2016: oh what a year it was! And what could I say about this last year that hasn't already been said. But, despite everything else, this past year was a great year of challenging and inspiring reads.
With only two exceptions (Joan of Arc and The Nordic Theory of Everything), you'll notice the titles pictured below have a strong bend toward American history, culture, and characters - a trend that was not planned but that, in many ways, proved to be cathartic in a year so full of strange realities. Click on the titles to learn more (at Amazon.com) or visit your local bookseller to pick up a copy.
Please share your favorite books of 2016 in the comments section below, we're always in search of our next favorite book!
This past summer, just over a month before Owen was born, we were approached by the very talented, Copenhagen-based photographer Giulia Bellini about a pregnancy photo shoot. Admittedly, we were a little reluctant at first (you know how some pregnancy photo shoots can end up, yikes!) but we are absolutely thrilled at how Giulia's photos turned out - they are wild and authentic and absolutely capture that singular moment in our lives as we awaited the arrival of our little man. All photos were shot in Bernstorffsparken and the surrounding area.
All photos by Giulia Bellini and are used here with her kind permission.
Introducing The Americans
We are starting a new series on this blog called, The Americans. This ongoing series will feature the creative work of American writers, artists, photographers, or designers that we discover during the next several months, while we are back living in the US. Our first discovery for this series is the American painter and artist Maynard Dixon (1875 - 1946).
We discovered Dixon's work while browsing the permanent collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, but I think what drew us to him so strongly was the marriage of his striking graphic style (reminiscent of the French artist Henri Riviere and the Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler) with his profoundly American subject matter. The bulk of Dixon's work focused on the romance and grand scale of Western American landscapes and the people who braved to live there. Above and below, you can see samples of his paintings and of his work that was used for publications, posters, and book covers.
Stay tuned for our next The Americans discovery, coming soon. You can learn more about the life and work of Maynard Dixon here.
America By The Book
Just in time for this week's presidential election, here’s a list of ten books that I think help to explain 'The American Experience.'
This is list of personal favorites and by no means an authoritative list - it varies widely in styles, genres, and publication dates, but what unites these stories is that each one captures a particular moment in time or singular voice that is distinctly American. Whether reading these stories as an American or as an outsider, each one communicates a powerful spectrum of perspectives. In these books are truths that are not always pleasant, convenient, or easy to swallow - but they are important because they remind us how far we have come and how far we still have to go as a nation.
1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This classic book is a serious morality tale wrapped in the guise of a downriver adventure. At the very heart of Huck Finn is the title character’s struggle to reconcile the mainstream racism of his generation with the basic truths of humanity coming of age in his heart. Why is this essential Americana? Because, in Huck Finn Twain holds up a mirror to American hypocrisy and takes on the great sin of the history of The United States (slavery) without (miraculously!) coming off as preachy.
2. Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This may very well be the most important book of 2015 / 2016. Written ostensibly as a letter to his teenage son, Between the World and Me is author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ powerful memoir of growing up as a black man in America. This slim book is a hard-hitting, deeply personal, non-fiction read, full of blunt condemnations of a system that has, for centuries, marginalized millions of African Americans. This book will change the way you see the African American experience.
3. Beach Music by Pat Conroy
In early 2016, America lost a literary lion when Pat Conroy passed away suddenly. Better known for the best sellers The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, Beach Music is an essential American story because it is a love letter to the golden age of American post WWII prosperity. The language of this sprawling, Southern family saga is poetry posing as prose, and contained within the book’s pages is a colorful cast of American characters who display the great diaspora of the nation and the family units that make up it’s people.
4. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
For those of you wondering how in the world Donald Trump could appeal to such a significant portion of the American populace, there are plenty of clues in this book. Another recent, best selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy tells the story of a young man coming to age in the industrial ‘Rust Belt’ of America, part of the shrinking culture of blue collar working class whites. Vance’s book tells the story of growing up in a volatile home, a dying town, and as a part of a threatened way of life. This is a timely and touching that helps to shatter the prejudice that comes with stereotyping others.
5. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Everybody has heard of On The Road, but many less have actually read this groundbreaking 1957 novel. An icon of the Beat generation, On The Road blurs the lines between memoir and fiction, documenting a group of friends traveling on a wild jazz- and sex- and drugged-fueled road trip across America. Once controversial, now considered a classic, this book is a celebration of freedom, of driving the roads of America, of youth, and of the universal quest to find meaning.
6. Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
Like On The Road, Travels with Charley is the story of an ambitious road trip that criss crosses the vast American nation. Unlike On The Road, Charley features no illicit drugs or sex, but, instead, the observations and insights of author John Steinbeck as he drives along the highways and byways of the good ole USA with his standard poodle Charley. After writing fiction about the American experience for decades (East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath), this book is Steinbeck’s non-fiction(ish) account of what it was like to hit the road and reengage with the people and country he loved so well.
7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a sweet, hilarious, and challenging; the fictional story of Oscar De León, a chubby, comic book obsessed Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey. Featuring several styles, several narrators, and quite a bit of ‘Spanglish,’ Diaz’s novel is part immigrant memoir, part magical realism, and part coming of age story. In reading this book, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get illuminating glimpses into what it means to grow up in one place, but to also ‘be from’ somewhere else.
8. A Good Man is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor
This collection of stories by Flannery O’Connor’s is absolutely perfect. Each of the book’s ten tales thrusts the reader into a scene populated by characters so real, so Southern, so utterly American, that it’s hard to believe it was published over 70 years ago. At times contemplative, at other times brutally violent - this book portrays an American South haunted by racial inequality and possessed by strange and incongruous religious spirits. A Good Man Is Hard To Find deserves to be read and reread.
9. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
Best known for his travel books recounting his travels in the US, Britain, Australia, and along the Appalachian Trail, author Bill Bryson has spent much of his life on the move. But, in the this book, Bryson settles in one particular moment in America’s history: that eventful summer of 1927 when Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, Babe Ruth hit 60 homeruns, Sacco and Vanzetti went on trial, and The Jazz Singer became the first ‘talking’ motion picture. Far more than a collection of facts, One Summer is a fascinating and humorous snapshot of America during one of it’s most adventurous, most innovative, and most prosperous periods.
10. Beloved by Toni Morrison
A masterpiece of American fiction, Beloved is a story of slavery and freedom. It is a story of a mother and her daughter. It is also, both figuratively and literally, a ghost story. Described by The New York Times as “one of the best works of American fiction from 1981 to 2006,” Beloved received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and was later adapted into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey. When asked why Morrison had chosen to write Beloved, the author replied that because, “there [existed] no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall [honoring the millions of Africans brought to America as slaves]...this book had to.”
This past summer was the start of an all new, life shaking adventure - a realignment of the universe in which our lives will now orbit this new little man: Owen Atlas Sailsbury. The whole summer season now seems like a total blur, a whirlwind of newness and sleeplessness and visitors with gifts and long Danish days spent by the seaside, marveling at this strange, squirming, priceless treasure that somehow tumbled into our lives. We are so thankful that our friend Rochelle Coote was there to document Owen's first few days on planet Earth. He already seems so different. We just can't wait to see who this little Wayfarer will become. Stay tuned.
But of all the memories from all my years at camp, there is one that stands alone in its clarity and sacredness, one memory that lives with me as a moment of truest perfection. Because it is a ghost of happiness past, it can never be destroyed or undone—it stands like a lighthouse of my childhood.
When our parents dropped us off at summer camp, they saw the rows of wooden cabins and the smiling staff; they saw the oak trees arching over the gravel road that led down to the lake and the beat-up camp trucks; they saw the piles of trunks packed with bug spray and swim goggles. They saw campers running every which way chasing footballs, Frisbees, and Gypsy, the faithful camp retriever. They saw the ever-present tribe of girl campers braiding each other’s hair and whispering secrets and shooing away spies who tried to interfere. Then there was always the tinny sound of cheerful music playing over the PA, the brightly colored flags hanging overhead, and the general atmosphere of a backwoods carnival. To them this was, basically, camp.
When our parents dropped us off at camp they saw a well-oiled machine: people, property, and programs all working together in the spirit of clean-cut American optimism. What they didn’t see, at least not directly, was the magic that came to life as soon as the last minivan or station wagon left the camp gates—the kind of magic that only comes to life in a place where there are cliffs to jump from, campfires to gather around, and tribal ceremonies to perform. The kind of magic that only happens when moms and dads are absent. They too might have experienced the camp magic when they were children—and maybe even longed to experience it once again—but they could not. They were adults now and had to buy insurance and pay for something called a mortgage. When our parents dropped us off, they saw the face and shook the hand of camp, but it was only us kids felt its heartbeat and saw it come fully alive under long days of sunshine and the cloudless cerulean sky of our youth.
For those of us who went to camp year after year, summer was the nucleus around which the whole calendar circled. We believed camp was the best place on Earth (or anywhere else for that matter)—our own private Neverland. Except for video games, camp had everything we could ever want in life: tree houses and ball fields, a lake full of boats, bows and arrows and rifles, card tricks, and unlimited peanut butter sandwiches.
At camp we didn’t have to wear shoes, but we wore bliss and we wore mischief.
There in the woods beside the lake, we found a place of profound simplicity, but also of expansive imagination. We were happy castaways who evolved into something perhaps less civilized but substantially more alive than what we were back in the suburbs. There, on a hill named for an Indian chief, we succeeded and failed in the arenas of competition. We bestowed nicknames upon one another. We broke things and built things. We idolized our counselors, those elder statesmen of outdoor do-goodery. We tried our hands at chivalry. We dressed as pirates and spoke in codes. We played the part of little brothers and big sisters and, if we could find the courage, the bravest of us even dared to dance with a member of the opposite sex.
But of all the memories from all my years at camp, there is one that stands alone in its clarity and sacredness, one memory that lives with me as a moment of truest perfection. Because it is a ghost of happiness past, it can never be destroyed or undone—it stands like a lighthouse of my childhood, casting a searchlight over other foggy and darker memories. Even today if I close my eyes the scene materializes immediately and I can see it—I see us, sitting there near the cold lake, gathered around a roaring fire. I can see Rudy and B. Rob and Chris Minor and “Scharr Daddy” and all the boys sitting on railroad ties, weaving tall tales. I see their freckles and well-beaten tennis shoes, their sunburned skin, and the fire reflected in their eyes. I can hear us teasing Rudy. I can hear him tease us back. I can see the fiery dust flying upward each time we stir the coals and I can see kids drawing hieroglyphs in the sand at their feet. I can smell the smoke and seared sugar of lost marshmallows. I can smell that singular “lake smell” drifting over the camp road. How many hours did we sit there?
How many times did we gather and spin the yarn of our own mythology, our own greatness? How much did we laugh at each other’s clumsiness and our own lame jokes? I can see us then: both innocent and mean, fearless and terrified.
We sat together around that campfire first as little boys and then as adolescents and then as young men. Like a pilgrimage to the holy forest was summer camp; like a counsel of mighty chieftains were we around the campfire. There in the immortality of memory live the finest moments of my youth, spent with the greatest friends I’ve ever known.
The kids back at home, who never went to camp, never understood us—not the inside jokes or the camp legends or the songs. They didn’t understand the value of the “Best All-Around Athlete” ribbons that hung on our walls or why we treasured the hand-written letters that came from old counselors and cabin-mates. Mostly, our friends back home were shocked that we would choose to live for a month without air-conditioning. Camp was an enigma to outsiders and we liked it that way. For kids from the suburbs, camp was our Narnia—once experienced it needed no explanation—but you had to step through the wardrobe to “get it.” There we met fantastic characters, set out upon great adventures, and always came home a bit wiser and braver and taller than when we had left.
Whatever it cost our parents to send us to camp all those years, it was worth it. Their investments have paid us back with the immeasurable richness of a lifetime of golden summer memories that burn warmly through all seasons.
Reprinted with kind permission of Kinfolk Magazine.
Last week's Hidden Secrets of Copenhagen book and poster launch was an incredible event - great big thanks to everyone who helped make it happen: Paper Collective Design Gallery, Ølsnedkeren (my goodness, their beers!), Malbeck Winebar, Rochelle Coote Photography, Lanterne Rouge, Luster Books, the ladies of Scandinavia Standard, Mr. Nick Scriven, and the whole team at Paper Collective - Lill, Morten, and Malene. Thanks to you all.
All photos by the talented Rochelle Coote.