Sunday, June 30, 2013

This Month In Non-Fiction

This was kind of an odd month for me, considering I read almost only non-fiction.  Also, I bought a house and got my wisdom teeth removed within the same week, so you could say that I've been on a bit of a roller coaster of emotions.

But my mouth is almost back to normal!  And I'm almost done moving, so maybe July will be a bit more like my regular life. 

The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury & Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat
by Meg Lukens Noonan

Disclaimer:  I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

I couldn't NOT request this book and find out why this coat was worth $50,000.  It just wasn't an option.  I had to know.

Before reading this book, I had never heard of bespoke tailoring, or the fact that it is a slowly dying art.  I'd never even considered having clothing custom made, because it just isn't commonly done anymore.  We live in a world of instant gratification.  We don't have time to wait for the perfect outfit to be made for us, we're happy enough just buying a cheaper version of poorer quality.

Meg Lukens Noonan takes us on a journey starting with the sheering ceremony of a flock of vicuna in Lima, Peru and ending with meeting the owner of the coat in person.  On the way we see button production in Halesowen, England, gold engraving in Sydney, Australia and silk designing in Florence, Italy, among other things.  It's fashion design as you've never seen it, step by step with all the credit given where it's due.  I'll certainly never think about clothing the same way again.

Things I Learned
  • Americans discard about 13 million TONS of textiles per year.
  • When harvesting silk, it is necessary to boil the moth to death inside its cocoon in order to stop it from breaking out and destroying the silk.
  • People that worked in button factories had their pay docked when they made mistakes, so they often hid defective buttons in their pockets and threw them out while walking home.

You can read more reviews about this book on LibraryThing.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
edited by Mason Currey

This was an interesting little book I found listed in the new stuff my library had ordered.  I'm a big fan of routines and schedules and doing everything just so.  It was nice to discover that other artists also have particular pens they have to use, certain times of day that they want to work during, and so on.

This isn't a book you can just read straight through.  I kept it on my nightstand for a couple of weeks and picked it up for some bedtime reading when I was in the mood.  I learned a lot of fun facts and I may have even picked up a few little habits along the way!

Things I Learned
  • Thomas Wolfe occasionally stood naked in his room and rubbed his genitals to stir up creative feelings and energies.
  • Patricia Highsmith, a writer, kept snails as pets.  She once went to a cocktail party with a large purse containing a head of lettuce and a hundred snails.
  • Benjamin Franklin took "air baths," which consisted of him sitting naked in his room, exposing his body to the cold morning air for 30 minutes to an hour.  Sometimes he would go back to sleep for another hour or two afterwards.
  • The architect Frank Lloyd Wright had a very active libido.  At age 85, he could still make love to his wife two or three times a day.  This worried his wife, who thought it might be unhealthy for him and she eventually consulted his doctor, who prescribed remedies to slow his libido down.  She was unable to go through with it though, because she did not want to deprive him of any happiness.
  • Vladimir Nabokov often wrote his novels on index cards, which allowed him to move paragraphs around if he didn't like the way the story was flowing.  His wife would then type up all the note cards in the order he gave her so that he could begin revisions.
The most important thing I read was this quote by writer Bernard Malamud:
There's no one way - there's too much drivel about this subject.  You're who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe.  You write by sitting down and writing.  There's no particular time or place - you suit yourself, your nature.  How one works, assuming he's disciplined, doesn't matter.  If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help.  The trick is to make time - not steal it - and produce the fiction.  If the stories come, you get them written, you're on the right track.  Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way.  The real mystery to crack is you.

 You can read more reviews about this book on LibraryThing.

 The Tao of Martha: My Year of Living, or Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog
by Jen Lancaster

Jen Lancaster is right up there with Laurie Notaro on my Favorite Authors list.  This woman is constantly cracking me up and making me jealous of her lifestyle.  She is unapologetically herself; fortunately, her self is pretty amazing.

In her latest book, Jen becomes a disciple of Martha Stewart, and attempts to apply all of Martha's techniques to her everyday life.  I mean, imagine Martha Stewart's everyday life.  Her house is so organized that she can start any project she wants immediately, without having to hunt around for supplies or clear off a space.  She already has all the baking ingredients in existence, so if she wants to bake a cake, she just has to turn to the correct page in her cookbook.  In other words, Martha has her life so nailed down, that she can actually LIVE.  She can do ALL THE CRAFTS.  And bake ALL THE PIES.  And redecorate ALL THE ROOMS.  Haven't we all wanted to get ourselves in so brilliant an order that we can live the same way?  Well, Jen actually DOES this.  And not only does she manage to make it seem fun and hilarious, she does it all while caring for a beloved family dog, whose health declines over the course of the year this book takes place.

Basically, I'm trying to say that I don't want to be just like Martha Stewart.  I want to be just like Jen Lancaster trying to be like Martha Stewart.  I'm pretty sure if Jen met me, she would agree that we should be BFFs.  (And I'm not just saying that because she has a completely stocked basement in case of Zombie Apocalypse.)

Awesome Quotes
With all the exertion from slam-dancing in the Easter mosh pit, one of the kids has an asthma attack, and the others, sensing his weakness, throw off their gloves so they can really fight.

I curse each and every cornflower and butterfly bush as I huff and yank and hurl masses of dirty tendrils into the woods.  Thanks for being a dick, lavender hyssop!  I thought you were cool, bergamot!  How about I give YOU a black eye, Susan?


Christmas is not going to sneak up on me like that asshole Thanksgiving did.  I plan to be ready.

Read more reviews about this book on LibraryThing.

The Center of the Universe: A Memoir
by Nancy Bachrach

This was another impulse check out from the library, that I actually ended up being really happy with.

Nancy tells the story of growing up with a mother with an undiagnosed mental illness.  Her mother, Lola, claims to be the Center of the Universe, and the whole family lives and works around her needs.

The book switches in between memories of Nancy's childhood, and the present day, where an adult Nancy and her siblings are trying to cope with the accident that killed their father and caused severe brain damage to Lola.

What I found so interesting in this memoir was it's differences from similar memoirs I've read.  A lot of the children of parents with mental illness or similar difficulties wind up resenting BOTH of their parents due to unhappy childhoods or lack of affection, which is understandable.  But Nancy and her siblings care about nothing but returning their mother to her original, although troublesome mental state.  Their struggle to help Lola heal brings them closer together, and closer to Lola.

Memorable Quotes
Who knows what the truth is?  We are not reliable witnesses, especially of our own lives, and plenty of my own memories went down the ostrich hole.  On top of the hole is a steel door with a combination lock.  If there is a combination, I have lost the sequence.  Maybe Lola knows it, or knew it once, but that's ancient medical history.

A memory of a memory is only a pale copy, and there's no way to compare it to an original.  Maybe it's distorted; maybe it's airbrushed.  There's no way to know.  And yet, it's the map of the mind, and so a memory can never be false.  If we're wrong about our memories, then what's the meaning of true and false?

She talked to me plenty when all I could say was "goo-goo."  So now it's my turn.  I savor her nonsense as though the gibberish is a riddle, jam-packed with codes.

My mother is finally the center of my universe now.  My love is as wide as the ocean that separates us, and that is its depth and its strength - denial floating on distance.

Read more reviews about this book on LibraryThing. 

Medium Rare: Boxed Set
by Kevin Michael (and possibly Lucy Maran, not sure)

Disclaimer:  I was given a free copy of this book from the author through LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Meh.  I'm not sure what the author(s) consider a boxed set, but I'm pretty sure it should be more than 116 pages.

This wasn't really bad or good, just kind of THERE.  Kevin Michael has a lot of interesting anecdotes about his time working at various jobs in the food industry.  There's some gossipy tidbits about celebrities in there that are not very anonymous.

Kevin Michael isn't really a bad writer, just a little repetitive.  I just don't think this really needs to be a book.  I could see him keeping up a very successful blog, or maybe it could be a TV show.  He said he was once an aspiring script writer; why not go that direction?  There's some serious grammar mistakes, including sentences that were missing several words.  I found the word "fighted" in there.  And I'm pretty sure the author does not know what ASAP stands for, because it was constantly written as A-SAP.  I did find the beautiful phrase "ass sandwich" as I was reading.  I'll be using that in everyday conversation from now on, so there's that.

So, you know.  Better luck next time?

Read more reviews about this book on LibraryThing.

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