Book Review – Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk

stein1Chris Stein /Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
Chris Stein
Rizzoli, 2014, 208 pages

Chris love Debbie.

If you got to spend your youth with the most beautiful woman in the world, wouldn’t you take a lot of pictures of her?

While Chris Stein is well known as the driving musical force behind Blondie, most people don’t know that his artistic CV is quite varied and that, since the late 60s, he’s never been far from a camera. Working and living with someone as photogenic as Deborah Harry, it only seems right that most of the photos are of her.

In his recent book Chris Stein/Negative – Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk, Stein not only chronicles the ascent of Blondie but the New York punk scene of the 70s.

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Book Reviews – Women In Clothes & It’s So You

fashionbooks

Women In Clothes
by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton
2014, Blue Rider Press, 528 pages

It’s So You: 35 Women Write About Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style
edited by Michelle Tea
2007, Seal Press, 300 pages

No matter what we wear, we all think about fashion to some extent, even if it’s just to give a shirt off the floor the sniff test to see if it can go another day. To be honest, I find the whole “no judgment” trend seen on various blogs a bit disingenuous. We all judge each other’s appearance. We’re hardwired to do so, if only to weed out safe people from unsafe people. And most of us judge ourselves more harshly than we do strangers.

Thinking about what we wear, as well as our sources of inspiration for our fashion choices, and how we judge ourselves and others, is the topic of a couple of books I’ve come across lately.

Women In Clothes, edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton is a massive tome of snippets from a massive survey about clothing completed by hundreds of women. Questions range from familial influences to admiring women on the street, the difference in taste versus style, the process of getting dressed in the morning, political messages within clothing choices, etc. It’s extensive to the point of exhaustive, and must certainly have been overwhelming to many of the women who completed it.

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Buy My Book!

couponsmasti-christmas-sale-santa-girl-640x452Hey! Remember that time I wrote a book of fun stories about my life, all involving food? Or that time when I edited and published a book of great Canadian food stories by a bunch of other awesome writers? No?

Well now’s your chance to grab a copy of Kitchen Party or Beer and Butter Tarts – or both.

Both titles are currently 1/3 off and are available for $10 each plus shipping from Stained Pages Press.

They make a great gift for the literary food lover in your life. Or you know, treat yourself.

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People of the 1980s: The Street Fashion Photography of Derek Ridgers and Amy Arbus

ridgers

When I say 1980s fashion, most people are probably prone to shudder and reply “ugh!” Yes, the 80s were a bad time for mainstream fashion – big hair, big shoulders, jelly bracelets, parachute pants… it was all pretty awful. Which undoubtedly makes it confusing when I then say that the 80s were the best era for fashion – alternative fashion, that is.

In places like London and New York, the political climate encouraged lots of people who didn’t fit into the mainstream to express themselves via their clothing. Punk, post punk, new wave, no wave, goth and more all had their origins in the late 70s or early 80s, and while those trends gave way to rave and club culture on both sides of the Atlantic, the fashion of the decade was marked with an independent creativity that hasn’t really been achieved since.

Two books of street fashion demonstrate this point beautifully.

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Book Review – Eating Delancey – A Celebration of Jewish Food

delancey

Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food
Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps
Powerhouse Books, 224 pages

In olde tymes, publishers would send a hard copy of a book to critics for review. In rare cases, this would be a galley copy, with a weird cerlox binding and double-wide pages, but usually it was something that resembled the finished version of the book. Technology has made this process much easier and cheaper – PDF files sent via the Cloud or email have replaced hard copies sent by mail, and pretty much everyone is happier for it, even reviewers who, while they often considered the reward of hard copies part of their (usually very minimal) pay structure, tended to find themselves with stacks of samples of things (books, CDs, jars of weird jams) that they really didn’t want.

The roundabout point of my complaint here is that, with a PDF file for review, I’m now going to have to go out and buy myself a copy of Eating Delancey. That’s right, even after reading it for free, I enjoyed this book so much I’m still going to buy my own copy.

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Book Review – Stitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion

stitchedup_coverStitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion
Tansy E. Hoskins
Pluto Press © 2014

Many books over the past few years have detailed the myriad wrongs of the fashion industry. Sweatshops, environmental damage, classism, racism, sizism, misogyny, not to mention the overall affect of rampant consumerism and debt on Western culture – all of these things come up time and again. And we read them, feel bad and then sooth our bad feelings by going shopping.

Tansy E. Hoskins’ Stitched Up looks at all of these and more, complete with extensively researched statistics and facts that will make anyone stop and revisit the idea of buying new clothes ever again. Hoskins examines the ownership of high-end fashion companies and the profits they make – given most high-end brands are made in the same sweatshops as fast fashion items, the corporate (and personal profit) can be astronomical. This is on the backs of underpaid workers, using processes that destroy water supplies, or using lethal chemicals (the exposure to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas in Bhopal, India in 1984 occurred when the chemical – which had been used on cotton crops – was left in unmaintained tanks when Union Carbide abandoned their factory). Hoskins’ account of the process to slaughter crocodiles for Hermes bags is shocking and horrific.

The overall theme of corporations creating demand to influence consumers to buy things they don’t need plays out in other chapters as well, as Hoskins’ demonstrates the way that women are made to feel too fat, not pretty enough, or even the wrong skin colour in order to sell merchandise. Fashion companies need to continually sell new goods; many chain stores now put out new “collections” every week instead or 2 or 4 times a year; everything plays to our insecurities, even if women of colour or larger sizes are not represented on the pages of magazines.

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Review – Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried

Book_FictitiousDishes

The sign of a good writer is whether or not the imagery they commit to the page elicits a response in the reader. Can they make the place, the character, or the event vivid and real to the person reading the story? Oddly, one of the most difficult things for fiction writers to describe is food or meals, especially if the scene is integral to the story. But when the writing is well-done, the description of a repast (sumptuous or otherwise) not only progresses the plot but can be so vivid that the reader can almost taste the dishes described on the page.

In Fictitious Dishes, New York Graphic designer Dinah Fried thought to take the process one step further – she cooked, styled, and photographed foods from great works of fiction. Amassing a vast collection of props along the way (plates, tablecloths, cutlery), she chose 50 works of literature and set about bringing a meal from each to life.

Holden Caulfield’s Swiss cheese sandwich and malted milk from The Catcher in the Rye grace a Formica diner table. The potato salad and coconut cake from East of Eden adorn a picnic table and make the mouth water. And the spread of hors d’oeuvres from The Great Gatsby will have every reader wishing for an invitation to the party.

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Awesome Thing – Artsy Sunday – Malkovich, A Clockwork Orange, Chalk Art

Some awesome art I’ve come across online this week…

malkovich
Sandro Miller, Albert Watson / Alfred Hitchcock with Goose (1973), 2014

Yes, that is actor John Malkovich, recreating the photo of Alfred Hitchcock by Albert Watson. Photographer Sandro Miller teamed up with Malkovich for an exhibit entitled Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Homage to Photographic Masters in which the actor poses for recreations of 35 iconic images from American Gothic to Marilyn Monroe with roses. The show runs from November 7th to January 31st, 2015 at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago. Most of the photographs are on the gallery website.

davidzinn
Cat Prisoner by David Zinn.

Artist David Zinn has been been covering Ann Arbor, Michigan with street art for years. Using existing elements and adding cute and quirky characters, his ephemeral pieces done in chalk and charcoal last only until the next rain. He’s got a website and a Facebook page if you want to see his latest pieces. There’s also a book of his work from 2013 if you’d like to have these cute critters all to yourself. Or if you’d like to help support an independent artist.

clockwork
Artwork by Ben Jones from The Folio Society edition of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

Finally, if you’ve only ever seen A Clockwork Orange and haven’t read the book, The Folio Society has just released a new edition with work by artist Ben Jones. Dangerous Minds has more of the artwork and a video of the illustrator.

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Book Review – Cat Person by Seo Kim

catperson

Cat Person is a mostly charming collection of comics by Toronto artist Seo Kim. Full of cute, predominantly autobiographical strips about Kim, her cat Jimmy, her life, and her boyfriend Eddie, the book works either as individual strips, chapters (Jimmy the cat mostly appears in the first chapter titled Jimmy and Me) or an ongoing story with the appearance of of Eddie and his own cat Bubble in a later chapter.

Kim’s work, done in pencil and coloured in Photoshop is engaging although sometimes rough in terms of technique.

The cat chapter runs the gamut of life with a cat, from the feline obsession with running tap water to the way cat hair ends up on everything you own. Kim also references the various ways to hug a cat, head bonks, cat shapes (when they sleep all curled up) and fuzzy cat testicles. Fortunately, she switches gears right around the point when even the most ardent cat fan would start to get a little bored.

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Book Review – Overwhelmed

overwhelmedOverwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time
Brigid Schulte
Harper Collins 2014, 353 pages

Busy? Aren’t we all, right? Or maybe… we just think we are.

Time management is a skill that very few people are taught as kids, so as adults, we take on more and more responsibilities and succumb to what author Brigid Schulte calls “the overwhelm” only to find ourselves desperately stressed and unhappy.

In Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, Schulte talks to time management experts from around the world to try to discover what has happened to the average person’s leisure time, and why so many people join the rat race of gender-determined career paths in industries that value bums in chairs and daily face to face interactions instead of the myriad options that are available to us in the 21st century, such as working from home, job sharing and flexible working hours.

This is of particular importance when it comes to families where the “ideal worker” has priorities other than their job, and where kids can have a schedule as packed as their parents.

Schulte ultimately offers no solutions to the problem at hand. She’s learning as she goes, and experiences a fair bit of culture shock observing Danish families where kids are expected to help around the house and everyone is home for family dinner. The Danes have carefully avoided the helicopter parenting so prevalent in North America and it becomes obvious that anybody wanting to fight off the overwhelm might first have to have the nerve to buck the status quo.

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You’re Invited! Beer and Butter Tarts Launch Party!

party11

If I haven’t been around the old blog much lately, it’s because I’ve been working on other stuff – most notably, the first issue of Beer and Butter Tarts, a Canadian literary food journal, which features work by writers and artists from right across Canada.

If you’re in the Toronto-area, please check out the details below and come on by. Otherwise, copies are available by mail-order from Stained Pages Press.

We’re having a party to celebrate the launch of our first issue!

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014, 7pm
The Rhino Restaurant & Bar (skylight room)
1249 Queen Street West
free admission

Tasty nibbles, fab beer, plus selected readings from the first issue by contributors Dorianne Emmerton, David Huebert and others.

Copies of Issue #1 will be available for purchase.

Please join us!

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Lucky Dip – January 2, 2014

Yes, I’m trying this again. Shut up and enjoy the links.

octopus

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get this for Christmas, but I’m sure it was just an oversight. Hubby’s probably just saving up for it. Or trying to figure out where, at 4ft across, we’d put it. This one-of-a-kind piece by Mason Creations is sold, but there’s always next year.

vincentprice

If you didn’t already think Vincent Price was awesome, here’s another reason – he wrote a book about his dog! Illustrated by Hirshfield, of course.Via Dangerous Minds.

yearbook Olde Tyme high school yearbooks, just as boring as current ones, except for all that hair! Via Twisted Sifter

smashscale

Ditch that whole idea of standing on your bathroom scale and feeling bad about yourself this new year. Instead – get all “Office Space” on that tyrannical appliance and savour the freedom behind the idea that numbers are meaningless. Via The Militant Baker

martinet

Steampunk? We’ve got your steampunk right here, Buddy. The beautiful nature sculptures of Edouard Martinet, made from spare parts.  Via Dangerous Minds

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

reader

Remember those essays? The first day back to school, the teacher was still setting up the year’s curriculum, ordering books, etc., and so you’d get handed a piece of loose leaf and a fresh new pencil and directed to start off the school year with the child’s worst enemy – the familiar essay.

We lived in the poor part of town. Nobody I knew came back on that first day of school with stories about Disneyland, or Europe. Camping maybe, but it was never one of those fancy camps where you learned French or how to play the oboe. It would have been a week at Grandpa’s fishing lodge (shack) getting eaten alive by black flies and leeches.

The rest of us spent the days at home, or at a grandparent’s or babysitter’s house if our parents worked. There would be trips to the lake (aka. a mile long forced march in the hot sun), or the beach (for this you definitely hoped for a drive, otherwise it was a 2-mile forced march in the hot sun, up a huge, steep hill to get home), but usually it was a “make your own fun” kind of summer where you spent the days in the woods, at the playground, in a wading pool in the backyard, or lolling around watching “stories” with Grandma in the cool of the living room with the blinds down.

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Book Review – Overdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

overdressedOverdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
Elizabeth L. Cline
Portfolio Hardcover, June 2012, 256 pages

On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself sitting in a restaurant measuring the cost of my meal against the cost of the clothes on my back. This entree costs as much as my shirt. This tiny dessert, more than my scarf. A multi-course tasting menu can ring in at more than a pair of really well-made boots.

Like most people I’m inclined to blame this disparity on the high price of food. But I am wrong to do so, for the problem is not that quality, well-prepared restaurant food is to expensive, it’s that the clothing that we typically buy in chain stores across the Western world is far too cheap.

As Elizabeth Cline points out in her engaging and delightfully well-written book Overdressed, we like cheap clothes. A lot. Most of us have more clothing than we can ever reasonably wear, and manufacturers feed into our desire for more by creating clothing as cheaply as possible. Who cares if a shirt falls apart after two washes when it only cost $10 to begin with?

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So I Made a Book

Most readers who follow this blog or follow me on Twitter probably already know that I spent the better part of this past year working on a book of food-related essays. Those of you who are not aware – hey, I wrote a book!

I’m posting about it now only because i realized that, in the flurry of activity getting stuff ready for the launch, I haven’t really said much about it here.

Publishing a book is a whole lot of waiting, interspersed with flurries of often stressful activity, in which you do all the grunt work that would be the responsibility of a publisher, should you be so lucky as to score a deal with a mainstream publishing house, which is more and more rare these days.

There are all the things you never think of when you sit down with the intention of becoming a writer, instead picturing yourself banging away at a typewriter, a cigarette hanging from your lips, a bottle of whisky at your side like William Burroughs; or perhaps imagining yourself sitting on the veranda of a hotel cafe in the tropics, watching the world pass by and scribbling away in a journal like Somerset Maugham.

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Why I’ll (Probably) Never Publish Your Cookbook

It happened again. My own book is still a couple of months away from publication and already, I am getting pitches from people wanting me to publish their book. Specifically, their cookbook.

The first came via Twitter. (Incidentally – do not ever do this.) A public message asking if I’d be interested in a fun, quirky cookbook. Besides the fact that you destroy any credibility you might have as a serious writer by pitching to a publisher via Twitter, it helps to actually visit the website of the publisher and learn more about them and what they’re looking for, or if they’re accepting submissions at all. That you came across an indie publisher on Twitter and contacted them doesn’t get you points for taking the initiative, it makes you look like someone who is clueless, can’t follow protocol or written instructions, and who probably doesn’t really care about how professionally things are done.

Far moreso in the US than here in Canada, successful bloggers have been able to translate their blogs into book deals. But Canadian publishers have never had a lot of money to do such things and tend to stick with the more tried and true – TV chefs or chefs from restaurants with a strong customer base. And while there are many publishers who offer a lot of cookbooks and obviously do well with them, I don’t want to be one of them.

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In Praise of Snarky Men

I’ve been reading a lot lately. This is about 50% procrastination (writers will do anything to get out of writing, especially without a firm deadline in place), 20% sheer joy at having time to actually sit down and read a book (during my TasteTO days, it was a rare occurrence if I finished a book in under a month, just because I had to read it in snatched five minutes bits due to being so busy) and 30% due to the fact that I wore stupid shoes and gave myself a super-bad case of plantar faciitis and have been trying to stay off my feet as much as possible over the past few weeks, because it hurts like beejeezus to walk.

During this time I thought to get caught up on the works of Steve Almond, a fantastic writer from Boston, probably most well-known for his book Candyfreak. He writes about stuff other than candy, though, and I recently enjoyed a collection of his ranty essays.

(Not that You Asked) includes a facetiously stalkerish set of letters to Oprah regarding inclusion in her book club, the story of Almond’s obsession with Kurt Vonnegut, stories of various sexual exploits, and oh yeah, the time he quit his job at Boston University over the announcement that Condoleeza Rice would give the keynote address at graduation, and the resulting shitstorm that occurred because he happened to send his resignation letter to a local paper. Almond found himself the whipping boy of all the right-wing TV pundits – you know the ones, those shouty guys who get all red in the face, with the veins in their foreheads looking as if they’re about to pop, the ones who don’t let the guest get a word in edgewise and who make you out to be evil because you voted for the left.

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The Processed Way of Eating

Despite my plan to avoid social media while working on my book, I’ve spent the earlier part of this afternoon over on FaceBook discussing meat glue (why yes, I am procrastinating, how did you guess?), and its implications in the greater food service industry, aside from its use in molecular gastronomy. Because it seems that there are a few restaurants and food supply companies that are taking chunks of stewing beef and mushing them together with meat glue to make what looks like a reasonable facsimile of a filet mignon.

These filet mignon, so far, seem to exist within the realm of large-scale lower-end food service – school cafeterias and catered weddings were two such examples given. I wouldn’t expect to see them at high-end steak houses or places that are known for the authenticity or terroir of their beef, but it’s reasonable to assume that they will eventually show up (unannounced, no doubt) on the menu of low- to mid-range restaurants across both the US and Canada.

(Note that the meat glue itself is perfectly safe. The concern comes from creating a “steak” out of various cuts of beef and then cooking it to less than medium well-done because of possible bacteria that may have been on the surfaces of the various pieces of meat that are now in the centre of the steak and might not be cooked to the appropriate temperature to kill said bacteria. A standard steak has no such problem since the centre is untainted and could not have come in contact with any kind of contamination.)

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Flowers from the Bird Lady

BIRDLADY from FORTNIGHT LINGERIE on Vimeo.

Parkdale, my neighbourhood since 1993, is known for its many characters. People who make the place unique and colourful, people who definitely dance to their own drummer. For 90 some-odd years, one of those characters was Annie Ross. Born in the building that stands on the south-west corner of Queen and Dunn in 1913, she lived there her entire life until her death in 2004. Miss Ross never married, instead running her family’s flower shop at the front of the building, and spending her retirement years in a small apartment at the back where she was known for feeding the local pigeons; thus her nickname, The Bird Lady.

Miss Ross could tell you stories of how Parkdale had changed and grown. She could remember when the lot directly across the street from her on Dunn was a field for horses. She could tell about how the buildings went up along Queen, or how the mansions along Jameson came down to make way for apartment buildings. And she could tell you about books. In a 4-minute short documentary filmed before her death, she talks about how she began keeping track of all the books she read in her lifetime, some 8,600 different titles.

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Won’t You Take Me To Hungry Town

Tom Fitzmorris’s Hungry Town: A Culinary History of New Orleans, the City Where Food Is Almost Everything
Tom Fitzmorris
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010, 224 pages

Anybody who has ever strolled the streets of New Orleans, lazy with the humidity and history, overcome by the wafting smells of magnolias interspersed with a blast of jambalaya, knows that the crescent city is a town that loves its food. From beignets and acrid chicory-laced coffee at the touristy Cafe du Monde to po’boy sandwiches served up at some place in the 9th Ward with no sign to even let people know it exists, New Orleanians like to eat.

Nobody knows this better than food writer Tom Fitzmorris. The man who has been writing about food in New Orleans since the early 70s is probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on the subject of New Orleans restaurants and Cajun and Creole food. To say the guy is high-functioning would be an understatement – he does a daily 3-hour radio show about New Orleans food (can you imagine? 3 hours a day – just about local food and restaurants?), writes reviews almost daily, hosts a weekly dining event and runs The New Orleans Menu, a website on dining in New Orleans that is updated daily.

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