Bookminded

books, art, culture, and other things I love

Month: July, 2015

Midwestern malaise in Dean Bakopoulos’ Summerlong.

If you’ve ever spent any time in the Midwest during the dog days of summer, than you know its heat: scorching, relentless, unforgiving. And in Dean Bakopoulos’ new novel Summerlong, readers will meet characters that exhibit some of these qualities. 

Don Lowry is a small town realtor in Grinnell, Iowa–the place he was born and raised, and the place he met his wife while attending college. Now he and Claire are the parents of three young children, who have fallen into a predictable suburban existence. But when each has a separate chance encounter with two local twenty-somethings, things come to a boil.

Summerlong is not a feel-good vacation read–in fact, one reviewer noted that it “is no escape”–but that’s what makes it so good. It is the classic suburban novel, in the style of Cheever or Updike: all restrained rage and repressed longing. Beautifully written and believably wrought. Read it, if only as a cautionary tale.  

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Bookminded Recommends: A book for your inner fashionista.

To get where I’m coming from, first I have to tell you a little story. Really it’s my husband’s story: about the time that we were moving and he moved 25 contractor bags full of fashion magazines. Yes, you read that right–25 contractor bags of fashion magazines. They were all mine, and I insisted on moving them into our new apartment. They were primarily W and Vogue, with some other international editions mixed in.

This was what I called my fashion archive. My husband called it trash. Eventually all of those magazines did find their way to the trash–that is, the recycling bin (many recycling bins over weeks and weeks), however I still  stand by my argument, which led me to cart around all of those pounds of glossies for so many years: fashion is important. It’s worth archiving, it’s a way that we express ourselves, and it has its own history. All of which makes it an important object of study in my opinion.

So, since you know a little bit about my fashion biases, it will probably come as no surprise that I love Amanda Brooks’ latest memoir/fashion history/insider’s view of the industry titled Always Pack a Party Dress. Brooks has particular insight into the fashion industry–really into the whole industry of aesthetics. She started her career as an intern for Patrick Demarchelier, and then as a “gallerina” at the Gagosian Gallery and she moved on to a variety of fashion posts–ending up as the fashion director Barneys New York, before decamping to her family farm in England to focus on her family and other projects.

Brooks has always been impeccably dressed with a twist: she never ignores her WASPy, prep school roots, but they are always partnered with a twist. (Think Barbour meets Balmain.) For those that love fashion, and get a thrill reading about early Tuleh, Louboutin, or Phillip Lim, her book is fabulous–with lots of insider anecdotes (like the time she met Billy Zane and Mick Jagger at a nightclub in Paris) and I highly recommend it. If, however, your idea of dressing up is Lands’ End with some Patagonia or L.L. Bean thrown in this may not be your book–but for those of you with a dash of Carrie Bradshaw in your hearts, you will love it. (And it basically covers the fashion history contained in those 25 bags.)

All The Single Ladies: Kate Bolick’s Spinster.

The word spinster connotes images of an old woman living in a sad little apartment with her many cats as companions. A woman that shuffles along the city streets with bags that contain enough groceries for a day or two–like a quart of milk, a can of tunafish, and a few slices of deli meat. She smells like moth balls and closed spaces. Spinsterhood is a condition, an affliction, an incurable disease.  Or is it?

In Kate Bolick’s new book Spinster, her jumping off point is an assertion: “Whom to marry, and when it will happen–these two questions define every woman’s existence.” But by considering a group of women–all writers themselves: Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton–in concert with her own life, Bolick suggests that there is another script to follow, the one that the individual writes for herself. In Spinster, then, she unpacks the term and challenges the notion what it means to be an unmarried woman and/or a woman who follows her own mind–even if she does eventually marry.

Written in a style that is part historical narrative and part personal history, Spinster will get you thinking–about what conscious and unconscious coupling looks like, and how women commit to and preserve their individual ambitions.
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