Category: Book Review

Book Review: A Year of Living Danishly

A Year of Living Danishly

After reading the article in the NYTimes about hygge and creating my New Year’s Hygge-themed Fashionable Friday, I decided to get more familiar with the concept of hygge and what might make the Danes so happy and well-adjusted. So I decided to read The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the book. Was it going to be a self-help book like Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up book?

Well, it turned out to be more of a memoir of Russell’s year of living in Denmark having relocated there after her husband got hired on to work at Lego. Each chapter is one month of their year with an aspect of the Danish culture revealed in that month. She discusses politics, taxes, trust, sex, childcare, healthcare, traditions, pastries and family to name a few things. And while she finds many things to recommend the Danish way of life, there are also many things that perplex her as well. In the best way, the book is not rose-colored glasses. I found it very interesting and enlightening in the way that any book about someone immersing themselves in a new way of life discovers what is really important and what they can easily live without.

Russell is British so, while the book is witty, the humor is quite dry. Some parts I laughed out loud though but I do lean to the dry humor.

So, if you’re looking for a book to make you reconsider how you see your place in the world, and whether you have it good where you are, this might be a book you would enjoy. I certainly found parts that made me think that I have it quote good where I am and parts where I thought “Why can’t we do thing more like the Danish?”

This book isn’t specifically pen- and paper-related but I do think anyone who wants to think about how to slow down, get hygge or simplify their life might appreciate the ideas offered in this book. We tend to be a literary lot in general and I know we all appreciate a good cup of coffee and a snegle.

Book Review: Stationery Fever

Stationery Fever

Stationery Fever: From Paper Clips to Pencils and Everything in Between by John Z. Komurki is a large book reminiscent of a text book in size and format filled with articles about pencils, erasers, pens, notebooks and assorted office and stationery supplies. It is filled with beautiful photography of items, some provided by artful stationery compositionists, Present & Correct.

There are articles about great stationery shops across the globe in cities like Tokyo, New York, London, Paris, Milan, and Berlin. And some of our favorite stationery darlings like C.W. Pencil Enterprises, Erasable Podcast, David Rees and Rad + Hungry have features as well.

The book is definitely European-focused which is enlightening to read perspectives about Biros vs. Bics and Pritt Sticks vs. glue sticks and other cultural differences.

Throughout the book there are sidebar articles about distinctive items like Crayola crayons, Museo del Quaderno Italian student notebooks and many other fascinating items.

I learned that the classic 3M C-15 tape dispenser from the 70s could potentially be filled with radioactive sand as a ballast. There are several potshots at the US for being one of only three countries not to move to the ISO216 paper standard (along with Myanmar and Liberia).

The details about the inventions of highlighters, sticky notes, paper clips, envelopes, legal pads, scissors and sello/scotch tape were all fascinating and made me realize how incredibly ubiquitous they all are. So much so, that many of these items are icons, fucntions and even applications on our computers that some people may not even use in real life anymore. Weird to think about, isn’t it?

Overall, the book is a quick read but filled with information you are bound to refer back to time and again. Need to know the different types of pencil sharpeners? Who invented the paper clip? Who invented the felt tip pen or highlighter? Its all in this one volume and its beautifully presented and easy to read and reference.

Books For The Desk Set: Get Crafty

Its getting to be holiday season so I thought a few crafty books might be a good option this month. These might be good to get you in the mood to decorate for the holidays or as idea starters for gifts.

washitapeWashi Tape: 101+ Ideas for Paper Crafts, Book Arts, Fashion, Decorating, Entertaining, and Party Fun! by Courtney Cerruti

When I found this book, I thought it would be kind of cute but it turned out to be quite clever. The photography is lovely and the book includes not only projects but also tips for the best tools for writing on washi tape and storage of washi collections as well. If you are someone like me with WAY too much washi tape (or you know someone who owns way too much washi tape), you might want to pick up a copy of this book. While many of the ideas might seem obvious once you look at the book, its nice to have a pretty little resource for quick and easy ways to dress up your surroundings with all your wonderful washi tape. I scored this book secondhand which is a fine way to purchase books if you have that option. You could easily combine this book with a couple rolls of washi tape and it would make a lovely gift for a friend of loved one too.

bibliocraftBiblioCraft: The Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects by Jessica Pigza

I picked up this book a few months ago and have really enjoyed the diverse mix of projects inspired by ideas you can find in your library. I also like some of the reference material included in the book about copyrights and how to find resources at your local libraries including online resources and special collections. It’s just a great resource for finding new sources of inspiration and information to inspire you, even if the craft projects might not necessarily be your cup of tea. I think any book that helps people better leverage library materials near and far for creative endeavors of any sort is a good thing. IF you can turn those into an embroidered cushion, knitting project, wall hanging or inspiration for your next art project than that’s even better! I found my copy at a local secondhand book shop for a few bucks and it was money well spent.

drawDraw Paint Print like the Great Artists by Marion Deuchars

I mentioned this book on an episode of Art Supply Posse recently. I borrowed the book from my work library but ended up buying a copy because I liked the book so much. It is filled with projects based on techniques of famous artists like Any Warhol’s bloopy pen drawings, Matisse’s cut paper collages and so forth. Throughout the book there are spaces to try out the exercises, workbook-style and there are pages in the back that can be removed to use for the cut paper exercises. The text is all handwritten and all the tools are hand drawn beautifully. The chapter titles are done in a beautiful, loose brush script and the whole book is printed on a soft newsprint-like paper making it feel un-precious and playful. A co-worker said they found a copy of the book in their local bookstore in the kids section and several people who’ve looked at it have commented that it would make a great resource for introducing children to some of the techniques used by famous modern artists as teaching tools. If you know an art teacher, this would make a great gift for sure. Or if, like me you are a bit of a kid at heart, you might need a copy for yourself.

Books for the Desk Set: Calligraphy & Lettering

In Progress by Jessica Hische

In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process, from Pencil to Vector
by Jessica Hische ($9.99 for Kindle, $20.23 for hardcover)

In Progress is one of the most eye-opening books about hand drawn lettering that I have ever seen. Its incredibly refreshing to see both the process and the finished work of such an incredibly talented lettering artist like Jessica Hische and to see how she tweaks and refines things through the various phases of her process. If you have even an inkling of interest in creating hand lettering or calligraphy, this book is worth every penny. Jessica Hische is one of the most talented people in the industry today and for many years to come and she shows her whole process in a very open and honest way.

She shows her favorite tools (Hello, Blackwings!) for sketching and idea generation all the way through to her digital refining process. Even as eye candy, the book is worth the price.

Learn to Draw Calligraphy Animals

Learn to Draw Calligraphy Animals: 30 unique creations
by Andrew Fox ($12.06 for hardcover)

Through twists and turns on Pinterest, I found Andrew Fox’s book Learn to Draw Calligraphy Animals on This Is Colossal. Fox uses the wide flat strokes of calligraphy nibs to create simple, expressive animals in an absolutely captivating way. This book is a perfect addition for the Desk Set bookshelf. Drawing PLUS calligraphy nibs?!?! It’s a total no-brainer.

Fox has also created a book on drawing nature using calligraphy pens which was released in March. Even more fun to be had!


Drawing Type: An Introduction to Illustrating Letterforms
by Alex Fowkes ($25.84 for paperback)

Drawing Type features an array of international lettering artists mostly doing decorative hand lettered stylings and not a lot of overly computer-stylized looks. Jon Contino, Mary Kate McDevitt and Linzie Hunter are all featured if that gives you an idea of the aesthetics represented. Towards the back of the book are some exercises to try to develop your own hand lettering style as well as a few specimen pages of some typefaces to use as reference. Overall its a good coffee table book with a good representation of the hand lettering styles popular right now.

71LCE10xWWLLittle Book of Lettering
by Emily Gregory ($15.21 for hardcover)

The Little Book of Lettering lives up to its name as it is a small book, about the size of a CD, and its been out for a few years now, but its a book I find myself referring back to time and again. Its filled with inspiring spreads of lettering art from different illustrators and calligraphers with vastly different styles. The book is actually divided into three sections to represent tightly rendered, loose and casual and 3-dimensional styled lettering. While there is no specific how-to’s in the book, its a great inspiration and covers a range of aesthetics and introduces the reader to a lot of different artists and their work.

Books for the Desk Set: The Cocktail Edition

After being teased a bit on the April Fool’s Day edition of The Erasable Podcast with the ladies of graphite and Brad, I decided I might as well bring my cocktail love and lore out into the open. Because what pairs better with a beautiful fountain pen and journal or a rustic Blackwing and pocket notebook than a well-prepared drink? Absolutely nothing, I say.

Under The Table A Dorothy Parker Cocktail GuideUnder the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide
by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick ($9.99 for Kindle, $14.05 for hardback)

When this book popped up in my Amazon recommendations, I knew I needed to add it to my must-reads. First, I love a good cocktail book. And second, I have a soft spot in my heart for Dorothy Parker so it was clearly a match made in heaven. The book combines tidbits about Dorothy Parker, the Algonquin Roundtable, and jazz age slang. Throw in a few simple cocktail recipes I can try out and of course I’ll give it a spin. I picked up a secondhand copy through an Amazon reseller and its now nestled on my cocktail book shelf with Kingsley Amis’s Everyday Drinking, another classic cocktail-and-literary tome that’s in regular circulation on my bookshelf.

Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-AllBitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas
by Brad Thomas Parsons ($14.99 for Kindle, $16.65 for hardcover — highly recommend the hardcover book)

Bitters is a beautiful coffee table book full of gorgeous photography  printed on uncoated stock giving it a subtle, old-time feel. The book includes information about what bitters are, modern makers of bitters (from legends like Angostura and Peychaud’s to the new smaller bottlers like Fee Brother’s, Scrappy’s, Bitter Cube) and more. There are also lots of cocktail recipes that utilize bitters, and recipes to make your own bitters. This is my husband’s favorite cocktail book and he refers to it at least once a week. If you’re curious about bitters and what they can add to your cocktail bar, I highly recommend it.

Mr. Boston Official Bartender's GuideMr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide
($14.95 for hardcover)

If you have no other cocktail book ever, you should have a copy of Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide. The book is organized by key alcohol component: gin, vodka, whiskey, etc. and then its mixers. It has everything from an elegant martini to a trashy Sex on the Beach. Next to each recipe is an icon of the recommended serving glass: coupe, highball, shot, etc. which is very handy as well.

If you are invited to a wedding and don’t know what gift to get the newlyweds, you can’t go wrong buying a copy of this book. Everyone will need one at some point. If only to settle an argument about what is actually in an Old-Fashioned.

The Ulitmate A-to-Z Bar GuideThe Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide
by Sharon Tyler Herbst ($11.99 for Kindle, available used or secondhand through Amazon resellers for $1 or less in paperback)

The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide was one of the first cocktail books I ever purchased and I honestly go back to it time and time again because its such a great reference tool. Its organized alphabetically so if you know you want a recipe for a Sazerac or you are trying to remember exactly what Sloe Gin is, it’s all just organized alphabetically. Its full of cross-references and an indices in the back for drinks by specific liqueur. So, if you still have a bottle of apple brandy and you want to find some recipes that you can try with it, the Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide has a list in the back you can use to find some drinks that use that specific liqueur. Convenient. Next to each drink is an icon for the glass recommended for serving to make it easy to see if its a cocktail, highball, shooter or glass. Our copy is full of sticky notes, dog-eared pages and even a little water damaged. That’s the sign of a well-loved cocktail book.

Let's Bring Back: The Cocktail EditionLet’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition: A Compendium of Impish, Romantic, Amusing, and Occasionally Appalling Potations from Bygone Eras
by Lesley M. M. Blume ($9.99 for Kindle, $14.47 for hardback)

I’ve been a fan of the whole Let’s Bring Back series that Blume has done so when the Cocktail book was introduced, I had to purchase it as well. The book is full of quaint, vintage artwork and fancy, embellished typography. It features cocktails with names like the Fair Thee Well and the Rhett Butler as well as literary quotes and historical context for where certain cocktails may have originated. The hardback book is lovely and matches the rest of my Let’s Bring Back set so I’m glad to have it included. I enjoy flipping through it and reading various tidbits but its not a book I’ve used as often for making cocktails. I should remedy that soon.

Time to go stock the bar, get out those swizzle sticks and martini shaker, and your favorite writing tools, there’s cocktails to make and recipes to annotate.

Books for the Desk Set: Sketching & Painting

For this month’s Books for the Desk Set, I decided to focus on books about drawing, sketching and painting. All the books included are books I own this time so they are “Desk-approved” recommendations, if you’re looking for inspiration to draw, sketch or paint.

beautifulfacesDrawing and Painting Beautiful Faces: A Mixed-Media Portrait Workshop
by Jane Davenport ($15.29 paperback)

Drawing Beautiful Faces is one of the best step-by-step books I’ve purchased for learning the techniques for drawing both whimsical and anatomically accurate female faces. I’ve bought  this book for several months ago and found the assignments and examples to be very helpful in creating realistic albeit stylized faces. Davenport started her career as a fashion illustrator and reveals tips and techniques for giving faces a fashion aesthetic versus a more realistic look and provides lots of examples so you can decide which style you prefer.

urbanwatercolorUrban Watercolor Sketching: A Guide to Drawing, Painting, and Storytelling in Color
by Felix Scheinberger ($13.99 for Kindle, $18.69 for paperback)

What I find most intriguing about Urban Watercolor Sketching is that it brings a loose, expressive quality to adding color and paint to sketchbook, outdoor and travel sketching. However, you don’t have to be an “urban” painter to appreciate this book. All the information would be just as useful if you just want to paint outside or have a good portable watercolor set-up.

The style of the artwork definitely reminds me of Danny Gregory and his Everyday Matters, Creative License and An Illustrated Life books. I have loved Danny Gregory’s books and they have definitely been inspirational to me to just draw my lunch, or a rock or a leaf and move past that blank page. Urban Watercolor Sketching is a great resource for getting a lot of basic watercolor theory and technique in one book. There is also a bunch of great factoids about the history of pigments you can use to impress your friends at the next trivia night.

I read this book quickly and appreciated that it focused on color theory and painting techniques first then at the back of the book included recommendations for what paints, paper and others the author recommends. I find books that put all the “buy all this stuff” up at the front of the book can be a little intimidating.

If you are hoping to turn your Midori Traveler’s Notebook, Hobonichi or other notebook into a visual chronicle this book may provide some creative inspiration to help you on your journey.

SharpieArtSharpie Art Workshop: Techniques and Ideas for Transforming Your World
by Timothy Goodman ($11.99 Kindle, $15.63 paperback)

How could I not notice a book about Sharpie pens? While not necessarily the go-to pen for day-to-day writing, I know there’s not one of you out there that doesn’t have at least one Sharpie marker in a drawer for writing on just about anything. And it is a favorite tool for artists to use for big bold sketches, graffiti, and drawing on a lot of surfaces that won’t often take other materials. They are bold and messy and the tips dull but they are certainly ubiquitous and make a statement and there looks to be a lot of bold, fun artwork included in this book. The author is a designer, artist and instructor at the School of Visual Arts so included within the book are some simple activities to try using Sharpies as drawing tools as well as inspiring art and artist profiles.

PlayingWithSketchesPlaying With Sketches: 50 creative Exercises for Designer and Artists
by Whitney Sherman ($24.27 paperback)

The bulk of this book is creative exercise spreads with a concept for drawing or sketching and then examples and descriptions of the technique. If you are looking to start a regular drawing practice (like a 30-day project or a more ambitious 365 project) but are worried you are going to run out of ideas, this book would be a great tool to be able to refer to when you’re feeling stuck. From simple mark-making techniques like blind contour drawings and making patterns to more complex projects like sketchbook collaborations and used book sketchbooks. The artwork examples included are interesting and range stylistically. I really like some of the project ideas and think they would make great week long (or longer) drawing projects, particularly the sticky note quilt idea.

I hope you find these books as inspiring as I do. Let me know if you pick any of them up or what your favorite drawing, sketching or painting books are.

Books For The Desk Set: Letter Writing & Epistolary Books for InCoWriMo/LetterMo

Paris LettersParis Letters book ($5.25 for Kindle, $11.87 for paperback) by Janice MacLeod

Paris Letters is a travelogue/memoir with a bit of self-help thrown in for good measure. The book was pulled together from the author’s personal journals, blog and letters to become this short book about her journey from a disappointed 30-something copywriter to an expat living in Paris. She was influenced to start journaling by Julia Margaret Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and her morning pages ritual which is something quite familiar to me so I was intrigued to see where this lead MacLeod. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive on Amazon so the people who appreciated her tale. She has gone on to create illustrated travel letters that can be purchased on Etsy as well as a web site with a blog and more content. I read the book over a week that I was down with a cold and it was a light read. I enjoyed seeing her illustrated letters sprinkled throughout. While there was some romance in the overall story, this was definitely not about letters as a means for making a romantic connection.

The Art of the Handwritten Note bookThe Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication ($11.99 for Kindle, $14.04 for hardback, used copies can be found for much less) by Margaret Shepherd

This is one of many good books to help set someone, maybe even yourself, back on the path of writing notes and letters by hand. If you are a regular reader of this blog you are probably someone who writes letters or has considered it as something you might want to do anyway as an opportunity to practice your penmanship, try out your new inks or have yet another excuse to use all those pens in your collection. This book lays out simple reasons why handwritten notes and letters remain relevant today and include some tips for what to say (and what not to say) in some of the more formal occasions like thank you notes, condolence cards and apologies. This is not at all a manners book and does not include lengthy ways to format wedding invitations but rather wordings to make things clear and non-confrontational when writing to a landlord or writing a Dear John letter. It also has tips for improving your handwriting as the author is a known calligrapher. Its a small book and written in a conversational tone that makes it easy to read and a good jumping off point and the quotes peppered throughout are a nice touch.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered bookSigned, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing ($11.99 for Kindle, $20.35 for hardback, used copies can be found for much less) by Nina Sankovitch

Signed,Sealed, Delivered was written by the author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is full of essays about letters. There’s a whole essay about how letters were used to prosecute kidnappers and killers, or not. There’s another essay about a woman who wrote a thank you letter to Edison for electricity. It’s just a pleasing book of stories with letters at the heart of each story and how could we not appreciate that?

The Art of the Personal Letter: A Guide to Connecting Through the Written Word ($11.99 for Kindle, $10.39 for hardback, used copies can be found for much less) by Margaret Shepherd

The Art of The Personal Letter is also by Margaret Shepherd who wrote The Art of the Handwritten Note. The Art of the Personal Letter includes some elements mentioned in The Art of the Handwritten Note but the Personal Letter definitely delves deeper into letter-writhing specifically. If you are looking for something to help keep your creative juices flowing through InCoWriMo/LetterMo, I would recommend picking up The Art of the Personal Letter rather the Handwritten Note as more of the content will be relevant to you. Personal Letter still includes info on materials and pens and handwriting repair but then the remainder of the content focuses on longer form letters rather than notes or other types of correspondence. I figure by week 3 of InCoWriMo, ideas for writing letters to the future and letters to my congressmen might be great ideas.

Good Mail Day bookGood Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art ($9.99 for Kindle, $4.85 for paperback) by Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler

I cannot believe I have not written about this book before! This is one of my favorite sources for inspiration in making mail art, decorated envelope and epistolary adventures. I highly recommend buying the paper edition, especially at the low, low prices currently listed on Amazon. The paperback edition of the book includes stickers and templates and is in full color. Such a fun and funky resource for creating mail art. And I’m not just saying that because I know the authors!