The inimitable Grace Coddington, creative director of Vogue, visited Nashville this weekend to chat with model Karen Elson about her new memoir, Grace, at a sold-out event at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. You probably know Coddington from the film The September Issue (or as Coddington calls it in the opening lines of Grace, “the only reason anyone has ever heard of me.”) where she played the foil to the ice queen Anna Wintour.
It is this general waving-off of her brilliance and her monumental influence on the last half a century of fashion that sets Coddington apart from the rest of the fashion world. The same romantic humor and refreshing, familiar unpretentiousness that is found in Grace is, wonderfully, exactly how Coddington, with her shaved eyebrows and distinguishable head of red Welsh hair, seemed before an audience of Nashville’s most fashionable.
The first time Elson—Coddington’s self-declared doppelganger—introduced Coddington, it was at the 2009 British Fashion Awards, and a wrong step sent Elson “head over heels into the orchestra pit” and left her with a cracked rib. Elson’s sophomore attempt at hosting Coddington left everyone intact as they chatted lightly, trading mutual adoration, reminiscing on modeling, heralding the era of grunge and giggling over Coddington’s doodles of cats.
Although modeling and cats were the topics du jour, readers will be pleased to know that Grace only briefly covers Coddington’s modeling career, devoting more chapters to working with photographers and designers, her favorite Vogue spreads, boyfriends and, of course, cats. She imbues her writing with a sense of laa-dee-da that comes from a life of good-humored charm, and she seems only to lament the passing of time when discussing fashion’s transition into the digital age. A victorious doodle captioned “Eureka! I just opened my first email” makes light even of these monumental changes.
No matter the topic, Coddington’s message is one of perseverance. She commiserated with Elson on the criticism thrust upon models, particularly when Eileen Ford, “the American doyenne of all model agents,” announced that Coddington’s 18-inch waist was “Fat! Fat! Fat!” She became a model anyway, and so much more. It’s this attitude that makes Grace more than just a who’s-who of fashion greats, as she writes:
"For me, one of the most important aspects of my work is to give people something to dream about, just as I used to dream all those years ago as a child looking at beautiful photographs. I still weave dreams, finding inspiration wherever I can and looking for romance in the real, not the digital, world.”
As part of our Best Books of 2012 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini called for Salman Rushdie’s death for his “blasphemous” novel The Satanic Verses, a move which not only forced Rushdie into hiding for over a decade, but also stirred vigorous debate over the unconditional right of free speech. The vast span of this memoir chronicles years of flight, the paths taken toward writing The Satanic Verses—and every juicy opinion Rushdie kept bottled up until now.
BookPage's author page for Salman Rushdie.
View our complete Best Books of 2012 list.
As part of our Best Books of 2012 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
Paul Auster made his breakthrough debut with his memoir The Invention of Solitude; 30 years later, he looks at his life again, now as it nears its end. This is an unconventional memoir, as Auster revisits life through the story of his body—where it has been, what it has felt and the memories it bears. The writing moves like memory itself, meandering and pliant—often abstract—stopping here and there to contemplate his journey and to encourage the reader to do the same.
Read our review.
First she thought she had bed bugs. Then she thought she was overworked. A friend suggested that she might have bipolar disorder. After a month of tests totaling almost a million dollars, Susannah Cahalan drew a clock at the request of the doctor. The drawing showed that her brain was inflamed.
Cahalan, a journalist, chronicles her journey from sane to manic to catatonic and back, relying on interviews with family and friends to shed light on the month she can hardly remember in her new book, Brain on Fire.
Read our interview with Cahalan at BookPage.com and check out this interview style trailer where she elaborates on her month of madness:
What do you think about Cahalan's experience? What are you reading right now?
Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
Random House • $30 • ISBN 9780812992786
In stores September 18, 2012
On February 14, 1989, Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children) received a call from a BBC reporter telling him that Ayatollah Khomeini put out a fatwa on him for the publication of his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. Rushdie's new memoir, Joseph Anton, tells the story of how that moment transformed his life forever, as he was forced underground with an armed police protection team, permanently in fear of the Muslim extremists literally out to kill him.
My reason for starting this book was simple: Rushdie is one of my all-time favorite writers. However, I rarely commit myself to nonfiction—I'm a novel and short story girl by nature—but I inhaled this one. The character of Joseph Anton (Rushdie's alias while in hiding) is written in the third-person he, allowing the present-day Rushdie some distance from his targeted former self, and giving the story a sense of fiction (because how could something like a novelist-directed fatwa be real life?).
The memoir is not limited to Rushdie's experiences living under the threat of murder, as he looks back upon all the elements that led him to write The Satanic Verses in the first place: life with his father, his schoolboy days, his simultaneous fascination and unbelief in God and, more specifically, Islam. There's also a certain juiciness to the whole thing, especially for those in the publishing industry, as Rushdie uses this book to lay bare every opinion he's ever had of anyone, as well as their opinions of him.
Catch a glimpse of Rushdie's consistently fabulous prose in the opener:
Afterwards, when the world was exploding around him and lethal blackbirds were massing on the climbing frame in the school playground, he felt annoyed with himself for forgetting the name of the BBC reporter, a woman, who had told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She had called him at home on his private line without explaining how she got the number. "How does it feel," she asked him, "to know that you have just been sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini?" It was a sunny Tuesday in London but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: "It doesn't feel good." This is what he thought: I'm a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left to live and thought the answer was probably a single-digit number. He put down the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.
Whether you agree with the current presidential administration or not, odds are you like Michelle Obama; according to Gallup, 65% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the first lady. So, I thought many of you would appreciate a little tidbit I read at the bottom of a recent post on the New York Times' Caucus blog: "According to aides, the first lady is already gathering material for the memoir she will write one day."
Yippee! I know that a memoir written by a first lady is pretty much expected these days, but I won't lie and say I'm not very excited about a book penned by Mrs. O.
Speaking of memoirs written by high-powered women, there are a couple more in the works that might be of interest to women trying to get their foot in the door at work.
Kate White, the soon-to-be-former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, has written a book called I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know. HarperBusiness—who says the book is a "straight-talking new career guide for women"—will release the book on September 18. (By the way, White is also the author of the Bailey Weggins mystery series. Fans of those books should cheer her stepping down from Cosmo; she's leaving to concentrate on writing.)
A week ago, Publishers Marketplace posted the news that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg will publish a book with Knopf in 2013. Called Lean In, it is a:
"call to action" on challenges facing women in the workplace, providing what she calls "practical advice for women -- and the men who want to help them -- on how to lean in and close the gap" (via Publishers Marketplace)
Do you enjoy business books and memoirs of how women rose to the top of their careers? Are you interested in Michelle Obama's life story? Of all the many, many political memoirs out there, are there any you think that stand out from the crowd?
In Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails, Anthony Swofford (author of Jarhead) chronicles his own journey as a fame-flushed author with his cancer-stricken father as they travel 1,000 miles in a 44-foot-long RV.
Swofford doesn’t spare anyone in his account, not his lovers, not his family, not himself. He paints himself as a fast-living philanderer and a failure at being human. Fortunately, he is a studious traveler, and the journey ends on a hopeful note, with Swofford learning lessons from his dying father on how to lead a more meaningful life.
What do you think of Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails?
Winter Journal by Paul Auster
Holt • $26 • ISBN 9780805095531
on sale August 21, 2012
Thirty years after his breakthrough debut, the memoir The Invention of Solitude, Paul Auster returns to the medium in Winter Journal.
With the hindsight of Didion, the narrative elegance of Nabokov and the mesmerizing writing for which he himself is known, Auster (now 65) steps into what he calls "the winter of [his] life" by looking back on a lifetime. He shares his memories and the fleeting moments of his body—places it has been, things it has felt (both wonderful and terrible)—through threaded vignettes constructed of languorous sentences that feel much like memory itself. Each fragment careens toward death, a boat against the current.
Auster writes as "you," a device which could feel like an assault were it not for the accomplished writer behind it. At times, the "you" seems removed, peering at his former self in a distant way, as when he recounts the hours immediately following his mother's death: "No tears, no howls of anguish, no grief—just a vague sense of horror growing inside you." At other times, the "you" seems to be surprised and thrilled all over again, such as when he discovers his own penis at age five: ". . . how fitting that you should have a miniature fireman's helmet emblazoned on your person, on the very part of your body, moreover, that looks like and functions as a hose." And always, the "you" is hypnosis to trick you, reader, into remembering a life that isn't your own.
It's a fast read, never waning to nostalgia, that will move you to chew the cud of your own mortality and (somehow) still find time to disappear into your own memories.
You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else.
Your bare feet on the cold floor as you climb out of bed and walk to the window. You are six years old. Outside, snow is falling, and the branches of the trees in the backyard are turning white.
Speak now before it is too late, and then hope to go on speaking until there is nothing more to be said. Time is running out, after all. Perhaps it is just as well to put aside your stories for now and try to examine what it has felt like to live inside this body from the first day you can remember being alive until this one. A catalogue of sensory data. What one might call a phenomenology of breathing.
Will you keep an eye out for Auster's new memoir in August?
Mother's Day is this Sunday! Our May issue features five great books for moms (grandmothers and expecting moms, too!). Below are the book trailers for two of these books: Up by Patricia Ellis Herr and Bloom by Kelle Hampton.
Up is the memoir of a mom and her pint-sized hiking partner. Patricia Ellis Herr and her five-year-old daughter climbed nearly 50 New England peaks during their year-and-a-half adventure. Our reviewer called it "half hiking reference manual and half meditation on how to instill independence and confidence at a young age—an odd and oddly compelling combination."
Kelle Hampton, best known for her blog Enjoying the Small Things, shares the story of giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome. Her memoir, Bloom, is a "searing and brave portrait of her baby’s first year . . . [that] gives a whole new meaning to the term 'open book.'"
No sugar-coated motherhood stories here. Will you check these out? Do you know a mom who would love to read one of these incredible memoirs?
Don't feel bad if Jenny Lawson, aka the Bloggess, makes you laugh at terrible things (dead pets, etc.). It's not your fault—her life has been ridiculous, her humor is questionable and her memoir, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, captures it all.
Here's what our reviewer had to say about Lawson's riotous book:
"This is the kind of book where, once you’ve got the lay of the land, a sentence like '[My neighbor] seemed more concerned this time, possibly because I was belting out Bonnie Tyler and crying while swinging a machete over a partially disturbed grave' makes total sense. It might also make you laugh and cry simultaneously, since the grave held Lawson’s beloved pug and she was swinging at vultures who were trying to dig him up. If that doesn’t make you laugh, there’s a story about her multiple miscarriages and the subsequent birth of her daughter that’s an absolute howler. No, seriously. Plus: Chupacabras!"
Is this a must-read?