• books,  fashion,  food,  vintage

    Vintage Advice

    At a flea market this summer at Madison’s Fete de Marquette festival, I purchased a used copy of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette, first published in 1952. How could I pass up a book that covered such wide-ranging topics as Monogramming, How to Eat a Maine Lobster, and How to Write an “Angry” Letter? Being a lawyer by profession, though, I don’t need much help with that last one. There’s even a section on what to do if you can’t remember someone’s name (Ms. Vanderbilt recommends saying “Nice to see you” or “You’re looking well.”) Although some of her advice, when viewed from a modern day perspective, is downright…

  • books,  decor,  fashion,  green living,  vintage,  wine

    How to Host a Swap Party

    I’m blogging today over at Wisconsin Public Television’s Engage Wisconsin website about how to host a swap party. I recently attended such a party at the home of a friend, and it’s a great incentive for cleaning out closets and cabinets. The idea is that each guest brings used items in good condition from her own home and, in return, can “shop” at the party for items that other people brought. I came home from the recent swap party I attended with a vintage 1970s leather jacket, an adorable green tunic from Anthropologie, and an armload of new books to add to my reading list. To learn how to host…

  • books,  fiction

    Celebrating Banned Books

    In celebration of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, I offer you the following list of my favorite banned books, and the reasons they were challenged or banned. What are your favorite banned books? The Bell Jar‘s discussions of suicide, mental illness, sexuality, and “questionable” life philosophy landed it a solid place on banned book lists worldwide¬† from its publication in 1963. Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? (1970) was banned because of its discussion of menstruation, puberty, masturbation, and treatment of religion. Salinger’s classic (1951) was banned for language, sexual references, and descriptions of drunkenness and mental illness. Ginsberg’s 1956 poems were banned for obscenity. The…

  • books,  writing

    Packing List: Don’t Forget Books

    I’m going on a vacation soon that will involve several long flights and train rides, so I’ve packed a couple of books that I’m really excited about reading. I’ve been saving them for the trip. They’ve been sitting on my nightstand, like pretty presents, and it has taken every ounce of restraint not to crack into them before I depart. First on my list is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, about a Midwestern American family that–if Franzen’s prior books are any indicator–is sure to be deeply dysfunctional. Reviewers have called it “the Great American Novel” to be considered “on a level with The Great Gatsby.“ My husband and I bought Freedom…

  • books,  writing

    LIT: A Life in Review

    Lit by Mary Karr My rating: 4 of 5 stars A good redemption story is hard to resist. It’s probably why the Bible is so popular. It’s also why Mary Karr, in Lit, is able to hook the reader from the very first sentence, even though it is her third memoir. Well, that and her gifted writing. Lit is a redemption story not only in the sense that it chronicles Karr’s descent into and climb out of alcoholism–it is also a story about family, forgiveness, and making peace between intellect and faith. Lit starts out fast. The reader journeys with Mary through her late teens, college, grad school, love, marriage,…

  • books,  fiction,  writing

    12-Step Publishing Program

    “So, how’s it going with your book?” I get this question all the time. If you’re a writer, you probably do, too. So I offer you this primer on the process of getting your book out into the world the traditional way–i.e., finding a literary agent to represent your book and submit it to major publishers. (Self-publishing is a different process altogether.) Why 12 steps? Well, I just finished reading Lit by the brilliant Mary Karr, which is her moving memoir of how she started and stopped drinking, so a 12-step guide seemed appropriate. I’m no expert (I’m only on Step 5), but I hope this little glimpse into the…

  • books,  fiction,  writing

    The Franzen Fight

    For the first time in ten years, Time magazine has a living novelist on its cover.¬† The last time was in 2000, when Time featured Stephen King.¬† This time, it’s Jonathan Franzen. Given the hype over Franzen’s new novel, Freedom (out August 31), it is unsurprising that Michiko Kukatani gave it a rave review in the New York Times. (Fun fact: any of you Sex and the City fans will remember that Kakutani was the reviewer who fictitiously slammed Carrie’s book.) I have to admit that I have not yet read Freedom, but I am very much enjoying the internet wars going on over Franzen’s latest. In the interest of…

  • books,  fiction,  local

    Trash Shopping on Hippie Christmas

    August 15 is moving day in Madison, otherwise known as “Hippie Christmas.” Most leases here begin on August 15, so it’s common to see boxes stacked on porches, moving trucks in driveways, and trash piled on lawns. Combined with the August heat, it can be a pretty disgusting sight. If you’re willing to look beyond the stained mattresses and broken desk chairs, though, sometimes you can find a treasure or two. Yesterday, I picked up Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein in hardcover, as well as Henry Roth’s 1934 novel, Call It Sleep from a pile of discarded belongings near the curb. Both will make excellent, no-cost additions to my book…

  • books,  fiction

    Casino Movies: Where’s Lady Luck?

    There’s nothing better than a good-looking woman going on a roll at a crowded craps table and knowing what she’s doing. This happened in Vegas on Saturday night when my college roommate walked up to the table in a short black dress and red heels. On her turn, she took the dice and showed the boys how it’s done, placing the right bets at the right times. I heard a guy next to her say, “Wow, you really seem to know the game. How did you learn?” Her reply? “I like math.” I think we can agree that this is a sight everybody loves to see…unless you’re playing the “don’t…