Grace Coddington seems like a fun person

A very sun-faded copy. I’m pretty sure the cover should be a uniform shade of orange.

Grace is, as advertised, Grace Coddington’s memoir. She is a hoot, and this is a fun story of a person who loves clothes and fashion and art practicing her craft throughout the mid- to late- twentieth century. She certainly sounds like a lively person to be around and being in the fashion world during that time seems like a hoot.

Unfortunately, I only got through about half of this book because, while she seems like a great person who is full of enthusiasm, the story got a bit repetitive (she’s in London! no Paris! now London again!) and it was more name-droppy than I would have liked. Don’t get me wrong, she’s just talking about her friends, but a little bit less of making sure we know she knows these people and more about fashion in the 1960s and beyond would have been better. It was eventually tiresome.

Generation X Literature: Pattern Recognition

I’ve been feeling my Gen X-hood lately; I’m not sure why, it’s just there. I’ve been listening to the Indigo Girls (their debut album came out 30 years ago) and REM; Welcome to Night Vale isn’t explicitly about Generation X, but it might as well be; if something’s been written about it lately, chances are I’ve read it.

Generation X, the book, was checked out of the library, so I chose Pattern Recognition instead. It’s a book very much of its immediate post 9/11 time. The main intrigue is about mysterious video clips that are posted online pre-you tube on whatever sites they can be hosted on. The internet is a big enough deal that it provides a place for people to come together to obsess about the videos, but not a big enough deal that you tube yet exists. And there’s a general sense of paranoia about the world and not being able to trust your immediate environment that was particular to the post 9/11 days.

But most of-the-moment of all, Cayce, the main character, her job is as a cool hunter. Someone who looks for trends in the real world for companies to make money on. As if that’s not a person who lives on social media or the internet in general these days. As if we could get a whole country to think of the same thing as cool, as if the trends don’t manifest themselves online.

There is an enjoyable underlying weirdness to the characters that I find particularly endearing. The characters aren’t wearing their weirdness as a character trait, not unless it’s a plot point. They just happen to be a bit off from “normal” because of what they enjoy or how they make money or because they just are.

I like Pattern Recognition, but at least part of that is because it is so particular to its time and I want to spend time with the characters in their weirdnesses. Recommended because of these things.

The Girl Before is terrible and misogynistic

I read The Girl Before for book club, and I can safely say that I hated it. I don’t often despise books, but this one deserves it. Why?

  1. It’s written by a dude (and he’s not a man, he’s a dude) from the perspective of two different women. He has very little idea of what a woman’s inner life is actually like or how women work.
  2. The brilliant male architect who may or may not have committed the murder ultimately is given the most robust characterization and is arguably the main character of the novel, despite it theoretically being about women.
  3. Said architect and his talent are completely fetishized.
  4. There’s another, not brilliant, man in the book who is dehumanized because he is NOT the brilliant architect.

I am done with books about brilliant men making art and saving the world, despite their flaws. ESPECIALLY when women are used as the vehicle for both the motivation AND the storytelling but don’t actually get to be robust characters.

Seriously, fuck this book.

Mystery-lite

Maisie Dobbs

I’ve read other books in the Maisie Dobbs series, but never the first one. So, it was a pleasure to get her backstory, to learn where she came from and what a truly extraordinary woman she is.

The Maisie Dobbs series takes place in London in the 1930s. She’s a private detective, well-read and thoughtful, who solves crimes, mostly murder, amongst a certain class of people. (They may not all be a certain class, but they are all filtered through that certain class’s lens.) Maisie has humble origins, but has worked hard to grow out of them.

In Maisie Dobbs, we learn that she went to work as a maid for a progressive wealthy woman who caught Maisie working her way through the library before her morning shift started. Instead of firing her, she found her a tutor and sent her to college; Maisie dropped out to go be a nurse during WWI. It’s a characterization that is at once intelligent and practical and will appeal to anyone who wants to put their world in order.

It’s a slim book, and the mystery takes up only about a third of the story. The rest is devoted to the backstory and setting up the relationships as they are now. It is a book designed to kick off a series. It’s done its job well.

Love and affection

I Capture the Castle
This was a well-loved library book. It had been read so much that the pages were soft and the corners had been worn off. It was amazing.

What’s it about?
I first heard of I Capture the Castle on the boards of the Go Fug Yourself book club, where it was described as “people having romantical problems during wartime.” It was published in 1948. It’s about a poor family, the Mortmains, living on not very much in an old castle that they’d secured a long-term lease on back when their father’s famous book was still paying the bills. An elderly, wealthy neighbor dies and his heirs are wealthy American half-brothers. The older sister, Rose, immediately sees that marrying one of them would keep the family from starving and convinces herself that she’s in love with him. It… it doesn’t work out so well.

Why should you read it?
It’s so old that it’s lack of an automatic happy ending (spoiler) is refreshing. (It’s not that the ending is unhappy. But it’s not a standard Hollywood ending either.) The Mortmains are charming and artistic, living the Bohemian lifestyle that you’d expect from poor artists: the father is a writer, as is Cassandra – the younger sister who’s POV the story is written from – Topaz, the step-mother and former model/current painter. Rose is the one who wants to not worry about where their next meal is coming from all the time. Ms Smith’s love of the English countryside also comes through loud and clear – the setting is amazing and lovingly described.

Overall, there’s so much affection in this book for the place and the characters and the impossible situation they’re in – really, where *is* their next meal going to come from – that you can’t help but also enjoy it. (In fact it’s a bit odd, because the book contrasts affection and love so very well. But the book’s love and affection of everything and everyone in it is what makes it so wonderful. Hm.)

Ghosts and London and adventure

the shadow cabinet

What’s it about? 
The Shadow Cabinet is the third in The Shades of London series. They are not stand-alone books. The premise of the series is that a young woman, Rory, has been sent to London to boarding school. After a near-fatal accident, she can see and talk to ghosts. This is A Thing in the series: she ends up joining a little-known branch of the London police made up of three other people who can also see ghosts. Sometimes the ghosts are good, sometimes not. They sort it out and take action when needed. In this episode of the story, they uncover more about the cult that Rory has discovered in the second book. It doesn’t end the series (I’d thought it was going to be a trilogy. It’s not.)

Why should you read it?
It’s not a book to read on its own. Start at the beginning with The Name of the Star. You should read the series because it’s a good adventure – Rory leaves her Louisiana home for London and is almost instantly plunged! into! adventure! The story is scary enough (says the person who hates being scared, ymmv) and the mystery is the right amount complicated. Overall: I enjoy it. (Plus Maureen Johnson has a fabulous twitter account. You should follow her.)