There’s nothing like a good read…

What? You didn’t think I spent ALL my time shopping and gallivanting, did you? I haven’t been able to read for enjoyment the way I did before graduate school, and am just getting back to it. These are all great reads, whether your tastes run to highbrow, lowbrow…or somewhere in between.

Get INformation: Becoming Beyonce, by J. Randy Tarraborelli. Three stars and a bottle of hot sauce for this juicy read. Does it lay out what happened in that elevator in 2013? You’ll have to read it yourself.

Real Housewife of Barnes and Noble: American Housewife, by Helen Ellis. Four stars. Witty, strange and definitely funny. Ellis and her characters are women I’d love to have a cocktail with. Fun facts: Ellis is an accomplished poker player and was reared in Tuscaloosa.

HERstory: My Time with the Kings: A Reporter’s Recollection of Martin, Coretta and the Civil Rights Movement, by Kathryn Johnson. Three and three quarter stars. Johnson became an AP reporter covering the civil rights movement and the King family during a turbulent time in history. She had a front row seat to many things, including Dr. King’s funeral, and was even allowed  into the King family’s intimate spaces. She was present for the  University of Alabama’s Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, and her recollections on that alone make this a read. Her resourcefulness, quick thinking and gumption gave her access many could not have gotten.

And one to grow on: I Had a Favorite Dress, by Boni Ashburn. This was a pick for my niece, who loves to be read to! (And also so she doesn’t become a semi-hoarder like her aunt.) The illustrations and story are lovely.

All images via Amazon

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Recommended reading: “Things I Should Have Told My Daughter”

20140509-122734.jpgIf I had the nerve to ask my mother to read her journals – and I don’t – my motivation would be to find out who she is apart from being a wife and mother. (Yes, I can guess, but the point is: what story would SHE tell?) Whether she ever felt as I do, sometimes: racked with self-doubt, overwhelmed, a sense of wonder and anger at the world, particularly where racism and sexism are concerned. Would she feel professionally and personally fulfilled? How would she confess her deepest feelings? Would I be shocked? Would our paths and questions and desires converge neatly, or would they veer in wildly opposite directions?

Award-winning poet, playwright, essayist and professor Pearl Cleage offered her journals to her daughter, who declined (and suggested burning) them. Instead she has published a swath of her personal writings for us in her latest book Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons and Love Affairs. I could Not. Put. It. Down.

Cleage covers a period of her life from activism in the 1970s, working with Maynard Jackson’s historic bid for Mayor of Atlanta, her marriage, childbirth, and divorce, as well as her creative and later romantic life, ending in the late 1980s. I’m glossing over a lot on purpose: this book gets into the life and mind of an artist – the life and mind of a woman – and the things you think about late at night but are afraid to admit or ask for aloud. Yes, she does drugs. Yes, she has affairs. But it’s more than that.

“I want to do things I never thought I’d do,” she writes. In another passage she notes: “Being afraid is no excuse.” And she unflinches from the challenge of facing these questions:

“What do you want?”

How badly do you want it?

How bold will you be to get it?

Until you answer these, it is all [expletive].”

Cleage travels, writes and insists upon a “room of her own” to in which to create. She works with Coretta Scott King and is photographed by legendary Tuskegee artist (and Bessemer native) P. H. Polk. She searches for the balance between paying the bills and pursuing her art. She confronts her own mortality and faces her mother’s illness. She defines and pursues personal, professional and creative freedom for herself. She LIVES.

Pearl Cleage (via ConnectSavannah.com)

Pearl Cleage (via ConnectSavannah.com)

Several times I had to put the book down and just exhale. In an age where everyone has fifteen minutes of fame and a front page thanks to social media, what I often see are carefully curated reconstructions of people where the messy parts of life – the authentic parts – are photoshopped and cropped out, then improved with filters. It was totally refreshing to read that Cleage didn’t always have it totally figured out, that she doubted and dreamed and fell down and got up and changed her mind and moved on and came back and tried again. That she succeeded. Reading her book made me realize I don’t want to have to put the pieces together after people I love are no longer here, when it’s too late. It gave me the courage to ask my mother a few questions, starting with this one:

Who are you?

P.S. Interesting fact: Cleage has an Alabama connection. Her maternal grandparents were from Alabama, and her grandmother’s uncle Victor Tulane owned a store in Montgomery.

P. P. S. Think leaving stories behind for your children isn’t that important? John Dickerson explains why it is in this piece for Slate.com.

P. P. P. S. Ms. Cleage, please come to Birmingham!

Images via ConnectSavannah.com and AEB

 

Recommended Reading: Maya Angelou’s ‘Mom&Me&Mom’

20130611-124012.jpgNow we see where the esteemed poet/author/performer/professor/national treasure gets “it” from.  Read an excerpt HERE.

Recommended Reading: ‘The Twelve Tribes of Hattie’

Twelve-Tribes-of-Hattie

Oprah loved this book, and so did I. So much so that it basically made me shelve the novel I’ve been working on for almost three years. *Sigh*

Recommended Reading: Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible

TG_Fashion BibleAre you in a fashion rut and looking for a way to ‘make it work’? Or are you simply interested in the origins of what we wear? Then you need this informative and humorous resource, which is jampacked with fashion history, helpful hints and how-to’s, as well as anecdotes about the Project Runway mentor’s life. 

ProjectRunwaySeason11

BTW all you Project Runway fans should mark your calendars for the Season 11 premiere on January 24th, with Zac Posen replacing Michael Kors as a judge (le sigh!) and appearances from Tracy Reese, John Legend, Joan Rivers, and more.

AND I’ll take you behind the seams with Project Runway Season 2 finalist Daniel Vosovic on Monday  next Wednesday!

Carry on!

‘Overdressed’ takes readers behind the seams of fast fashion

What savvy shopper with some mileage on her stilettos hasn’t remarked (or heard their mother or grandmother sigh) “They just don’t make [coats, shoes, dresses, etc.] they way they used to anymore!” while shopping?

Elizabeth L. Cline’s eye-opening read, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, takes readers behind the seams of the fast fashion industry and the financial and environmental implications of accumulating “disposable” clothing.  Readers follow Cline as she examines the Chinese garment industry (by pretending to be a buyer), learns to sew with low-wage seamstresses in the Dominican Republic, and chats with “haulers” (i.e. shoppers who purchase huge quantities of fast fashion and blog about their finds).  Cline reveals just what happens to all the clothes that go unpurchased at charity stores, and contrasts her findings with the “slow fashion” movement, which emphasizes ethical construction, ecofriendly materials and sustainability (meaning pieces are well-made and will last for seasons). 

This was an interesting read (I recommend reading it because it highlights a lesser-publicized side of the fashion industry), but to be honest: I love my fast fashion.  I love being able to sample trends selectively without investing a lot of money in them, but it’s also important to understand that you often get just what you pay for.   It’s key to know how to recognize a high quality garment or accessory and when to purchase one (for example: my go-to handbag has lasted about six years).   Shopping vintage and consignment stores are also excellent ways to participate to support “slow fashion,” as is sewing your own garments (more to come on that later).

Have a fabulous weekend!

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Image via Amazon

‘Advanced Style’ subjects grace Lanvin’s Fall 2012 campaign

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Who says beauty has an age limit?  The glamorous, effortlessly chic grande dames featured in Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog prove beauty knows no decade.   Two of Cohen’s jazzy subjects, Tziporah Salamon (age 62) and Jacquie Tajah Murdock (age 82), are featured in Lanvin’s Fall 2012 fashion spread.

Here’s what the ladies had to say about posing:

“This campaign is a dream come true. I grew up in Harlem always wanting to be a model, but in my day there were very little opportunities for women of color to work in fashion. At 18 I went from agent to agent looking for jobs, even as a hand model. I have finally made it and I will never give up. Hopefully some day I will get to Paris!” – Ms. Murdock

“I am totally honored, jazzed, and thrilled. I am so grateful for this opportunity. In my early 20s I would have never realized that I could do something like this. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I began to see my beauty. By then I felt that there weren’t many opportunities for older models.  How ironic is it that i am having my big break as a model in my 60s? This is a great day!” – Ms. Salamon

Be sure to check out Cohen’s blog and his book, Advanced Style.  The photos are arresting and devastatingly CHIC.  As for me, I’m running out to get some sunscreen and eye cream; I want to age as fabulously as these women have!  I think this book adds to changing the idea that beauty and glamour are the domain of the young, and that we all need to hold on to our youth.  These women show that we don’t have to lose our vibrancy, attractiveness or relevance as we get older; in fact, we get better.  I just want to know how my grandmothers missed this casting call!

Don’t miss the upcoming Advanced Style documentary, or this  trailer with commentary from some of the jazzy models:

Are you dressing for the theater of your life?

Images via Advanced Style

Recommended Reading: ‘Why You’re Not Married…Yet’

Single readers: don’t you just love those well-meaning (okay, nosy) people who love to come up and ask “WHEN are YOU going to get married?” As if there aren’t a million plus other ways to spend your life and time productively? Nothing against marriage (ahem, I’m all about marriages and weddings) but the firing squad questioning gets old. However, if you’re interested in reflecting personally on why you aren’t married, Tracy McMillan’s latest book (which grew out of her wildly popular Huffington Post piece about the same topic) may help.

In Why You’re Not Married…Yet: The Straight Talk You Need to Get the Relationship You Deserve, the thrice-divorced McMillan shares the wisdom she’s gained through her own life experiences, and in an often-funny, totally no-nonsense way helps the hapless and hopeless narrow down and address their personal issues. Whether you are hoping to find Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, the ten chapters in this book aim to help you face the ways you may be sabotaging healthy relationships with suggested solutions for how to change. She also shares her observations on male behavior, and in a big sisterly way, shares the information people around you wish you knew about your own antics. (Like maybe you’re selfish, co-dependent, or you need to address your inner Amy Winehouse.)

As McMillan noted in her HuffPost piece, “I believe every woman who wants to can find a great partner. You’re just going to need to get rid of the idea that marriage will make you happy. It won’t. Once the initial high wears off, you’ll just be you, except with twice as much laundry.” So don’t expect this book to hand you a magic coupon and MapQuest directions for the perfect husband. But it may give you the tools to be a better person, which may lead to being a better mate.

You can also catch McMillan on the upcoming NBC reality show Ready for Love, in which she will play matchmaker for three bachelors in search of their true loves.

You’re welcome, Alexis

Images via Amazon and TracyMcMillan.com

Recommended Reading: Women from the Ankle Down

From Ferragamo’s humble beginnings to Dorothy’s ruby slippers, from Wonder Woman’s boots to the shoe envy created by the latest Louboutin creation (with a good measure of Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo habit mixed in), Rachelle Bergstein illuminates the social history of shoes in Women from the Ankle Down: the Story of Shoes and How They Define Us. Witty and captivating, she shares how design innovations and trends have coincided with social change.  More than a mere fashion choice, shoes have come to signify personal empowerment and economic freedom.  Jane Fonda helped lead a fitness craze with a pair of Reebok Freestyles (which, by the way, are back in style); Gwen Stefani and Courtney Love helped change the perception of women in music in wearing pairs of Mary Janes.  Men aren’t left out; Bergstein also looks at how Vans, Chuck Taylors Doc Martens transformed the scene, and she even devotes a chapter to Tony Manero’s towering platforms in Saturday Night Fever.

My “shoe confession”?  As I sit writing this in my red Italian suede flats from J.Crew, I still believe one shoe can change your life. Hey, it worked for Cinderella!

Image via RachelleBergstein.com

‘American Tapestry’ author to visit Birmingham June 25

From the Birmingham Public Library:

“Birmingham Bound: Writers and Writing from the Birmingham Public Library Archives Presents Rachel Swarns

New York Times correspondent Rachel Swarns will discuss her book American Tapestry. This family saga is a remarkable, quintessentially American story—a journey from slavery to the White House in five generations. Yet, until now, little has been reported on the First Lady’s roots. Using the collections of the Birmingham Public Library Archives and many other sources, American Tapestry traces the complex and fascinating tale of Michelle Obama’s ancestors, a history that the First Lady did not even know herself.  Books will be available for purchase and signing. 

American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama was released June 19 by Amistad. 

Interested in researching your roots? Swarns’ website has links to helpful resources such as the National Archives, Family Search and DNA testing.

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