Writing less to say more

51lvoalt-2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_A few months ago, I moved into my first home! It’s a 600 square-feet condo, which isn’t considered small for Toronto these days, but certainly, it cannot be called big. So I whittled down my book collection and swore that I’d only buy ebooks going forward.

Those who read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up will recall that she says you should buy books and read them immediately. She tells her readers to throw out books they never got around to reading because they will likely never read them.

But that has been the case for me. In my cleaning, I found a copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. And I thought I’d hang onto it because he’s supposed to be a classic and I so rarely read classics.

But I regret not reading Hemingway sooner because his writing confirmed for me, that the best writing is simple. You don’t have spell things out with big words, fancy jargon and flowery descriptions. And when you’re as good a writer as Hemingway, you don’t need any of those things to convey exactly what you want the reader to feel.

fbf7be6f9c3dabeafe5bd13af1023e70I had always heard that Hemingway had a way of writing simple prose. He’s often said to have written the six-word story: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” As I learned from reading The Moveable Feast, six words from Hemingway can hit you like a bag of bricks. And in today’s 140-character world, brevity is important.

But enough crushing and gushing over Hemingway’s word count — The Moveable Feast is just a great read. I don’t love Paris but I love his Paris. Can there be a theme park where you get to play a broke writer who drinks with other tortured writers of the time?



Chanel Bonfire makes your family look normal

CHANEL_bonfireThank you to Gallery Books for sending me a copy of Chanel Bonfire in exchange for an honest review. Chanel Bonfire is available on January 8th.

You get to choose a lot of things in life — but for better of worse, you don’t get to choose your parents. And for Wendy Lawless, author of Chanel Bonfire, this is a terrible predicament.

Chanel Bonfire is Lawless’s memoir of living with her horrible mother. Now an actress on Broadway, Lawless’s description of her mother sounds a lot like Mad Men’s Betty Draper meets Satan. She goes through numerous husbands, drags her two daughters around the world and attempts suicide several times. All the while, she puts on a good front to strangers and terrorizes her daughters at home.

I couldn’t put this book down. It’s a terribly sad situation but you just keep waiting for the mother to do something more outrageous. It’s like the train wreck you can’t look away from. Lawless never fails to deliver with ample amounts of dry wit which becomes part of her coping mechanism.

CHANEL_bettyThere were two other things I was waiting for: 1)Her birth father to show up and save her and 2) A redeeming aspect of her mother, Georgann Rhea.

It seems that her mother’s only redeeming quality is her beauty. I guess I wanted a redeeming quality because then I could see the inner conflict that Lawless has about leaving her mother. Alas, it never comes.

While life with mom isn’t rosy, Lawless describes a lot of fun times made possible by rich friends and a lack of parental supervision. It’s almost enough fun to give you hope until mommy dearest sets the house on fire.


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What exactly happened to Detroit?

Detroit gets a lot of press and it’s mostly bad. It’s usually about how the city’s going broke, how the crime rates are scary and how the politicians are literally, turning off the lights. But then, you see flashy car ads that remind you that this is a city with a lot of fight. In Scott Martelle’s Detroit: A Biography, he reminds Detroit that it’s going to need more than fight.

I thought Detroit: A Biography started off a little boring. I’m not a history buff so all the humdrum about the founding members of the city didn’t really interest me. But this is not a historical textbook about a city. Martelle weaves citizen stories and anecdotes into the book making it a true biography.

What I found really interesting was auto industry boom in Detroit. We hear so much about the failings of the auto industry today, it’s easy to forget that cars were the lifeblood of so many North American cities. In Detroit, it created jobs, opportunities and brought in workers from all over the United States and around the world.

Cars also allowed for the creation of suburbs – which were the places where whites moved to stay clear of black neighbourhoods. But Martelle shows that blacks moved to the suburbs too when they did well. The result is that lots of people moved out of Detroit. In 2009, a mayoral candidate attributed the city’s lower murder rate to the low population:

“I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but there just isn’t anyone left to kill.” (Stanley Christmas, Detroit mayoral candidate 2009)

It’s interesting that Detroit’s relationship with the auto industry was never perfect. Massive lay-offs, union disputes and racial segregation were common in the factories. Martelle repeatedly states that the auto industry never really gave back to the city of Detroit.

Yes, I realize Jaguars aren’t American but I love this photo.

The book offers hope for Detroit in the citizens that have stayed or are willing to move back into the city. But he also shows the difficulties a lot of these people are facing.

While Martelle acknowledges that Detroit citizens are tough, it will take brains to get this city going again.

City of Industry by Brian Day

City of Industry by Brian Day

Photo credits: 500px.com

Below Stairs shows girl power before girl power existed

It was mere days after I had finished watching the second season of Downton Abbey when I found Below Stairs by Margaret Powell. The book is Powell’s candid memoirs of being a kitchen maid in the 1920’s – think Daisy from Downton.

Below Stairs is something of a legend. The producers of both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey consulted it in order to get the details correct. But what really makes this an AMAZING read is Powell’s honesty and humour. She grew up dirt poor but she was happy. Being a kitchen maid meant never being hungry but cooks and employers were tough.

But Powell is no pushover. She’s as tough as nails and feisty as hell. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

I remember when we hadn’t anything left to use for warmth and no money to get coal. I said to Mum, “Get all the wood down. Let’s have a fire with wood.” She took ever single shelf there was in the rooms and she even took the banister from the stairs. Things like this make you hard.”

It was my job to make the mayonnaise sauce. And what a job it was too. I never thought I’d get it right.”

I used to think how incongruous it was when the Reverend used to say morning prayers and just before they were over he’d say, “Now let us all count our blessings.” I thought, well it would take a lot longer to count yours than it would ours.

A lot of inane remarks from the men and a lot of giggles from us, a few kisses and further promises to be sure to meet them at the same time next week, but neither Gladys nor I had any intention of having permanent dates with such ill-paid escorts.

Below Stairs is a sure hit for any fans of Downton Abbey and hardcore foodies! As a kitchen maid and cook in the 20’s, Powell makes everything from scratch. From mayonnaise to great stories.

Related Penguins: The World of Downton Abbey, The American Heiress is a frivolously good read

Photo credits: dailyrecord.co.ukpbs.org