David Blackburn

Paul Johnson’s and David Sexton’s books of the year

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Here is the second installment from the magazine.

Paul Johnson: The book I relished most from 2010 was John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1883–1899. This is volume 5 in the catalogue raisonné being lovingly compiled by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray and published by Yale at £50. It contains a detailed account of Sargent’s greatest painting, ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’, which took him two years, 1885–86, to complete and is now in the Tate.

Also enjoyable was the latest instalment of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle which covers the year October 1860–October 1861 and is volume 37 in this remarkable series — notable as always for the feisty letters of Jane.

The year was marked by two striking biographies. As I am writing a life of Darwin, I found Emma Darwin by James D. Loy and Kent M. Loy, describing his patient, sensitive and supporting wife, invaluable and illuminating. And that enterprising spirit Dinesh D’Souza has produced an alarming portrait of the gruesome US President in The Roots of Obama’s Rage.

David Sexton: The two volumes of Nigel Slater’s Tender are a masterpiece. Volume I, on vegetables, appeared last year, bound in green; Volume II, on fruit, this autumn, bound in pink. They are continuously paginated, amounting to 1,226 pages in total, beautifully printed and illustrated. Both growing and cooking, Slater has made a whole world from his own back garden in North London. The recipes are wonderful but these books are endlessly re-readable too — they are in fact a kind of sensual autobiography, quite new. I wouldn’t be without them.