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Saturday, March 05, 2016

“Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me” by Patricia Folk

“‘When my great-grandparents die, one right after the other, I’m little and can’t figure it out. Where did people go?
‘How can they just disappear?’ I asked my mother.
‘They don’t,’ she said. ‘They’re in you. Every generation that precedes you. Sometimes in ways you don’t even know. It could be anything, darling. A turn of phrase. Not liking nutmeg. People don’t disappear. Look how you hold your pinky.’
I looked down. ‘It’s just like Poppy!’
—from Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me by Patricia Volk
Once upon a time in Manhattan, a daughter is born to an “outrageously” beautiful mother. When she is 10 years old, the daughter, Patricia Volk, discovers a book so compelling she feigns a sore throat to stay home from school and finish reading it. But really, there is no rush. She will come back to it, time and again, to understand that it is possible to be someone other than the ideal of Audrey, her beloved, complex and beautiful mother. The book is Shocking Lifethe autobiography of the legendary designer Elsa Schiaparelli.

Though Elsa’s New York office is around the corner from Morgen’s, one of the Volk family restaurants, it is unlikely that the designer and Audrey ever met. Audrey’s style is ever crisp. Audrey does not wear Schiaparelli’s daring, imaginative clothes. She doesn’t have leopard print bowling shoes; she doesn’t carry an accordion handbag. Likely she would have considered Schiaparelli’s lamb chop hat an abomination of epic proportions.

But in bringing Audrey and Elsa together on the pages of Shocked, Volk discovers what they have in common. Both are “brilliant and opinionated”, “secretive”, “generous”, “moody”, and, in their own ways, “crazy about clothes.” Both are superstitious, too. S is Schiap’s lucky letter. It adorns every scent she bottles, including “Shocking”—her most famous perfume. “Shocking” is Audrey’s signature scent and for luck, she adds a drop of it to her handkerchief as part of her ritual for leaving the apartment for the day.

"Always the perfume comes gift-wrapped. My father makes the paper himself. He uses as many hundred-dollar bills as it takes to get the job done."

Audrey marries into, and works alongside, a family of successful restauranteurs, Schiaparelli is self-made. Audrey and Schiap are both working mothers, readers, late-in-life learners. But where one is “fierce opponent of invention” the other is a risk-taker who carves out a place for herself in fashion history.

"Being original, being yourself to my beautiful mother was not safe. Being original, being yourself to Elsa Schiaparelli was life-giving. She made a hat out of a shoe. Reading that at ten, I knew: Anything is possible."

Friday, December 11, 2015

"My Salinger Year" by Joanna Rakoff

“‘Follow me,’ he said and I trailed him down the main hallway, past a row of dark offices. As on the day before I longed to linger over the books lining the walls. My eye caught some thrillingly familiar names, like Pearl Buck and Langston Hughes, and some intriguingly foreign ones, like Ngaio Marsh, and my stomach began to flutter in the way it had on childhood trips to our local library: so many books, each enticing in its own specific way, and all mine for the taking. ‘Wow,’ I said, almost involuntarily. James stopped and turned. “I know,” he said with a real smile. ‘I’ve been here six years and I still feel that way.’ 
—from My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Everywhere else in the world, it is 1996. But in “The Agency”, a pseudonym for New York’s “oldest and most storied” literary agency, at least a couple of decades seem to have gone by unnoticed. Books line wood-panelled walls, reading lamps spotlight desktops (the flat, wooden kind upon which you put stuff other than computers). The telex machine was retired for a fax, but “sat in the office for years just in case such technology should be called into service again.” Email is non-operational——at least not at the beginning of My Salinger Year. Telephones, dictaphones and Selectric typewriters are the means of correspondence between The Agency, its authors, their publishers and the outside world.

It may be the office that time forgot, but it is also the place where Joanna Rakoff, newly hired as an agent’s assistant, is given “the best first job a girl could have.”

Not that she knows it at the time. In the process of wading through stacks, bundles and boxes of correspondence to The Agency’s consummate author-client, J.D. Salinger, Rakoff types one form letter after another to advise senders that their mail will not be forwarded. That is how Salinger wants it, her boss insists, and under no circumstances, no, no, no, is Rakoff to forward “Jerry” this mail.

It’s no small feat. War veterans write to “Jerry.” So do grieving parents, and seemingly no end of adolescent Holden Caulfield-sound-alikes who claim to be surrounded by “phonies”. There are solicitations for speaking engagements, film deals, commencement addresses, publishing offers, strange declarations and galling demands. It falls to Rakoff to read them all.

In My Salinger Year, Rakoff gradually discovers how much more there is to books than the words between the covers. That the business of books is all about relationships. And that before every book, there is the manuscript, and, if an author is very fortunate, there are agents who believe in them enough to send them out in the world.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

"A Power Christmas Special" free for you on iBooks (and here in a PDF)

Merry Christmas everyone! My gift to you and your family is A Power Christmas Special (6-10 year-olds especially), illustrated by Marc Mongeau--where Mimi and her family find all the chaos the season has to offer. Broken gingerbread, the TV log fireplace, a Wise Man behind the wheel, elves with their own trading cards and a very hungry Santa Claus...

It's free to download from the iBooks store right here:

If you don't have an iPad, you can link to the PDF version from here. Go ahead, give it a try!

I hope you enjoy it. It was fun to write. I think I figured out about half the story standing in a two-hour line-up to get a balloon poodle made at a Santa's Breakfast two years ago. Anyway, you can let me know what you think anytime at victorianunuk "at" telus "dot" net or on twitter @victorianunuk

Merry Christmas, and remember, "It's not what Santa can do for you..."

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Peace Pipe Dreams: The Truth About Lies About Indians" by Darrell Dennis

If you've ever wondered why "Native people just can't get over it" or what the fuss is about faux headdresses at folk festivals, well, allow Darrell Dennis to explain. Dennis is an original--and not just in the First Nations sense of the word. An actor, comedian, playwright, screenwriter, radio host, and member of the Shushwap Nation in British Columbia, Dennis is also the author of Peace Pipe Dreams: The Truth About Lies About Indians (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014).

In busting through the myths and misconceptions surrounding First Nations people, Dennis leaves no stone unturned. Sports mascots, substance abuse statistics, the Christopher Columbus narrative, movies featuring the noble savage ("Always-Helps-The-White-Man"); movies featuring the nasty savage (think eat-your-heart-out Magua from "The Last of the Mohicans") are all ripe for a rethink. Then there's Canada as the ultimate "deadbeat dad" when it comes to honouring treaties and land claims, band chief and council paycheques; what the heck's in those peace pipes anyway; and the "most annoying and derisive of all Native stereotypes… that Aboriginals don't pay taxes."

There is also the no-small-matter of residential schools, where children were "told that their parents were ignorant savages, their communities were irrelevant, and their culture, religion and language were the work of the devil. The children were to renounce everything Indian or burn in hell for all eternity…. Now I ask," writes Dennis, "if the residential school legacy had been inflicted on non-Native children instead of Aboriginal children, how many people would still insist that they should just 'get over it"? I'm guessing not too many."

Just when it all gets too heavy, Dennis spurs things along with his trademark irreverence and helpful hints for all of us in "regular-people Canada" trying to bridge the gulf created by a 400-year history of First Nations relations that's been more or less written, up until now, by the dominant culture. Case in point: "For best results, try to call Native individuals by their original name in their original language. There are over 350 of these names in Canada alone, so if you want to go this route, you should start cramming." Thank you, Mr. D.

Consider Peace Pipe Dreams a timely primer to the 2015 release of the 500-plus page Executive Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's 94 Calls to Action. The Actions are nobody's idea of a cake walk, but #10  (asking the "…federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples…" and "Developing culturally appropriate curricula.") would benefit from a major boost if Peace Pipe Dreams were introduced to secondary schools nation-wide.

Friday, September 04, 2015

"Andrea Martin's Lady Parts"

Friday, September 4, 2015

Stage and screen star, SCTV alumnus and Tony/Gemini/Emmy-winning actress, comedienne and now memoirist Andrea Martin has a few confessions to make. She hasn’t read The Goldfinch (she’s a little off books these days) she’d rather chat with telemarketers than write, and every two months she flies to Atlanta to get her hair done. She knits, likes using the F word, is pretty sure that she wasn’t a perfect mother, hates being called perky and nothing, but nothing, makes her laugh like a rumba-dancing dog in a pink tuxedo.

Oh, and one more thing. Brace yourself. She. Is. Not. Canadian.

She’s not Greek, either. And she’s not even a little bit Jewish (she’s just “good at it”). But take a few deep yoga breaths and let it go. Because it’s hard to be mad at “Canada’s favourite illegitimate child” for even a sentence or two of Andrea Martin’s Lady Parts. And why would you even want to be? After all, she’s been making us laugh for over 40 years. We practically owe her a passport and a vote in the upcoming election. Just don’t call her perky or you’re likely to get a swift swat on the arm with Edith Prickley’s handbag.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It In Your Career. Rock Social Media. by Aliza Licht

In the digital age, could success be just a tweet or two away? Probably not. Take it from Aliza Licht, senior vice president of global communications at Donna Karan International, a clear career path, perseverance, and passion matter as much as they ever did. It’s just that how to make (or break) a career online (“killing it” works both ways) is now an essential part of understanding the wired world of work.

Licht has plenty to draw upon in Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill it in Your Career. Rock Social Media. It took a detour out of med school and into fashion, first as a magazine intern and eventually up to the executive suite, for Licht to find her own brand within a brand and build a following more than half-a-million strong. The author and creator of DKNY PR GIRL® knows from experience that no matter how sharp and snappy your tweets, it’s sustaining a start-up spirit that counts more. Going above and beyond (think spending your unpaid weekends sorting shoe inventory or cataloguing accessories) is still the best way to leave your mark and succeed in the fashion business by really, really trying.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia by Dave Obee

“My elementary school was Lord Roberts in the west end of Vancouver.
Its library was the place where I felt most like me.”
—from the Foreword by Sarah Ellis in 
The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia

150 years of anything would probably make a good book—so long as the research and writing are up to snuff. In 2011, the British Columbia Library Association marked its centennial, fittingly, with a book dedicated to the development of libraries over the past one-and-a-half centuries. Journalist and author Dave Obee was awarded the task, and the result is a visually engaging history appealing to anyone with a love of libraries and history.

Explorers as far back as Simon Fraser brought books with them on their journeys, to stock the lending libraries of the Northwest Trading Company. British Columbia’s early libraries were established in saloons, hotels, news agents, in private collections, company reading rooms and a shelf or two of shop space.  In the 1860s, British Columbia’s pioneers were eager for the writing of Charles Dickens; George Eliot; Anthony Trollope and Charles Darwin. Today, despite the fact that more than 50 million books [are now] circulated through British Columbia public libraries every year” you can make a purposeful and productive trip to the library without even looking at a book.

Since their inception, every aspect of public libraries had great appeal to British Columbia’s growing communities, except for who would pay for them. And how. The precarious financial position of libraries continued well into the 20th century and Obee cites the many measures, from the delightful (picnic fundraisers) to the dire (summer and permanent closures) that have been implemented to deal with debts and rising operating costs.

Andrew Carnegie’s place in the history of British Columbia’s libraries is worthy of a chapter all it’s own. Of the 100 libraries in Canada made possible by Carnegie money three were in British Columbia: Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster. There would have been a fourth, in Nelson, had the town not spurned the railway magnate’s generosity.

Historical photographs and carefully curated quotes from librarians, writers, public officials and patrons bring colour to this chronicle. “The library is the mother ship,” writes Annabel Lyon. “It’s vast, it’s warm, it hums, you can sleep there if you need to, head on your arms in a carrel, and no one will bother you.”

Beyond books, the library was, even early on, an “alternative to the saloon and a refuge for those with no place to go”. Today, libraries continue to function as “community living rooms” and librarians in the information age are relied upon to help us find “and filter the good from bad”.

“The Internet is marvellous,” librarian Mark Y. Herring is quoted as saying, “but to claim, as some do now, that it’s making libraries obsolete is as silly as saying shoes have made feet unnecessary.”