Four Books: Four Influences

Four Books: Four Influences

I've written on the blog from time to time about the ability to find inspiration in all sorts of things.  In this week's Mode & Methodology newsletter (subscribe!) I linked to an article about something called "enclothed cognition", the theory that what you wear affects how you feel and behave.  What's interesting to me is the idea that follows from these two - what inspires you, and influences you to dress, therefore affects far more than just your outer appearance. 

This brings us to books.  I've also written before about the power of books, but this time I thought I'd show you four books I'm reading, and tell you how they might influence how I dress. 


My brother lent me this and I was reluctant to start it.  Although I knew full well it would be a beautiful read, and one that stayed on with me after it was finished, I wasn't in the mood for haunting vibes.  I re-read Grapes of Wrath at Christmas and considered that to be enough perfectly rendered misery for one year.  However, Eliot encouraged me, and I'm glad he did.  Set in the 1930s, it's not so much about the loner of the title, but about the world of New Zealand in the Great Depression.  

Taster: Johnson washed himself at the tank outside and sat on the steps watching the last of the light catch the snow on Ruapehu.  He had seen the mountain before, but never at such close quarters as it was now in this part of the world.  The glaciers rose up red and bloody to the peaks, that were clear against the sky, and below then was the dark line of bush and the shadow of the foot-hills.  He did not seem to have moved far in his day's travel.  (I mean, that is bloody beautiful prose).

Influence: I feel like I need to roll up my sleeves and wash my rough hands at a farm sink.  Plain, austere, and close to the earth; this book evokes a world a million miles away from Wellington in 2017.  I want to wear traditionally feminine clothes in conservative colours and textiles.  It's weird.


First published in 1953, The Power of Positive Thinking is a (non-scientific) Christian take on the now very popular landscape of positive thinking = changing your life.  Chapter names include: "Believe in Yourself", "I Don't Believe in Defeat" and "Relax for Easy Power".  Worth dipping into for an occasional reminder that how you choose to think about things will help to determine what you make of them; also, the anecdotes are pretty entertaining.  Worth also reading with your critical thinking faculties switched on - ultimately, thinking happy thoughts is a passive approach to life.  You still have to confront your true feelings - and remember, being unhappy is not bad, or something to blame yourself for. Sometimes feelings are just hard, and all the positive platitudes in the world won't help.  

Taster: Practice the technique of suggestive articulation, that is, repeat audibly some peaceful words.  Words have profound suggestive power, and there is healing in the very saying of them.  Utter a series of panicky words and your mind will immediately go into a mild state of nervousness...If, on the contrary, you speak peaceful, quieting words, your mind will react in a peaceful manner. (I've tried this, and I have to say that trying to find a way to drop words like "tranquil" into a work meeting is at the very least a usefully distracting game when you're trying not to panic about the very many deliverables vs the very few hours in the day). 

Influence: The tone of this book is very 1950s.  I feel like I should be wearing gloves and a hat, be married to a man with a "good job at the bank" and keep the housekeeping in my pocketbook.  Depending on the bit I read, I also come out of this book feeling very determined, like I should be marching down the street to some kind of peppy musical number.  Still wearing a hat.  This book is basically a hat to me now. 


This is cheating - this book is 99% photos.  Still! I'm dipping in and out of this. 

Taster: Just by the quality and structure of her suit, you can tell she's worn some pretty timeless pieces in her life.  (Next to a picture of an elderly woman wearing a long coat over matching trousers.  This is not meant to be life-changing stuff.)

Influence: the perfect book for those days when you stand in front of the wardrobe and go "nooooooo", this book is so full of fabulous women that it jazzes me up and gets me into something a bit more Fashion than might otherwise be the case.   Also inspires me to go back to Tokyo, home of my heart. 

Another brother pick, this is one he gave me as a gift.  It is, in fact, an essay on aesthetics, which Eliot chose for me because he knows I am a living heart eyed emoji about Japan.  Not long, but certainly dense with ideas, this is in a translation.  Said translation is from 1977, and therefore reads a bit jarringly (many, many references to "Orientals" throughout).  Fabulous nonetheless, and easy to carry around. 

Taster: But render pitch black the void in which they stand, and light them not with the rays of the sun or electricity but rather a single lantern or candle: suddenly those garish objects turn somber, refined, dignified.  Artisans of old, when they finished their words in lacquer and decorated them in sparkling patterns, must have had in mind dark rooms and sought to turn to good effect what feeble light there was. 

Influence: The thoughtful, deliberate nature of this book and its reflections on aesthetic principles slows my brain down in the best possible way.  I become more deliberate and careful in my outfit choices, going for simple and refined instead of bright, glittery and gaudy.  I imagine myself as an older and wiser woman, and adopt a fleeting understanding of minimalism. 

Do you ever pick up a vibe from what you're reading and feel like it's influencing how you dress?  And tell me what amazing books you recommend - In Praise of Shadows is only 73 pages long so I need some new reads.