Friday, September 25, 2009

Making Your Life Hard

Yes, I am.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People by Toby Young

This book should really be called, If You Ever Wanted to Write for Vanity Fair, Here are Fifty Million Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Bother, because, really, that’s exactly what I got from it.

Toby Young moved from London, England to New York City in the mid-90s to become a contributing editor for my favourite magazine, Vanity Fair. The LA Times called it “an undistinguished six-month stint at the magazine”. It was a little longer than that—three years, but who’s really counting?

This book is his memoir of his time in New York City amid the people who make up NYC: the rich, the famous, and those who think they are.

It was eye-opening. I suppose a part of me knew already what he had to say about life in NYC. Life is shallow, it’s hard to make friends or get a date, and ultimately people will leave in the lurch when you need them most. I’m sure there are lots of people in NYC who aren’t like that, but the world that I’ve always wanted to live in—the one Toby moved into—is that one. It really is Sex and the City, only it’s much more ruthless and everyone is trying to get into it. Who am I to compete with that?

It’s hard living in any large city without succumbing to the jadedness. Yesterday, Michael Bryant, a former Attorney General of Ontario was charged with dragging a cyclist to death with his car. It’s a sensational story getting a lot of coverage in the city. But I can’t seem to work up any feeling towards either the victim or the man who allegedly killed him.

I’ve only been living in Toronto for a year, but I feel like I’m already turning “cold”. Where is my innocence going? Is it possible to remain guileless while living amid the soot and grime? Or does it get beaten out of you by the people you meet and the things you see?

I thought about all of this after reading How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. In a way, I feel like it saved me from going down a path that would find me facing the same people Toby did. I don’t know whether to thank him for saving me the trouble, or steam forward, regardless of the warning signs I saw in his book.

No matter what the city’s affect has been on me, I don’t think I’m a lost cause just yet, though. My favourite part of his memoir was his story of Caroline, his wife. It gave me comfort to know that there are people out there who still fight for their love.

Anyway, I think I’ve veered a little bit in this review. If you want a great memoir from someone who lived and breathed the glossy magazine world for several years (and anyone who loves the zeitgeist would), you should pick up How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. Plus, it was hilarious.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hey, I'm Back!

You would assume, by my lack of updates here, that I haven't been reading. That's untrue. I've been reading like a fiend. So much so, that I had to stop blogging about it.

You see, when I read too much, I tend to just over-do it. I don't read books one after the other when I'm in this frenzy; I read them all at once. And that leads to a lot of abandoning because if one book is less interesting than the other, say, four books I'm reading, I'll stop reading that one since I have so many others on the go.

Added to that is my slight aversion to writing book reviews for books I've not finished. I just can't do it. I don't feel right about critiquing a book I haven't finished because I'm not committed to it long enough to get to the end. It just feels like cheating, you know?

So I stopped writing here. But I kept reading! So I thought I'd mark my return to The Punnery with a brief overview of the books that I have finished and really enjoyed over the summer!

Oh, and...I was also pretty busy this summer. Can't blame a girl for wanting to get a tan, right?

Anyway, here's what I read (and loved) on my summer vacation:

1) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

Little known fact: I've always wanted a more refined palette. I suspect years of living in a smokers home has reduced my ability to taste and smell to a fraction of what it could have been. Of course, over time it will improve. I have no doubts about that, but if only I could have the ability to smell like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the main character in Suskind's tale of intrigue. Set in eighteenth-century France, Suskind creates a tale of a man whose greatest passion is his own sense of smell. As he learns to create his own perfumes, he is consumed by the desire to create the perfect scent, taken from the still-warm bodies of young virgins.

Such a good tale. I cried out in disbelief at some parts of the book and couldn't stop talking about it as I was reading it. Ask, Kiki. She couldn't get me to shut up about it.

2) A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

This was my first trip into an Ernest Hemingway book. Previously I'd tried reading The Old Man and the Sea, but I was young and I didn't really have the patience. I'm glad I read A Farewell to Arms, though. It's about an American ambulance worker stationed in Italy during the First World War. At the front he meets a beautiful nurse and they fall in love. It's a really simple story, but it's really about the characters in this one. I knew that Hemingway was known for his words, the simplicity of his narrative, but the beauty within it, but I didn't really understand that until I read his book. I was taken in by the love between Leutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, the beautiful English nurse.

3) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I wasn't going to add this at first because it's one of the books that I didn't finish, but I felt I needed to address it. This is the second time I've given up on this book. I even wrote a blog post about it on Simply put, this book is my Moby-Dick. I want to catch this bloody white whale SO badly, but it's TOO MUCH for me! The conversational latin, the theological and philosophical discussions, and the reams and reams of descriptive paragraphs...I just can't do it. I got further into it the second time around, but it got to the point where I would groan thinking about picking it up each time. I carried it in my purse like a ball and chain for a week before I left it on the sideboard finally and picked up Too Good To Be True by Kristin Higgins—the exact opposite to this book. I wish I could say that I loved this book. It has SO much potential, but I fear that Umberto Eco is just too smart for me, and for that, I have to concede defeat. No one likes to think they're dumb, especially when they're reading.

Right now I'm reading two books, and I'm on the verge of abandoning one as I'm not really enjoying it. The first (the one high alert) is The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. I see too much of myself in the navel-gazing New Yorkers, and I'm really looking for an escape in my books right now. The second is How To Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young, a memoir of his five-year tenure at VANITY FAIR, a publication that I absolutely love. It's a real eye-opener about the magazine and I'll say more when I actually finish the book (very close to it!)