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Betty Churcher and more

 - Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Sketchbooks: Betty Churcher's & Yours 

Betty Churcher has a new book coming out in April. Australian Notebooks is a collection of her sketches of her favourite artworks in Australian galleries. She writes: While I was director of the National Gallery in Canberra, I always travelled with my notebook. Often I drew simply to fix the painting in my memory (once drawn, never forgotten). This new book follows in the steps of Notebooks, where I sketched artworks in international galleries. Now, with failing health, I have made one last trip around Australia to visit my most cherished artworks. This book is to be my last and is, as such, very dear to me-it is my aim to bring some of the great pictures that sustained me since my days as a schoolgirl in Brisbane in the 1940s to the attention of the Australian public, so that I can share my enthusiasm with my readers. 
What a good idea for a book. What a brilliant idea for any art lover, or aspiring artist-recording paintings, buildings, sculptures in their own sketchbooks. And Gleebooks stocks many sketchbooks that would be very suitable for the task. The Tate Modern sketchbook range is fantastic-good quality paper, different shapes and sizes (the landscape sketchbook is my favourite). The Clarefontaine sketchbooks range from A6 to A3, and have good quality paper (and pretty covers). Zap books are very popular for the young sketching set. With their chunky shapes, fairly ordinary paper-available in several shapes and sizes-Zap books are the perfect book to take with you while backpacking. We also have a great range of Moleskine pocket sketchbooks and watercolour books ($22.95).
The Sketchbook Project was an art project that started in 2006, when two friends started sharing, collecting and mailing sketchbooks (544 artists submitted their sketchbooks), and by 2012, an amazing 61,789 artists participated in the project. The Sketchbook Project Journal: More than 200 Ways to Fill a Page by Shane Peterman and Shane Zucker ($25) is an accompanying sketchbook to fill in, but with some creative directives. The removable cover folds out to reveal some of the artwork from the projects, and a photo of the sketchbooks that have been collected at the Brooklyn Art Library.
My favourite sketchbook, although hardly portable at 34cm square, is described by its publisher McSweeney's McMullens as a 'giant-size, author-illustrator starter kit...one huge completely blank book, ready to be filled in by you'. One Big Book is $18, has a hardcover, and good quality white drawing paper, and its very size alone will inspire you. (Louise)

I can highly recommend The Lost Carving by David Esterly to readers fascinated by the act of making. The author is a man who turned-swerved is the word he uses-from the critical contemplation of poetry and philosophy to carving in wood. This beautiful memoir gives the reader some access to how it feels thinking and making 'in the marrowbone'. Edmund de Waal loved it and I did too! (Judy)

 The Sixteenth Rail: The Evidence, the Scientist and the Lindbergh Kidnapping by Adam J. Schrager - A fascinating and suspenseful book of a true forensic science triumph. Forget CSI. Read in awe as Arthur Koehler-mild mannered, dedicated US Forest Service employee and  'xylotomist' (expert on the identification of wood)-spends two years investigating the 'Crime of the Century' and makes the crudely constructed ladder used in the 1932 kidnapping of baby Charles Lindbergh, Jr. point unerringly and conclusively towards the culprit, Bruno Richard Hauptmann. (Steven)


Americanah is a big novel at over 600 pages with a terribly drab earthen cover, but is in fact a terribly charming, colourful and immensely readable book. Ostensibly it is a simple long-term love story about a pair of Nigerian university students, one of whom moves to the USA and becomes a celebrity blogger, and the other who becomes an 'illegal' in London, delivering refrigerators and attempting a sham marriage to gain residency. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a brilliant observant eye and nails every scene she depicts; whether it is in describing the office politics of a start-up women's magazine in  Lagos, a hideous dinner party of the nouveau-riche in West London, Princeton campus satire, or the gloriously extended fly-on-the-wall social comedy of a seedy New Jersey hair-braiding salon. The lightness of touch belies, ultimately, a really sophisticated and trenchant look at race politics, class and immigration, particularly in contemporary USA. I suppose 'post-colonial African American Steel Magnolias' doesnít really do this book anywhere near justice, but if the notion of such a book appeals, it goes some way to intimating this book's spiky humour and intelligence. (Andy) POSTSCRIPT I'm pleased to report the new edition -out this month- has a far more colourful jacket!

I've just finished Dorothy Whipple's 1934 novel They Knew Mr Knight, and I really enjoyed it. It's a linear, straightforward story about a middle class English family who ascend the social staircase,  through the agency of the shady Mr Knight. Told mainly from the point of view of the female characters, it's the story of a marriage, a family, and a whole strata of English society between the wars. Dorothy Whipple does have a moralistic attitude in her books (possibly why they are no longer popular), but her real strength is in capturing the outward day to day life of her characters, then just as quickly taking the reader into their inner lives. Rich in fascinating domestic detail, and I should also add that the gardens in the book are an important element, so vividly described that the reader is feels drawn into them. (louise)