Monday, June 30, 2008

Everyone was Making a Story, All the Time:Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

PhotobucketSometimes it's harder to write about the things you love best. Born Confused, penned by Tanuja Desai Hidier, is easily one of my favorite books, an epic coming of age tale that I've put off reviewing too long for fear of not doing it justice.

Dimple Lala has your typical YA-girl teen experience. Her parents don't understand her, her best friend's gone loopy for the wrong guy, and she has distinctly bad luck in the dating department. Here, your resemblance to the typical YA-girl teen book ends. Born Confused is a tour de force of artistic and cultural discovery, a story about finding out who and where you are and learning to love it and work it, filled with gorgeous descriptions of her world, fusion outfits and her mother's Indian cookery and the brilliant gatherings of minds and matters that become important to Dimple for the first time.

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, Dimple hits bottom, stuffed into a slinky white outfit, drunk on cheap alcohol, and stuck on a blind date with a creepy artist dude who expects her to be an Indian love goddess. The only place left to go is up, and a birthday gift from her sympathetic cousin Kavita leads her to a summer discovering new facets of her Indian identity and the exhilirating community gatherings happening a hop, skip, and bridge and tunnel away in New York City with her beloved camera, Chica Tikka, along for the ride:

A woman was singing, after all the man vocals, with a scorchingly sweet voice that sounded like India herself, mingling with the prodigy of the deer-eyed, mud-caked rapper, all atop an ever-weaving tapestry of sitar and snare and cachunking key. Somehow, the music felt exactly right. It was full of as many emotions as a bite of bhel puri; it crunched and it spilled and it lingered and was gone in a heartbeat.

While this newfound interest brings her closer to her parents (in a lovingly drawn, natural manner that's a joy to read), conflict arises when her best friend/supertwin Gwynn decides to adopt the exotic aspects of Dimple's culture as her own--including Karsh, aka DJ Gulab Jammin', subject of a failed matchmaking session by the Lala's who becomes a reluctant crush. So much is in these 500 pages: family secrets, bursts of humor (the dialogue is especially witty and creative, with lots of made-up slang and catchy little phrases coming from Gwynn's glossy lips and dry wit from Dimple's mother), stunning imagery in saturated color and a deep message about being who you are:

And this much was clear now: It was no passive homogenous creature, identity, but rather diversity, a thrashing grind and all-out dirty dancing together. It moved and it grooved and it might even sleep with you before marriage. You were the dancer and the dance, and you could shape yourself through a riff, or a shrug, or an on-the-back spin, adapt to new rhythmns without losing a sense of harmony with yourself. And harmony, that was no static thing either, but so many different parts coming together to sing the same song.
And the beat, well. The beat you had to follow was your own heart.

A thing of beauty and a joy forever, Born Confused is not to be missed.

* is Tanuja's home on the web
*Born Confused has a companion album, When We Were Twins. If you love folky art-rock with an electronic spin, give Tanuja's band a spin
*Tanuja interviews: Bookslut, MyBindi
*Want a crash course in the music from the book? Bollywood for the Skeptical is my favorite mix cd's worth of Bollywood tunes.
*Back in Oh-Four, I saw Tanuja's band, San Transisto. Here's my writeup of that night.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Capsule Prize Reviews: That's Funny

Like the treasures you get in a gumball machine, here are three tiny reviews of odd yet entertaining titles you'll see kicking around the humor section of your local Book Superstore.

PhotobucketA La Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers is odd. There's no denying it. Hillary Carlip, acclaimed author and performance artist, has been collecting discarded grocery lists since she was a teen for that voyeuristic glimpse into the writer's life. From there, she's concocted 26 personas, documented by photos and vignettes and preserved here, with the original lists, in all their glory and humanity. Another blogger used the phrase "Amy Sedaris meets Cindy Sherman," and that's the best descriptor I've heard yet. It's weird, yes, and definitely funny (No demographic goes unskewered), but touching and poignant too--so much story is told in a picture and a few hundred words. My favorite? Heather, who finds enlightenment as a Suicide Girl.

PhotobucketConfession: I love dioramas. Who doesn't, you say, aren't they a hipster staple nowadays? No, actually; I love dioramas unironically. A visit to the Museum of Natural History can make my week. That's why Sloane Tanen's Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same is one of my favorite undefinable titles. Sloane photographs tiny yellow Easter chicks in ridiculous settings, with incredible attention to detail and a twisted sense of humor. It's a lot of fun, and you'll want to go out and pick up some chenille chickies of your own to photograph. (LOLChicks? It could happen!)

PhotobucketSimon Doonan's Wacky Chicks was a gift I was reluctant to begin reading, but has become a twice-a-year ritual. Within, Doonan profiles over a dozen modern Auntie Mames, cultured and crazy women with fantastic style and incredible stories. Kazuko designed healing crystal jewelry with the help of her pet sparrow, Bobi Bird. Mary Christmas radically cheerleads at protests. Pearl Harbour took her rockabilly sound to Japan, and came back to do up her apartment like a kitschy bordello. Spider Fawke shares her apartment with dozens of reptiles. (Just like the poster says, these are the dangerous ladies you'd dare to invite to tea.) And Simon Doonan? He celebrates these ladies' eccentricities, and invites the reader to join them in living life out loud.

Extra Bits:

*The A La Cart Blog
*An A La Cart Excerpt, on Fresh Yarn (complete with video!)
*Hillary Carlip's Website (I love her assemblage art)
*Sloane Tanen's Website (check out her tiny yellow chicks in action!)
*Simon Doonan's Website
* Sloan Tanen interview at Tastes Like Chicken
*A sample chapter from Wacky Chicks, all about Amy Sedaris

Monday, June 23, 2008

Heir to the Throne

Were you a Pesky Meddling Girl?

I remember when Life is a Movie Starring You first came out--a kitschy workbook to navigating teen and tweendom with old-Hollywood panache, stuffed with quizzes, paper dolls, and spots to doodle and dream about your future. Author of a cute, quirky zine of the same name, Jennifur Brandt held us enthralled...but then, all of a sudden, the PMG empire disappeared.

Or did it?

Vintage L.A. is Jennifer Brandt Taylor's guide to all things glam and old fashioned in the real Shangri-L.A.

Brandt showcases the best of vintage life, including famous Los Angeles hot spots such as:

•The Rose Bowl Flea Market–a great place to find antiques
•Sunset Hyatt House–dubbed the "Riott House" because of its sordid rock n' roll past
•Mashti Malone's–where else could you find Iranian rose water ice cream?
•Bob's Big Boy–where the Beatles ate on their first US tour
•Chateau Marmont–Hollywood's decadent vintage love nest
•and many more.

Brandt's unique old Hollywood voice will carry the reader through these spots, revealing historical information, juicy star–studded stories, and delightful anecdotes. Vintage Los Angeles is the dreambook for any stylish, secondhand soul with a vintage aesthetic, appreciation, and absolute love of "the hunt." Complete with interviews with famous vintage–collectors, indie bands, actors, and Hollywood connoisseurs, Vintage Los Angeles is a trip down memory lane with a modern and delightful edge.

Doesn't it sound absolutely swoonworthy? I've been eagerly awaiting its arrival since last year--and by the by, Vintage N.Y. is in the talks as well. Vintage L.A. debuts tomorrow; you can keep an eye on the action at its Myspace page, and Jennifer's blog.

All well and good for those on a vintage gown safari, or Hollywoodaphiles, but what to give to your younger siblings in need of a glittery guide to life? Enter Lisa Clark, mistress of Pink World and author of the Lola Love series, dishing out exuberant advice in an over-the-top fabulous style, feisty and diva-ish in a kick-butt, girls-are-doing-it-for-themselves way.

PhotobucketI love living life in the pink, so will offer you exclusive access to the most exciting, sunshine-filled, full-to-the-brim, world of opportunities and possibilities that all become totally do-able when you Think Pink.
Y’see, when you Think Pink, you dream hugely, you’re inspired by the world around you and wear whatever you want without fear of ridicule. You become a ‘Go-For-It’ girl with a lust for life who refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer and, most importantly, indulges yourself on a regular basis because, quite frankly, you’re worth it.

Dip into the Think Pink Manifesto, and tell me if you don't see a twinkle of pesky-meddlingness in Ms. Lola's eye. Charmed? The Lola Love series are UK exclusives at the moment, but psst, The Book Depository has free shipping to the States.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Do You Doodle?

Today at Barnes and Noble I ran into a display of some rather silly but sweet books, and one in particular caught my eye.

Do you remember the Anti-Coloring Books? They had a little prompt, a little line drawing for setting, and big white spaces for you to imaginatively doodle to your heart's content. Beautiful Doodles, by Nellie Ryan, has the same premise, but it's relentlessly cute, with pages with pet shops to fill, cakes to decorate, and store windows to design and oh, I could go on, but shall link you to the Preview instead.

(And look! A sequel coming out this fall.)

Inspired? When you finish that one, how about Doodles: A Really Giant Coloring and Doodling Book, The Girls' Doodle Book, The Boys' Doodle Book, and the Rosie Flo and Johnny Joe coloring books. The last two series especially neat, as you're given outlines of dresses and costumes, with the white space to fill in who's wearing them-and before you rant at me about gender roles, nobody's saying that there's a girl in those frocks or a boy in the wetsuit-so get creative! I'd probably fill mine with giraffe, peacock, dinosaur and bunny people just because I can. (Also because I like dinosaurs.)

You could use them as writing prompts, or work them into art journal and scrapbook layouts. You could photocopy them and pass em around to your friends for semi-ironic fun while waiting for dinner at restaurants. You could cut out little people and make a Paper Doll Window Treatment, a la Mark Montano; see The Big Ass Book of Crafts for details. Oh, the possibilities!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Capsule Prize Reviews: That's Pretty

Like those little plastic bubbles you get for 25 cents, here are some teeny reviews to tide you over until I have the stamina for a long review.

(The answer to Why do you review so many craft books, Rie? is They're shorter, easier to digest, and we get a ton of them at Four-Letter-Third-Wave Magazine.)

Tracy Porter's Inspired Gatherings is surreally decadent and fairy-taleish, taking place in a world where the silverware is crowned with millinery flowers, champagne glasses topped with sugar, and plaster cupids embellished with rhinestones. This book gilds, fluffs, and glitters the lily, and I love it all the more for that. With a candy-colored palette and collagelike approach to decorating, this is so much the Weetzie Bat Guide to Parties, and its over-the-topness makes up for a lack of practicality (though I do like the Snowglobe Party Gift idea--get a clear plastic container and fill it with glitter and tiny treasures.)

Sonya Nimri's Beadalicious takes her DIY ethic to jewelry making. Each piece remakes vintage and thrift shop treasures in fresh ways, with accessories to match every aesthetic. The ethereal type may favor a Blossoming Branch necklace, the grown-up candy raver a Goodnight Moon choker, and the rockabilly teenybopper the Fresh Cherry Drops earrings. Like Just for the Frill of It, the instructions are clear and well-detailed (down to where the vintage bits and bobs are acquired) and the jewelry beautifully presented--I love her books' bright, tropical, summery look. To top it all off, Nimri adds a matching recipe to each piece of jewelry: the Spotlight ring gets Drama Queen Pink Lemonade, the Old Time Button Headband is matched to Peach Button Cookies.

Taking Tea With Alice is another devastatingly pretty book that's all charm and less practicality, but is so much fun that I can't help but pore over it and dream a bit. A guide to Victorian Alice-in-Wonderland themed teas, there are games and a little bit of history and many pictures of well-dressed children and delicious looking tea party fare. I've yet to try out the Butterfly Bites or Frozen Charlotte cake, but the recipes look simple enough for a beginning baker. My favorite bit? The fairy themed Midsummer Night Tea. If you can't get to Alice's Tea Cup (my favorite restaurant in NYC, by the by-best described by the words bohemian, Carrollesque, and thebestsconesinNY), this little title may hold you over.

Extra Bits:
*Tracy Porter's Blog
*Naughty Secretary's interview with Sonya
(And for that matter, check out the Beadalicious Flickr and Etsy Shop)
*Pearls and Tea, a livejournal community for pretty little things. If you like the above books, you'll love it there
*If you combine all three titles, you get An Idea, Perfectly Illustrated by Gala Darling, where she elaborates on how to "dress like a cupcake should feel"
*A Fanciful Twist held a Tiny Tea Party on her blog; if you should ever need inspiration for a daily outfit or fashion sketches, visit the comments
*Oktavia's Neo-Martha has an apartment with all the whimsy of Porter, but in a sort of vintage-bohemian way.
*Do you fancy Nature Baroque? Cocotte is a sweet assemblage series made from blown eggs, insect wings, and teardrops

Monday, June 16, 2008

Glamour Bomb!

(Mildly NSFW for language, viewer beware)

Midsummer's Night is my favorite holiday, most likely because of my fond memories of the book Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. I always dreamed of having some sort of magical, whimsical gathering. However, with my coterie, any sort of celebration would end up like the above.

Of course, that's not a bad thing. Maybe I can convince the lot to join me for crafts and a cocktail on the 22nd. I'd wear something floaty with jeans, make everyone a passion fruit mimosa, and bring supplies for making pocket shrines, like this pretty one by OnceUpon.

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