Reading with SJ: Nonfiction

I’ve mentioned before that I have a voracious love of nonfic titles. One of my favorite things is to go through the new arrivals section of the library and see what I can find, which can lead to some fabulous and interesting discoveries.

I do feel like with autobios and memoirs, it really is personal taste. Some people I identify with more than others, some writing styles I prefer over others. It’s like…so I love the work of Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, but I find them all much more palatable in lecture than in print. I prefer people who are going to write things that will rip me open and make me feel to just cool accounts of a life. Same with creative nonfiction – it’s all in presentation, so that’s where a lot of these views are coming from.

It’s also important to remember (as I glance at reviews for various titles) that autobiographies are not manuals on how to live your life. These are experiences that these people went through, and they’re writing them to either give you insight into an extraordinary life or to share something of what they learned so that you connect with it, learn from it, etc. I grow weary of people saying “well of course this person can say this, they’re so successful” or “this wasn’t like my experience at all/didn’t help me at all!” At the end of the day, books are not only what are written, but how you interpret them, and sometimes taking a step back and appreciating them for what they are is necessary.

The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg Admittedly I had to take this back before I finished, but I will be checking it out again because it’s so compelling. Anyone who has ever really gotten into sewing or fashion is at least aware of Diane von Furstenberg, and her story is transfixing. Admittedly autobiographies are often a crapshoot, but this is truly a woman with a lot to say. It’s tone is confident without being unfeeling, professional without being overly formal or stilted. I do kind of wish it revealed more of a personal nature underneath, but at the same time I don’t get the feeling that that’s really how she conducts herself. It feels like what I imagine sitting in a room listening to her talk would be like, and I love that I will agree that at times the book gets a little list-y, rattling off accomplishments, but I think any autobiography is going to have parts that speak to you and parts that don’t. I also really like how she divides up her sections. Instead of it being a straight chronological experience she talks about her parents’ influence all the way through her life, then her experiences in love and family, etc. While it may seem like she’s covering similar ground over and over, I find this thematic approach really refreshing and a great way for the reader to get to know her different facets, as well as compartmentalize the different areas of a very vast and full life so far. It’s also so nice to read a book by a woman who is dedicated to helping other women, who believes that women should feel great about themselves. I do feel sometimes it’s hard to read personal accounts like this without comparing yourself, which is why this is somewhat of a good autobiography but not necessarily a great one. A great one will tear down walls in at least a good percentage of readers and make you feel like the author is a full-bodied person, someone you could relate to and have lunch with. This one, I think, is a little too streamlined/distant to accomplish that, but it’s still a fascinating read and packed with great bits.

On My Own Two Feet: From Losing my Legs to Learning the Dance of Life by Amy Purdy – I read this in about two days. Where the former autobio is compelling but distant, this book definitely draws you in and keeps you there. While I haven’t gone through what Amy has, I’ve definitely fallen in my share of ditches and I’ve had those long stretches of feeling like nothing is panning out, then seeing that everything really does lead to something else. Her accounts of the illness that led to the loss of her legs is moving, the tales through her recovery will make you feel (I cried like twelve times reading this book, at least), and her optimism, her drive, her sheer positivity will give you hope. This has definitely made me realize it’s time to re-align my thinking again, which is what a good personal account does….it gives the reader not only a way to empathize with the author, but a jumping off point for their own life, hopefully. I will admit I found some parts a little more interesting than others – I chalk that up to being more into the arts than sports, but the whole book is a lesson on spirituality, drive, and so much more. Loved it. I also hope that at some point Amy writes another memoir or something else, because while this is amazing, this still feels in process to me.It doesn’t feel uncomfortable, and I love the casual tone. Maybe I’m off the mark, because she does go very in depth, but I feel like there’s more to be said, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what else she would have to say on her experiences or views on life in the future.

The Disney Films by Leonard Maltin – I will admit that I knew this wasn’t updated from the get go, and didn’t care. I was mainly interested at taking a look at the older or unknown Disney movies. It’s easy to forget the sheer volume of stuff the company has done. On the positive side, it was interesting to get an overview of where the company was at different points (especially the 1980s Disney that I grew up with). I liked that a lot of the nature films were covered and there’s a lot here that I haven’t even heard of. However…for every film that gets a couple of pages, ten more get just the back blurb of a video box. I was hoping for a book the width of my body, giving me the skivvy on everything, and while I get that’s probably impossible, I felt like I got a watered-down, ad-copy version. I enjoyed it, but I also didn’t feel like it was worth my time to really dive in and plow through all of it. Definitely felt like I was reading ad copy at times, which is frustrating.

1000 Incredible Costume & Cosplay Ideas by Yaya Han and Allison DeBlasio – Disclaimer: As someone who has professionally worked in costumes and design, I have very mixed feelings on cosplay, which I’ll probably get into in a later post. That being said, I was still fascinated with the book when I saw it at the library. I love looking at subgenres of fashion and entertainment, an I’m always willing to learn something.

This book is a mess. A total, confused, mess. I get that this is supposed to be a love letter to the scene, but instead it showcases just how confused cosplay can be. First off, you never truly get a definition of what it IS – is it just people walking around in costumes of their favorite things or do they have to also make them, themselves? This is supposed to be a book to give you ideas, but at no point is there any how-to, any vendor list, quick and easy how-to’s to get the layperson started, anything that would make this book actually useful and not a book for chosen people to show off. It’s only by looking at the tiny text do you realize that a lot of these creations involve teams of people, which kind of destroys the notion of “hey, here are ideas that you, too, can do! It’s possible!” Essentially a coffee table book, it still fails at that. There are characters that are showcased multiple times (dude, you don’t need more than one Merida or more than one anything. Pick the best of the best and move on). A lot of the shots are glorified beauty shots where you can’t even see the costume, again destroying the point of giving the reader inspiration for them to, you know, make their own costumes. A lot of the pictures have the outfits obscured, or they’re not great quality, or you can’t see details.

I will never hesitate to say that I don’t do tutorials because I have worked very, very hard to learn the skills I know. That’s my choice, because it’s how I primarily make my living. However, I also wouldn’t produce a book of “SJ’s Guide to Making Costumes!” if I wasn’t prepared to give at least some in-depth talk about how I do what I do. I feel like this is a total bait and switch because a lot of this stuff people couldn’t build on their own. Seriously, some of this stuff anyone is going to be doomed to buying unless you have a vacuform machine to make your own armor or feel comfortable constructing your own wigs. Indeed, part of my issue is what you’re seeing are pretty models wearing clothes – some of which they didn’t even make. How about interviews with the actual fabricators, if the point is giving people inspiration? Or if they’re unwilling because they have to make a living, too, then call this book a photographic examination of cosplay. And choose your pictures better. I’m glad I didn’t pay money for this, because no. Just no. There were some truly great things here, don’t get me wrong, but I could never get the chip off my shoulder at feeling I’d been duped, and I’ve been building costumes professionally for events and theatre for almost half of my life.

The introduction also made me bristle – saying that to be a cosplayer you also should know html, sewing, acting etc again proves that there is no concrete definition of the form and does nothing to make this book relatable to the average person who just wants to dress up like Sailor Moon or something. I’ve seen people who only buy their stuff and walk around wearing it with no semblance of acting. I’ve seen the same with people who act very well. I’ve seen all sorts of things…and the thing is, learning all those skills isn’t necessary to cosplay, but it is necessary to brand yourself. Which makes me again feel that this is yet another brick in the house of someone trying to build a brand, not necessarily of someone wanting to make a worthwhile book.

Super-Amazing, 100% Awesome The Best Cat Book Ever by Kate Funk – Best book I’ve ever read in my life, hands-down.

Part of why I picked this up is I lost my kitty Sam (aka the furry editor) two Christmases ago, and the time just hasn’t been right to adopt another. This makes it a little hard on a cat person like myself, so when I saw this I absolutely had to pick it up. The intro has the author talking about adopting AC, discovering that he was patient enough to be dressed up, and her creative journey into putting together photo shoots for calendars, pillows, cards,, etc and selling them at craft fairs/marketing them/etc. I admire anyone who can see that journey through, and I love the photos in this book. They’re hilarious, and I can only imagine some of the work that went into making AC’s costumes. A lot of the images are really inventive. Does this jump on the back of the lolcat/funny cat trend? Of course, but who cares? They’re adorable, and the outfits combined with the unamused look on AC faces in a few of the photos is hysterical. Is everyone gonna love it? No, but it’s a little obvious that it’s made for a certain type of individual/reader, and anyone who is a cat person is probably going to like the dichotomy going on within the pages. Absolutely made my day and I would absolutely page through it over and over. It doesn’t take itself seriously, it has a definite focus, and it’s well-executed. Love.

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