Get a Life! The Diaries of Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood

get a life

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Autobiography

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: From the mind of Vivienne Westwood herself, Westwood uses a diary format to catalog her thoughts on varying subjects including her fashion line, culture, and how to save the world.  She discusses her fashion shows, her activism, her politics, her family, and her friends.  She says it best herself: “My Diary is a way of trying to communicate the world through my experience.  My point of view is heretical.  My enemy is the status quo.”

Review: What a woman.  In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only just gotten interested in her fashion line, so when I saw the flyer for her new book, I knew I had to buy it and read it.  Every morning, I’d get up with a cup of coffee, and I’d read a year from her life.  While it’s not a comprehensive biography–we have Ian Kelly to thank for that–it is as close as we can get to the inner workings of her mind.  She knows she thinks differently than the status quo, and because of that, she sometimes must explain herself.  What better way to do that than with a diary-format autobiography?

However, with that being said, it’s a little hard to review somebody’s innermost thoughts!  So, I figure that I should tell you all right now that if you enjoy biographies, if you enjoy women with conviction, and if you enjoy reading about politics, this is the book for you.

Prior to reading this, I already knew that I liked her and her clothing line.  Just by going on her website, you can tell that she’s pro-Earth, pro-people, anti-ecocide, and anti-phobia.  After reading her book, I’m amazed that I hadn’t heard of her activism before.  If you were wondering what an outspoken woman looked like, well, there she is.  And she’s not backing down.  She’s very opinionated, and she knows what she’s talking about.  While I don’t always agree with everything she says, I fully respect what she’s saying.  (And, to clarify, nothing she says is of the hateful manner, so it’s the little things like  what does art really mean? with which I disagree–things I might call trivial, things she might call extremely important).

Honestly, just from reading this book, I can tell that Vivienne Westwood is a wholly genuine person.  She’s outspoken.  She fights for what she believes in.  Before I read this book, I think I just kind of figured that fashion designers were just high-class citizens who uphold a bourgeois status, not really socially and culturally aware.  Vivienne Westwood shook me to my foundations.  At last, I wanted to cry out, a celebrity who recognizes that politicians only care about themselves and who cares about the earth and who will actually do things about the things she cares about.  She was a breath of fresh air.

I wish I could meet her.  I wish I could be like her.  What a woman.


Short Talks by Anne Carson

Short Talks

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Poetry

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Anne Carson, in one of her first books, gives short poetry-prose talks on certain subjects such as “The End,” “Sylvia Plath,” and “Walking Backwards.”

Review: This short book is perfect for a small flight, a quick bus ride, or a commuter train.  I’ve been a fan of Carson’s poetry ever since I read The Autobiography of Red, and this book did not disappoint.  Carson truly has a way of weaving words that leave you feeling a little heavy-hearted as well as satisfied.  Her creativity and imagination never ceases to amaze me.  I wish I could find out how she can create worlds out of everyday things.

Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper

Operation Heartbreak

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction, WW2 Fiction, British Literature, Historical Fiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Operation Heartbreak is based off of the famous Operation Mincemeat, a successful British “disinformation” strategy in World War II.  In this novel, we meet Willie Maryngton, a young man with no familial relationships for him.  As World War I ends, England cheers, but Willie is heartbroken: he will never get to be a soldier.  So he waits.  He enlists.  And once the threat of World War II hits, he is more than ready to take up arms–if the army will have him.

Review: What a book.  I bought this from Persephone books based off of the excerpt they provided, so all I knew was that the language flowed well for me and it looked interesting enough.  To my surprise, it was World War fiction, which isn’t a genre I prefer (I took a British Lit class pertaining to World War I literature, and it just never caught my fancy).  But after the first chapter, I was hooked.

Willie is such a funny character.  He’s also a little sad, and sometimes a little pathetic, but I found him to be charming altogether.  He’s had quite the unfortunate life, filled with rejection, heartbreak, and difficulties getting promoted.  However, that’s not to say that the book is depressing–it’s actually quite humorous.  Cooper throws in humor at just the right times, in just the right conversations.  It’s as though you’re reading about real people rather than characters!  When characters are that real in books, I know that those books find themselves rather high on my favorites list.

Additionally, because this book is about war, I have to say that it’s not gory or bloody whatsoever.  Cooper does a really nice job of talking about just how horrific the things were by not talking about them (“‘Come on,’ he urged, ‘tell me more about it.  What sort of time did you have?’ / ‘Pretty bloody,’ she said, and he could get nothing more out of her, but he felt as he returned to the country that she had come closer to the war than he had.”)

What I also really liked was how Duff Cooper writes about those getting involved in the war.  It wasn’t simply just patriotism that ignited the flame in these characters.  It was a sense of duty, a hatred of Nazis, the want to have a steady job after the war (if they survived).

One other thing that I really enjoyed was how he wrote women–there are two main women in this novel, and a couple others scattered around.  And why I really enjoyed his writing of these women is that (taking into account that this was written over 50 years ago, of course) all of the women had their own lives.  They had their own aspirations, and they acted on them.  And Willie, as well-meaning as he is, can’t possibly understand this.  These women are just too against the grain.  He never truly holds it against them, though he does find himself to be frustrated from time to time.

All in all, I just really enjoyed this book.  This book was also the first book in probably a year that I read all in one day.  The ending felt whole and complete, and I closed the book feeling satisfied, if not a little melancholy, too.  I can see why Persephone Books chose to reprint this one–it’s full of life, human emotions, and great writing.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

what is not yours is not yours

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Short stories

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: In a string of short stories where the only static imagery are keys, Helen Oyeyemi has created a world a little left of plum.  There’s locked gardens, secret libraries, and hotels you can never leave.  There are ghosts, puppets, and superstars.  There are heists, competitions, and bad apologies.  Each short story is vastly different, yet they’re all connected.

Review: As I started this book, I decided that I’d read one short story per morning with a hot cup of coffee beside me.  So, I had a sip and took the plunge.  One short story later, and I knew that I’d found a new favorite author.

Oyeyemi’s master of the language immediately entranced me.  Her storytelling abilities enchanted me.  Her characters enraptured me.  How could they not?  My newfound love of short stories was behind a locked door, and this book was the key.  There were so many things that I loved about this collection that I don’t know where to begin, but I will do so anyways.

Ghosts.  I love ghosts.  Ghosts are present in this book–and they’re just a normal part of life.  No shock over the fact that they exist, or fear, or what have you.  They just are, and they’re sometimes integral to the characters.  Puppets.  Schools based around puppetry.  Once again, no explanation is needed as to why there’s such a highly regarded school on a (possibly outdated?) artform–it simply just is.  And I love that.  As much as I love worldbuilding, I also love it when authors treat their odd fictional versions of our world as completely normal to the characters and the audience.

The language is spellbinding.  It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen someone use language so well.  I mean that on a macro and a micro level.  Each sentence felt careful and purposeful.  Words and phrases haunted me hours after I’d read them.  And, something that I thought was the most incredible thing ever: Oyeyemi writes a short story using second-person pronouns.  I’ve only ever seen that in fanfiction, so to see a second-person point of view in a published book?  I’m stunned.

Everything in this book is beautiful.  The names, the cultures, the sonder.

I used to write in my books.  Granted, I was an English student, so any quote that I liked, I underlined to use later in an essay.  Once I graduated, I stopped doing that, for I no longer needed to write essays and reports.  This book made me change my mind.  I underlined so many things because they were so beautiful and made my heart swell.  Everything that Helen Oyeyemi writes makes me want to continue writing, to continue reading.  She has successfully inspired me, and I can only hope to write things as bewitching as she can.

Shakespeare and the Jews by James Shapiro

shakespeare and the jews

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Shapiro undertakes a facet of history that has rarely been done so before: Jewish people in historic England.  Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Shapiro sets out to understand the history, myths, and cultural “facts” about Jewish peoples from the 1200s to 1700s.  While most historians have simply either glossed entirely over this subject or ignored it completely, he understands that England’s history with Jewish folks and The Merchant of Venice are so culturally entwined that it’s impossible to let this subject sit untouched any longer.

Review: I found myself very impressed with Shapiro’s work.  I picked this book up because I’m a fan of Shakespeare, and I’m a fan of learning more about cultures that aren’t my own.  So, what better decision than to buy Shakespeare and the Jews?  Though, be warned–this book is mostly about Shakespeare’s England and its reaction to Jewish folks rather than Shakespeare and The Merchant of Venice.  That’s not to say that Merchant isn’t also heavily mentioned–but to fully understand everything at play (pun intended), we must also understand Shakespeare’s England’s anti-semitism.  And that topic is one that hasn’t been discussed yet.  Hence, Shapiro’s encompassing book.

In the time I spent reading this with my coffee, on trains, and in my classroom, I discovered that there was a lot I didn’t know about Jewish history.  Of course, I knew what we’d probably consider the basics in a high school history class, but I think that just proves Shapiro’s point that nobody has really ever talked about this before.  James Shapiro certainly had his work cut out for him, and I think he did a fantastic job of shedding light onto such an ignored subject.

He discusses the “pound of flesh” myth, the difficulties of Catholicism vs. Protestantism vs. Judaism, the history that led to the “wandering Jew” stereotype, and general anti-semitic anxieties of the time.  One of the anxieties that truly shocked me was the reaction to a Jewish person converting to Catholicism.  I would have thought that after converting and assimilating, there’d still be some worries, but overall–hey, they converted, right?  Nope, not right.  Because after they converted, well, how would real Englishmen know that they wouldn’t just convert back to Judaism after so easily converting to Catholicism?  And how did they know that they weren’t just faking being assimilated.  After all, they might be Catholic in public in order to save face, and remain Jewish at home.

Additionally, how does all this relate to Shylock and Jessica in Merchant?  What with Jessica’s conversion, and Shylock’s want for Antonio’s pound of flesh.  And even more interestingly is how Shylock became an actual figure in Shakespeare’s England–somebody published books whilst using Shylock’s name as a pseudonym.

It’s a big task, but Shapiro masterfully lays out how England affected Shakespeare himself, and how Shakespeare’s Merchant affected England right back.

Of course, Shapiro goes much more in depth about that topic than I’m willing to, but the amount of thought and care that he puts into each subject is incredible.  Honestly, if you’re a fan of Shakespeare or want to know more about Jewish studies (and discover a multitude of various other authors and titles through Shapiro’s bibliography), I’d highly recommend Shakespeare and the Jews.

Yes Vegan! Un choix de vie/Yes Vegan! A Choice of Life by Catherine Helayel

yes vegan

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: In the second edition of her book Yes Vegan!, Catherine Helayel has given us a mini guidebook on what it means to be vegan, answers to your burning questions, definitions, testimonies, and nutritional facts.  Filled with studies, references, restaurant recommendations, and documentary recommendations, Helayel presents the horrors of French animal agriculture.

Review: Helayel’s book is well-referenced, nicely formatted, and easily broken down.  Each section (foodstuffs, non-foodstuffs, nutrition, testimonies, and so forth) has sub-sections, which further break down the topic at hand.  This book is a very well-rounded guide to veganism, for both new vegans, old vegans, and pre-vegans.  That being said, I think she could have easily written a book about each and every topic that she mentioned, but given that this book is supposed to highlight various different arguments for veganism, I understand why she didn’t.

I also really liked this book for purely personal reasons, such as the fact that French is my second language and I now have a whole list of new words to use.  I feel as though I can officially be an angry vegan in two languages, thanks to Helayel’s work.

Additionally, this isn’t my first book about veganism or anti-animal agriculture.  Because of that, I found that I already personally knew a lot of what was being said in the book BUT that just means that somebody new to the subject will have a lot of new information.  What I also really appreciated was the European/France-centric take on this book.  Being an American, I mostly just know about American practices in animal agriculture, so learning about the ways that France treats animals differently was rather shocking to me.

What I also really liked about this book was how she mentioned people as well.  Recently, there’s been a trend where non-vegans try to prove that vegans don’t care about the people of color who work on vegetable and fruit farms.  While this book is mainly about the suffering of animals, she mentions how hard it is for factory farm workers (also predominately people of color) to work under such horrific conditions, and how tanneries tend to be located in poorer countries, and how climate change will affect predominately poorer POC.

And now would be a good time to say the disclaimer: of course, not everybody can just go vegan overnight, and some can’t go vegan at all.  But if you are a person who is able to go vegan (and can speak/read French), I highly recommend reading this book.  She debunks arguments, provides nutritional help, and resources to extend your quest for information.  Overall, I find that Helayel does a good job discussing a subject so few people want to think about.

Halloween: Sorcières, Lutins, Fantômes Et Autres Croquemitaines by Patrick Jézéquel and Jean-Baptiste Monge


Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, fantasy

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: This book is an anthology of myths and autumnal creatures who become prevalent around Halloween.  With this handy guidebook, you too can learn how to avoid ogres, vampires, and witches.  But if you think leaving the country will help you escape all these ghouls of the night, be warned–they’re everywhere.

Review: This book was so fun to read.  I’m very fond of things that go bump in the night, so I was very pleasantly surprised to see just how many myths were in here!  I actually learned quite a lot.  I already knew quite a bit about vampires and witches, so I was expecting it to be a more kid-friendly than not, but Jezequel and Monge go all in!

I was very interested in this book also because it’s in French, and how could I refuse practicing my Halloween vocabulary with this cool of a book??  Either way, like I said, I learned a lot of new things, such as the history behind Jack-o-Lanterns, as well as how myths differ in various countries across Europe.

Additionally, the artwork in this book is phenomenal.  There are so many detailed drawings, and they’re drawn in a way that tends to provoke more negative emotions, which is perfect for a book like this.  All in all, this book was a quick, pleasant read.

Outside Ireland by William Trevor

outside ireland

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, short stories

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: William Trevor’s works are anthologized in this book.  It’s not a complete collection, but each story focuses on England, just ‘outside Ireland,’ and the every day lives of those who live a normal life.  They focus on divorces, affairs, children, and the turbulences of growing old and falling out of love.

Review: Reading this book felt like sitting down at an Irish pub and having a dram.  Trevor depicts the minor and major inconveniences of everyday life (divorces, alcoholism, ruined vacations, missed connections), but by focusing on the characters’ psyches and ideologies, he makes the drab meanderings of everyday life infinitely more interesting.

His characters are real enough to be people you know in real life, and the way he describes well-known places is so beautiful that you begin to see those places in a whole new light.  Trevor takes you to Switzerland, Italy, and France, he introduces you to waiters, daughters, fathers, and lovers.

Each short story follows a slice-of-life narrative, allowing you to take a peek through the curtains into his characters’ personal lives.  Each story is intimate, tinted with sadness, and will leave you wanting a dram at the end of each one.