Review: Just My Type

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Just My Type
Simon Garfield

★★★½☆

2011 (originally published 2010) • 384 pages • Gotham

I was at Michael’s the other day with a friend, in search of black wrapping paper to cover the shoeboxes I have lying around my apartment. (They have to be black to go in my room, you see, so I can put stuff in them. I have a system. A very goth system.) I always end up gravitating towards the cheap tchotchkes, and I discovered a cute little journal emblazoned with the phrase (and title of a very catchy Selena Gomez song) “Kill them with kindness.” Well, it would have been cute, if the font had been a dreamy, Pinterest-worthy script and not terrifyingly sharp block letters.

It’s things like this that remind me of the importance and beauty of typography, and it’s kind of a coincidence that I was halfway through Just My Type and seeing serifs the way David Krumholtz’s character sees patterns in Numb3rs. (That’s, like, a hip reference, right? I am so disconnected from the television landscape and yet, I save absolutely no time.)

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Review: Women in Clothes

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Women in Clothes
edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton

★★★★★

2014 • 528 pages • Blue Rider Press

I’ve started wearing blue lipstick recently. I’ve also started wearing purple lipstick—true, dark, royal purple, not berry or mauve—but they both get the kind of attention I want. With the warm tones in my face neutralized by how dark and cold they are, I look… different. Women are usually pleasantly baffled by it; men are repelled. Cute shop girls ask me where I get it. I leave fantastical, cosmic lip marks on coffee cups and apples. I actually had a teenage girl timidly touch me on the shoulder at a museum exhibit to compliment me on it, staring at my mouth like she’d simply never conceived of the idea before and found something inspiring about it.

What those lipsticks give me is something incredibly rare: power over the way other people see me. As a femme queer, I have so been long resigned to being visually misread that I’ve reached the point of just not caring and doing whatever I want, since people usually just begin and end with my hair anyway. Stumbling across something that disrupts what I had previously believed to be something completely static feels like finding a magic wand.

The decisions we make about what we wear, no matter how conscious or conscious, speak to how we interact with both the outside world and our inner world. Women in Clothes, a massive project undertaken by editors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton, explores those decisions by asking over six hundred women (and a few male transvestites) what their clothes mean to them. Largely, they used a survey (which you can look at here), but there are also interviews, diagrams drawn by women about their bodies, maps of the discarded clothes left on the floor, and collections of similar clothing owned by one person, just to name a few.

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Review: Champagne Supernovas

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Champagne Supernovas
by Maureen Callahan

★★★★☆

2014 • 288 pages • Touchstone

Defining the nineties as a contained cultural unit is something that has long frustrated me. For me, specifically, it’s a very unique decade. I encountered every decade prior as an already shaped narrative and the aughts marked the first time I was conscious of the larger pop culture we’re all swimming in. But the nineties? I was a very sheltered small child at the time. That’s not my fault, obviously, but it has thwarted my attempts to knit a coherent narrative out of the disparate cultural artifacts of the nineties. There’s something willfully futile about such an exercise—how can you truly boil down ten years to a pat assessment?—but I need somewhere to start.

Champagne Supernovas posits that that somewhere to start is, in fact, fashion. The cover copy argues that the fifties were defined by rock and roll, the sixties by the Beat poets, and the eighties by punk rock and modern art. But the maximalism of the eighties, embodied by the first true supermodels, made no room for the recession’s fascination with emotional and physical trauma that eventually blossomed into what author and journalist Maureen Callahan characterizes as wound culture: Continue reading

Review: Savage Beauty

Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton, Solve Sundsbo, Tim Blanks, and Susannah Frankel

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I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.

I was never girlish. I made the transition from tiny, furious child to awkward, anxious, and still furious woman-sized child in the span of a few months in fifth grade. At that age, I had no concept of “style” (or the idea of wearing shoes other than a pair of giant white sneakers to school each day)—rather, my guiding light was my violent femmephobia, leading me to drown myself in baggy jeans and ratty t-shirts while feeling smugly superior to girls who wore anything cute. Mainstream culture and the gamer culture I clung to taught me that femininity was incongruent with power and control, the two things I craved most as a child.

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Review: 1963 — The Year of the Revolution

1963: The Year of the Revolution by Robin Morgan and Ariel Leve

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In the course of human history, teenagers are a fairly recent invention. Of course, humanity’s always gone through adolescence, but as a social construct, young adulthood was really developed after World War II, when post-war prosperity meant that teenagers had money—and, therefore, agency—for the first time en masse. Add to that the baby boom, and you’ve got yourself prime conditions for changing the culture.

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Review: Front Cover

Front Cover: Great Book Jacket and Cover Design by Alan Powers

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As we’ve seen over and over again, I am helpless in the face of a beautiful book, to the point of reading some not so fantastic books just because they’re so pretty. I’m endlessly fascinated by the codex itself as a work of art. One of my favorite things to do at the store is to re-shrink wrap beautiful, expensive books customers have torn the shrink wrap off of (and, almost universally, stuffed into the book, which I guess is considerate? Just ask, y’all, I love using the shrink wrap machine), because I can have a moment to appreciate the quality of the paper, the printing, and, of course, the cover art.

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Review: LEGO, A Love Story

LEGO, A Love Story by Jonathan Bender

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As Jonathan Bender points out at the beginning of LEGO, a Love Story, adult fans of LEGO (more commonly known by the abbreviation AFOLs) have a name for the period of time between playing with LEGO as a kid and playing with LEGO as an adult: the Dark Ages. I ditched LEGO fairly early on in my childhood, mostly because, despite my best efforts, you could not actually eat the damn things. (I moved onto eating glue.) But I emerged from my Dark Ages when LEGO picked up the The Lord of the Rings license. So far, I’ve just organized my LEGO bricks and started collecting female minifigures, but I’ve been looking for a way to start building with the damn things. When I saw LEGO, a Love Story at the library, I thought Bender’s experience getting back into it might help me along my own journey.

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Review: Decades

Decades by Cameron Silver

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There’s something very alluring about coffee table books, especially ones that could function as coffee tables all on their own. (This sucker is heavy!) While my editing side finds their lackadaisical publishing information pages frustrating, I can’t help but find them very glamorous. As someone who appreciates the codex, they’re a bit like finding a gorgeous version of a very functional object. Which is exactly why I picked up Decades, even as I tried to justify it by trying to learn more about twentieth-century fashion design. (And even that is just a way to hug the eighties just a little bit closer.) But a coffee table book isn’t really the place to start to get yourself properly contextualized…

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Review: The Times of the Eighties

The Times of the Eighties edited by William Grimes

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In 2005, MTV ran a program, undoubtedly influenced by the success of That 70s Show, called The 70s House. It was a reality competition where twelve contestants parted with the modern world, lived in a simulcrum of the seventies 24/7, and competed to see who could be “the most 70s”. I never saw it, but when I heard about it, as a tender, awful-haired fourteen-year-old, I daydreamed about the possibility of a The 80s House, which I would undoubtedly dominate. Such a show never surfaced, of course, but something like The Times of the Eighties would have been very useful to prep for my audition. When I saw it on NetGalley, I couldn’t hit the request button fast enough.

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Review: The Art of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Art of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

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Of my various stupid human tricks (lactose intolerance, short hamstrings, that thing where I can bend my thumb behind my hand…), I’m usually most fond of my browsing sense. An urge to get up and go browse somewhere usually means that there’s gold in them there hills (hills being, of course, thrift stores, libraries, and, occasionally, curbs), and I often return with, say, a copy of The Cake Doctor or a Wonder Woman t-shirt from my adventures. Such an urge gripped me while at the library for the Jessica Hagy event, and, afterwards, I meandered upstairs to find a copy of The Art of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, one of my long-shot books to read, just lying there in the new books. Oh yeah.

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