Book Report: Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris

A few months ago it felt as though David Sedaris’s name was everywhere. With almost daily regularity I would hear his name mentioned on a podcast episode, see someone holding/carrying/reading one of his books, or open up Instagram to find that an account I follow had posted something to do with him. I didn’t know much about Sedaris’s work except that it’s humorous, semi-autobiographical, and leans toward misanthropic. This felt like a good moment to become better acquainted.

Perhaps because it was summer and the residents of Santa Monica were baking in record high temperatures, the only Sedaris offering available at my local library was Holidays on Ice – a collection of twelve short stories, all with a holiday theme. I’ll admit reading about Christmas on a sweltering July afternoon made getting into the ‘spirit’ of the title’s season a bit challenging, but in hindsight this may have been for the better.

Right out of the gate Holidays on Ice hits you with Sedaris’s most popular essay, ‘SantaLand Diaries’, which sounds a bit like the title of a horror movie and tells the tale of the real-life horror of being a Christmas elf at Macy’s. The longest of the stories, ‘SantaLand Diaries’ is laugh-out-loud hilarious even though it goes on a bit much. As with all of the stories in this book, however, the laughs come with a heavy undertone that isn’t all that under the surface.

In ‘SantaLand Diaries’ not only are all of the Macy’s elves miserable, but the Santas are really sad and the visitors are mostly monster parents and you just feel bad for everyone. And that’s the way I felt reading every single story – uncomfortable and sorry for the characters.  The second story, ‘Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!’ was witty in style, but horrific in content. I put the book down after that one and hit pause for a few days. It was a bit touch-and-go with all of the stories that followed. Every time I got through one I’d brace myself for the next.

‘Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol’ and ‘Six to Eight Black Men’ were my favorite stories and, not surprisingly, the least tragic. The book ends with ‘The Cow and the Turkey’, a tale that just left me confused.

I wanted to move on about halfway through this book and am so very thankful to have not read it during the actual holidays because that may have depressed me or, at the very least, dimmed some of my enjoyment of the season. I read the last few stories just to be finished with it all.

I am pleased to have read a David Sedaris book and I will more than likely read something of his again – his humor is unique and I want more of it. I just hope I can get it without the heartbreaking tragedy.

Book Report: Copygirl – Anna Mitchael & Michelle Sassa

I had mixed feelings about Copygirl and will admit that I judged this bright pink paperback by its cover. Having recently re-watched every episode of Mad Men, however, I was primed for it’s title to catch my eye and encourage me to glimpse the premise. After reading the back cover I was close to leaving it on the shelf, but somewhere on there are the words ‘Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada…’ and I was again somewhat intrigued. It also mentions this book was written by two former colleagues who realized their experiences attempting to climb New York’s advertising ladder would make a great novel. This gave me hope that I might be pleasantly surprised and  maybe get a modern-day Peggy Olson story line.

Copygirl is a story about Kay, a copywriter living in New York City who is in love with her best friend/art director/working partner/roommate Ben. Believing that career success for she and Ben will foster a romantic relationship Kay is determined to land a campaign that will take them from up-and-comers to recognized creative power duo in the ad industry. While Kay is pulling more than her share of their weight at the office Ben is sort of aimless and easily led and begins to spend more time partying (with the office bros Josh, John, and Jay and the office hot girl Peyton) than he does working or with Kay.

Along the way there are workplace disasters, a best friend in Paris with total disregard for time zones, much use of a SnapChat-like app called Shout Out, a pushy mom and a recently engaged brother, and oh yeah, wax dolls. I couldn’t really get my head around Kay’s wax doll making hobby, but it’s a rather significant part of the story line and, well, there it is.

Somewhere in there we take a brief pause from reality and it all goes a bit rom-com montage sequence. Kay (reluctantly, of course) gets treated to an amazing manicure and before she has time to repeat how out-of-character this is for her she is forced into (reluctantly) having her hair restyled for free by none other than the fantastic boyfriend of one of the higher ups at her agency. But the make-over magic doesn’t end there. Kay is immediately whisked over to Bloomingdale’s where she tries on a number of looks that she can’t possibly afford, but all look divine on her. The one item she decides to buy needs alterations and would you believe that the woman who does the alterations at Bloomingdale’s is an old lady Kay shared a sweet moment with at a McDonald’s on a snowy and miserable night? The next thing we know Kay’s altered dress is messengered to her home along with all of the expensive designer outfits she had tried on. Turns out the little old lady from McDonald’s is loaded and works at Bloomingdale’s as a hobby (and moonlights as a fairy godmother apparently).

Yeah.

With her inadvertent make-over complete, Kay makes her way to her brother’s hip and stylish engagement party where she surprisingly runs into one of her bosses – a man whom she only ever refers to as ‘Suit’. Up until this point in the story ‘Suit’ has inexplicably been a source of some serious irritation for Kay. If he asks how her work is coming along she detours into ranting about how annoying he is and it seems she resents everything about the man from his impeccable attire to his supermodel girlfriend. Tonight, however, it’s different.

I don’t think I need to say it, but everything wraps up beautifully and as conflicting as they were, both of my instincts about this book were correct. The writing is rough-around-the-edges, the story predictable and the protagonist underwhelming, but it was still enjoyable. This is easily a weekend read and, as is often the case with light and quick reads, it was a perfect literary snack during a rather heavy few months when my work zapped me almost entirely out of energy. It satisfied indeed.

Bauhaus 1919-1933

img_6795I don’t typically make resolutions at the start of a new year, but I do reflect on the recent past, where I stand with myself, and what I would like to create going forward. This year however, I made a broad resolution to get to know myself better by way of the things that I enjoy most and I began with Bauhaus.

The term Bauhaus is rather comprehensive. The Bauhaus was a school and a movement. From architecture and art to furniture, fashion, and even fonts the profound influence of the original Bauhaus school has left an enduring legacy we often generalize simply as Bauhaus style. I chose to begin by reading a book that was not about the style, but tells the story of the Bauhaus’s founder, Walter Gropius, and the school’s origin.

Bauhaus 1919-1933 by Magdalene Droste reads a little like a text book and, considering the subject matter, is extremely light on the visuals which I appreciated. (Not right away, but eventually.) What you get is a clean focus on the story of the Bauhaus school and a sense of who the founders were and what the collective experience was like for them and their students.

This book offers a lot of information right out of the gate and for someone like myself, who is meticulous about not overlooking any detail, this proved somewhat challenging as I stopped to take note of names, dates, and resources for further study. Once I decided not to make work out of pleasure, however, the reading was a delight and offered me a more personalized view of the Bauhaus than I had previously held. I found the parallels between the social movements of then and now striking, especially within the young middle class with the wandervogel as the hipsters of their time. The Arts & Crafts movement that birthed the Bauhaus can be seen mirrored in today’s zeitgeist and the original stars of the movement are experiencing a posthumous resurgence. While I enjoy this revisiting of the ideas, artists, crafts and movements I hold an appreciation for it is still bitter-sweet. The original Bauhaus, the twentieth century’s greatest school of art, architecture, and design was unceremoniously cordoned off by armed police and shut down by the Gestapo on April 11, 1933.

So much of what I am drawn to and enjoy has roots in the Bauhaus’s origins that it overwhelms me to think about. Fortunately, coupled with that anxiety is always an enthusiasm that consistently leads me further down the road of discovery and that is what this resolution is all about. Johannes Itten’s preliminary Bauhaus 100 course focused on creating order out of flow through subjective experience and objective recognition and that, to me, sounds a lot like what I’m trying to do too.

Book Report – Julie & Julia, Julie Powell

Despite being a bibliophile and avid reader from a young age, I had been growing unsettled by a case of reader’s block when Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia entered my life. I was at the library with a book, two magazines, and a DVD in hand, making my way to the counter to check out, when I passed a ‘Books on Cooking’ display. It was the sort of arrangement that libraries do where the selections all center around a theme and this one had books about food – recipe books, chef biographies, and Julie & Julia. 

I am not a foodie. Not even a little bit. I barely enjoy cooking, and I definitely can’t stand reading about it, which is precisely why I walked right past that book display without more than a glance in its direction. Didn’t stop. Didn’t even slow down. But I picked up the book. As I walked past the display I casually, and without thinking, picked up the book and checked it out along with the rest of my items.

It took me a while to get around to reading it. As I said, I had another book, two magazines, and a DVD checked out. All of which I intentionally brought home, so they went first. Then one day, Julie was due. I was faced with choosing between a.reading the entire book in one evening, 2.renewing the book, or d.returning it. Since I had absolutely zero intention of reading this book I did what any rational person would – I renewed it. Then, when in three weeks it was once again due, and I had neither read it nor developed a desire to read it, I once again renewed it.

Some time near the end of the second renewal period I started reading the book and to my complete surprise I was really enjoying it! So much so that when it was due, and I was all out of renewals, I went to the library and found another copy of the book, transferred my bookmark to the second copy, then took both to the front desk where I returned and checked out different copies of the same book.

It didn’t take me long to finish reading the book. I enjoyed every single page (except, I will be honest, the Julia and Paul flashbacks), but I don’t have much else to say about the book itself.

Julie & Julia was an entertaining read. Entertaining enough that when Julie explained boring cooking processes I didn’t skim past those paragraphs. I read them. Every word. Even when I knew it was another butter clarifying or a lengthy marrow extraction or lobster murder session I read the full description because what I enjoyed most about reading Julie & Julia was Julie Powell’s voice. The Project itself (cooking all 524 recipes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year) was inconsequential. The real story, for me anyway, was Julie’s and the way she shared it felt honest and real and I connected with that very much.

Something made me pick up Julie & Julia (and keep renewing it until I read it) and during the time when I was reading it I kept getting ‘winks’ from the universe. Like the night I was reading the part where Julie is home for Thanksgiving and I was home for Thanksgiving. Or the time a friend loaned me a movie, which she insisted I watch, and one of the previews was for the Julie & Julia movie (which I didn’t even know existed and stars the wonderful Amy Adams). And then there was the day I went to Greg’s parent’s house and his mom just happened to have Mastering the Art of French Cooking displayed on the counter in a book stand. Or what about the night I was watching an old episode of The Mindy Project where Mindy goes to a Meryl Streep themed party as Meryl Streep playing Julia Child in the Julie & Julia movie. All of this happened during the time when I was reading the book and it felt like a little more than just coincidence.

I feel a great deal of gratitude for this book that I didn’t want to read. Julie & Julia did for me something that I appreciate beyond my ability to articulate. There are only a handful of books that I can say I have read exactly at the moment when I needed them, but this is one.

Reading was my first love. It has been my best friend, my teacher, my parent, and so much more. When I was in my reading rut it affected me, and different areas of my life, more than I realized at that time. Somewhere along the way, however, while I was following along with Julie’s story I reconnected with my own.

November 2017

Woman is now 37 and Santa Monica is now home. Writing remains my most neglected love, but inspiration and determination are riper than ever.

I love where I live now. My proximity to the Pacific Ocean has always directly correlated with my well being and living where I do is proving to be exactly what I need.

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Santa Monica 11.12.17