Life & Style

Read All About It

Journalist, academic and editor-in-chief of The Gentlewoman magazine, Penny Martin is celebrated for her whip-smart views on fashion and contemporary culture. Who better to ask for a selection of smart reads?
Image: Thomas Lohr

A Note From Penny

“Like everyone else this past year, I’ve been trying hard to concentrate on printed fiction while spending too much time poring over a screen. So, now that issue 24 of The Gentlewoman is complete, and a new book – Modern Manners: Instructions For Living Fabulously Well – is on all good book shelves around the world, here are the books that I can’t wait to finally read.”

‘The Life & Times of Malcolm McLaren’, by Paul Gorman, 2020

Featuring the most beautiful foreword by Alan Moore, (the brilliant) Paul Gorman’s tome on Malcolm McLaren is a real passion project – everyone I know who has read it has said it really changed their mind about Malcolm McLaren, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.

‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’, by John le Carré, 1963

Shortly after lockdown started, I caught a Mark Lawson interview with le Carré, screened before a broadcast of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and I was awestruck by the writer’s description of his former career and his attitude to fame. It immediately made me want to read everything he’d written, so I thought I’d better start at the beginning.

‘Preparation F20, Preparation S19, Preparation F19’, by 1017-ALYX-9SM, with photography by Esther Theaker, 2020

This intriguing publication arrived as a set of three, with the instruction to keep one and pass the other two on to anyone deserving. I’m still deciding who should be the lucky recipients.

‘The Well-Tempered Garden’, by Christopher Lloyd, 1970

Having moved very close to the sea (waves slop over my garden wall twice a day), I have become a gardener by necessity. If I didn’t make an effort, the bottom half would resemble a desert, such is the effect of the salt. And my favourite writer/mentor so far is Christopher Lloyd. He is militant!

‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, by Carl Jung, 1963

In the forthcoming issue of The Gentlewoman, Susan Irvine has written for us about why everyone is reading Carl Jung – and listening to podcasts about him. This is one of the “signposts” she recommends if we want our dream lives to get more expansive and our lives less reductive. I’m intrigued to find out what’s in there.

‘We Need to Talk About Money’, by Otegha Uwagba, 2021

One of the pleasures of building up relationships with the writers that contribute to your magazine is that they send you their books! We interviewed Otegha about We Need to Talk About Money a couple of issues ago and she was kind enough to write about money for our last issue – her essay has been included in Modern Manners. So, I look forward to reading this carefully!

‘The Gansey Knitting Sourcebook: 150 Stitch Patterns And 10 Projects for Gansey Knits’, by Di Gilpin and Sheila Greenwell, 2021

The virtuoso knitter Di Gilpin works from the beautiful Comielaw Studios, near where I live; it’s exciting to think such wonderful things are being made so close to home. And now she has a book out, based on her painstaking research of fishermen’s gansey jerseys. I’m dying to know more; though it would horrify my mother to hear me admit it, I can’t knit to save my life.

‘Tapestry’, by Loren Glass, 2021

Gert Jonkers, the editor of Fantastic Man, gives excellent presents and what better than a book devoted to a single album, from Bloomsbury’s brilliant series 33 ⅓? He sent it for my birthday and if we hadn’t already published a list of the best gifts in Modern Manners, I’d add this.

‘A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries: Volume Two’, by David Sedaris, 2021

Some kind soul sent me the new Sedaris, which I can’t believe I haven’t brought with me on holiday, but for the fact that it’s a hardback and who takes those anywhere? I love his spoken-word recordings, but truthfully I prefer David Sedaris on the page because he doesn’t wait long enough for me to finish laughing between sentences.

‘E. A. Hornel: From Camera To Canvas’, edited by Ben Reiss, Antonia Laurence-Allen and Jennifer Melville, 2020

I became a trustee of the National Trust for Scotland in 2019 and it has been a wonderful experience, getting to know more about its historic properties and its wildlife conservation activities. Of course, the pandemic has meant that many of the buildings have been closed to the public, so one highlight has been this incredible book on the Scottish painter Hornel and his use of photography. Though I used to be a curator of photographs at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, I’d never seen any of these pictures. It only goes to show the importance of curatorial research – and editors, of course.

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