Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: The Devil in the White City

The New York Times best-seller was similarly nestled in the best-seller section of Powell's when I picked it up during our recent trip to Portland, to incredibly loud results, courtesy of my very vocal mother. I knew I was bound to enjoy it. 

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson, is a nonfiction account on the confluence of personalities, passions, and ideals that resulted in the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, also known as the Columbian Exposition. Interweaving firsthand documentation with a flair for description, the book expertly brings together various historical touchstones you'd know from American textbooks to reconstruct the Fair that went down in flames, rising again as the glittering White City.

So, I'm not joking when I say my mother definitely warned me against reading this book; in fact, she sharply reprimanded me after even glancing at the back cover, and archly called into question my level of maturity in reading such a provoking kind of non-fiction. Angling to exercise my inherent right as a 20-year-old to read whatever I damn please, thankyouverymuch, paired with my distinctly toddler-like predilection to reach towards whatever is deemed as being unsuitable for playtime, you would think I would have bought it immediately. The true history is much more entertaining: she did.

(I think she felt bad about yelling at me in front of my friends... and the rest of the shopping population of Powell's. She's a loud woman... her voice carries.)

Thus, I went into this book with the full expectation of enjoying it, and, if not that, at the very least, finishing it. I ended up being incredibly interested in the book as a whole... it carries the double danger of being incredibly engagingly written, as well as being written about topics that are themselves inherently engaging. The books' true expertise, construction-wise, was especially displayed in the overarching histories it presented, but to be honest, I often found myself glossing over the majority of the architecture- or society-focused aspects of the story, in favor of flying to the chapters written about Holmes, who was arguably the more compelling personality.

The interlocking web of famous faces crowding the grounds of the Columbia Exposition rendered the revelation of each new name as a jewel glinting in the dust of time; from Helen Keller meeting the man who first designed a Braille typewriter, to Mark Twain being holed up in his hotel room and unable to attend, to even Little Egypt, the first scantily-clad woman to ever pop out of a bachelor's cake (or so we're assuming), many and more met along the Court of Honors in the White City of the Chicago World's Fair, and seeing their familiar names connected to many more forms a 19th century version of Six Degrees of the Columbia Exposition, and it's awesome. 

The integration of documented fact within the grounds of a fiction-worthy tale was a stroke of genius, as well, as the author seamlessly matched the wordage used within the citations from actual documented material, as a model for the author's own verbose style of eloquence. A little word-y at times, yes, but it went a long way of preserving the style and presenting a complete culture for that time period through the diction they popularly used.

Final Verdict: Intriguing and comprehensive, Devil in the White City provides a better tableau of national culture than any history lecture could provide. Rife with too much Jeopardy!-worthy trivia to focus on all at once, truth is once again is revealed to be stranger than fiction, as the Exposition that enraptured the nation is carefully constructed once again, just as ready to amuse and amaze. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review: An Object of Beauty

I mean, I was on vacation for over a week before posting my accounts of The Best Books of Sophomore Year, or even a College Fashion Link Up Post for Mrs. Dalloway... but, surely I wouldn't be so careless in postponing the actual act of reading for pleasure, right? Well, wrong. It took me way too long to actually get back into reading "for funzies" again... but when I did finally pick up a new copy off of the stack, I almost sunk my own battleship before the struggle had actually begun, because this book sure was a doozy.  
An Object of Beauty, by noted author Steve Martin (more on that in a second) follows the living and livelihood of Lacey Yeager, an anti-ingenue in the not-so-much-bustling-as-trampling New York City art scene, ready to scuff the shining floors of Sotheby's with her own brand of sex appeal (all narrated by her impressionable and milquetoast friend vaguely unwarranted of mention). Through the late '90s into the current art climate, we follow Lacey as she climbs her way among the many ladders of fine arts culture, not caring about the faces she steps on along the way, knowing she could just as quickly win them back with a flash up her skirt. However, while art may be classified by the un-indoctrinated simply as beautiful, insiders know it to be daring, violent, graphic, and gaudy, in turn, and as it turns out, Lacey might just be the true artwork present in the novel.

First of all, let's talk about the elephant in the room; or, rather, the author name on the cover. I was positively tickled to leaf through the pre- and post- materials for the text itself and see no defined author photo, or even any kind of comprehensive "About the Author" page. I mean, I agree, Steve Martin should be a household name for most, but not so well known is his status as a writer of not purely comedic works, as well as his not-so-secret reputation as a bit of a fine arts aficionado. Finally cluing myself in by noting the listing of Shopgirl among his many authorial credits, I knew I truly had the right guy. It is this sort of hidden talent that emerges double-fold in An Object of Beauty.

Admittedly, despite my enthusiasm for the author, the plot moves a little bit slowly; however, the impression is deeply felt that this choice of pace was made for the sake of attention to detail, particularly present in the form of art history lessons no one would really have expected. The mappings of chronological developments, from the antiquities of ancient masters through the ironies of modern art, successfully enmesh fiction with factual descriptions of artists, their works and movements, and the intricate and entrenched filtration system for fine arts present in the layers of collectors, sellers, galleries, museums and more that exist within that culture. (One particularly welcome highlight of the work was the inclusion of many of the specific pieces of art around which he orients his narrative, rendered in color.)

I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which personalities present within the work were formed around real people - false names for friends or foes - simply because of the expertly quirky lens through which they are presented. They were as funny as fiction, but written as if real. Additionally, though the novel primarily served as an involving and breathing portrait of the New York City art playground and one girl's attempt to play it for all it was worth, the depictions of the landscape as its own kind of character made me almost want to visit the East Coast. 

Final Verdict: Intellectual, informative, and interesting - from both the plot-motivated story-side, as well as the history-encapsulating education-side - the novel effectively told the story in a detail-oriented way that still managed to be subtle in its emotional weight, while perhaps venturing a little bit into over-stimulation in some places in its minutae. An Art History 101 class with feeling, An Object of Beauty was a very complex way to kick off my summer.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

College Fashion Post Link Up: Mrs. Dalloway

So, my latest "Looks from Books" post came out on College Fashion this past Wednesday, and while I wouldn't usually double back to do individual posts about past material, I enjoyed the inspiration for this paticular post so immensely, I thought it would be completely remiss of me to ignore it. After all, I did name Mrs. Dalloway as one of my Top Reads of Sophomore Year, so it merits a little more attention from me, I think.

It isn't all that frequently that you read a book where the words just kind of make you lean back and *thunk* against your chair, and say, "Wow." That, for me, was the result of reading the expertly crafted prose, courtesy of Virginia Woolf, that flows circuitously throughout the jumbled narratives of one brief June day in London, chronicling the intermixed lives of many, including the titular party hostess Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway, an ex-lover named Peter Walsh, Dalloway's daughter Elizabeth and the latter's teacher Mrs. Kilman, and, of course, the doomed WWI veteran Septimus Warren Smith (my favorite character).

The novel itself is a modernist classic, and one of the many new works I experienced this past year in my "Early 19th C. English Literature," alongside Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier and E.M. Forster's Passage to India. If anyone's looking for a solid read for the summer, replete with beautiful descriptions and an easy-to-read style of writing, you should definitely give Mrs. Dalloway a try. It's one of those books that you discover new things in every time you reread, as well, so you can bet I'll be giving this one another go once I've done a suitable amount of damage to my currently-towering TBR pile.

Here's a brief preview to the looks inspired by this work, with an outfit that pays homage to my favorite part of the novel, the winding and wandering fluidity of the narrative, unimpeded by changes of consciousness and character, and realized in the form of luxe layers and flowing fabrics.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summing Up Sophomore Year

Alright, yes, I realize that today - the first day of summer, officially - almost marks the two-week mark for how long I've been out of school and, yes, not posting, but will you all really begrudge me a blissful mental vacation/recovery period from the hard and unforgiving slog that was Finals Week? I beg forgiveness for my brief lapse in posting... I was too busy doing things like reading to even think about the things I've read in the past year. 

But that's quite enough boo-hooing for now. Gathered here, are some of my top reads for Sophomore Year! 

Best Voice: Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison
If there was ever a real-life situation that required an understanding shoulder to cry on, it's reading this absolutely brutal, no-holds-barred glimpse into the life of an underprivileged girl growing up in racist, rural North Carolina. But the voice carries through the novel so perfectly, and even into your mind after you've closed it for the day, that it would be an absolute crime not to mention how important I think this book is. Read for my "Contemporary Classics: Centers and Margins" class, alongside our high school counterparts.

Best Cover: The Line (Witching Savannah #1) by J.D. Horn
Just look at it. Just look. There were plenty of reasons why I loved this book, and plenty more as to why I'm excited to read the second, but damn, that cover is awesome.

Most Feels: Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) by S.J. Maas
It was the Titanic all over again, as I watched one of my most beloved ships sink into the icy, biting, incredibly-well-written depths of Maas' fluid prose (see what I did there?), and I didn't recover easily. In fact, I'm pretty sure that at this moment, I still haven't recovered at all. And I read it while Sorority Recruitment was going on in September... can you spell "emotionally vulnerable"?

Most Hype: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
After hearing my two youngers sisters raving and ranting about this particular work, I finally returned to the works of John Green to catch up to the rest of my generation for this particular read, and while time has lead me to believe some other things about this specific material, I have to admit, at the time I read it, I was pretty swept up.

Favorite New Series: The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder and Scarlet) by Marissa Meyer
Honestly, I was in the mood for some good sci fi and some good YA this year, and this series seriously delivered on both fronts. And the author lives in my hometown??? Lord help me.

Best Nonfiction: Odd Type Writers, by Celia Blue Johnson
Yet another foray into the inner lives of some of literature's most celebrated authors. Who kept rotten apples in their desk? Who liked to write while sitting in the front seat of their car, even while driving? Impress your friends and ostracize those not equipped to handle your trivia knowledge with minutae taken directly from the likes of Dickens, Poe, and many more.

(It honestly almost hurts to type this, because I just finished Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, and I'm just so pumped to talk about nonfiction forever and ever... but that has to wait!)

Best Assigned Material: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Yes, I considered myself a bit of a Woolf fangirl already due to a general obsession with the feminist essays penned by her, studied in Junior-level AP classes in high school, but my world was completely flipped by Mrs. Dalloway. I'm not saying it's my new favorite book... but I am saying it was definitely in the running for the best book I read this year.

Best New Author: Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor and Park, Fangirl) 
I'd say something cute and quaint, like "someone get this girl an award," but I'm about one million percent sure she's already equipped. The one-two punch of the slamming introductions into the world of YA, E&P and Fangirl have both garnered rave reviews from me already, as well as their own College Fashion posts.

Best Old Author: Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Emma)
Sophomore year opened with an English Lit class the likes of which could only be constructed by someone who wanted all ostracized old-book-sniffers and literary fangirls of the city of Seattle to unite in one classroom. Through this wonderment, I was blessed with such friends as Halley and Megan, who not only joined me in celebration of all of Austen's works, but who still keep me up to date with what our good friends at Pemberley Digital are doing on Twitter. (Miss you, guys!)

Best Overall Book of Sophomore Year: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.
Yeah, yeah, call me a basic English Lit kid, but in ye olde aforementioned English Lit class, the only book on the list I hadn't read prior to the class itself was this monumental Dickensian effort. Homeboy may have had his own problems, but from one aspiring workaholic to a quite accomplished one, good job.

What books did you enjoy this past school year?
{Check out my summary of Freshman Year, as well!}

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I'll Love You Forever, I'll Like You For Always: My Top Picks for Father's Day

They're the guys who've looked after us all these years... the ones who read us Harry Potter and The Phantom Tollbooth every night in the hopes of getting us to be quiet, only to find us with flashlights under the covers after they thought we were fast asleep. It's time to repay the Dads in our life for raising us to be such great readers, with a couple of books, and maybe some other great gifts, as well. 

However, each Dad is his own dude... how are you supposed to pick out a present that is perfect for him? Here, for your benefit, I have assembled a sort of Dads in the Wild Field Guide of Gifts, perfect for last minute presents for Father's Day tomorrow! 

81922783573608Be it science fair projects or your every-night math homework, he was your primary source of both inspiration and coat-tail riding ("But Dad, can't you just explain it one more time? And do it slower, too"). Your DVR is full of recordings of Cosmos, your mail bin is full of National Geographic, and he was the first person you know to donate to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter fund. He's the one who edited every paper and project, so take the time to celebrate your favorite A+ Dad.

Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume One
Sleek New Wristwatch

This scholastically-minded superdad will love a couple of new word-y books about words to beef up his personal library, while homemade leather bookmarks and a cool new wristwatch will up his teacher vibe in a very vintage, literary-great kind of way.

63914434625In the style - and do we mean style - of Brad Pitt and David Beckham, is The Cool Dad. He taught us how to love Steinbeck and Faulkner, properly taste red wine, develop an appreciation for classic rock and philosophical conversation, and always knows where to get the best steaks and sushi alike in any given metropolis setting. For work, he decks up and out in button downs and sleek suits, but he'd rather buy his own ties, so you'll have to think a little outside the Brooks Brothers box on this Father's Day gift. 

Art of Shaving "Lexington" Gift Set 
The Complete Short Stories, Ernest Hemingway
Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook

Cool Dad will clean up nicely with an Art of Shaving gift set, while Hemingway's short stories pair well with a personalized flask, and with a trendy and tasty cookbook the whole family can enjoy together.

5509515790837With a closet full of Hawaiian shirts and novelty ties galore, comes The Comedian Dad. You're, like, ninety percent sure there's a specific part of his brain reserved especially for the kind of puns that make your toes curl, and by now, you've learned to refuse taking part in any family outing that also involves karaoke. Regardless, because of this guy, you've never had to watch an episode of NBC's Community by yourself, so make sure to buy him a gift that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Gallant and Beau Printed Sock Set
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
Live from New York: An Uncensored History of SNL by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller

Colorful, printed socks and a framed set of photos of you will definitely tickle his funny bone, while a book of comedian memoirs and a history of one of TV's most celebrated silly shows will give him something to chuckle about.

187751529791Equally likely to be the person who first taught you to catch a baseball, as well as how to properly nurse that baseball-shaped bruise over your eye, Action Dad is the sport-o-riffic, always-moving, adventurous and often aggravating member of the family whose predilection for getting lost on camping hikes is made up for by the fact that that's how you always found the coolest vistas. He loves adventures because he knows each and every one of them is a learning experience... and from him, you've learned a lot. 

Go Pro Chest Harness
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

A Go Pro hands-off harness allows Dad even more ability to explore while documenting his adventures, while a #1 Dad Tumbler keeps him hydrated along the way. Funny recollections of a trip along the Appalachian trail will inspire future exploration, while a creepy new thriller will get Dad's heart rate up, without even leaving the house.

A random-dancing dude who's flippin' awesome at flipping burgers, especially when fortified with his "Kiss the Chef" apron and Jimmy Buffet soundtrack, the Cheeseburger-in-Paradise Dad swears he has Seasonal Affective Disorder, which makes every day spent in the sun a day well spent. You're pretty sure he's the reason why Father's Day is celebrated after the kids have gotten off on summer vacation, because Lord knows there's no way they'd be getting to school the next morning after all the fun you're having together.

Guy on Fire: 130 Recipes for Adventures in Outdoor Cooking by Guy Fieri
Williams Sonoma "Make Your Own Beer" Kit
A Pirate Looks at Fifty by Jimmy Buffet

Cheeseburger Dad will love the sight of the sand in this shadowbox DIY, while a Guy Fieri cookbook gives him yet another excuse to break out the grill. A "make your own beer" kit crosses one more dream off the bucket-drink bucket-list, while Jimmy Buffet's bestselling memoirs give him a way to unwind.

What are you getting your Dad this Father's Day?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Coming Attractions: June

{a super sweet and summery new desktop calendar from Evelyn Henson!} 

Wait, May is over already? Are you kidding me? This past month was all about that back-to-back-to-back action, with at least three of the past couple of weeks in my planner completely blocked out with sorority stuff, school assignments, The Cheerleader's graduation activities, and more. It's exciting seeing so much of my efforts from this past Quarter starting to come together... in the way that you jump off the tracks to see a train speeding into the station up close. 

Now, all I've got to concentrate on is finishing out the year strong... mainly so I can continue seamlessly into my summer projects just as forcefully! I'm working in the offices of my favorite non-profit (can you guess who it is?) to tackle more of the history and archival side of 80 years of community service, adding a couple of new features to the blog and keeping up with the work I already do, going on as many vacations as humanly possible in fun adventures with the friends and family, and, hopefully, getting the chance to write some paper adventures of my own (eek, fiction!). I already know I can find the time for it, with three blissful, stress-free... aw, who am I kidding? Three more jam-packed months of hard work and epic payoff! 


{Enjoying late-week coffee dates with my darlingest Little at the late end of the school year; our brand-spanking-new Kickstarter-funded copy of the Veronica Mars movie; and the sheer adorableness of my younger sister, The Cheerleader, and her date, off to their Great Gatsby-themed prom} 

these are a few of my favorite links

1. In what is perhaps going to top out my personal list of most-quoted articles ever to surface on the internet, courtesy of The Toast, the vital question is asked, "Are You in a Jane Austen Novel?(Read the comments section, as well.)

2. An interesting discussion of a rising issue in students rights at universities over at the L.A. Times, about whether trigger warnings should be issued for the inclusion of college class subject matter with "questionable" material. Thoughts? 

3. Based around NPR's List of Top 100 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels, comes this interactive guide on how to choose your next SciFi read, from the SF Signal

4. And speaking of SciFi, check out author Rachel Bach's guest blog post on The Book Smugglers, about answering the question of how her science fiction space novel would have been different if the lead character was a man instead of a woman. 

5. And, just because including it in the list will give my father joy without end, here's a Huff Post compendium of the advice of classic authors on How to Think Like a Writer

quote of the month

Keep Calm Because Im Batman
Okay, so maybe this 'qotm' is going to warrant a little explanation...

In the car ride back to school from our Memorial Day weekend BBQ, my Dad and I had a bit of discussion about confidence... and more specifically, my lack thereof. I've been having a bit of trouble asserting my opinions, or even worse, having people remember that those opinions came from meMy Dad happens to be a huge fan of superheroes, and after hearing me complain about my present circumstances in a self-gratifying monologue, my Dad gave me this sage advice: Every day, look in the mirror, and tell yourself, "I'm Batman." Because Batman knows what he stands for, and no one messes with Batman.