Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for December

Architecture: A Visual History

If a world tour isn’t on your agenda any time soon, then settle back in your comfy chair, open Architecture: A Visual History (DK Publishing 2017) and take a stunning trip through more than 350 of the world’s most iconic buildings.

The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul: built between 532 – 537 and the forerunner of much Byzantine architecture – it’s enormous, light-filled saucer dome is 184 feet high, a feat of engineering, and the mosaic portraits look like oil paintings. Really.

The Forbidden City, Beijing: finished in 1420, to the north of Tiananmen Square, it covers 180 acres and was designed to contain 9,999 rooms – 9 is a lucky number in China.

The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao: finished in 1997, and designed by Canuck born Frank Gehry who, by the way, is designing the Mirvish King St. condos, is “architecture as outlandish sculpture and glorious entertainment”. I think it is SPECTACULAR!!

Architecture showcases the details, design features, principal elements and decorative work from the first ziggurats in Mesopotamia (c. 2125 BCE) to 21-century skyscrapers – wrapping each building in a social, cultural and historical context using breathtaking photography, intriguing cross-sections and unique CGI artwork.

“The mother art is architecture, “ said Frank Lloyd Wright. “Without an architecture of our own we no soul of our own civilization.” And he oughta know.

Remarkable Books

So consider this: the earliest surviving complete printed book, which bears an actual date, is the Diamond Sutra, circa 868, China. It was printed using woodblocks almost six centuries before the Gutenberg Bible, which was printed on the Gutenberg press using movable type for the first time – the Gutenberg press is considered to be the launching pad for books as we know them today. Astonishing, right?

Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works (DK Publishing 2017) invites you to explore 80 of civilization’s rarest and most celebrated written works, from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Harry Potter (The Deathly Hallows sold 11 million copies in the first 24 hours, the fastest selling book in history).

Remarkable Books starts with Ancient Egypt’s Books of the Dead, circa 1991 to 50 BCE, papyrus scrolls buried in a tomb with the deceased, and the detailed images and background boxes offer a tantalizing glimpse into a remarkable civilization.

Then, in chronological order, it opens up the most important books ever written, framing them in a social and cultural context and offering bios of each book’s author. Add breathtaking images, close ups of special details and jaw-droppingly-beautiful illustrations and you have…well…a book lover’s winning lottery ticket.

Don’t cheap out. Buy one for the book lover on your list and one for yourself.


Dan Brown is a damned fine storyteller. OK, not Giller Prize talent, but he always delivers engaging if sometimes kitschy characters and twisty if often implausible plots – just when you think you know whodunit, he drops you down the rabbit hole.

Origin, Brown’s latest, may well be his best since his first – The Da Vinci Code.

Robert Langdon is professor of religious symbology at Harvard. But he’s in Bilbao, Spain, at the Guggenheim, to hear his friend and former student Edmond Kirsch, a tech genius (very Elon Muskish) deliver a breathlessly-anticipated answer to those two forever-debated questions – Where Did We Come From and Where Are We Going – and pretty much stamp paid to every religion, ever. Whew!

But before Kirsch gets to his reveal, an assassin shoots him, and Langdon, aided by Kirsch’s ultimate high tech AI friend Winston and Ambra, the future Queen of Spain, sets out to find Kirsch’s killer and reveal his Secrets of the Universe to the world.

Origin delivers what you expect from Dan Brown – he’s faithful to his formula because it works. Movie in the works starring Tom Hanks. Trust me.

Uncommon Type

As you know, Tom Hanks is a multi-award-winning actor, producer, director, screenwriter – also the star of the Robert Langdon movies The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Inferno (no theme here, just serendipity).

Uncommon Type: Some Stories, proves Hanks is also a pretty good writer. This collection of 17 engaging short stories – antique manual typewriters are the link – is pure Forrest Gump, a kind and gentle exploration of humankind that sometimes slips into sticky sentimentality, but still.

Hanks characters are like a box of chocolates (you knew that was coming, right?)

A World War II vet deals with scars, physical and emotional. A second-rate actor shoots to stardom after a confusing press junket. A small-town newspaper columnist laments the death of print. A teenage surfer celebrates his birthday with Dad and discovers his father’s secret life.

My fave? Alan Bean Plus Four, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2014. Four friends – the lazy-butt narrator, his former three-week girlfriend, Anna, and Steve Wong and MDash, two nerdy Home Depot guys – build a rocket ship in the back garden and take off for the moon. It’s way weird but hugely entertaining.

I don’t think Hanks the writer is as talented as Hanks the actor. But in this debut book, he celebrates regular people like you and me, in all our everyday quirkiness, with wit, charm and lotsa style.

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas’ debut novel has been labeled a Young Adult read but I think that does the book a big fat injustice, which is kinda ironic since The Hate U Give is a Black Lives Matter take on injustice, racism and police brutality.

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in Garden Heights, a poor Black neighbourhood, with her mom, Lisa, a nurse, her dad Big Mav, a former gangbanger who has done time but now owns a grocery store and is the community go-to guy, her little brother Sekani and her often-there half brother Seven.

Lisa and Mav want a better future for their kids so they send them to a pretty much all white school in a tony neighbourhood a 45-minute drive away, on a good day. Starr talks about ‘hood Starr and school Starr, ever conscious about not being “the black girl from the ghetto” especially given she’s dating a white boy.

One evening, a white policeman stops Starr and her childhood friend Khalil in his car. The situation gets tense, the cop sees what he thinks is a gun on the floor of the car – turns out to be a brush – and shoots Khalil. Dead.

Starr is the only witness. If she steps up, she endangers her life; if she keeps quiet, she sells out Khalil and her community. The murder galvanizes Garden Heights and what transpires forces Starr and her family to question their attitudes and assumptions, and rethink what it means to be Black in America.

Voted Indigo’s Best Book of the Year, I couldn’t put The Hate U Give down – and I’m way past Young Adult.

Written by Charlotte Empey with Illustrations by LEZ AUTRES

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