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Updated: Sep 8, 2022

✦ A profile of a world-famous woman, a directory of Australia’s epic trails and hikes and a charming book for the little ones, Susie Boswell looks at some eclectic new releases on the bookshelves this month.

Book Review: Anna, The Biography, by Amy Odell as featured in Brilliant-Online

Anna, The Biography, by Amy Odell

She is one of the most remarkable women in popular culture. She’s Dame Anna Wintour, turning 73 soon, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine for the past 34 years and with a string of other CEO roles in the Conde Nast international publishing empire. British by birth, she has long adopted New York as her home. Her multimillion-dollar a year salary is said to be augmented by a $200,000 clothing allowance (US$4,000-odd a week is probably not over the top if you’re buying haute couture threads).

Outside of fashion industry cognoscenti she’s better known to a wider audience as “the inspiration for” Miranda Priestly, her Best Actress-nominated Meryl Streep alter ego, star of the movie made in 2005, The Devil Wears Prada. In turn, the movie was based on a book with the same title, written in 2002. So, for more than 20 years, Anna Wintour has been a world-recognised tour de force, a subject worthy of the focus of literature and film and of portrayal by one of cinema’s greatest in Streep.

She’s known too for her eternal chestnut-toned bobbed hairstyle and ubiquitous sunglasses – worn daytimes both outdoors and in, and often at night (a shame as she has pretty, wide-set eyes). The shades are so incongruous they’ve become her trademark. She’s recognised also for her temperament: whether accurately reflected or parodied in the books and the movie depends on your point of view.

This new release, Anna, is an unauthorised biography of a fascinating woman that reads often as a supercharged CV but that nevertheless fills out each entry, each step in Wintour’s career and life, with factual records and attributed, and anonymous, anecdotes by leading international fashion industry icons, former and current colleagues and staff, and her many friends and acquaintances.

Page upon page offers a jolt of recognition: names including Giorgio Armani, Madonna, Antony Armstrong-Jones, Richard Avedon, Gucci, Christiane Amanpour, Beyonce, Tom Ford, Gisele Bundchen, Grace Coddington, Hugh Jackman, the Clintons, the Clooneys, the Olsens, the Obamas, Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, the Oz’s Richard Neville and Christopher Hitchens (both former boyfriends), Baz Luhrmann, Nicole Kidman, Manolo Blahnik, Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, Chanel, Biba, Jimmy Choo, John Galliano, Max Mara, Donald Trump and Queen Elizabeth... you get my drift. Even Harvey Weinstein!

That list alone hints at just one remarkable trend instigated by Wintour: the move in fashion publishing and promotion away from featuring models to using movie stars and actors as the focus for covers, cover stories and profiles and in advertising.

Some of the more extreme fussiness and fastidiousness described as Vogue idiosyncrasies may seem hard to believe: for example, that the veggies on the dinner plates at the Met Gala have to “match”! Yet I can personally vouch for this peculiar mentality. During a stint as a sub-editor at Vogue Australia I was gobsmacked at the time and expense spent for me to edit the pages to a particular design – something then unheard of in the world of real journalism and that would have been derided in the profession. (Technology has since made the quirk more easily achieved). Many of the other mannerisms, practices and even the physical layout of the offices, too, described in the book ring true in my experience as a commonality of the brand.

There’s a feeling of “chicken or the egg” in reading this book in context with the earlier Wintour manifestations: so much seems so familiar, or is it merely that the myths, or truths, widely persist? The American authour or her editors are annoyingly prone to an excess of commas and there’s some evidence of hasty editing where a personality is mentioned as if a known identity, but only introduced in the narrative at a later point. However, that, and an odd typeface that has dashes joining up unrelated words without leaving a space, as if they’re hyphenated, will barely detract for the average reader.

It's quite the page-turner, name-dropper, brand-cum-celebrity-recognition trip and a fun, vicarious kick. Allen & Unwin. RRP $34.99.

Book Review: Epic Hikes of Australia and New Zealand as featured in Brilliant-Online

Epic Hikes of Australia and New Zealand

If it involves travel guidance and it’s branded Lonely Planet – enough said! LP has been a trustworthy Australian source of information for travellers for half a century. Founded by English baby boomer backpacker couple Tony and Maureen Wheeler when they arrived in Melbourne in 1973, the title was sold over the past decade or so to the BBC for upwards of US$250 million. Over its history LP has published more than 145 million guidebooks with information on 220 countries, as well as a massive number of other complementary titles.

But the quality Lonely Planet is renowned for remains. As they say, for the experienced hiker or merely the relaxed rambler, this book is a first in the region and includes 50 detailed and excellent hiking routes as well as a further 150 recommendations in each of the two countries.

Its publication follows others in an Epic Hikes series covering the World, Europe and the Americas and features wildlife-rich islands, amazing coastlines and awe-inspiring mountains. Endurance and ability categories range from urban discoveries and one-day hikes through to long distance trails and newly created routes such as the Scenic Rim Trail in Queensland and NZ’s Paparoa Track.

The shorter day walks include Sydney’s Seven Bridges adventure while the longest trek is the 223k Larapinta Trail around the ridgeline of central NT’s Macdonald Ranges. Each destination includes an orientation toolkit to plan the trip, with details such as best time of year to go, how to get there and any special equipment needed as well as ratings of Easy, Hard and Epic.

This is no “roll up and stash in your back pocket” guide but an invaluable hard-cover planner before setting out, to make the most of a trip. And, at journey’s end, it’s an excellent coffee table book that’s an aide-memoire of travels past, a reference, a guide for future challenges, and a conversation starter when friends drop in.

There are evocative photos, maps, distance and duration measurements for each trail, further reference links, what to pack, where to stay and optional tours at many locations.

This luxurious, quality 300-page-plus “bible” is a must-have for those who love the great outdoors and makes an excellent gift for the like-minded. In fact, I can recommend it for armchair travellers too. From bookstores and RRP $44.99.

Book Review: Flipper and Finnegan by Sophie Cunningham as featured in Brilliant-Online

Flipper and Finnegan by Sophie Cunningham

Subtitled “The True Story of How Tiny Jumpers Saved Little Penguins” this charming publication speaks for itself. Beautifully illustrated in glossy colour by Anil Tortop, it’s the true tale of how an oil spill in 2001 threatened the world’s tiniest penguins, Phillip Island’s fairy penguins. Thousands of the little birds are estimated to have perished but many were rescued and rehabilitated in an ingenious program.

Oil-stained penguins that try to preen themselves swallow the thick toxic liquid from their feathers, making them sick or killing them. But with thousands affected, they needed to wait their turn for vets and volunteers to gently clean their coats with soap and water. Thus: tiny jumpers were needed to keep them warm and prevent them falling ill!

Publicity about the cute little creatures’ plight echoed round the world, so much so that people in far-flung countries were knitting tiny penguin jumpers - which can be used only a single time. The response was so great at one stage around 100,000 tiny jumpers had been sent in.

This is a happy story for bedtime, for reading over and over. Its illustrations bring the poignant saga vividly to life for tiny tots. The durable hard-cover volume makes a lovely gift to inscribe and give or send to a loved little one as a beautiful childhood keepsake. Allen & Unwin. RRP $19.99.


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