November book reviews in February, how out of date you might think. This post has been sitting, half-written, in my drafts for the past three months. It wasn’t meant to see the light of day anymore, but the Save our Libraries/National Libraries day decided otherwise. I spent a large part of my childhood in libraries, I even trained as a mini-librarian when I was 12. Even though Amazon has largely replaced book borrowing these days (not my most sound financial decision), I hate the idea of people not having the possibility to go to one. So, in honour of Save our Libraries, here is my November book review. Now go to your closest Library and borrow one of them.
We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver
By far the most disturbing and moving film I saw last year, We Need to Talk about Kevin was first and foremost a thought-provoking book. A few years after her son, Kevin, committed mass-murder by arrow in his high-school, Eva Khatchadourian tries to make sense of it all in letters to her husband. Was it her fault, did she hate him so much from birth that she turned him into a monster? Or was she the only one aware of his true nature from day one, her warnings ignored by society? I left the movie convinced of the latter but the book, forcing you into Eva’s psyche, into her doubts, guilt and feelings while keeping you aware that this is a partisan account of the events wasn’t as black and white. Beyond the nature/nurture debate, Shriver also raises questions about our fascination for killing rampages and our vision and perception of motherhood. Just like the film, the book deserves to be revisited from time to time, if only to see how your own life experience changes the way you perceive Eva.
Read if you’re looking for an all-absorbing novel
Skip if you’re looking for a light read
Au Secours Pardon, Frédéric Beigbeder
Where we meet Octave again. One jail-stay after his 99 Francs antics, he’s moved to Russia to find the perfect girl, a not-too-disguised take on the perfect brand Beidbeder investigated in the previous volume. Au Secours Pardon is too similar to Octave’s prior adventures, suggesting he has neither changed, nor found redemption despite falling in love (with a beautiful, underage Russian girl he tried to pass for Chechen). Beigbeder’s take on Russia and the modeling mafia is clinical, yet, despite his clear and consise writing, his story is more difficult to believe than ever. Like 99 Francs, the novel runs out of steam half way through, the back and forth between Octave’s conversation with a Russian pope and his memories of meeting Lena Doytchevski fatal to any plot attempt. The novel culminates in an open and unexpected ending, leaving the reader with an unhealthy feeling.
Read if you’re desperate to know what happens to Octave after he’s gone to jail, if you want to read a plot as hollow as its characters or if you’re the type of reader who has hope in authors, until the end: from time to time, Beigbeder does come up with genius sentences or emotional side stories, for instance during an evocation of philosopher Gabriel Marcel.
Skip if you’ve already read too much Beigbeder for your own good.
The Beautiful Fall, Alicia Drake
If there was such thing as a fashion classic, this biography of the Paris fashion microcosm in the 1970s and 1980s would be it. Written in 2006 by fashion journalist Alicia Drake, The Beautiful Fall has since become one of the most oft quoted books when it comes to either Yves Saint Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld, its protagonists. Setting aside the accepted Saint Laurent myth of a man martyr to his art, devoured by his twin demons of depression and addiction, Drake did her own research, interviewing Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld friends, foes and contemporaries. The result is Saint Laurent described as the ultimate manipulator playing Pierre Bergé and his entourage like puppets. Drake even questions the veracity of his drug abuse. Her take on Lagerfeld made me see his hyperactivity under a new angle. I knew him aesthete and cultured, I discovered him the perfect heir to Coco Chanel, telling tales about his life, in charge of his own myth through overinformation. Lagerfeld comes out the winner of his unnamed duel with Saint Laurent. He only accessed star status later in life but, despite the lack of a Bergé character in his life, he’s been much more in charge of his own career.
Read if you’re suffering from 1970s nostalgia, Paris homesickness or simply want to know more about the most important fashion houses and designers of the second half of the 20th century
Skip if - No matter how many books you’ve read on Yves Saint Laurent, Lagerfeld or fashion, don’t skip this one.
Blogging your Way to the Front Row, Yuli Ziv
I sometimes dream of leaving my day job and trying a career as a fashion blogger. Judging by Ziv’s advice in Blogging your Way to the Front Row, Fashion Abecedaire, in terms of content, readership numbers and business goal is months away from allowing me to realise that. Even though Ziv’s book will likely be of little help is you’re a seasoned blogger, or have been following the field for a while, it’s a handy summary of common sense advise and personal experience. If nothing else, it was a wake up call for me, reminding me that waiting for readers to come to me is all well, but going out to look for them could be even better. Which is why, two days before Christmas, I was trying to update my HTML code with a Facebook Like button. Which is also why I’ve started using Flickr pictures, one of Ziv’s advises if, like me, photo isn’t one of your skills or why I’ve decided to find someone to build a proper online home for this blog.
Read if: You’re trying to monetise your blog but can’t figure how to or if you need a one-stop book containing all advise on moving your blog to the next level rather than going through hundreds of bookmarks
Skip if: You have a pure conception of blogging. No money, only content.
Images: We need to talk about Kevin promotional photo; Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Flickr user Cabarousse; Debut: Yves Saint Laurent 1962, Flickr user Victorismaelsoto; New York Fashion Week, Flickr user Dan Nguyen @ New York City