Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Battle of Versailles, by Robin Givhan. Flatiron Books, 2015

In 1973, Versailles, the fabulous palace created by Louis XIV, was falling apart for lack of funds. Eleanor Lambert, the publicist for American fashion designers- a job she created out of nothing- had the idea of a big fashion show, using both French and American designers. The French, of course, were skeptical, because at that point in time, American designers were not considered to be anything but copyists- people who came to Paris to see what was new there and then went home and copied it for American buyers. This actually worked well; most rich Americans couldn’t get haute couture no matter how much money they had. They had to be Somebody. American designers created clothing that was ready to wear, not fitted expressly to the woman’s body through multiple fittings and the most costly techniques.

Five French designers and five Americans agreed to put on the fund raising show. Immediately the arguing started- what models would be used? What order would the designers show in (everyone wanted to be the grand finale)? What would the presentation be like?

In the end, the show changed not only the minds of the French about American designers- they really could create new looks! – but how fashion shows were presented. The Americans brought life to the runway though music and dance; they took the unprecedented step of using many women of color as models; they showed that clothing for business women could be just as exciting as clothing for the ladies who lunch.

Givhan gives us a very detailed look not just into this one show, but into the fashion industry of the time. She follows the lives of the designers and models, the fashion trends, and what has happened to fashion shows today. Givhan grounds the fashion in the social changes of the 70s; this book is as much sociology as it is fashion. As someone with a strong interest in both, I found the book fascinating.

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I was given this book free in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things affected my review.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Moo, by Jane Smiley. Ballantine Books, 1995

Moo U. is a land-grant university in one of the mid-Western states. The author presents us with a huge cast of characters: students, academics and bureaucrats. In this farcical send up of academia- albeit agricultural academia rather than the ivory tower sort- everyone is avid for something, be it sex, tenure, grades, money, power, food, or a way out of the life they have. The living metaphor of this greed sits at the very center of the campus, physically and symbolically: a huge hog named Earl Butz (this is set in the Reagan era, btw). He is an experiment, the focus of a study to see how large a pig can get if his needs are constantly met. His sole job is to eat, and he does it well. His existence is a secret from all but a few; no one suspects that inside the concrete walls of an old, unused building is an avid consumer, any more than the longings of the people are visible to their peers.

Smiley takes on racism, sexism, and classism as well as the academic life. This is a gentle satire. Pretty much all of her myriad characters are treated as flawed humans rather than evil doers or other caricatures. It’s like these people are friends and family of the author and she looks on them with smiling indulgence. While not uproarious as the blurb on the cover said, it was amusing and engaging.

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way influenced my review.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts, by Lee Baer, Ph.D. Plume, 2002

When people think of OCD, they will most often think of people hoarding, washing their hands, and checking locks repeatedly- the visible signs of OCD. There is another side of OCD, though, that isn’t visible- obsessional thoughts. While it’s possible for someone with OCD to ruminate on neutral thoughts, the one’s that can make lives miserable are ones of violence, sex, and blasphemy.

These aren’t thoughts that just come and go. They become fixed in the mind of the sufferer, repeating themselves- and horrifying the person. That’s key to these thoughts- they are of things that the person would never conceive of doing. Thoughts of harming or even killing their babies may come to young mothers. A person may be driving and the thought comes that they might hit someone. People have images of themselves performing sex acts they have no interest in – and sometimes are revolted by. People with deep religious feelings may find themselves imagining yelling obscenities in church, defiling the altar, or having sex with Jesus or Mary. And while most everyone has a few thoughts like that drift through their mind sometimes, the majority of people are able to dismiss the thoughts as just thoughts. To the person with obsessions, though, the thoughts are signs that they are intrinsically bad, and that they represent a real threat- even though the person is repulsed by these thoughts.

This short book goes over the three classes of these thoughts, and them presents ways of dealing with them: medications and exposure therapy (it *is* possible, even though thoughts are not physical things), the same things that work on regular Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The author even gives self-help instructions- very valuable since people with obsessive bad thoughts rarely want to confide in anyone, for fear of being thought a menace. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way influenced my review.