Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not Waving but Blogging

I have thoughts, and I have books.  Sometimes worlds collide:

1. I'm having problems settling into a new book since I finished The Lost Art of Dress.  Brilliant read.  Look at those elegant women from the early-to-mid 20th century in their suits, hats and gloves.  Now, look at us in our workout clothing and sleepwear.  Whither did we go, and how did we get here in terms of fashion?  How did we stray so far from the principles of art so lovingly and rigorously set in stone by the "Dress Doctors"?  At one point, it was our DUTY to society to be well-dressed round the clock.  Author Linda Przybyszewski connects all the dots for her readers.  It seems we lost our way somewhere around 1965, thanks to Mary Quant, the designer of the miniskirt.  One gets the feeling that Przybyszewski would like to have a stern word with Quant about that, then take Germaine Greer to task for her somewhat illogical notion that women can't be taken seriously and look presentable all at once.  The Lost Art of Dress has double the weight of authority because the author (can I just say LP, at this point?  I break out in a cold sweat every time I type that last name) is not only a historian, she sews, thus she is fluent in the language of patterns and fabrics.  This is one of the books I regret reading on the Kindle, because it's chock-full of the most sumptuous illustrations that my small electronic screen could hardly do justice.  I will be rereading a hard copy, and I hope it's soon.  Meanwhile, go out and read The Lost Art of Dress so I have someone that can rave along with me.  If you don't feel like delving into the 400-page tome, check out LP's blog.

2. I was so looking forward to The Biography of a Prairie Girl (1902) by Eleanor Gates.  This novel is more than 100 years old.  It was free. It's obscure.  It's got some of my favorite words in the title.  All things to make me happy on the subway.  Six stops along the way, I had to give it up.  Not only did I stop reading, I deleted it from my Kindle with a flourish.  I tried, but reading those two chapters was the equivalent of wading in the ocean wearing several layers of winter clothing.  Not every old story is a lost jewel waiting to be plucked by mine hand.  Some books are meant to stay obscure.

3. I enjoyed most of Marcus Samuelsson's memoir Yes, Chef.  In the culinary world, he stands out as a figure of interest -- an Ethiopian orphan adopted by a Swedish family who turns out to have an affinity not just for cooking, but a compulsion to create his own dishes.  After internships in Switzerland and France, Samuelsson found a home in New York City.  His restaurant, The Red Rooster, located in Harlem celebrates "comfort food" and "the roots of American cuisine" as well as Samuelsson's multicultural palate.  I'm intrigued by his story and admire his determination and drive.  However, the memoir starts to alternately sag and bloat in the later chapters. The writing becomes labored and repetitious.  I was also distracted by some elements in his personal story.  I recommend the book with -- sorry, I can't stop myself -- reservations.

4. A trip to the Busan Book Swap gave me a chance to unload some of my books (the task of shipping the Bybeeary back to the United States looms larger and larger).  Of course, I couldn't come away empty-handed.  I found a 2012 novel called The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan.  Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, another "magnificent transatlantic ocean liner" called The Empress Alexandra is attacked at sea in the early days of World War I.  The main character, Grace, a 22-year-old bride, is placed into an overloaded lifeboat by her husband.  The passengers' grim ordeal goes on for weeks, and as starvation and rough weather set in, things get interesting.  I'm only halfway through and enjoying the dark and often sardonic tone against the backdrop of the desire for survival slowly chipping away at the facade of civilization.  I don't pay much attention to cover blurbs anymore, but my interest was piqued when I saw that Hilary Mantel AND Emma Donoghue both gave The Lifeboat a thumbs-up.

5. He's rude and obnoxious with a potty mouth and a juvenile sense of humor.  He's also my ESL/EFL hero.  He's English Teacher X, and although his posturing is such that you would guess he had absorbed the pedagogy by pillowing his head on a random textbook he found while sleeping in the gutter, he's demonstrated time and again that he really knows his stuff.  In this latest offering, Grammar Slammer: How to Explain the Hard Stuff and Impress Difficult and Demanding Students, ETX offers succor to the clueless ones who stumbled into this job on the way to seeing the world.  With a strange combination of hand-holding and picking readers up and hurling them through the door of knowledge, ETX's erudition shines through, like pure bourbon in a dirty glass.  He (maybe She?) covers everything from nouns and verbs, through present and past tense and ways to indicate the future, present perfect, past continuous, mixed conditionals, modals --it's all there.  If ETX's examples aren't always hilarious, they are unquestionably snortworthy.  More concise than a CELTA or DELTA class, not to mention much cheaper and more entertaining.

6. [Looking sheepish] After all these years of being a reader, I'm finally working on something of my own, and I've realized that it's hard work.  Slow going.  On bad days, I feel like I'm stumbling down a dark hallway with meat hooks instead of hands, fumbling for a light switch while trying not to vomit.  On the good days, I feel like a chimpanzee who has plunged her hands into a bucket of Jello letters and is throwing them onto pieces of paper or maybe the wall and the floor.  You've really got to have a strong stomach for this.  We'll see how mine holds out.


Care said...

Awesome. A delightful post! I have added a few books to my tbr, too. Thank you

Stefanie said...

This was fun reading. The Lost Art of Dress sounds pretty interesting and I can totally understand why you broke out into sweats are the prospect of typing the author's name! Will definitely look for the book in print. Good luck with your own writing!

Unruly Reader said...

Reservations about Yes, Chef -- I love it! And I get it.

Eyes got all wide and happy-like upon reading that you're working on something. If you write it the way you describe the horrors of the process, you'll be all set.

Vasilly said...

I've thought about reading Yes, Chef. His life story sounds interesting. If I ever get to it, I'll remember your words. Good luck on your writing. :-)