Saturday, November 13, 2010

Join The Club

My mom, who is a member of a book club, has been calling me up every few weeks to bitch about her reading choices. "Eat Pray Love is terrible," she groaned. Having read the dust jacket and seen the trailer for the movie (the thesis of which seems to be "Isn't Julia Roberts just swell?"), I wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment. That woman, the one with the smug writing style and the white-lady travels to Bali, Belize, and some guy's futon, was a huge source of derision for my mom and I - she having had the reading experience, and me being the knee-jerk judgmental reactionary I am.

My mom has had mixed success with book clubs, as have I. My favourite book club story is when she sent me on a search for Sophie's World, the mega-bestseller about philosophy and adolescence, two of my least favourite things. I spent almost an hour in the second-hand bookstore, combing the S section, gave up in frustration, and then got uproariously laughed at by my mother, who informed me that the author was Jostein Gaarder, not Joe Steingardner. Mission eventually accomplished, but like, come on. The book, which was like, seven hundred pages of philosophical, sophomoric, moronic gabbling, was not well received at casa di Mama.

When I was a youth, I was in a book club, along with several other of the less social successful kids in my fourth-grade class. We read titles like Maniac Magee, The Bridge To Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins (whose name I'll admit to still not knowing how to pronounce). We had meetings at one of the many Jennifers's house - there were seriously, like, eight Jennifers in my class that year - and she was one of those kids who had been saddled with all the unfortunate allergies and/or hypersensitive parents. Her birthday cake, which weighed an easy ten pounds, was made of rice flour and stevia. Anyway, I was lucky to come of age when some classic kids lit was being written - Gordan Korman novels, Paula Danziger books, all the Newbery award winners that were thought-provoking and well-written.

I know Oprah thundered all over the concept of the book club in recent years, and the subsequently embarrassment of the Frey debacle sort of took the wind out of her sails a little. Not to mention Franzen and his eff-you take on the whole phenomenon. I do like a good book club, though - Canada Reads is an especially good one, what with the whole home-grown bent and the fight-to-the-death element that's so pleasing. But really, any old group of folks can get together in the name of literature.

We tend to want to share the things we love, be it books, movies, comics, music. One of the best variations on the "club" theme was the Music club one of my friends joined. Each member chose two albums to listen to, and discussion ensued. Themes and similarities were debated and discounted, and the whole undertaking could be as shallow as a cursory listen on the subway, or an obsessive, repetitive round that both destroys and rebuilds the soul - you know, whatevs. But no matter what kind of media you're delving into, it's not about the's about the community.

I miss the days of my childhood book club, mostly because I still love reading books meant for children, but also because books are amazing, life-changing ways of accessing emotions and information. I miss sitting down with the written word, knowing that, at some point, I was going to talk about it. Maybe my early years as a reader helped shape my interminable stint as an English student, or my writing, or the miles of bookshelves I've stuffed with my favourites. I believe early access to reading helps make readers, the way dancing with my dad to Mike Oldfield helped shape my interest in electronic music. And early access to other people makes children into human beings. Book clubs? That's some good humanity right there.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

InStyle: Winter Worn

My friend Rachel is the single most stylish person I know. I don't know how she does it, but she's a dazzler. I've seen her sick with the flu, and even in her febrile state, she's rocking a slouchy toque and the rosy cheeks. When she's not running a fever, she manages to combine these outfits that just amaze me with their insane awesomeness - bangles, DIY haircuts that feature "unicorn horns" and mini-braids, band pins and dresses and hats. I told her years ago that she could place a handful of cabbage on her head and I would totally buy it if she told me it was new, jaunty chapeau, and it's still true.

She's gifted, of course. Not only has she run the gamut from gothic-fabulous to stylie-raver to earthy bohemian, she's saved others from fashion disasters. Notably, she once hid the enormous beaded necklace of a high school buddy in a barbecue - the "beads" were seriously the size of billiard balls, and painted a humiliatingly clownish red. Rachel can be like some fashion oracle, saving those less visionary from tragic missteps and leading the way.

Needless to say, I'm way, way less debonair when it comes to dressing myself. I'm short - not "tiny" or "petite" or any of those delicate ways of telling people that you're five-nothing and a gossamer little sprite of a pixie of a person; I have some heft to me - and have big, curly hair. Not on purpose. If I was a different kind of gal, I'd be like Dolly Parton, all boobs and hair and smile. But I'm a moody sumbitch sometimes, and I can't quite pull off pleather clamdiggers. My fashion tastes run a little odd sometimes - floaty maxi skirts and dresses paired with kimono-cut tops, tight little jackets, cargo capris, slutty tank tops, scarves and wrist gauntlets. The colour palette is a lot of grey and black, with some red and navy in there to lighten the mood. It's sort of a post-industrial prettiness, one that wouldn't be out of place in a stylized zombie invasion or a bummer of a WWOOFing trip.

Winter is my favourite time to dress, not least because I get to shrug my shoulders at all the girls on the U of T campus who wear tights under their booty shorts for a year-round take on the Daisy Duke. I also get to maximize my layers: one of my favourite games to play mid-December is to count how many shirts are between my bare skin and the outside world. It averages out to five or six, leaving me with a plethora of options when I get into the overheated bar or onto the packed-yet-chilly streetcar. It also beats the hell out of summer, when going topless feels like too much clothing. I love a layered-up guy, too: a rolled-up-sleeves shirt over a band tee matched with a hoodie, some scarves, a hat: they become sexy little bundles of coziness and fashion.

I'm not one of those people who thinks that every outfit represents something essential about its wearer - but I do believe in thoughtful fashion. Even if your closet is stuffed with nondescript tops and blah sort of bottoms, there's a method to one's madness (even if the final result is a weak "please don't look at me"). Just like musical taste, fashion choices can show the world who you are, but only up to a also have to be an interesting person when you're naked and your stereo is busted.

And this is such a great time of year for stuff like this. A brand-new coat or sweater can make a world of difference in feeling ready for the seasonal oppression. The other day, I put on my snowpants (a video-game green) and a black tank top and felt very tough and winter-ready, like I'd been fistfighting in the snow all day. I'm figuring out ways to incorporate my silly summer dresses into Canadian winters - sometimes by wearing two or three at a time - and breaking out woolly hats and legwarmers in order to ease the transition. Sure my feet are sometimes cold, or I misjudge an overcast day and end up sweating in my down vest, but it makes me feel better to know I'm suited up, fashionable (-ish), feeling like myself, and feeling good. And I rely on Rachel to size me up occasionally, maybe putting a particularly ridiculous accessory in the oven in order to save me from myself.