Saturday 22 October 2016


The Year without a Purchase One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting By Scott Dannemiller John Knox Press (2015) €15 HHHHI

DANNEMILLER kicks things off with an 'Introduction to the Worst Book Ever' and it's like he read my mind. I had all manner of preconceptions before I even swiped past the cover, that had to do with he and his wife being missionaries; that had to do with his poor kids, forced to undertake this project whether they liked it or not, and the amount of God-bothering that was sure to ensue.

So, clearly having anticipated the reader's knee-jerk reaction to the very concept of the book, Dannemiller heads it all off at the pass with honesty and humour, and what follows builds on this approach exponentially.

Upon deciding to eschew reckless spending for a year, he and his wife Gabby set specific rules that allowed them to buy absolute necessities - they weren't using old newspapers for loo roll, as an example. They re-used and repaired existing belongings, and even if they found themselves short of something, they had to make do - Dannemiller recounts a hilarious anecdote about going on a business trip having forgotten to pack socks.

Rather than penning a document intent upon shaming us for our desires, this wasn't just about not buying the latest iObject, but also about dealing with how to solve the problem of birthday gifts for their children's friends.

His use of quotes from the Bible is judicious, and refreshingly taken from a modernised version called The MEssage by Eugene Peterson, one that subtly makes the language of the 'Good Book' contemporary and relatable.

The irony of reading this on my Kindle intruded only occasionally. This is a thought-provoking read, and an inspiring one. The notion of taking stock, and thereby realising how little you may actually need, is an invigorating one, and a challenge that seems well worth undertaking.

The Reason for Flowers

Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Live By Stephen Buchmann Scribner (2015) €28.50 HHHII

My parents bought me my first corsage for my 12th birthday, a pink rosebud and carnation affair that had sugar cubes entwined amongst the baby's breath and greenery. I couldn't have felt more special, and it began what has become a lifelong appreciation of flowers, not only as gifts received, but as gifts to give.

From expressions of sentiment between lovers to those of regret for the bereaved, floral tributes are a way in which we can express our feelings without words - and in many ways, get us off the hook when words might be too hard to say.

Buchman takes us beyond the simple bouquet into a world that is more complex and diverse than may have been expected. The enormity of the author's knowledge impresses, if sometimes it overwhelms, and the text works best when it relies on anecdotal evidence and experience rather than simply spinning out facts and figures.

The reasons we use flowers as we do are as mythological as they are economic, as symbolic as they are biological: my corsage, or a funeral wreath, has years - if not centuries - of tradition and superstition behind them.

If you want to retain a romantic perception of flowers, then this isn't for you. If you're keen to know everything from pollination to perfumery, then dig in.

What's in a Surname?

A Journey from Abercrombie to Zwicker By David McKie Random House (2015) €8.49 eBook HHHHI

This is fun, and not just for those who are interested in names - it's also a lively little jaunt back to the middle ages, when organised religion and increased governmental influence necessitated the need to label groups of people.

McKie is well able for his subject, not only as regards the most basic ways in which surnames became assigned to certain people (Baker, Fisher, Taylor for example) but also the more complicated ways - ways that go beyond mere occupation and even geography. Connections are made between seemingly incomprehensible monikers like Swetinbeddes.

Focused as it is on the British Isles, it may not be the most satisfactory for an Irish reader (Conley means 'strong-willed, wise; hero') but the author's sheer gleefulness for his subject is infectious.

LEEDing the Way

Domestic Architecture for the Future: LEED Certified, Green, Passive & Natural By E Ashley Rooney & Ross Cann, Adam Prince & Virge Temme Schiffer (2015) €49.99 HHHHI

As a devotee of House & Garden TV in the States, and Houzz.com on the internet, I dove into this with great excitement. The acronym LEED stands for 'Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design'; it is a building certification programme that rewards every aspect of green building, from design, construction, operation, and maintenance of dwellings.

It's also a way to normalise resourceful sustainable living, a way in which to be in the modern world but not of it - it's not like you're living in a tree (I actually might not mind living in a tree.)

This collection is evidence that you can live in style and with substantial courtesy and regard for our planet - I can't imagine how deep one's pockets must be to create some of these swoony domiciles, though.

Because they are covering so much ground, I did feel that each house didn't get as much coverage as I would have liked.

More pictures, please, in a future edition! This is a must for stylish, environmentally aware folks.

Klee & Kandinsky

By Michael Baumgartner, Annegret Hoberg and Christine Hopfengart Prestel (2015) €60 HHHHH

Despite being considered co-founders of classical modernism, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky couldn't have been more different as artists. This beautiful book shows the contrasts between each artist's styles, for sure, but also finds many connections between them as well.

Reading an art book is usually hard going, but here, the authors have produced short and sweet monographs that are incredible focused and informative, plus a 22-page timeline that succinctly encapsulates their lives from birth to 1944, and highlights their friendship.

The colourful images are robust, even printed as they are on matte paper rather than glossy; not having been much of a fan of either artist, I feel both educated and entertained by this book. It feels like - don't kill me! - a superb Christmas gift for the art lover in your life.

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