 19 to a 46-year-old ruthless fascist, is slandered in fictional pornographic, anonymously authored pamphlets circulating in pre-revolutionary Paris. This isn’t a historical novel set there, though, instead it spans 1775 to this very moment and beyond with Celine appearing throughout. It is, as Salman Rushdie said, “unlike anything else you’ll read this (or any other) year”. Society relishes the fictional deconstruction of her being, as ghastly stories are invented on her affairs, sexuality, orgies and addictions, and as they spread all she can do is watch while her name becomes synonymous with everything wrong with society. Celine and her friends Marta and Julia go on to host lavish, glamorous parties in the hope of attracting writers capable of saving her from this patriarchal violence - “malevolent writing could only be erased by more writing”. But that merely touches the surface of this head-spin of a novel, on another occasion she gets drunk and wakes up in the year 2251 and it takes a fantastical turn. If you can let go of chronology, common-sense and logic, Rushdie isn’t wrong - this novel is like nothing else.