• Memoir

    How to Be Popular, ’50s Style

    When 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen had trouble fitting in at middle school, she looked to a popularity guide from 1951 for answers. Read an excerpt from her hilarious and brave journey.

    In 1951, model Betty Cornell penned a self-help book for young women struggling socially: Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide. Cornell provided insight on everything from wearing white pearls and girdles to the proper ways to fix one’s “figure problems.” 

    Before entering the eighth grade, then-14-year-old Maya Van Wagenen discovered Cornell’s tome in her father’s office. Van Wagenen, who had been having difficulties fitting in at middle school, decided to follow Cornell’s advice and embark on the new school year with a 1950s mentality.  In her new (and first) memoir, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (April 2014, Dutton Children’s Books), Van Wagenen catalogue’s her journey through the social experiment, which included learning to be a stellar hostess, practicing proper posture, and styling her hair with rag curlers.


    Growing Up Absurd

    Giving It Up in H.G. Wells’s Home

    Angelica Garnett's memoir of growing up amid the weirdness of Bloomsbury features the usual literary suspects, including Virginia Woolf, and not a few surprises.

    The term "Bloomsbury" is a loaded one. Referring to the literary group of which Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes were notable members, their unconventional approach to relationships, in addition to their contributions to art, literature, and politics, make for fun reading: Virginia Woolf's affair with Vita Sackville West (which inspired Woolf’s novel Orlando), the painter Dora Carrington's devotion to Lytton Strachey (despite him being a homosexual), and Virginia's sister Vanessa having a child with her friend and sometime lover Duncan Grant, despite the fact that she was married to Clive Bell.

    That child, Angelica Garnett (nee Bell), was raised as Clive's child and was not informed of the identity of her biological father until she was 18. In 1975, after the death of both Vanessa and Duncan, Angelica was encouraged by a friend to write the story of her life. She produced her memoir Deceived with Kindness in 1984, after an undoubtedly painful writing process. The book, a revelation in the genre of memoir, is out of print.

  • Ahmad Masood/Reuters

    Terse Beauty

    The Secret Poems of Afghan Women

    A landay is a traditional two-line Afghan verse form subversively appropriated by Afghan women to express themselves in ways prohibited by their society.

    Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy have made a book that is necessary reading for anyone who has ever made assumptions from a distance about what a burka-wearing woman might be like, and for anyone who cannot fathom how poetry could get you killed. In other words, this book is a must-read for every U.S. citizen.

    I am the Beggar of the World is a book of poems, war reportage, and photographs. It presents and comments on a set of folk poems—“landays” (pronounced “LAND-ees”)—in translation from the Pashto, and it describes the current and historical contexts of these poems’ production, with a special emphasis on detailed anecdotes drawn from Griswold’s and Murphy’s encounters with their Afghani informants and subjects.

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    Murder & Morgues in WWII London

    Molly Lefebure saw death up close and very personally in London during World War II, as she reveals in her brilliant memoir, ‘Murder On The Home Front.’

    If there is something very English about Murder On The Home Front, it is not just the setting—the topsy-turvy, dank, chaotic London-in-flux of World War II—but also the phlegmatic voice of the author, Molly Lefebure. In the war years, Lefebure was secretary to forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson, and wrote of her experiences of the deaths they investigated—suicides, murders, accidents—in her 1955 book, Evidence For The Crown.

    The catchier title it is presented with in 2014 is down to the name of the TV drama adapted from it last year. The book is full of horrors, but related with Lefebure’s crisp, clear voice. Heads might be detached from bodies, and prisoners swinging from the gallows, but Lefebure’s storytelling has a Mary Poppins-like briskness to it. A former journalist, she evokes the physical and emotional terrain of crime scenes and the circumstances of death with adroit detachment, yet also authoritative depth.

  • Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter attends an interview with Reuters in Cairo January 12, 2012. (Amr Dalsh/Reuters)

    Rights Warrior

    Jimmy Carter’s Campaign for Women

    In or out of the White House, Carter has been a man of principle unafraid of hard truth. In his 22nd book, he documents the plight of women around the world.

    The mindless and childish hatred for President Jimmy Carter, across the right and among a surprising number of liberals, exposes the obscenity and flaccidity of American political culture, where cliché overwhelms insight and bromide mutes the truth of history.

    At the CPAC circus and over the airwaves of talk radio, the mere mention of Carter’s name is sufficient to provoke self-satisfied cackles and chortles from the audience, while liberals relegate Carter to the dubious distinction of “best ex-president”—a backhanded compliment equivalent to calling someone the best “non-medalist Olympian.”

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    Early Feminism

    A Novel That Got Bigger Over Time

    Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer-winning ‘So Big’ was the bestselling novel of 1924. This class-conscious novel with a feminist heroine looks better the older it gets.

    Four years after the publication of So Big, the bestselling novel of 1924 and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Edna Ferber found herself in a scene that might have been lifted from that novel. E.B. White wrote an item about it in the New Yorker:

    Miss Edna Ferber, the novelist, who lives in Central Park West, may not vote this year, because of something that happened when she registered prior to the last election. The clerk was taking down the facts about her: name, address, age, and so on. When he came to the question of occupation he didn’t bother to ask her about that. He simply glanced up at the author of So Big and Show Boat and then wrote “Housewife.”

  • Rizzoli USA


    The Queen of the French Kitchen

    Before Ducasse, before Bocuse, there was La Mère Brazier, whose cooking was the ultimate in rich hedonism.

    Deep in the volcanic gullet of France, on the swollen banks of two rivers fat with fish and krill, in a land sweetened by sod and loamy truffle clods, Lyon squats with its bouchons and charcuteries, a gastronome's glutted mirage. This is not Paris, elite capital of elegant cafés, ville of dainty macarons and delicate glaciers—this a town belonging to the butchers and the traders, to the silk workers’ guild and the workaday Quai Saint-Antoine, where fishmongers and oyster stalls rowdily hawk their rough wares. A mercantile burg, a blue-collar town, where communal lunchtime tables at the city’s convivial inns groan under glistening sausages, duck cracklings, fried dough, and every kind of offal under the sun—black pudding with roasted apples, hearty pâtés, pig’s trotters, breaded tripe smothered in sauce gribiche—all washed down with tankards of Beaujolais and shots of plum Armagnac. Rabelais wrote Gargantua here, in this city devoted to the most Pantagruelian of pleasures. Where Paris brings to mind the grand hôteliers, toiling in the finicky tradition of Escoffier and Carême, entertaining for emperors and kings, Lyon evokes the gulous meal and the family chef, culling the vegetable garden for a thick country potage. Here, we find cuisine paysanne, not cuisine de cours. Here, we find temples to all things earthy and porcine. Here, we find La France profonde.

    Here we also find l’homme rotund, or at least we used to, back in the days when the city’s 19th-century dining clubs wouldn’t admit any chap weighing less than 175 pounds and bon vivants were charged according to their grosseur (five centimes a kilo). At these same clubs, lucky tradesmen got to gorge themselves on “Venus’s nipples”—giant quenelles molded into the shape of ethereal breasts and areoles. Since that time, Vieux Lyon has been a gourmand’s Jerusalem, a savory Santiago de Compostela, with pilgrims following a route marked not by cockle shells but by the trail of three-star auberges studded along the countryside down the autoroute from Mâcon like plump little lardons.

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    Forgotten Treasure

    A Novelist Ahead of Her Time

    A feminist author long before it was popular, she survived abortion, her husband’s betrayal and even a Harold Pinter screenplay. Her woefully neglected novels still bristle with wit and insight.

    In 1966 the writer Penelope Mortimer endured a painful sterilization operation that left her with a giant scar across her belly. She languished in a “home” recuperating from a severe depression. Once out, she discovered her husband, John Mortimer, was leaving her for a younger woman. The novel she had been working on for nearly a year had stalled. To give her a change of scene, her employer, The Observer, sent her to Canada. There, inspired by a spontaneous love affair, her sixth novel was born. “I began to feel a flicker in my stomach, growing and spreading until I could hardly bear it, heart thundering, small fires breaking out. I said something foolish like, ‘If you want to know what’s happening, I’m having a novel.’ He took my hand, or smiled, or both. I scribbled it down: a deformity (a cancerous breast removed—my scar); the affair with the man who knew; falling in love with a man who didn’t. It took half a minute. When we reached the border I stepped out on to America with a finished novel in my hand.”

    The resulting novel is the remarkable My Friend Says It’s Bullet-Proof. It was published in 1967, and you won’t find it in print anywhere in the United States.

  • Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

    Splitting the Difference

    My Post-Ultra-Orthodox Wedding

    A couple, raised as ultra-Orthodox Jews, searches for the right wedding celebration to satisfy family and themselves.

    I met my husband at a support group for former ultra-Orthodox Jews. There were a dozen of us there, sitting in a circle of chairs, talking about our challenging journeys out of our cloistered communities, but this young blonde man across from me kept on staring at me. It seemed as if he was searching for something in my face, trying to catch something with his eyes.

    His name was Zeke. At the end of the evening, he asked me what train I was taking home. I said the Q and he said he would come with me. We traveled together. Deep in conversation, he missed his stop. We met up a week later and took the train to a coffee shop in the city. Engrossed in our discussion, again, we missed our stop. We talked, and then emailed and then talked on the phone some more.

  • Murray Close/Lionsgate

    All Together Now

    Gender-Specific Books, Be Gone!

    The Independent refuses to review any childrens’ book explicitly aimed at just boys or just girls. No more boring princesses or boys’ only snot fests.

    The English newspaper The Independent announced on Sunday that they would no longer review gender-specific books for children. The paper’s literary editor could not have been more explicit: “I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys.” Guest warned children's publishers that any book landing on her desk with a pink cover and "princess" in the title would go straight to the trash. Nodding to the #LetBooksBeBooks campaign, which calls for publishers to quit limiting children to their gender category, Guest noted that the books most beloved by children—from The Hunger Games to Harry Potter—appeal to no specific gender and include dynamic characters both male and female. 

    Read it at The Independent


    Chimamanda Adichie: Literary Lagos

    The new winner of the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction on her literary city and how it inspires her writing.

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been a cornerstone of both Nigerian and American literature in recent years. Her debut novel, Half of a Yellow Sun was followed by a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008 and her latest, Americanah, which describes a young couple reintegrating back into Nigerian life after an American education has just won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

    Growing up in a quiet area of Enugu with her Igbo family—an ethnicity and language that many of her characters share—Adichie left Nigeria to study in the U.S. at the age of 19 and now spends half a year in each country, teaching creative writing at the University of Lagos. She’s also penned a collection of short stories, as well as essays on a variety of political and social issues, (her Ted Talk “We Should all be Feminists” was sampled by Beyoncé) which have led to her publication in over 30 languages.  

  • Cliff Chiang/DC Comics

    Heroine Fix

    Wonder Woman’s Triumphant Comeback

    Always something of a problem child for DC Comics, the Queen of the Amazons returns with a new back-story that exalts her godliness and celebrates her humanity.

    Amid all the recent kerfuffles at DC Comics—the Batwoman lesbian wedding that wasn’t, the brooding big screen reinvention of Superman, Ben Affleck’s controversial casting as Batman—it would be easy to overlook the most exciting reinvention in recent comic book history: Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman. Her epic two-year inaugural story arc wrapped last September, and War, the final graphic novel collecting that arc, came out yesterday.

    It’s been a decade in the wilderness for Wonder Woman. She’s the only one of DC’s iconic three without a recent film franchise (though Joss Whedon wrote a script in 2007). In 2011, David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal) attempted a new TV series starring Adrianne Palicki, but it died in the pilot phase. And earlier this year, the CW finally killed Amazon, a Smallville-esque origin show that had been in development since 2012.

  • Anchee Min (Bloomsbury Publishing)

    Quiet Strength

    A Red Azalea on American Shores

    Bestselling author Anchee Min pens a second memoir about her long, hard road to success in the U.S.

    The Daily Beast: What made you decide to tell the second part of your story now? The first part, about your childhood in Mao’s China, you told in Red Azalea. What made you decide to talk about coming to America in The Cooked Seed?

    Anchee Min: I think it had to do with my daughter. She was born in Chicago and grew up in America ... raising her was a learning experience. She grew up here and when she was applying to colleges a few years ago, she said, 'You know, Mom, you have a platform.' Lauryann reminded me that I had a platform, and that I represented a population of immigrants who are voiceless. Back in China, I wrote Red Azalea because so many of the people that I knew in labor camps, they just vanished. And I had this survivor's guilt and I came here and wrote Red Azalea—it was voice they didn’t have, and I voiced it for them. And it never occurred to me that I could represent a population here that was also voiceless. But it makes sense. Because I came here without English, with no education, so therefore I could only work on low-end jobs and live in the bottom of the American society. Which turned out to be a blessing for me as a writer—it made the foundation for The Cooked Seed.