Category: Book Club

What I Read: Chick Lit Edition

I hate the term “chick lit”. I hate its dismissiveness, and I also hate that it works only too well in making me not want to read the things to which the label is affixed. I know that I need to work on that knee jerk reaction; in my mind, “chick lit” is stuff like the Shopaholic series (which I hated), and in reality, there is probably a huge variety of books which get labelled “chick lit” but which, nonetheless, I should not write off. Case in point: the Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I binge read all 5 volumes in less than a fortnight, and I quite enjoyed the experience. It was comfort reading at its best. I should mention that a few factors likely contributed to my enjoyment of it, and you should keep those in mind when deciding whether this might be a good recc for you. I am a sucker for the time period (1920-1950) and the genre (upper class family sagas). It reminded me of books like The Camomile Lawn and The Forsyte Saga. If you have read and enjoyed those, you will probably like these novels. There were parts I found a bit slow-going or dull, and characters I liked or cared about less, but it was easy enough to speed-read or skip those parts entirely, and pick up the plot later without any issues.

On a more personal note, the series reminded me of the Jalna books written by Mazo De La Roche. That’s probably not a name familiar to most of you, but she was a favourite writer of my grandmother’s long before we emigrated to Canada. I have fond memories of reading my grandmother’s translated Jalna books as a young teen, which detailed the lives of the Whiteoak family over the better part of a century. (There are over a dozen books in total, and you can still occasionally find them in thrift stores and the like. De La Roche was a hugely popular Canadian author back in the day, but she is hardly known nowadays. I did check Amazon, and it looks like there *was* a recent re-print of the series in about 2010.) I think my grandmother would have loved reading about the Cazalets, since stories about family dramas, secrets, and love affairs — nothing too graphic, but definitely “spicy” — were her favourite. My grandmother used to be a prolific reader, but she is 94 now, and in failing health; so there was a bitter sweetness in reading this series, and thinking of all the books to which she introduced me over the years.

Moving on to articles, can you handle yet another article about Millennials? This one posits that there are two types, those born before 1989 and those born after. As a 1980 baby, I will attest that growing up before the internet was a thing is a big part of my cultural context. I remember getting my first e-mail address when I started university in 1997, but I don’t think I actually started browsing the internet regularly until, literally, the 21st century. In fact, I was just reminiscing with a friend about how we used to register for classes back in those days by — wait for it — calling into the registration line (on our land lines, natch) and punching in the codes for the classes we wanted, praying that we hadn’t miscalculated the order (from most to least likely to fill out quickly). How far we’ve come since then! Of course, it feels like no time at all on my end, but in fact it’s been — gulp! — 20 years. I suddenly feel about as young as the cryptkeeper.

But speaking of technological advances, my binge-watching of John Oliver Last Week Tonight segments on YouTube sent me down an internet rabbit hole of articles about MLMs, which eventually led me to this older article on Racked from someone who tried selling Rodan + Fields. I will freely admit to being fascinated by MLMs, but what I found most interesting about this article was the author’s comments on why she felt uncomfortable with the idea of being a salesperson, a discomfort I share. I won’t lie; there have been times when I’ve felt tempted by some of the advertising pitches I’ve received through the blog, not to mention the lure of affiliate links. I’ve ultimately resisted them all, and most of the time I am perfectly content with that decision. I do occasionally fall into the trap of feeling somewhat inadequate for lack of a “side hustle”, but this article was a good reminder that being a “monetized influencer” would require me to take on an additional role (essentially, a salesperson) which probably isn’t a good fit for me. I wonder if that is a weird and outdated scruple in this day of pervasive social media marketing. If you are a blog reader, does it make a difference to you (in how you perceive the content of the blog or the blogger) if the blog is monetized? Do you feel like you’re being sold to, or is it just blog-reading business as usual? And if you have experiences being a “consultant” for an MLM, I would love to hear about that too!

Lastly, this is not an article per se, but Lainey`s coverage of the MET Ball is worth checking out if you haven`t already. I don`t always agree with her (and Duana`s) red carpet fashion takes, but I enjoy their analyses. This year, I think my fave Met look was Claire Danes — I thought it was wearable but still gave a nod to the theme. I also (oddly? it`s definitely not something I would wear) enjoyed Kerri Russell`s look and I agree with Lainey that she and Matthew Rhys make a very intriguing couple.

Have a great weekend!

What I Read: Netflix Redux

What have I been reading lately? Um, not much. Blame Netflix. It is the best/worst thing that has happened to me in recent memory. I am willingly risking sleep deprivation on the daily, unable to resists that “one more episode” lure every night. Nonetheless, I was able to finish All the Light We Cannot See and I really enjoyed it by the end. I grew very attached to Werner in particular, so the ending brought out all of the feels — not necessarily in a bad way, though I would not call it a heart-warming sort of ending a la Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society.

I also made my way through Crazy Rich, the Johnson & Johnson family saga. It was enjoyable in the way that biographies of the ultra rich tend to be – a kind of literary equivalent to reading Hello magazine – but it didn’t blow me away or anything. The Johnson are no Hiltons, let’s just say. A book of this kind is always better if Zsa Zsa Gabor is somehow involved.

As for what’s next, I have a long list of book in my bedside stash (it’s at least a foot tall), but none of them are calling my name quite as loudly as British TV — only reason I even have time to write this post is because Netflix does not carry all of the shows I am desperate to watch. Ahem. Next in the reading queue is probably We Two, a biography focused on Victoria & Albert’s marriage. It was recommended by one or two BCRL readers, so I have high hopes for it.

Since we may as well stop pretending this isn’t turning into a “What I Watched” post, here’s a quick rundown of my recent binges.

  • Death Comes to Pemberley, the mini-series adaptation of the P.D. James mystery novel. I highly, highly recommend both. As you know, I am a huge James fan, and this novel (based on the Austen characters from Pride & Prejudice) is perfection. I wish James had turned her pen to the other Austen novels as well. I would read all the mysteries featuring my fave Austen heroes and heroines. The mini series is also fantastic – beautifully shot (seriously, it perhaps the best looking P&P-related adaptation), wonderfully acted. Matthew Rhys is not my version of a dreamboat Darcy, but I think he captured the essence of the character so well. Ditto for Anna Maxwell Martin who played Elizabeth. Their relationship dynamic rang so true — they came alive as flesh and blood, regular people, not merely these iconic characters.
  • Oh, did I mention Matthew Goode plays Wickham? Yeah, so that sent me down a Matthew Goode rabbit hole (that sounds wrong but you know what I mean), which involved some truly terrible movies, season 6 of Downton Abbey, and then finally the mini series Dancing on the Edge. It was a bit odd in that I was expecting it to be an “inside showbiz” story when in fact it was basically a mystery (with a really, really obvious whodunit), but the acting was top notch. Chiwetel Ejiofor was superb. There were a bunch of familiar faces in it — hello, Anthony Head (aka Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jenna Coleman (Victoria), and Tom Hughes, again. [Sidenote: British TV is incredibly incestuous. Jenna Coleman was also in Death Comes to Pemberley, playing Lydia. So, she got to pretend-shag Matthew Goode twice, lucky duck. Wikipedia tells me that most of the people on this show have, in fact, worked with each other in at least one other project. Playing 6 degrees of “British equivalent of Kevin Bacon” must be incredibly easy.]
  • Watching rich & aimless young people make a muck of their (and others’) lives in Dancing on the Edge made me want to go back to re-watch Bright Young Things with Emily Mortimer and Stephen Campbell. Also, baby James McAvoy. Well, ok, not literally a baby but definitely baby-faced. (I now feel really old because I remember this movie from back in the day). It’s a good show, definitely worth a watch (or two). I’m thinking someone somewhere is probably about to re-make this movie (based on Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies). I’m already looking forward to the recasting possibilities.
  • Pemberley also introduced me to James Norton, and may I say it was an introduction that was greatly overdue. Ahem. Netflix sadly does not stream Grantchester, but I am not easily discouraged when seized of an idea. I have procured season 1 from Amazon, and will surely post an update next week.
  • I also watched the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror because, hello, James Norton. And good-bye; seriously, he was in the episode for all of 2 minutes. Boo. Anyway, it was an interesting premise, but the whole thing gave me terrible social media anxiety, and I ain’t got time for getting meta about social media. I do wish someone would teach me how to do my eyeliner like Bryce Dallas Howard, though. That’s some #goals right there.

That’s it … for now. As always, leave me your Netflix (and book!!) recc’s in the comments.

Finally, here are a couple interesting articles. Are younger generations reverting to old-fashioned gender norms? Click-baity topic, but some interesting theories in this article. I am familiar with the difficulties facing two working parent families, and I have ALL the sympathy for people who take them on without the support of extended family, but I am not sure that going back to “traditional” gender norms is the answer either. I think society as a whole still has a long way to go in adjusting to the changes that have been happening over the last 20-30 years. The paradigm is shifting (more or less quickly in different countries) but it seems to me that much work still has to be done; it sucks for those of us caught in the trenches, but for me the answer is to push on, rather than look back.

If you’re a PF nerd like me, you might enjoy this article that looks at median and average net worth across various demographics (US and Canada). What I found most interesting is towards the bottom of the page; there are tables showing average, good, excellent, and “rich” net worth by age group. I often wonder how my husband and I stack up to our peers in terms of financial health, if you will, and this gave me a pretty good idea, especially once I adjusted the numbers for my location using the link to the Cost of Living index. (Side note: it was also interesting to find out that the cost of living here in Edmonton is about half the cost of living in New York. That’s not bad, although, honestly, it probably should be even lower. It snows in April here, people! Ah, don’t mind me, I’m just bitter.)

BCRL Book Club: Bargain Fever

Let me start by saying: sorry. This is going to be another super short book club post because I just. do. not. have. time right now for more *sobs* I feel like a broken record writing this yet again, but life has been kicking my butt lately, and I feel like I’ve reached my limit of balls feasibly juggle-able. Projects like the BCRL book club, though certainly dear to my heart, are simply not high enough on the list of priorities … which makes me very sad, but sometimes c’est la vie. Without further hue and cry, here are my thoughts about Bargain Fever.

What I Liked

Books like Bargain Fever interest me a great deal; I love reading about the psychology behind social behavior, and in particular in relation to the things we buy and consume. Bargain Fever is written in the easy, breezy style that I prefer to read for “fun”; it was easy to finish in a couple of sittings. There was a TON of fascinating information and insights into both retailers’ and customers’ behavior. (Perhaps too much, but more on that in a minute.) A lot of it was instinctively recognizable to me, based on my own experiences with the retail industry (as a consumer), so from that perspective it wasn’t “new” information, per se; however, I enjoyed the way in which the book tried to connect all the dots.

A few of the highlights:

  • The discussion of the physiological/psychological feedback loop that makes bargain-hunting so addictive to many people. I am definitely someone who is very susceptible to it, which is a huge part of why I love thrifting – and why I never miss 50% off days at Value Village (and collect stamp cards at every thrift shop that offers them), even though I can certainly afford to pay full price.
  • The issues around the relative value of money. People are highly irrational in the way they approach/value money, and that’s endlessly fascinating to me. Someone might go to great lengths to save $5 in one situation, but not another. And that brings me to another interesting concept, which is that of anchoring – we perceive prices differently depending upon the context in which they are presented to us. None of it makes sense when you stop to think about it but it is, nonetheless, immediately familiar – if you do a gut check, you’re likely to admit that you’ve been guilty of the same reactions.
  • The exploration of the connection between perceived cachet (of designer brands) and whether they are subject to sales. I am fascinated by branding as a science (or an art, depending on how you think of it), and enjoy reading analyses of what goes into determining which brands thrive and which don’t. In this respect, Bargain Fever covered some ground that was not addressed in great depth in Deluxe: How Luxury Lost is Lustre.

[I’ll pause here to say that, 6 or 7 years ago, when the Coach outlets first began popping up everywhere, I predicted the downward slide of the brand without the benefit of any scientific analysis. I was happy to read in this book that Coach has been working on “righting its ship”, with some success, in recent years. I do have a soft spot for the vintage Coach bags, and I hope they eventually go back to their roots. One can only wonder what will happen to Michael Kors, since the brand doesn’t have the same “roots” as Coach. Or Kate Spade or Tory Burch, which might be sliding down the same path of market over-saturation and declining (perceived or otherwise) quality. And don’t get me started on J. Crew. Or do. I could talk about this stuff all day.]

What I Didn’t Like
There was a lot of information in this book. Like, a LOT. I felt that there was a constant barrage of it flying at me in every chapter, and the chapters themselves were fairly short and zippy. This isn’t a criticism, necessarily; but I feel like Bargain Fever is the kind of book that mostly just skims the surface of a lot of interesting topics, leaving you feeling simultaneously overwhelmed (maybe that’s just my default these days, though) and intrigued to read more. On that note, if you guys have any recommendations for good reads along similar lines (particular around branding), let me know in the comments.

So, back to you: did you read Bargain Fever and, if so, what did you think? Did you gain a better understanding of your own and others’ shopping behaviours? Any especially interesting revelations? What, if any, aspects of your own shopping did the book cause you to reconsider?

As I alluded to at the beginning of the post, I’m finding it more and more difficult to keep up with these book club posts (and “fun” reading in general), so I have decided to press “pause” on them for the next few months while I try to grapple with the rest of my life. I may do some shorter version of a “what I’m reading now” post over on my author blog from time to time and, of course, will continue to publish my (free) weekly serial there too – I hope you’ll check it out!