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Reading any good books over the holidays?

Thanks to the no-electronics-after-9pm rule I’ve  imposed (medium-successfully) on myself in an effort to drive insomnia out of my life, I’m getting a lot more reading done lately. And after converting to consuming pretty much all my books via an iPad, it’s been nice to return to the neighborhood bookstore and buy actual, physical books: it feels so familiar and right, like staring at an album cover while you were listening to a record used to. You know?

I’ll get to Grace Coddington’s  memoir at some point—it sounds like too much gossipy good fun to pass up—but first up on my Fashion True Believers reading list is Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion. Vreeland’s grand pronouncements (“The bikini is the biggest thing since the atom bomb”) and her sharp, patrician features—combined a sense of hauteur so outsized that you can practically feel it coming at you in photographs—have helped create an almost cartoony prototype of the old school fashion editor. But she was a complicated character, driven and difficult and not necessarily on the fondest terms with the truth when it didn’t suit her. The less-pretty daughter of a very beautiful mother, she let her imagination lead her to a world of unstoppable beauty and surprise. That it’s all set against the backdrop of the New York publishing scene—and at a time where the only place a woman could advance to the top was a fashion title—makes it all that much more difficult to resist.

I’m finally getting around to reading Ellissa Schappell’s series of interconnected stories, Blueprints for Building Better Girls, which came out a while back. I loved Schappell’s first book, Use Me, and am falling for this one too:  she writes with an edge and wit and commitment to the truth, but tempers the more achingly real moments with a deep affection for her characters. The collection’s second story, a portrait of a failing marriage in stroller-land Brooklyn, had me reading with my heart in my throat.

Also: Love Goes To Buildings on Fire, a history of the New York music scene from 1973 to 1977—a time that saw the intersection of disco and punk rock and the birth of hip hop. I’m not a big one for rock history books—they’re always either too academic or too hagiographic,  but this one deals with the popular culture at large during that time—and what a crazy time it was, what with the city on the brink of bankruptcy, and crime running rampant in the streets rate—as well.

In addition to which: I’m considering Wild by Cheryl Strayed, about which the entire universe raves, but am still undecided. What do you guys think?  Also, what’s on your list? What did you just read and love? Please do chime in.




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Posted on December 24th, 2012 23 Comments

23 Responses

  1. babettemtl says:

    Oh, and you have great taste in books too?!?! Figures! Your blog is the best thing I’ve come across this year. I never miss it.

    Reading Where The Heart Beats by Kay Larson.

    Many, many thanks for all the work you put into this. Best wishes to you for 2013.

    Christie, a Montreal girl of a certain age

  2. Kathy S says:

    Hi! If I may be so bold, I have recently edited an anthology of short stories, fantastical in nature but in which fashion plays a central role — I think you might like it. More about it (and the cover) here:

    It was a great fun working on that project — I love fashion, do blog quite a bit about fashion and its intersection with labor movement and feminism, and was happy to combine it with fantasy lit.

    (Also, in a less self-promotional vein, I love ISABEL TOLEDO: Fashion From the Inside Out, by Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears.)

  3. c.w. says:

    I love Cheryl Strayed not only for Wild, but for her Dear Sugar columns on The Rumpus. I just read Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer (highly recommend) and I’m fixin (as we say in Texas) to read Dear Life by Alice Munro. Have a terrific holiday break!

  4. marjorie says:

    Loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Funny as hell, moving, and a satisfying mystery.

  5. Sherri says:

    I just read Wild and was completely taken by surprise. I have never hiked more than a few hours/a few miles in my life and have only “camped” out once, but she brings and keeps the trail alive in a way I could never have imagined. She is a much more sympathetic character than what’s her name from Eat, Pray, Love and Strayed’s journey is palpable and wrenching every step of the way. Your feet will hurt after reading it.

    I suppose I should post this review on Goodreads and Amazon and such. Hm.

    I’m also about to start reading Auntie Mame–my niece and nephew are in from London and I’m gunning for the Best Auntie Ever Award. I think Auntie Mame could be a bit of a “how-to” and just a fun romp of a single lady in MAN-hattan. Happy holidays and happy reading!

  6. MG says:

    I just read Wild after loving Strayed’s Dear Sugar columns on the Rumpus…I was a little disappointed. It’s a fantastic story, but I would not say she’s a fantastic writer, if that makes any sense. Or maybe she just needs a tougher editor. Either way, her prose felt sloppy and belabored to the extent that it almost got in the way of the amazing story.

    I’ve got a a classic for my cross-country flight tomorrow- Fear of Flying (bad choice for a flight?)

  7. shirim says:

    Looks like somebody beat me to recommending where did you go Bernadette. I actually have not read it yet, but it is high on my list!

  8. frances says:

    I’ve been skeptical of Wild, too, but I finally read Dear Sugar and was knocked out by it, so now it’s firmly on my list (and already on my Nook, so I’ll get to it eventually).

  9. Jamie says:

    Recently read What Alice Forgot, which was great.

    Also have been loving Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books, which are VERY well written, suspenseful in good ways (not cheesy ways), and which have interesting, well-developed characters (not always the case in ‘thriller’ books, but then again, these aren’t ‘typical’ thriller novels).

    ALSO have loved Helen Shulman’s books. Gorgeous, spare, lovely.

    ALSO loved loved loved The Book Thief. Such incredible sentences in that lovely, sad, stunning book; some made me stop reading, because I had to catch my breath.

  10. Daphne says:

    I really want to read The Empress of Fashion. I just read DV by Diana Vreeland and was disappointed in the book. I felt like the book rambled and I didn’t learn much abut her fashion career from the book. Right now, I am reading Dearie the biography of Julia Child.

  11. Mae says:

    I’m almost finished with Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth”. And honestly? For a novel about a young woman in the 70’s who is a spy, this book is amazingly dull.

  12. Liz says:

    I have Wild and Blueprints on my xmas wishlist.

    Right now I’m reading “Battleborn” by Claire Vaye Watkins, Paul Watkins’ daughter, which is kind of the perfect book for me, since I’ve always been in love with the Death Valley area and fascinated by the Manson story and outlaws in general.

    I’m also reading Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City” which juxtaposes the stories of one of the head architects of the Chicago World Fair and H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, two men who were incredibly driven and skilled at what they chose to dedicate their lives to. It’s really great so far.

    • AmyM says:

      I love all of Erik Larson’s writing — he makes non-fiction read like the very best fiction. My favorite book of 2012 is “Gone Girl.” Currently reading “Bonfire of the Vanities” which I was too young for when it was first buzzy back in the day.

  13. Liz says:

    Amy, you should read “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn if you haven’t already. I think it’s even better than “Gone Girl.”

  14. julie says:

    The Art of Fielding. Maybe b/c I did not expect to like it much, let alone love it.

    Thank you for being my interesting read of 2012!

  15. Blair says:

    Ladies! Women! Girls! What about Caitlin Moran’s, “How to be a Woman”? Hilarious new take on the word everyone is so afraid to say out loud… Feminism! or I AM A FEMINIST! She is so dam funny and smart, and we need this new voice. Feminism and humor have got to get on the same page, and this one does it.

  16. yunah says:

    loved WILD even tho i HATE camping,
    kim – please read clegg’s portrait of an addict. gripping.
    SF girl of that certain age.

  17. Shawn Burke says:

    Just finishing “Where’d you go Bernadette” and I highly recommend it…sort of Roald Dahl like in it’s writing style. Such a great read.

  18. katie d. says:

    I really disliked Wild, unlike what feels like everyone else in the universe. I didn’t think the writing exceptionally good, nor did I find her a sympathetic character. But that’s just me. I also didn’t care for Blueprints. My favorite book I read this year was Unbroken. Can’t wait to read Grace or the Vreeland book!! Loved Devil in the White City but did not care for his In the Garden of Beasts. I loved Lizz Free or Die, Lizz Winstead’s memoir, as well as Gone Girl and Sharp Objects (also by Gillian Flynn). And I am behind the times, but I read just about every book written by Anne Lamott this year and nearly died of happiness.

  19. yunah says:

    yes, gone girl is the very best quality low brow reading of the year.

  20. EVE says:

    good list. good book, Julie Otsuka “The Buddha in the Attic”

  21. Mae says:

    “Grace” by Grace Coddington is a fashion world lover’s porn.