Short Reviews of 2016

These are all shorter reviews I posted on Goodreads and forgot to post over here. Most of these don't go into much depth and some are humorous for me, upon remembering that "I wrote that?" (okay, one). Meanwhile, my cat is reminding me it is time to PLAY by chewing on the plastic handle to his Cat in the Hat feather toy. Let's see if I can do two things at once.

Bentley's a Bombay mix, so apparently they love to play into adulthood, create their own games, and like to play both fetch and tag. I know this from experience, walking down a hallway as suddenly this small panther tackled my legs.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Only too late did I find Carrie Fisher the writer, not Carrie Fisher, the woman who was and will always be Princess Leia. Fisher's voice is self-deprecating, hilarious, and it rolls right off the page. She discusses the world of Hollywood and fan boy legacy in a way that comes across as relatable. I enjoyed her insights on the fact that just because she was one part of the Star Wars triforce doesn't mean that bills magically vanish.

Perhaps what touched me the most though was Fisher trying to convince fans at cons that it was okay she had grown older - that an aging woman is a fantastic thing and we shouldn't hold her responsible for who she was (and what she looked like) at 19.

Discovered too late, but not for me. I think now is the time to find all of her books and discover Carrie Fisher the writer. Princess Leia's great and all, but I think I like Carrie more.

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

The first half of Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! consists of great advice for writing at such a high volume, and directly about one of my greatest problems: quieting that sense of perfectionism that ruins all the fun in creativity. That sneaky, sneaky inner editor. There are also tips on how to find time to write if you have children, if you live with a loud family, if the only place where you can write is at work, etc.

The other half of the book consists of advice for getting through the weeks of NaNoWriMo and is essentially like one of the free advice letters they send you when you sign up for the site. For one, this is pointless to me, because I don't do NaNoWriMo (though I'm thinking about trying to transform an idea into a novel in March 2017). Secondly, most of this advice falls flat and exists only to pick you up if you're feeling exhausted throughout those four grueling weeks.

Ultimately, the best advice out of this book is that most writers put off projects because they don't have a deadline. And this is certainly something I'm going to be implementing in the future for my work, as I've written my best work while scrambling to finish to meet a submission deadline.

The Colette Sewing Handbook: Inspired Styles and Classic Techniques for the New Seamstress by Sarai Mitnick

I've always enjoyed the way Sarai Mitnick writes about sewing and her blog, The Coletterie, is filled with articles that examine fashion, fabric, and our lives in clothes with an analytical eye. The Colette Sewing Handbook is a sewing book that is certainly aimed towards beginning sewers. The projects are quite simple. But what Colette has always focused on, and what makes me love their patterns (both Colette and Seamwork) is the focus on technique rather than difficulty. And I think that it was due to reading the Colette blog that I began hunting down Youtube demonstrations for different techniques. This is a great book for beginning with the technique involved in sewing, using simple patterns to practice making your own bias tape or understand the different drapes of fabric and how it can alter your project.

Even as someone who is an intermediate sewer, there were a few things I didn't know that Mitnick covered. I thought clips and notches were the same thing. Now I know: notch a downward curve, clip an upward curve. And while I knew about selvages and bias, I had never been taught weft and warp.

So here's to me making my own bias tape!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Mari Kondo

I enjoyed this - Mari Kondo seems less like a deranged tidying psycho if you understand more about Japanese culture and their reverence for inanimate objects. It's certainly made me think about the objects in my life and if I'm surrounded by things that give me joy.

I've even started to thank inanimate things more than I usually do. But that's just me. I can see how that would feel odd for others.

X (3 in 1 Edition) V. 1 by CLAMP

. . . okay. Why did I like this so much, after spending the past ten years completely making fun of this series? I'm shocked. More later, including an analysis (?!). I had the same revelation when I watched the Tokyo Babylon OAV again a couple of years ago and found that I really enjoyed it. There's . . . strangely a lot about man's relationship with nature and modernity, as well as like . . . stuff about Japanese politics.

This is weird. Stop making me feel weird, X.

X (3-in-1 Edition) V. 2 by CLAMP

I think part of my enjoyment of this series comes from the fact that I learned to stop taking it seriously long ago. Why does everyone's hair have to fly up in the wind when a revelation comes to pass? Why does everyone stare so seriously at each other? And why can't I get Wonderboy out of my head?

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell

Think of this as accessible existentialism. Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Cafe is a who's who of the Existential movement, including fascinating bibliographic snippets of these thinkers' lives and a break-down of their major contributions to philosophy. While there is more emphasis placed on Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, Bakewell gives due time to the other philosophers of the mid-twentieth century: Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone Weil; while also discussing key figures of existentialist thought: James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Norman Mailer, and others.

My mind was not really changed on any of the existentialists - I'm still more in favor with Albert Camus' thoughts, but absurdism is the only way that I can make any understanding out of life. This is more of a personal thing, I know. This biggest revelation for me in this book was on Martin Heidegger, a German professor who took part in a book burning during the Nazi party regime. In fact, so fully did Heidegger commit himself to Nazism that it's difficult to view him in any positive light. And I knew nothing about Merleau-Ponty, who was the first philosopher to consider childhood an important stage that forms our adult selves. Or Simone Weil, who devoted herself to her social philosophy that when the residents of German-occupied France received small rations, she ate less as well until she starved (To death? Maybe. Weil had other physical complications as well).

What is most important, and what Bakewell wants to present to those who love philosophy and those who are just getting into it, is that these philosophers thought dangerously. At a time when thought wasn't valued, as war loomed across Europe. We need more dangerous thinkers.

Fairy Tale Fashion by Colleen Hill

Once upon a time, there was a dress, a glass slipper, a red hood, ruined dancing shoes, and a furry pelt.

In Fairy Tale Fashion, Coleen Hill takes us back to the very fashioning of some of our most memorable tales and how these damsels' clothing says more than one might think. Clothing has a very profound effect on us and there are certain pieces of clothing that have stayed in our universal consciousness. Girls dream of having a "Cinderella" moment, perhaps at prom or on their wedding day. Or when one puts on an evocative outfit, the first image in one's mind me be that you are emulating Little Red Riding Hood and that the wolves are out tonight.

I enjoyed Hill's ideas and how she juxtaposed older drawings with contemporary designs that called these fairy tales to mind. However, I think that not enough time was spent on the objects of fashion in these fairy tales and while Hill's assertion that analysis should be left to people more adept in that matter, I wanted to hear her analysis. I wanted to know what she thought these timeless garments said about the population that hears these stories over and over and keeps these garments alive and well.

Included in her book are the stories of Cinderella (the rag dress, the gown, the glass slipper), Little Red Riding Hood (the hood), the Fairies (clothes as a currency), Sleeping Beauty (the stand-up collar), Beauty and the Beast (Beauty's new clothes), Snow White (being tied up in corset lacing by the Evil Queen), Rapunzel (the hair), Furrypelts (dresses and pelt), the Little Mermaid (losing tail, the comb), the Snow Queen (the red shoes, as well as the very image of the Snow Queen), the Swan Maidens (stealing a feathered dress), Alice in Wonderland (clothing and hair ornaments), and the Wizard of Oz (shoes). Also included are essays on ballet's revival through fairy tales and its influence on fashion, the importance of shoes, and the craze over Alice bands.

Whereas stories like the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast depict stories of alienation between man's part in nature and in civilization, other stories are more intrinsically linked in the world of fashion. Cinderella, for example, may be a story about how clothing can be so beautiful that it appears to have magical properties. Charles Perrault may have been inspired by the incredible court gowns at the time. On the opposite side of this spectrum is Little Red Riding Hood, dressed in a violent color, punished for her idleness and ravished by a wolf. In Hill's eyes, Sleeping Beauty becomes a tale about class, as spinning was considered peasant work, seeing as it destroyed the hands. Beauty's collar indicates the wealth of her class, but when she wakes up 100 years later, all is for naught as the Prince mocks her dress as looking like one his mother would wear. The rarity of blonde hair is cherished in Rapunzel, locked in a tower along with her girlhood. When she tries to escape, the enchantress cuts off all of her hair which destroys Rapunzel's identity. And the Swan Maidens features women who are beautiful yet savage, and perhaps their status as partly animal reminds us of the violent act that is after "true love."

In Furrypelts, clothing displays the princess' love for fashion as well as how clothing worked as currency in Perrault's time. The Princess seeks help from heaven (the stars, the sun, the moon) and from the earth (the pelts) to escape her father. The fact that she takes all of her dresses with her as she escapes to the forest shows how important fashion is to her.

Snow White is an interesting tale in that for most fairy tales, evil is equated with ugliness. The Evil Queen is beautiful. And perhaps she is such a memorable character because her hatred is powerful and frightening. According to Hill, the Queen preys upon Snow White's, "vanity, vulnerability, and sense of propriety." There should be a balance between beauty and modesty; Snow White displays this, enthralled with the corset laces that will spell her doom, as well as the apple, a reflection of her cheeks.

Shoes are incredibly important in fairy tales. In the Snow Queen, the protagonist throws out her shoes as a form of sacrifice. In The Red Shoes, Hans Christian Andersen's Karen has her vanity overtake her, dancing rapturously until her legs are cut off. And in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's red shoes, originally silver in L. Frank Baum's novel, are the key to her home. What stands out as an important tale to Hill though is the Twelve Princesses, who escape their father every night and go down into a strange land to dance. This dancing is a subversion of patriarchal values, and it is only in finding the ruined shoes the next morning that the King knows of their disobedience. The shoes are red again, that violent color representing vitality and sin.

According to Hill, shoes are the facilitators of change in fairy tales, such as the case of Cinderella and Dorothy. However, they can also be the relinquishing of the self to desire. "Desire and the longing for shoes enlivens the static female, fairy tale body." Dancing itself is an act of transgression, as we see with Karen.

With the wicked stepmother who is forced to wear shoes made of hot coals, Karen, and Cinderella's stepsisters who hack at their feet, shoes are a way to make unruly and wayward bodies docile again. This is true with the dancing princesses as well, who must be transformed into docile women again. In most fairy tales, virtuous women who do not question the moral norms of their times are rewarded and women who are subversive are either punished or made docile once again.

As Hill says in Fairy Tale Fashion, fashion designers are story tellers. They reclaim the stories for the fashion that is provided and these acts of transgression are transformed into valorous efforts. Fashion cannot make us go through a transformation. But we can utilize the glamor of fashion to cast an enchantment over others.

Zero Waste Fashion Design by Timo Rissanen and Holly McQuillan

Zero Waste Fashion Design explores an area of fashion I had little knowledge of. Hearing "sustainability" makes me think of other aspects in the design process, but to think that pattern-making and cutting could be the entirety of zero waste? In fact, many traditional costumes are zero waste garments, as people had to use everything out of their woven textiles or pelts.

I was fascinated by some of the concepts in this book, but it stops a little short of being a fashion text book. This is a great beginning book for zero waste, but I think it's only for beginners.

That being said, I would love to try some of the patterns and I'm thinking about using selvages instead of facing now.
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