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Monocle books

Midwinter must-reads

01 - On The Other Side
Mathilde Wölff-Monckeberg

This is the Second World War you never hear about – an ordinary German civilian’s version. Living in liberal Hamburg, Wölff-Monckeberg was neither Nazi or dissident. The touching everyday account of how Hitler’s Third Reich turns her country into a hateful, alien place comes in the form of letters written to her children abroad.

02 - Blank Gaze
José Luís Peixoto

José Luís Peixoto won Portugal’s José Saramago prize in 2001 for this first novel, now translated into English. It’s a beautiful and savage story about the inhabitants of a poverty-stricken village in the Portuguese region of Alentejo. We meet a magical assortment of characters including a silent shepherd, a pair of conjoined twins, a 120-year-old wise man and the Devil. Moody but perfect for an apocalyptic New Year grump.

03 - Kenya Hara
Designing Design

Along with Naoto Fukasawa, Kenya Hara is one of the greats of the contemporary Japanese design, his work comprising not just exquisite design itself but the philosophy and intellectualising of the design process. And what we read in the pages of this book – essentially Hara’s discourse on and history of contemporary design – comes from a definitively eastern approach. This includes seeing design as connected to nature and the concept of “emptiness”. Hara runs his own studio within the Nippon Design Centre and is also a professor of design; his work has included branding for the 1998 Winter Olympics and the entire design programme for Muji, where he has been design advisor since 2000.

04 - Wiener Werkstaette
Gabriele Fahr-Becker

Without Austria’s Wiener Werkstaette, the Bauhaus movement in Germany and Art Deco in France might never have happened. Founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffman, Koloman Moser and Fritz Wämdorfer and lasting for just 30 years, the design workshops forged their own form of high-art modernism in a collective of craftsmen, architects and artists that also included Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. This special edition, published by Taschen to celebrate its 25th birthday, shows just how avant-garde and influential the workshop was.

05 - Europa Editions
Jean-Claude Izzo, The Lost Sailors

Europa Editions was founded in the States in 2005 by Italians Sandro and Sandra Ferri to bring translations of contemporary European fiction to the US market. To date it has published over 50 editions from countries including Italy, France, Greece and Lebanon. Recently it added the Antipodes. The books are characterised by their instant-classic illustrated covers and typefaces. The Lost Sailors by French crime writer Izzo examines sailors marooned on a freighter in the port of Marseilles – all claustrophobia and moral dilemma.

Monocle music

It's the year for fiery, folky femininity

01 - Cat Power

She of the snake hips and smoky elocution makes light work of her heroes on this collection of unlikely karaoke gems. James Brown’s “Lost Someone” becomes a Memphis front-porch torch song and “Don’t Explain” makes Billie Holiday’s version seem unconfessional. Power’s second covers album oozes breathy intimacy and classy cathedral calm.

02 - Yasmin Levy
Mano Suave

With a history that takes in the Spanish banishment of Sephardi Jews in 1492 and their subsequent flight to the Balkans and Turkey brought up to date by a cantor (a synagogue’s liturgical lead singer) father, Yasmin Levy’s yearning, lilting, nuanced songs on love, loss and homeland possess a pretty reasonable, well-travelled raison d’être. Sung in the moribund Judeao-Spanish Ladino, Spanish folk music informs a record of irresistible musicality.

03 - Adele

Adele is 19, hails from Brixton and attended the Brit School where young ladies such as Amy Winehouse and Lilly Allen honed their skills at smoking, twirling gum around their index fingers and delivering the most poignant British pop of the past decade. Training a voice reminiscent of La Winehouse and Peggy Lee over pop and piano-driven soul, Adele Atkins is every bit as good as the other old girls.

The selectors


“The idea was to display only 25 books,” says Bodo von Hodenberg, the proprietor of Berlin bookshop Bildschöne Bücher and former sales director of Taschen. “We want to sell the best books from around the world, whether it’s a book from the smallest art publisher in southern Japan or the coolest cookbook from Germany. The main thing is that the 25 books we show are no older than three months.”

Each week two books are added and two are taken out of the collection, displayed in the compact 80 sq m shop – so every four to five weeks, the entire selection of 25 books is updated. The bookstore has become more of a book gallery than a shop; the majority of Bildschöne Bücher’s income comes from its online shop,, where archived ­collections are sold.

Von Hodenberg explains, “There are so many chain bookshops now and too much choice. Consumers don’t really want that any more. They want people to select the best things, to show them the good stuff. That’s what we want to do. We don’t want to show everything, we want to tell people what they have to have and we want them, most of all, to believe us.”

53 Kollwitzstrasse, Berlin
+ 49 (0) 30 4401 2372;

Dear darling


Also incoming from Berlin, hot off the presses from its Monbijouplatz offices, is “Liebling”, a tall, handsome stranger of a culture-only paper now at the newsstand. Its Eins Nummer lives up to its “fashion, film, music and art” self-billing with features and helping hands from Raf Simons, Wayne Wang and a monthly “Kunstprojekt.” The brainkind of Markus Peichl of “Tempo” and ex-“Stern” publishing princess Anne Urbauer, “Liebling” will publish 10 times a year although Monocle would like to see 52 instalments – as the Sunday supplement that dreams are made of.

Standing its ground


Times are hard – even for successful record shops. It helps, then, to be in cahoots with Calif (Club Action des Labels Indépendants Français). In France, even the music scene is unionised. Franck Pompidor has jumped right into bed with them – in September 2007, three years after setting up his shop Ground Zero, he moved it into Calif’s headquarters in Belleville. Luckily, the Ministry of Culture-funded Calif pays a third of Pompidor’s rent. The shop’s name is inspired by his awareness that music retailers are disappearing and they are faced with a “ground zero” situation.

Such concerns do not tie Pompidor down. When Monocle comes to call he is off promoting his band, Hush Puppies, one of the many French indie groups who hang out in Ground Zero. Instead we meet Julie, who says she’s the “first and only assistant Pompidor has hired”. She makes sure that what she calls “the only good record shop on La Rive Droite” stocks an interesting mix of the best new rock, pop and electro, as well as classic soul, reggae and 1960s re-releases.

The locals love the range, which goes beyond the kiddy tendencies of the French indie scene. Regulars collectively lap up 50 records a day (100 on Saturdays), from French bands such as Nelson, to current favourite genre-defying singer-songwriter, Beirut. “Enough to keep the clients as a family,” Julie explains. It’s a modest claim for a shop whose clientele includes the likes of local resident Jarvis Cocker.

Ground Zero, 23 rue Sainte Marthe, Paris+ 33 (0) 1 40 03 83 08;

Ground Zero favourites
01. Widow City, Fiery Furnaces
02. Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective
03. Andorra, Caribou
04. Smoke, White Williams
05. Night Drive, Chromatics

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