A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting
Back in the days when I ran a food and drink website, I regularly had people applying to write for me who intentionally emulated the style of Anthony Bourdain. When I would reply to them and tell them to find their own voice, they would get angry at me. “I want to be the next Bourdain!” they’d write back emphatically. But here’s the thing, we only ever needed one Bourdain. Everything else, every person who wrote anything in a style of flowery, meandering prose punctuated with sharpish observations of the world, would always be second rate. Solely because they weren’t Anthony Bourdain. And it wasn’t that their stories, or observations, were bad, or even badly written; it was just hard to get past how desperately they were trying to be like someone else.
Such is the case with writers who emulate Jane Austen.
I get that the Regency era is hot right now. I get that the fashions are fun and that the etiquette and social rules of the time make for lots of opportunities for the drama, intrigue and misunderstandings that are the backbone of a good story, romance or otherwise. But there’s got to be some plotline other than of a plucky young woman fighting for her family, or against the unfairness of social hierarchy, who overcomes the odds and falls in love with her (rich!) nemesis. As much as I want to adore Kitty Talbot, out on the hunt for a rich man to save her household of young, orphaned women from certain ruin, I just can’t help reading A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting and thinking how this is just trying to be so, so hard to emulate Austen.
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This New York Times best-seller is getting a lot of press and the folks who like it really like it. As in, book club picks, and a Netflix movie deal with the main character already cast. However, readers who dislike it, really dislike it. Both sides have valid points.
Molly the maid (really) works in a grand hotel and digs her job. The order and cleanliness and restoring rooms to a state of perfection make her very happy. Molly misses a lot of social cues and people around her mostly think she’s weird. It’s never explicit that Molly is neurodivergent but Prose gives so many signs that she might as well hit the reader smack in the face with a big cartoon-style diagram that says “Autism Spectrum”.
One day while cleaning rooms, Molly finds a dead body. Comes with the job when you’re hotel housekeeping staff, honestly. And then Molly gets framed for killing the dead guy. Also a standard occupational hazard. Being the polite, naive soul that she is, with no one to guide her since her Gran passed away some months previous, Molly has put her trust in the wrong people.
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The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence
Tea and a biccie? The biscuit is ubiquitous in British culture (see what I did there?), but here in North America, there’s been a distortion of usage over the years. What we know in North America as a biscuit — a light, flaky, risen cake — is known as a scone in England. Crackers — a plain or savoury, dry, flat unleavened bread, cut into equal sized shapes — are biscuits, but biscuits can also be sweet, although they’re usually still plain. And what we call a cookie isn’t really a biscuit either, cookies being thicker, softer in the centre and containing other ingredients such as chocolate or fruit. The exception to this might be the shortbread and its ilk which can be both. Confused yet? Author Lizzie Collingham will enlighten you. Continue reading “Book Review – The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence”
Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship
by Annabel Abbs
Women with writerly aspirations in the early 1800s had few options for publication. Most female writers were advised to stick to gothic novels, bits of poetry, or cookery. Even if they had never cooked. Such was the case for Elizabeth Acton, whose desire to become a poet was derailed by a publisher who rejected her manuscript but offered her the opportunity to write a book of household cookery.
Annabel Abbs creates a fictional world that gives life to Acton’s plan to create her book by taking everything wrong with previous cookery books (such as the lack of an ingredients list, concise temperatures, measurements or cooking times) and making them better. In real life Acton’s family was destitute and she and her mother ran a boarding house where she tested all of her recipes with the help of one kitchen assistant, Ann Kirby.
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Recipe For a Perfect Wife
I flagged Recipe For a Perfect Wife after a review (or maybe it was a press release) made it out to be a bit of a thriller. While there was murder and mayhem, it was of a more genteel sort, served with tea sandwiches and cake, that was not much of a challenge.
A dual storyline — Nellie in the 1950s and Alice in 2018 — tells of both women’s lives in the same suburban house. Both women have secrets, and are living unhappy lives, making choices mostly to please their respective husbands. Nellie’s mid-century marriage is full of abuse, belittlement, and even rape, while Alice is a modern working gal who has torpedoed her career and agrees to move to the burbs as some form of self-imposed penance.
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This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
Somewhere around the age of 40, I began to refer to myself as “old”. I was working in an industry (food writing) that was beginning to skew younger and younger and I unconsciously began using “old” to differentiate myself. I’ve also used “old” when trying to explain my involvement in the alternative music sub-culture; sometimes it’s just easier to tell a (young) mainstream person that I’m “an old punk” as opposed to trying to explain the growth of the early 80’s post-punk music scene (and all of its different offshoots) into Goth and Industrial music as an identifier for who I am, all while trying to make it clear that I’m not a Green Day fan.
Heck, the tag line for this website is even “Cranky Old Broad About Town”.
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Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s
Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje
Back in the 80s, when Dave Vanian put on white face and Siouxsie slithered into a black rubber skirt, part of the UK punk scene morphed into Goth. It was still just plain old post-punk then, maybe “deathrock” for reasons of trying to explain the fascination with vampires and spiders and fishnet, but it was all we had, and we were happy for it, if for no other reason than it gave an awful lot of freaks and weirdos a place, music, and style, that allowed an expression of their darker side.
Over almost 40 years, Goth has shape-shifted a hundred times in a thousand different directions. The classic post-punk style, now known as “trad goth” was forced to step aside for new and interesting variations and influences, from cyber and Victorian steampunk to perky, Lolita, nuGoth and for a while there in the late 90s, world music, folk music, and even Goan techno. All of these offshoots are valid (sub)sub-cultures in their own right, based on a distinct look and sound that sometimes only minimally references back to the original movement. But if you came of age in the 1980s, then that original post-punk style is still the only “real” Goth look, no matter how it might be dressed up otherwise.
Chronicling the decade of post-punk and Goth are Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje in their 2014 publication Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace – The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s. Looking at the music, the style and the clubs, predominantly in the UK and Europe, that shaped the scene, Harriman and Bontje explore how Goth developed and grew throughout the decade.
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Girl In a Band
The most refreshing part of Girl In a Band is that Kim Gordon is a really great writer. Not that I’m surprised by that – she’s written pieces for a variety of publications over the years – but so many rock star autobiographies are stilted, repetitive and trashy. Gordon approaches the story of her life as a grand piece of art, with different elements, mediums and characters, that are all explored, and related to the audience, with sensitivity and care. (Okay, there’s a bit of trash talk about Courtney Love that seems as if Gordon gave in to an editor insisting that she share the dirt, but for the most part, that’s the only point where there’s mud flying.)
As a California girl from the late 60s, Gordon is no stranger to gender stereotypes and misogyny. While the title comes from the oft-asked question from media “what’s it like being… a girl in a band”, the bassist seems to not have experienced much sexism from bandmates and peers (or at least none that she’s related), although her experiences growing up with a schizophrenic brother often left her feeling that she had to take on the traditional female roles of being docile and supportive within her family. Add to that the spectre of Charles Manson, who Gordon references on multiple occasions throughout the book, and you can see how she entered adulthood with lots of questions about her identity and her role in the world.
While people will know Gordon first and foremost as a member of Sonic Youth, and the (ex)wife of bandmate Thurston Moore, music is just one of her talents – she admits it wasn’t on her radar as a career until she met Moore. Gordon is also an artist, fashion designer, writer and actress. Much of Girl In a Band explores Gordon’s other projects, touching on relationships forged in the art, fashion, and music worlds. In any other book, this would seem like name-dropping but in Gordon’s case, it’s just factual, and allows her to give props to the creative talents around her.
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The Bag I’m In
Music and style – they go hand in hand. Youth culture through the decades has always consisted of a specific type of music paired with specific sartorial elements that defined each trend. Imagine A Flock of Seagulls in anything other than the winged hairdos and the snap-front overlapped shirts or Kurt Cobain without his ratty sweater.
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, music and style in Britain changed so rapidly that it must have been hard to keep up. Movements around a particular scene (punk, for instance) gave way to styles associated with specific bands, record labels, and clubs (Smithsmania, The Postcard Look, and the Blitz kids, specifically). Many of these scenes were short-lived, many morphed and melded, punk being the seed for almost everything that came after it, and some even came back around as revivals of themselves after a few years.
Documenting all of this is Sam Knee. Himself a life-long Mod and vintage clothing expert, Knee’s book The Bag I’m In documents 36 “youf” cultures of Britain between 1960 and 1990, all of which were associated with a specific genre of music and a specific style of dress. Starting with Mods and Rockers, Knee moves through Hard Mod to get to the original Skinheads, looking in on Beatniks, Boho/Art School and Hippies along the way. He traces the move through Punk to its various offshoots (2nd Wave, Goth, Crust, Anarcho…) and then the influence of indie labels and New Wave.
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Pretty In Punk
Alyce Benevides and Jacqueline Milles
Make stuff. It comes up every year at this time, one of the regular resolutions – be more crafty, make more stuff. DIY, y’know? And as far as resolutions go, it’s not a bad one. You get the sense of accomplishment of making something with your own hands, you get a cool, thing, made exactly to your measurements and specifications, and you (probably) save some money over buying a similar thing in a store.
I picked up Pretty In Punk on a whim. It came up in a library search and I grabbed it thinking it would be a good chuckle. Published in 2007, it caught that first wave of young hipsters who had started to learn the craft skills they were never taught as kids (as opposed to Gen X – most of whom could at least do some basics because we still had Home Ec and industrial arts when we were in school).
Created by Alyce Benevides and Jacqueline Milles, Pretty In Punk includes patterns for items from their popular Knit-Head line and shop, including their signature Punk’s Not Dead earflap hat with fringe mohawk.
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