Hygge + Happiness: Books About Denmark

As I’m sure anyone who has wondered into a bookshop recently will know (or reads any lifestyle blogs, for that matter), almost every middle-class Brit is talking about Denmark and hygge – myself included.

Over the last few months publishers have been capitalising on the trend, with literal stacks of titles sporting the buzzword, offering cosiness and happiness and an idillic lifestyle in our very own England. Although I don’t see a few blankets and candles as a fix all for 21st century blues, I wanted to share two books I’ve really enjoyed on the subject, and the lessons that I’ve taken from them.

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The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

This first book is a memoir-cum-cultural profile, written by a British lifestyle journalist who moves to Denmark with her husband when he is offered a job with Lego. The chapters are split into a month-by-month basis, with each section titled by a uniquely Danish cultural phenomenon. Her chapter on hygge appears fairly early in the book, but the ideas and the word itself appear frequently throughout her first year of living in abroad. She openly talks about what she thinks works culturally (and the things she thinks don’t) and the difficultly she faced as an outsider, but overall the book is a lighthearted and well researched peek into day to day life in Denmark.

What Russell emphasises as being the biggest impact on her personal happiness is the balance between work and home. In Denmark, the day finishes far earlier, and clubs, childcare, and family time seem to be built into everyone’s week. Although things such as family time, and time doing activities like walks, cycling, reading, or cooking all come under the heading of ‘hygge’, the shorter work days and government assistance are something country specific. Russell frequently theorises that it is the combination of personal choice and public policy that results in such reportedly high levels of happiness in Danes, and that short of actually moving to Denmark some aspects of life are not easily replicated elsewhere. However, she does argue that adjusting mindset and priorities are key in happiness at work, home, and with your own happiness, making sure that time is taken to spend time with loved ones, eat good food, and take life a little slower.

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Buy it here.

 

The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

Although this little book is also non-fiction, it couldn’t be more different in its approach. Written by a Dane, Wiking attempts to give a comprehensive guide on exactly hygge is, why it is important, and how to achieve it in every aspect of life. This volume is chock full of gorgeous photos, recipes, DIY projects, and even clothing tips.

After my first cover-to-cover read through of this book, I’ve so often gone back to it in times where I’ve needed a little pick me up. The tips Wiking gives range from the lifestyle altering to the most basic, so whenever I’m in need of a cosy break from the day to day, there always seems to be something that I can implement immediately.

 

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Buy it here.

What are your thoughts on the hygge trend? Let me know down in the comments!

7 Favourite Books About Art

At the time of writing, I only have three (three!) months left of my undergraduate degree. The last three years have been a haze of essays, sculptures, and library days, with a few great books folded between.

As I can already feel myself feeling nostalgic for pouring over impossibly convoluted texts in the name of Art History, I thought I’d do a round-up of the best books about art (and thinking about art) that I’ve read throughout my degree.

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

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To say that this book is a cornerstone for Art History would be an understatement. As well as being possibly the most useful little book throughout my degree, Ways of Seeing is wonderfully accessible and easy to understand. The reason I love this book so much is simply because Berger opened up History of Art to the masses, showing that it was something interesting, relevant to modern society, and something very much open for anyone to learn about and discuss.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

 

The Story of Art -E.H. Gombrich

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In a similar vein to the previous book, The Story of Art also gives an incredibly comprehensive introduction to the history of art, as well as being easy to understand while still dealing with very complex topics. I read this book cover to cover before starting my degree (admittedly I did look a little strange lugging around my hardback version for ‘holiday reading’) and referred to it during almost every essay and exam season.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

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As the only work of fiction on the list, The Improbability of Love is something a little different. It’s a satirical take on the art world, involving the auction of a lost painting, Nazi plots, themed cooking, and an ex-rent boy that occasionally dresses as Marie Antoinette. The author is well immersed in the art world herself, so even though the characters are completely over-blown, the book is extremely fun, very well researched, and still somehow very believable.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

 

A Grand Design – Edited by Brenda Richardson and Malcolm Baker

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I will admit, compared to everything else on the list, this is a bit of a wild card. Even before I came to university I was obsessed with the V&A, so much so that by this time last year I had decided to write my dissertation on its entrance. This book has not only been an invaluable research piece, but is an extremely interesting and passionate history of the museum, with reflections on privilege, class, and Britishness, as well as some beautiful illustrations.

Buy it here.

 

 

Artemisia: The Story of a Battle for Greatness – Alexandra Lapierre

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Simply put, this is a biography of one of my heroes. Artemisia was a Baroque painter with a fascinating upbringing as the daughter of another successful artist, who painted common biblical or mythological scenes with a distinctly feminist edge. She painted for the Medici’s, was buddies with Galileo (!) and was an amazing single mother to boot. This book also covers the misattribution of some of her work to her father, as well as her extremely public rape trail, meaning that this book reads almost like a piece of page-turning historical fiction.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

Art Made From Books – Alyson Kuhn

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Books? Check. Art? Check. Gorgeous binding? Definitely! This book is all of my favourite things put together with love, alongside descriptions of sculptures so wonderful that I wish I could see every one of them in real life. A great coffee table book as well as an introduction to some inspiring contemporary artists, Art Made From Books makes a great gift or a treat for your own shelves.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained – Susie Hodge

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I fully admit that, until the second year of my degree, I despised almost all contemporary art. I’d written it off as ugly, pretentious, and unnecessary, but this book (as well as a fabulous second year module) helped to convert me. Using examples of high profile art from the last hundred years, Hodge explains the movement that the piece comes from, its exhibition history, and why it is considered ‘good art’.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

 

Although I could ramble on and on about a huge range of books about art, I thought these showed a great cross-section of books that I’ve loved and thumbed through the most over the past three years. If you have any recommendations for art books, please let me know in the comments!

Note: this post contains affiliate links for The Book Depository. If you buy anything through my link, I’ll earn 5% of the cost of what you bought (without costing you any extra).

 

My Capsule Wardrobe Inspiration

As part of my quest for less, I’ve started with culling my wardrobe with brute force. Three bin bags later and a lot of folding, I’m down to significantly less that 100 items of clothing, most of which are pieces I completely love. I’ve began to notice where I go wrong with shopping – impulse buys, trendy, and ‘not quite perfect but near enough’ pieces being the most discarded ones – so I’ve managed to narrow down exactly what works for me, and more importantly, the difference between what I find aesthetically pleasing and what I will actually wear day to day.

 

Things I’ve Learned:

  1. Most of my favourite items are navy, light blue, black, and grey, which for the longest time I’ve fought against and constantly attempted to add colour to no avail. I think I need to accept that I feel my best in neutrals, and that I feel more confident in mixing pattern and layering with items like these than I ever do in bright colours and prints.
  2. I have a uniform of flats, skinny jeans, and a loose button up shirt, and whenever I deviate from it is when I feel the most self-conscious. Being plus sized means that the oversized shirts hide my least favourite body parts (my breasts and my stomach), whereas the skinny jeans highlight my favourite (legs). I also love the effortless look, which can easily be altered by a blazer or jumper over the shirt, and can easily be dressed up or down.
  3. I love more masculine clothes when it comes to my casual outfits – aside from skinny jeans, most of my wardrobe is tailored items, smart flat shoes, and fitted jackets and plain jumpers.

 

Current Capsule Wishlist:

  1. Some LK Bennett ballet flats in black – my only black flats at the moment are some lovely but rather clumpy tassel loafers
  2. A navy silk shirt – I have my eye on a particular one from work with a delicate floral pattern
  3. A black/ herringbone unstructured blazer – I have a thrifted navy blazer that I live in during spring, but I think something more casual would go with even more in my wardrobe
  4. A white linen t-shirt – despite owning a lot of plain basics, I’m distinctly lacking in a good white t-shirt, and I think linen will be a great fabric to layer with in spring and keep me cool in summer

 

Style Inspiration:

  1. Clemence Poesy – fabulous boyish French chic. I can’t get enough of her outfits and natural make-up look.
  2. This blog – the blogger lives between Paris and Amsterdam, and shares my love for oversized shirts. I’ve read her blog from beginning to end several times.
  3. My own Pinterest board – I’ve finally started collecting all of my wardrobe basics inspiration in one place, and hey, I’m not afraid to say I’m occasionally inspired by myself.

 

If you have a capsule wardrobe, what are your inspirations and motivations? If not, would you ever try one?

January ’17 Wrap-Up

Books Bought:

  • The No Spend Year – Michelle McGagh
  • Unf*ck Your Habitat – Rachel Hoffman
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Books Read:

  • The Wangs vs. The World – Jade Chang
  • The Museum of Me – Emma Lewis
  • The No Spend Year – Michelle McGagh
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness
  • The Good Immigrant – Various
  • When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

The year started off strong, with me blasting through three books in as many days at the start of January. But like any reading marathon, it wasn’t set to last – I had a 72 hour open exam at the end of the first week, and with university, societies, and work every weekend kicking back in, I landed right back in a reading slump. I really struggled to get through any other books, having to physically force myself to sit and read (which probably meant I didn’t enjoy very many of the books as much as I would have, either). That being said I’ve definitely found some new favourites already in 2017! May possibly have to re-read them when I’m in a better mood, though.

The Wangs vs. The World is a novel about the fall of Charles Wang, self made cosmetics millionaire turned bankrupt father during the 2008 economic crash. Packing himself, his morally dubious second wife, insta-famous daughter, and wannabe stand-up comic son into a tiny vintage car, they travel across the country to visit the oldest sibling, a failed contemporary artist hiding out in upstate New York, and from there attempt to reclaim forgotten family land from the Chinese communist government. This book was essentially Little Miss Sunshine but amped all the way up – there was a lot more tragedy, introspection, and detestable characters than I was expecting, but Jade Chang’s writing lands you your own place in this crazy, dysfunctional family.

The Museum of Me is actually a children’s picture book, all about the different kinds of museums that you can visit, and how your own belongings and interests create a ‘Museum of Me’. Simple but adorable art style, and a great message about why children should be getting excited about museums, it was a nice quick read to put me in a better mood.

The No Spend Year is a book, following up from a string of Guardian articles, about a woman who spends no money other than on absolute essentials (food, household bills, rent) for 12 months. No meals out, no haircuts, no new clothes, and no transport other than her bike and her own two feet. The book was brutally honest about what worked for her and what didn’t, tips for entertaining yourself for free, and how she (slightly illegally) managed to go on holiday for free – minus the cost of one portion of chips. A great book with practical tips on how to spend less but still live well, and something that I’ve kept thinking about long after I put the book down.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here was my first ever Patrick Ness book, and one that’s been on my TBR for well over a year. I was really excited about the concept – a group of teenagers attempting to live a normal life while the ‘chosen ones’ run around and get the high school blown up – but I felt as though it fell a bit short. It was great having main characters with mental illnesses and a POC love interest, but I didn’t feel as though the characters or personal conflicts were particularly exciting. After reading a few other reviews apparently many people thought the same, and Ness’s other books far outstrip this one, so I’ll be picking up something else by him in the near future.

The Good Immigrant is a collection of essays by a range of British BAME writers and comedians about what it means to be a first or second generation immigrant in the UK today. With all of the conversations about race in the current media revolving around America and Black Lives Matter, it was great to get an insight on how minorities feel about my own country, as white Brits tend to have the self-congratulatory habit of saying ‘Well at least we’re not America!’. Insightful and varied, it reminded me about how much further we have left to go, and how as a white ally I must help to raise the voices of minorities, not speak over them with my own interpretation.

When Breath Becomes Air is one you have probably all heard of – a memoir of a neurosurgeon with a masters in literature who is diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer. A short but heartbreaking book, the author discusses how his relationship with patients changed, how his priorities were altered, and how literature helped him through such a difficult time. The author died before the publication of this book, and the final chapter is written by his wife.

Which books did you kick off the new year with?

Why We’re Not Buying Valentine’s Day Gifts This Year

As January is finally drawing to a close, almost every shop on the high street right now is filled with red and pink Valentine’s displays. With giant A3 cards, pointless teddy bears, flowers that won’t last the week, and ‘sexy’ lingerie being advertised to ‘give him a night to remember’ (don’t even get me started on how awful these campaigns are) staring out of shop windows, I suggested that this year, the boyfriend and I take a break from buying each other cards and presents.

Luckily this year, the boyfriend has been able to get the 14th off from work, and it falls on a day where I don’t need to be at university, so the fact that we’d already be spending the day together got me thinking about what I really want to spend my money on. We’ve planned a day out in Leeds to go to their Valentine’s Fair, with lunch at our favourite sushi place, then home to a bottle of wine and a film. In my head I had already started adding: with the cost of rides, a nice lunch, and petrol money, that’s already double what I would normally spend on a gift and card!

Not only that, neither myself nor the boyfriend has anything we particularly want at the moment – so not only is there the upfront cost on top of our day out, but also we’d just be bringing more clutter into the house for the sake of giving. After some thought (and I small initial protest of ‘but I like getting presents!’) we decided that the day would be much more enjoyable if we spent the money from presents and a card on food, activities, and a rare day off together.

Have you done anything to cut costs with your partner this Valentine’s Day? Let me know in the comments!

 

Christmas Gift Guide: Books

Around this time last year, on my old blog URL, I published a bookish Christmas gift guide on a budget, mainly revolving around accessories, bookmarks, or jewellery. This year I’ve decided to recommend books to buy people based on things they’ve already loved, and I’ve tried to recommend alternatives for popular series or authors.

 

If they like Philippa Gregory, try the Outlander series1.png

Like most of Philippa Gregory’s work, the Outlander series is (for the most part) a chunky historical fiction series, with lashings of romance and engaging plot lines.

 

If they like Throne of Glass, try Three Dark Crowns

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Like the Throne of Glass, Three Dark Crowns is the beginning of a new YA series, which stars three sisters forced to attempt to assassinate the other two in order to gain the crown. It has a similar feel and is a great action packed fantasy novel.

 

If they like The Mistborn Trilogy, try Sorcerer to the Crown

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Although slightly different in tone to MistbornSorcerer to the Crown is a wonderfully original fantasy set in an alternative Victorian London. They’re both fantastic pieces of genre fiction, and Sorcerer to the Crown is something that epic fantasy fans may not have picked up themselves.

 

If they like Me Before You, try Ugly Love

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Another bittersweet romance novel, Ugly Love is great for fans of Me Before You. It’s an intense and page turning novel, although be warned: this is definitely not for younger readers due to adult content.

 

If they like The Book Thief, try All the Light We Cannot See

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Although both of these are WWII novels, they both take an original and beautifully crafted approach to an over-saturated genre. All the Light We Cannot See is similarly an emotional and personal story set against the backdrop of war torn Europe, with heartwarming but tear-jerking endings.

 

If they like Ready Player One, try Only You Can Save Mankind 

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Only You Can Save Mankind is an older novel following a plot similar to that of a stereotypical ‘fight aliens’ video game – but all is not as it seems. Thematically the same and similarly nostalgic, Pratchett’s hilarious writing is great for fans of Ready Player One.

 

If they like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, try Heartless

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What’s better for a fan of a classic than an updated retelling? Heartless tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘s Red Queen, written by the author of the Lunar Chronicles series. Set before the events of the book, it’s a fresh new take on the popular classic.

 

If they like The Inheritance Cycle, try Seraphina

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Although both of these series are aimed at a younger audience, both are great fantasy stories for all ages. Seraphina also plays on a new take of the dragon myth, combined with a brilliantly written romance, fantastic characterisation, and intimidating dragons and courtiers.

 

What do you guys think of these recommendations? Would you buy any of these for fans of the popular series mentioned?

6 Wintery Reads

At the time of writing, England has just had its first snow this winter. After an unseasonably warm September and October, the temperature has plummeted and I can (finally) crack out the bobble hats and oversized jumpers, and I’m about two steps away from having ‘cosy’ tattooed on my forehead.

In the spirit of the cold weather – and the beginning of my favourite time of year – I thought I could share some books that I love snuggling up under a blanket with.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

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Not only is this a gloriously chunky and heart-warming book that’s ideal for occupying you throughout the holidays, the book also begins with one of the most beautifully described Christmas mornings I’ve ever read. Although they were a poor family, each girl received a beautifully bound book under their pillow – and I honestly think that reading this as a child is what made me so grateful for everything we tend to take for granted of Christmas day.

The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

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Hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) is an untranslatable word from Danish, which roughly means cosiness and happiness. This books summarises how Danish day to day life revolves around this concept, and how it can be into your own in order to achieve greater general happiness. It even has a whole chapter dedicated to Danish Christmas, complete with mouth-watering recipes.

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – J K Rowling

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The winter is almost always going to make me want to re-read the entire series, but particularly the first book brings back so many memories and is rich with nostalgia at this point – and Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts is still so magical to me at the age of 20 as it was at 7.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

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Do I even need to explain? Not only (in my opinion) is this the easiest to read Dickens novel – mostly due to its length – but this is probably one of the most iconic Christmas stories in literature…other than the obvious.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie

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As always, Agatha Christie is on the top of her game with this novel that has its own seasonal twist. It’s an extremely original mystery where almost every single character has something to hid, and can also serve as a welcome break if you’ve had your fill of fluffiness from other seasonal stories. I always end up watching this adaptation around Christmas, too, which is also well worth a watch!

Twelfth Night – William Shakespeare

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The ‘Twelfth Night’ was a day, 12 days after Christmas, where the lower class citizens would swap status with the elite as part of the seasonal celebrations in Tudor England. Although the play itself isn’t set at this time of year – or even in England – Twelfth Night completely embodies this swapping and foolishness at its core, and is a genuinely hilarious script full of idiotic characters and memorable lines, that I always come back to in winter.

What are some of your favourite wintery reads?