08 July 2009

an AESTHETE'S LAMENT a "well read" portrait

What Books are on your Summer reading list?

A great design scholar examines every object in his home, from its provenance to the details of its acquisition, and ends up creating a moving portrait of his life.


Conversation Pieces by Sacheverell Sitwell. I love portraits and this particular genre, portraits composed of two or more family members, doubles, triples, and quadruples the pleasure.

the Sitwells by Sargent

Ex-libris for Sacheverell Sitwell (1897- 1988)by John Piper, based on a monogram of Sitwell’s grandfather.

Valentina by Kohle Yohannan. A fashion designer who still remains a mystery.

Nana by Emile Zola. So salacious and hermetic and lots of descriptions of truly vulgar interiors.

"Perfection is such a nuisance that I often regret having cured myself of using tobacco." zola
Zola by Manet

E M Delafield's A Provincial Lady series of novels. Beaucoup de charme!

E M Delafield

Far too many plant and seed catalogues! I read and dream more than I actually order.

Is there one book you honestly don’t expect to get to? Why?

I have never and will never manage to do more than dip a toe into Proust. Which is why I never put it on any must-read list anymore! It’s so dense and so rich that I get bogged down after only a few chapters and have to clear my mental palate with a dose of Nancy Mitford.

"I have only ever read one book in my life, and that is White Fang. It's so frightfully good I've never bothered to read another."

Where do you read and when? Does the genre you are reading dictate the place you read?- in other words do you take just any old book to bed?

I read all the time and can be found dragging a book or magazine to the breakfast table, to my spouse’s everlasting chagrin. I tend to read gardening books when I’m in the country, those as well as country-house decorating books. But when I head to bed, I bring biographies for some reason.

What does your nightstand look like? Or your side of the bed, floor, chair!

At present it is a small, round Syrian table piled high with books and topped with reading glasses. More books and magazines are deposited on the floor in some measure of disorder. I really should have something better than this.

(My own thoughts on a new look for the AESTHETE)


What is your all time Favorite Book for its sense of place?

Nothing beats Flaubert's “Madame Bovary” for atmosphere. You can practically hear the leaves in the trees rustling and see the dust churned up by carriages and wagons.

"And what is there to beat sitting by the fire of an evening with a book, when the lamp is lit and the wind beating against the window?... You forget everything... the hours slip by. Sitting still in your arm-chair, you can wander in strange places and make believe they are there before your eyes. Your thoughts become entwined in the story, dwelling on the details, or eagerly following the course of the adventure. You imagine you are the characters, and it seems to be 'your' heart that is throbbing beneath their raiment." - Gustave Flaubert, from Madame Bovary

What is your Security Blanket Book?

It’s the one book I take to bed whenever I am laid up with a cold or other illness.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all." from ALICE

Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

What is your favorite Genre? Why? What is your most recent purchase in this category?

Biographies and more biographies. I cannot get enough of reading about other people’s lives, loves, houses, dreams, hopes, and private torments. Most recently I received a copy of Francine du Plessix Gray’s biography of Madame de Staël, the great French intellectual and salon hostess, and I rushed straight through it, much faster than I had hoped. So I intend to start it over and try to savor rather than gulp. I also devour crime novels, especially the works of Henning Mankell. Oh, he’s good.

"Genius is essentially creative; it bears the stamp of the individual who possesses it."
Madame de Stael

Francine du Plessix Gray as a young woman

What about Books you are reading for a second or third time? Why? Any disappointments on second reading?

I read everything multiple times, pulling out especial favourites when the weather is bad (rainy days in particular). If a book is good, it’s always good, so no disappointments here. Well, except the novels of Taylor Caldwell. I used to race through them in high school and now they seem so labored, creaky, and pretentious.

What is the seminal book in your field or your passion that you would recommend to young would be(s) of the same?

It never, ever fails to inspire- See HERE.

"The best decoration in the world is a roomful of books."BB

Latest Obsession Author, Designer, Photographer writer?

Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell. He can’t write enough books fast enough for me. I have half a mind to write and tell him so.

Henning Mankell on reading:
"It is a disgrace for the whole world that we in the year 2008 have yet to eradicate illiteracy on our planet. Still millions of children are forced to enter life without knowing how to read and write. Being a writer myself I know that there is only one symbolic book which truly matters: the ABC-book."

Book covers can be art- Do you have a favorite cover in your stacks?

The English slip jacket of the collected letters of Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh-Fermor, read about In Tearing Haste here. Very graphic, rather naïve, and just the sort of cover that would never be sold on an American book. It’s too eccentric and at the same time too subtle.

Going out on a limb here –define LIBRARY in the nontraditional sense?

Any collection of books that contributes to the broadening of your viewpoint.

Image-Architectural Digest, December'79, photograph by Derry Moore.

As I have mentioned in several posts- reading the AESTHETE's lament was a catalyst for my own decision to start Little Augury. I want to personally thank You for that and to ask that you please seriously consider hesitating before posting anymore Must Read Books for awhile- I can't keep up.

Dear READER, do you think the AESTHETE has read SISTER, The Life of Legendary American Interior Decorator Mrs. Henry Parish II. Of Course! I do too- but have You? I can't wait to read it- and it can be yours to read too- I'll send it your way.


  1. Fabuloso! Tremendous for illustrations esp. bed scenes and favorite book cover and AL's esprit piquant! Agreed for Mme B. As for "A la recherche...", I think the secret is to read it and nothing, but nothing else - to float in the Proustian stream of consciousness. Or maybe his "Pastiches et Mélanges" would suit?

  2. Not surprised by such an illuminating and naturally erudite choice here.
    An Aesthete's Lament is an international treasure.

  3. Since AL has never recommended a book I've been unhappy with, I'll be shopping for a few of these if I can find them. It'll have to be on the light side this summer, since I have a lot of dense science to read as well. Never heard of the Delafields, so I'll look for them.
    Since the Mario Praz has my idea of a perfect room on the cover, I'll be trying to find that one.

    Little Augury, I don't know when you put it up, but the new header is great.

  4. My List goes thus for the summer... The Annotated Walden complete
    James Joyce Ulysses complete

    three in progress...

    Travels With My Aunt- Graham Green
    The Gnostic Gospels
    Edgar Allan Poe- Complete Tales and Poems...
    The last two will be next year finishing...

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  6. "The House of Life" sounds fascinating. So much to learn from Aesthete's list.

    On a lighter note, "Sister" is filled with great anecdotes -- that's where I read about Annette de la Renta riding her horse into the house!

  7. Yes le style- As is your list! SOON to be on Screen. I am going back to Mme. Bovary in the fall. g.

  8. Rose, "Well Said" that phrase should be set aside as -"said by" AAL. g

  9. Balsamfir- thank you as to the header- it is by the same photographer the other one was- here is some info-

    In the 1870’s, the Paris printer A. Giraudon advertised that he had commissioned a painter who wished to remain anonymous to produce a series of artist’s studies. The Millet-like photographs that subsequently appeared were probably that series, and it is more than likely that they were taken near Barbizon. The photography is marked by slight technical faults, which may indeed suggest a painter turned amateur photographer. There is a strong spirit of Barbizon and of the paysanne in these images and the occasional blurring of figures carrying their loads is evocative of Impressionism.

  10. anon-wow a hefty list. sounds like a list I might be vaguely familiar with. thank You for keeping up with my bloggings sisty

  11. Court- I have to add the House of Life to my FALL, Winter list. I have a copy of the Sister book for myself, I love a book with the little musings that we remember so well after the story ends-this one sounds so. g

  12. Such wonderful interviews! Keep them coming!! And yes, I loved Sister!!

  13. Dear Little Augury: Thank you so very, very much for the opportunity to to be included in your book-reading list. It was a great honour, especially considering those bloggers who came before me had much more outstanding lists, I think! I feel so beggared in comparison. But I do hope people will get "The House of Life". I anticipate writing a post about this most beautiful and moving of self-portraits, a book that most strongly presents the notion of one's interiors as personal narratives.

  14. dear AAL- the honor is mine, you're the top... The House of Life is at the top of my Fall list(I love breaking a few rules so it will likely go to the top-) I think a book list should never end. g.


    These BOOK lists are so original, refreshing, quirkily great, ARCANE, insightful--and way off the US reading charts as to be practically on Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Neptune.
    There's a world of reading here--for anyone with curiosity and a desire to live deeply. The great aspect--every book leads to a great adventure or another book. I read the Mario Praz books and collected them--and when I was in Rome some years ago, I went to Mario Praz's house in Rome, which is maintained, intact, with all this collections and archaeology and things and books and great cool stuff. Fabulous--and totally off the beaten path. I emerged a different person.
    Other books in your list-lead readers on a wild good chase through Flaubert and Paris and London.
    Yikes...with just this list and Augury's, a reader could have a fabulous life.
    Books: they enrich your mind and your life and your hairstyle and ideas and conversation and world-view.
    Thanks Aesthete for your sure and knowing list and your avant-garde selections of classic books. Bravo.

  16. So pleased to be An Aesthete's august company regarding the to and fro with Proust. The battle continues with me and Marcel, and I am determined he shall win.

  17. Diane- yes all these must go on another list- having read Madame Bovary- I do think it will have to be read again! What are you delving into -is summer already waning- I hope it will wait til all these posts and books are! The Aesthete is a rare manuscript to rediscover daily. g

  18. Jezebel,
    what to say about Proust? A life long reading recommended. g.

  19. I love mystery crime thrillers- I have read the Boris Akunin books every one that appears. I am going to get at least one of the Mankell books to read-this summer- book list just got longer- well I've never really had a SUMMER LIST per say- and mine is ridiculously long- So why not add one more.

  20. L.A.--

    My summer reading:
    Completed The Bolter, after a rage for all the Mitford books (signed) over the last few months, devoured them all, old and new. Diana bio, the best.
    For a change of pace, am looking at starting, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'...and now rec'd a preview reader copy of 'The Girl Who Played with Fire' by Stieg Larsson (a trilogy, and then he died, getting lots of press in Angleterre)...it is Henning Mankel territory. I read Henning with a passion (on planes) for some time--and then found them vile and sad. I read Donna Leon with a passion (on planes) and then she went all political about pollution and corruption. Feh! So I keep thousands of books at the ready--light and heavy, old and new, usually escapist in one way or another, and must be well-written, generally not 'best-sellers' ever. Always tons of design books. Old and new.
    I just rec'd from London Kazuo Ishiguro's Cadences,signed, short stories. Did you read 'Remains of the Day'? Brilliant. Now this new book is so delicate and the subtlety and insight of the writing gives me chills.
    Happy days..and never think of summer waning. In California it goes on forever. (October is the real summer here in San Francisco...Indian Summer and glorious.) Off to read! I added you to my favorite blogs on www.thestylesaloniste.com

  21. DDS- I must read the Bolter, Lucky you with all those signed copies. I want to read some of the Henning Mankel books- which do you recommend-if you were to have to pick one to read? I know my list will travel into the fall, I am like you -more books than time, and I love it! Thank you for adding me to your distinguished list- Yours has been on my since its inception. G.

  22. an incredible incredible list!

    i typed it before, and i'll type it again. an aesthete's lament always leads the way!

    i've loved zola's nana forever. i'm off to look up on titles by henning mankell! thank you.


  23. Paul- I so agree.AAL puts us all on a higher plain-at least it feels that way. the blogasphere is more than a bit lucky to have a style scholar in its midst. please please let me know if you settle on a henning mankell book-there are so many- I need one shove in the right direction to start them all! g.



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