Since it’s a dull Monday, shall we have an over-excited book review and a giveaway? Yes? OK, here goes:-
Somewhere in Greenland, there are small birds living in more luxury than you do. See this nest? It’s lined with pure qiviut – you know, that crazy-expensive luxury fibre from the tummy-fluff of the musk ox.
Lucky birds. That said, after such a pampered start in life, the chicks will probably grow up completely unable to cope with the harsh realities of the world.
You and I would have to sell the car in order to afford a really sizeable quantity of qiviut (although I’ve written before about my encounter with the stuff), but in the Greenland tundra, small birds simply pluck qiviut from bushes where it was left by moulting musk oxen. And who can blame them?
But I’m not telling you this just to make you feel inadequate about your non-qiviut-lined home. The story behind the nest photo is one of many insights in a book that’s just been published – a book that I’m really, really, excited to be showing you.*
Introducing In Search Of The World’s Finest Wools, by Dominic Dormeuil and Jean-Baptiste Rabouan, published by Firefly Books:-
To begin with a few facts: this book is a photographic journey undertaken by a textile firm boss and a photo-journalist, to witness and record the production of eight of the world’s most luxurious fibres (qiviut, cashmere, taewit, pashmina wool, Shetland wool, merino, mohair, and vicuña, in case you’re wondering). But this is no twee, prettified, album of holiday snaps: Dormeuil’s mission was to record the realities of the lives of the people who produce these fibres, at a time when those lifestyles are under threat.
Dormeuil wants us to think about the origin of – say – the cashmere jumper that we wear, to understand the generations-old skill that has gone into creating the fibre, the pride and wisdom of the producers, and the valid reasons for its high price.
I can’t help saying it, though: this book is beautiful. Really, really, beautiful. Rabouan is a genius-behind-the-lens, whether capturing baby cashmere goats at play, or the emotions of a Kyrgyz herdsman.
As for the text, each chapter is a meld of economics, social history, physical geography, and raw storytelling. We meet the individuals whose lifestyles (it’s never just a job) centre around fibre production. Several times the metaphor of quality wine production is used, to explain how only the right combination of terrain, climate, animals, and human skill will generate the finest-diameter, most lustrous, fibres. Unlike in wine production, however, it is often the most remote, or the most barren, or the coldest, or the highest-altitude environments where the best fibre is produced. These people, and their herds, are tough.
If I have a criticism, it’s that far too often, I was left wanting more information, more depth. (Why, for example, are merino sheep so very demanding to keep?) If you can imagine a scale extending from coffee-table-art-book at one end, to ruthlessly-analytical-textbook at the other end, this book is maybe slightly closer to the art-book end of the spectrum than its introduction implied that it would be. Still, I can’t really begrudge all these photos. They’re freakin’ stunning.
Oh, and the book could have used a little more copy-editing, as there were a few errors, especially around quantities (or perhaps I’m wrong, and vicuña really can run at 743 miles per hour).
But those criticisms are tiny. Mostly, I just want to say that I love this book.
In Search Of The World’s Finest Wools (Dormeuil & Rabouan, 2016) is out now, available worldwide. Hardback, 176pp. Published by Firefly Books Ltd. Recommended prices include £20.00 UK, $35.00 US, $39.95 CDN.
But to save you all that effort of trudging off to a bookshop, how would you like to win a copy? Firefly Books are very generously offering one lucky reader of this blog the chance to win a copy. And yes, this contest is open worldwide!
Usual Twisted procedures apply. To enter, leave a comment below this post. To gain a sneaky additional entry, ‘like’ this blog’s Facebook page (the page overall, I mean) AND leave a comment under the Facebook post mentioning this blog post. The contest is open from RIGHT NOW until 12.00 midday (UK time) on Monday 3rd April. After that time, one winner will be selected at random using random.org. I will contact that person to obtain their address, and pass this information on to Firefly Books, who will send out the prize. If after a week of trying, I have been unable to contact the winner, an alternative winner will be chosen at random. Does this make sense? Good luck!
∗ Yes, Firefly Books very kindly gave me a free copy to review, and offered to fund the giveaway. However they had no involvement in the content of this review. My excitement about this book is genuine.