Book Review: Unmentionable

UnmentionableUnmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners
by Therese Oneill
Nonfiction / Comedy / History
305 pages
Published 2016

This is a hysterically funny guide to what to expect in the Victorian era, assuming you are a 21st century woman who has been time-traveled there by some unidentified means. The author disabuses us of any romantic, Austen-like notions of what that era was like, instead talking about the real issues, like the lack of tampons or pads (or privacy!) or the infrequency with which you’d be allowed to bathe. She explains why; water was hardly clean at the time, sanitation was not exactly a well understood science back then!

Oneill manages to convey the differences between that time and ours in a unique voice that made me laugh out loud at points, even if it was slightly horrified laughter. Why does one wear uncomfortable boots instead of house slippers when one walks outside? Because you WILL step in crap, darling, and it might not always be animal in origin, either! She covers a wide range of topics, from your dress (don’t expect your outerdress to EVER be laundered!) to diet (don’t be too thin or too fat, and diet pills often have cocaine in them) to manners (don’t be caught alone, or with only a man, or with only an unmarried lady unless you are married yourself, no, best to just stay home, really) to how to relieve yourself (there’s a reason your bloomers are crotchless). Every chapter comes complete with quotes pulled from writers of the time, and period-appropriate illustrations, whether they are ads from newspapers or woodprints, photos, and other sketches.

Oneill does assume you’ve been brought back to a well-off family; she briefly mentions that things would be much worse if you were of a number of lower classes, but even a high-class life is a lot to get used to coming from the 21st century.

If you’ve ever thought you were born in the wrong era, read this book and remember just how good our modern conveniences and cultural attitudes are. (And giggle your ass off doing it!) I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and definitely learned a lot of trivia that I did not know before.

From the cover of Unmentionable:

Finally, a scandalous, illustrated guide to The Secrets of Life as a Victorian Lady, giving you detailed advice on:

  • What to wear
  • Where to relieve yourself
  • How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
  • What to expect on your wedding night
  • How to be the perfect Victorian wife
  • Why masturbating will kill you
  • And more

 

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Book Review: The Home Edit

the home editThe Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals
by Clea Shearer & Joanna Teplin
Nonfiction / Homemaking
255 pages
Published March 2019

If you’ve been following the blog,  you know we recently bought a house. We haven’t finished unpacking yet; mostly the upstairs is what’s left, the spaces we don’t use multiple times a day. I’ve spoken about wanting to “Pinterest the hell out of this house” and absolutely wanting to reduce clutter. When we moved yearly in the military, we were pretty good at not having excess clutter. After living in the last house for four years, we’d definitely acquired a good bit. So the move actually helped a lot; we got rid of a lot of unnecessary items. But we won’t be moving again for a good long time, and I want to prevent that build up. So. Everything should have a place. I was hoping this book could help with some of my more problematic spaces. (I have a laundry closet with no room for ANY storage – the detergent and bleach live next door in the bathroom!) While the book did actually give me a possible solution for that SPECIFIC problem, I don’t feel that there was much in this book I couldn’t have gotten from Pinterest or watching more episodes of Marie Kondo on Netflix. (I love that show!)

The first chapter is spent on their philosophy; like Marie, they recommend you pull everything out of a space and look at it and keep only what you really like/need/use. Getting rid of excess stuff is always the first step. They stress getting containers to fit the space; they talk a lot about The Container Store. At the moment, that advice is a little useless, as I don’t have the surplus funds to just go buy a ton of containers!

After that chapter, the book is split up by rooms/spaces, with several photographs and explanations of different examples. So they start with the entryway, and have a few different entryways with tips for each. An entry that is really a mudroom, with benches and individual hooks/cubbies, then an entry that is just a table by the front door for mail and keys, then a coat closet. Same with laundry; a small laundry room, a laundry closet with a little bit of shelving, a large laundry room, and tips for each. I was disappointed they didn’t have my laundry setup; a closet with room for the stacked machines and NOTHING else. I feel like that’s common enough they should have included it! The solution I did find, somewhere in the book, was an over the door shelving unit. I -think- I can push the machines far enough back in the closet space that I’ll have the clearance for shallow shelves/cubbies on the back of the door for things like detergent, spot cleaner, bleach, tub cleaner, dryer balls, etc. I’ll have to stop buying my detergent at Costco, or decant it into a smaller bottle, but now that it’s just my husband and I, and no roommates, I don’t think I need the giant container of detergent anyway!

They don’t cover all the spaces in a house; it’s Entry, Laundry, Bathroom, Home Office, Play Spaces, Closets, Kitchens, and Pantries. No bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, or guest rooms. Just the problem areas, really, which makes sense.

It’s an alright book. It’s very pretty, and has some fantastically organized spaces, but I can find the same things on Pinterest, with the same how-tos and tips from Marie Kondo. So I’d give it a pass, really.

From the cover of The Home Edit:

Believe this: EVERY SINGLE SPACE IN YOUR HOUSE HAS THE POTENTIAL TO FUNCTION EFFICIENTLY AND LOOK GREAT.

The mishmash of summer and winter clothes in the closet? Yep. Even the dreaded junk drawer? Consider it done. And the best news: it’s not hard to do – in fact, it’s a lot of fun.

From Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, the Instagram-famous home organizers who made their orderly eye candy the method that everyone swears by, comes a signature approach to decluttering. The Home Edit walks you through paring down your belongings in every room, arranging them in a stunning and easy-to-find way (hello, labels!), and maintaining the system so you don’t need another do-over in six months. When you’re done, you’ll not only know exactly where to find things, but you’ll also love the way it looks. 

A master class and lookbook in one, The Home Edit is filled with  bright photographs and detailed tips, from placing plastic dishware in a drawer where little hands can reach to categorizing pantry items by color (there’s nothing like a little ROYGBIV to soothe the soul). Above all, it’s like having your best friends at your side to help you turn the chaos into calm.

Book Review: House of Nutter

house of nutterHouse of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row
by Lance Richardson
Nonfiction / Biography / LGBT
375 pages
Published 2018

This biography is titled for Tommy Nutter, the tailor, but it’s really a dual biography of Tommy and his older brother, David. Both gay, both influential in their own celebrity circles, both intimately affected by the AIDS crisis.

Lance Richardson is himself gay, and I think his personal connection brings a depth to the biography that a straight author wouldn’t have. He writes about the persecution of gay men in Britain in the 70s, and the underground gay clubs, with a kind of underlying passion that illustrates the pressure these men were under to hide the very cores of themselves while still finding a sense of community and revelry with each other. (And later, when he talks about the AIDS crisis in the 90s, you can feel the emotions and grief behind the fairly objective words.)

The story itself is gripping; Tommy the tailor and David the photographer, and the high-profile celebrities they orbited around – The Beatles, Yoko Ono, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson. Tommy made clothes for them all, including the suits three of the Beatles wore on the cover of Abbey Road, and the outfits worn by Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. David took photographs of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s wedding, and was Elton John’s personal photographer, publishing a book of photos of the star in 1977.

The biography is part social history, giving an incredible view of the underground gay club scene in the 70s and 80s in London and New York, which the two brothers bounced between.

One thing I was struck by is how casually everyone used drugs at the time! Tailor’s assistants mention doing speed to get work done; everyone drunk themselves into a stupor as often as they could; David unexpectedly blacks out after combining alcohol and some kind of drug while partying one night. David ferries cocaine for a friend/employer at one point – and not a little bit of cocaine, either. A lot. It was definitely a different era for drug use!

The book is also an amazing example of how much people can influence culture and still be forgotten. I’d never heard of David or Tommy Nutter, but the celebrities they clothed and photographed almost everyone has heard of! They didn’t just clothe and photograph them, but influence them. David was a close friend of Elton John’s, cheering him up when he fell into the depths of depression. Tommy was a major pillar of support for the manager of The Beatles, and created a lot of Elton John’s off-stage wear. These two were huge in the cultural change of the 70s and 80s. How do we not know their names?

I really enjoyed this book, and it’s a great piece of gay history for Pride Month. I highly recommend it.

From the cover of House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row:

From an early age, there was something different about Tommy and David Nutter. Growing up in an austere apartment above a cafe catering to truck drivers, both boys seemed destined to lead rather humble lives in post-war London – Tommy as a civil servant, David as a darkroom technician. Yet the strength of their imagination (plus a little help from their friends) transformed them instead into unlikely protagonists of a swinging cultural revolution.

In 1969, at the age of twenty-six, Tommy opened an unusual new boutique on the “golden mile” of bespoke tailoring, Savile Row. While shocking a haughty establishment resistant to change, “Nutters of Savile Row” became an immediate sensation among the young, rich, and beautiful, beguiling everyone from Bianca Jagger to the Beatles – who immortalized Tommy’s designs on the album cover of Abbey Road. Meanwhile, David’s innate talent with a camera vaulted him across the Atlantic to New York City, where he found himself in a parallel constellation of stars (Yoko Ono, Elton John), who enjoyed his dry wit almost as much as his photography. 

House of Nutter tells the stunning true story of two gay men who influenced some of the most iconic styles and pop images of the twentieth century. Drawing on interviews with more than seventy people – and taking advantage of unparalleled access to never-before-seen pictures, letters, sketches, and diaries – journalist Lance Richardson presents a dual portrait of brothers improvising their way through five decades of extraordinary events, their personal struggles playing out against vivid backdrops of the Blitz, an obscenity trial, the birth of disco, and the devastation of the AIDS crisis. 

A propulsive, deftly plotted narrative filled with surprising details and near-operatic twists, House of Nutter takes readers on a wild ride into the minds and times of two brilliant dreamers.

Book Review: Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

risingRising: Dispatches from the New American Shore
by Elizabeth Rush
Nonfiction/Climate Change
300 pages
Published 2018

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

This is actually the second book on climate change I read. The first one, The Water Will Come, by Jeff Goodell, was quite good until halfway through the book when it abruptly was not. Because halfway through the book, we get this tiny little scene from the signing of the Paris Climate Accords:

Standing among them, I watched French president Francois Hollande stand at the podium in the front of the hall and slam the gavel down, marking formal acceptance of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Everyone cheered. Some cried. To my surprise, I hugged the person next to me, a young Asian woman I had never met or talked to. I felt her pull away, perhaps shocked that a stranger would grab her so suddenly, but then she hugged me back. I never learned her name or even what country she represented, but our shared expression of the power of the moment was genuine. (p. 165)

I stared at this paragraph in shock. He really just – just sexually assaulted a woman he’d never met, and just moved on to other things. He didn’t realize what he’d done, to the point that he put it in his book with absolutely no idea what effect that paragraph would have on any survivors reading his book. I skimmed through the rest of the chapter, and he never mentions this scene or woman again. He felt her pull away, he says, but assumes her hug back means she’s excited too, not that she’s decided hugging back is the best way to avoid further violence.

I set aside the book. I couldn’t read any further. Up until that point it had been quite good – lots of facts and investigation, interviews and adventures with climate scientists and geologists and other neat stuff. But I could not continue, and instead picked up Rising.

Halfway through the first book on climate change, I find a depiction of sexual assault perpetrated by the male author. Halfway through the second book on climate change, I find an entire chapter devoted to the sexual assault of the female author.

“Hold on,” he says, turning my body away from him. Then he reads aloud the E. E. Cummings quote I have tattooed on my back, the final line of which reads, “will never wholly kiss you.”

Suddenly I feel his damp lips pressing into my skin, into the letters inked there. My stomach slams into the roof of my mouth, locking my words in instead of out. And my body takes over. It wants to punch him but knows it shouldn’t. Instead it walks straight out into the ocean, into a flotilla of spawning jellyfish at the northernmost edge of the Gulf. It starts to swim.

What are the chances? Yes, it’s only an unwanted kiss. It could have been worse. (How often have we heard, or said, THAT statement?) The first part of this chapter, titled “Risk” had been devoted to the calculated risk taken by people living in flood plains, and her initial fear upon going to interview a man by herself who might have been a threat. It’s revealed, after this scene, that she wasn’t actually alone; the man in this scene, her colleague, was with her, as a kind of safety net. It turned out she’d misjudged who was a risk and who was not. The rest of the chapter weaves these ideas together, and extends to one of the author’s students, who was also sexually harassed in the field.

I was struck by the difference in the two books; the male author casually mentioning forcefully hugging a woman he didn’t know, and not appearing to realize he’d even done anything wrong, and spending a single paragraph on it, vs. the female author freezing up when the victim of a similar action, and spending an entire chapter on the topic. She turns down an advancement in her career because of this interlude; it was offered by the colleague who kissed her. She’d intended to take it until then. She eventually tells him why, and his reaction is telling.

Eventually I tell Samuel that I cannot continue our professional relationship and I tell him why. First he says, “Oh my god.” Then he says, “I had no idea.” Followed by, “I don’t remember.” And then, “I had no further intentions.” He says, “I love my family.” And, “Let me know when you get over it.” The words spill out of him fast like floodwater.

He can’t stop talking, so I invent a student knocking on my door and hang up. I don’t present at the National Academy of Sciences. I don’t take the senior fellowship. I don’t coauthor an article with him. When I put down my cell phone, I realize I have been shaking.

In the era of #metoo, how can men not understand the effect these things have?

*deep breath*

All of that unexpectedness aside, Rising is an insightful, evocative book. Elizabeth Rush spends time not only with climate scientists and biologists, but with the people that actually LIVE in the places most affected by sea level rise. It’s an intimate look at the real, human cost of sea level rise and climate change. Spaced throughout the book are letters from people she interviewed, writing to her weeks to months after she met them, telling her of changes in the areas she visited. When she first visited the Isle de Jean Charles, for example, the Native Americans there weren’t interested in leaving the island. Then she includes a letter from one of them, saying they were leaving together, selling their land to the state and being provided a new community, together, farther inland. She then goes back to visit.

While Goodell is taking helicopter rides over glaciers, Rush is slogging through rotting tidal marshes with teams of scientists and grad students, and that is really indicative of the difference between the two books. Rush is on the ground, getting her hands dirty, while Goodell interviews and gathers information about the big picture. And that would make the two books an excellent pair, were it not for the casual sexual assault in the middle of his book. That isn’t to say that Rush doesn’t talk about the big picture; she does, it’s just not her focus.

If you’re interested in climate change, you’ll probably enjoy Rising. The Water Will Come was also very enjoyable, at least the half that I read, but I don’t believe in giving a man like that more of my time. So you can make your own decision there.

From the cover of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore:

Harvey. Maria. Irma. Sandy. Katrina. We live in a time of unprecedented hurricanes and catastrophic weather events, a time when it is increasingly clear that climate change is neither imagined nor distant – and that rising seas are transforming the coastline of the United States in irrevocable ways.

In this highly original work of lyrical reportage, Elizabeth Rush guides readers through some of the places where this change has been most dramatic, from the Gulf Coast to Miami, and from New York City to the Bay Area. For many of the plants, animals, and humans in these places, the options are stark: retreat or perish in place. Weaving firsthand accounts from those facing this choice – a Staten Islander who lost her father during Sandy, the remaining holdouts of a Native American community on a drowning Isle de Jean Charles, a neighborhood in Pensacola settled by escaped slaves hundreds of years ago – with profiles of wildlife biologists, activists, and other members of the communities both currently at risk and already displaced, Rising privileges the voices of those usually kept at the margins. 

At once polyphonic and precise, Rising is a shimmering meditation on vulnerability and on vulnerable communities, both human and more than human, and on how to let go of the places we love.

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds

complete guide to saving seedsThe Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, Trees, and Shrubs
by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough
Gardening
310 pages
Published 2011

This is an amazing reference book. It begins with some general chapters on why you should save seeds, the anatomy of seeds, and some basic techniques for harvesting seeds, hand-pollinating, basic general principles of seed storage and the like. Then it dives into the real meat of the book, the chapters on the specific plants. They’re divided into the six broad categories listed in the subtitle: vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees, and shrubs. Within those chapters, each species is listed separately, with notes on the scientific name, the species family, the plant type (annual, biennial, perennial), seed viability, how many plants to save seed from, spacing for seed saving, and then a few paragraphs on flowering and pollination, any isolation requirements, and specifics on how to harvest, clean, and store the seeds for that species. It also has germination and transplanting notes for each species.

This would be an invaluable reference manual if you intend to save seeds from your plants and become self-sufficient, but it’s still useful if not, for its notes on the pollination of each species. The isolation requirements are especially interesting; there are some plants that will cross-pollinate with plants 10 miles away! The sidebar on pumpkins and squash was also fascinating – I didn’t know so many squash were technically the same species as pumpkins, just different cultivars. And that means they’ll cross-breed if you’re not careful! Even more fascinating, giant pumpkins aren’t the same species as jack o’lantern pumpkins, so they won’t cross breed.

I will absolutely be adding this book to my collection as a reference manual.

From the cover of The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds:

Improve the health and productivity of your garden season after season by saving seeds from your best plants. When you harvest seeds from your own garden, you will:

-Take another step toward food independence
-Save the money you’re spending on plants and seeds
-Enjoy a healthy garden filled with plants uniquely adapted to your own backyard
-Be able to swap seeds with other seed savers
-Preserve genetic diversity and regional favorites
-Ensure a safe and varied seed selection for future generations.

To begin saving seeds, choose healthy plants with desirable traits. Is pest resistance important to you? What about tomatoes that ripen early or spinach that’s slow to bolt? Do you have pink sweet peas whose color you want to replicate next year? Select for these traits and build your best garden ever. Plant-by-plant instructions guide you through all the seed-saving techniques specific to 322 plants.

Book Review: The Food Forest Handbook

the food forest handbookThe Food Forest Handbook: Design and Manage a Home-Scale Perennial Polyculture Garden
by Darrell Frey & Michelle Czolba
Gardening
229 pages
Published 2017

Another book in my permaculture research, this in-depth guide is definitely going on my To-Buy list. (I always check these out from the library before spending money on personal copies.)

There is SO MUCH information in this book. Unlike some of the other books, there’s no big spreads of full-color, glossy photos (which can be useful, I’m not digging on those); The Food Forest Handbook is mostly text with a few black-and-white photos tucked in. There are spreadsheets and diagrams and lists, sidebars of useful information, how-to walkthroughs and case studies of specific plants. I’m not sure how they packed so much into a little over 200 pages, but this book is a treasure trove of permaculture strategies.

The book starts with a chapter on why permaculture is important; they explore past examples of permaculture, some present food forests, and why it could be useful to us going forward. The second chapter gets into designing a food forest to fit your needs – scoping out your site, determining what resources you have, all of the planning aspects. Then we have a short chapter on putting all that knowledge together and going “from concept sketch to detailed designs” – how to refine your research and plans into something you can work off of. Chapter 4 is about selecting the specific plants; going from “okay here I want a fruit tree and a nitrogen fixer” to “a peach and comfrey.” Plant varietals are discussed here, as well as the different needs of tree guilds.

The rest of the book gets into maintenance, harvesting, and propagating the food forest, and the last chapter is on a tour of established food forests in various climates, to see what’s possible.

This is definitely a book I want on my resource shelf; it can get a little dry at points, but there is so much knowledge here. One thing I really liked was the diagram of tree shapes – if one tree says it has a conical shape when full grown, and one has a pyramid shape, there’s a diagram that shows what exactly the difference is.

Overall an excellent, information-packed book, if a little difficult to read straight through.

From the cover of The Food Forest Handbook:

A Food Forest is a productive landscape developed around a mix of trees and perennials, helping increase biodiversity, protect valuable habitat for beneficial insects, and promote food security and resilience, all while providing an abundant annual harvest.

Rooted in permaculture principles, this integrated approach to gardening incorporates a variety of plants such as fruit and nut trees, shrubs, vines, and perennial herbs and vegetables. Authors Michelle Czolba and Darrell Frey bring years of experience building and maintaining food forests to provide this practical and accessible guide to creating your own food forest landscape, whether you’re urban, suburban, or rural.