The Thoughtful Dresser: A Review

This is a 2009 publication by Linda Grant that, like classic clothes, will never go out of style.  It is a history of clothes, as well as “…a thinking woman’s guide on what to wear.” It deals with such concepts as “how we dress defines who we are…” in a sometimes humorous, sometimes serious manner.

The first chapter, “In Which a Woman Buys a Pair of Shoes” immediately draws the reader’s interest (What woman isn’t interested in shoes?), and the fifth chapter which struggles and attempts to define “sexy” when it comes to clothes continues to keep us turning pages.  Ms. Grant, who writes for Vogue, among other things (such as being a prize winning novelist and journalist) deals with “The art of adornment, the pleasures of shopping, and why clothes matter” in a most engaging way.

Catherine Hill appears three times in the book as a holocaust survivor whose hat saves her from the gas chamber, a fashion designer in Canada, and an ageless fashionista who is interviewed several times by the author.  She, according to the author, “IS fashion” and is “great reading” for this reviewer.

Linda Grant views clothes as “the most intimate but public expression of our identity,” a topic I’ve never considered,and in doing so has become an author I want to read more of.


Most of you know I teach at the university level, juniors and seniors.  The course is called Advanced Writing, but it might surprise you (if you are not a teacher yourself) what has to be re-taught in order to receive a decent paper from these students.  Here is a list of things that bother teachers (and educated readers) the most:

  1.  A paper that does not have anything to say, that is just turned in for the sake of turning it in.

2.    When there is overwhelming evidence that the paper has not been proofread.

3.  Failure to avoid words, phrases, and expressions that are overused, lazy ways to explain or describe:

“In today’s society”… Use instead “Today.”

In this paper I will discuss/show … Just state the point; the reader will know it is “you” and “your” paper.

Weak verbs, especially “go, going, gone/ get, got, gotten, getting”…The latter group shows up frequently in 7th grade writing. Take this as an insult; it is MEANT that way!

The reason is/was because… Due to the fact that… This is especially repulsive and annoying, not to mention wordy.

Overusing “you” , “your” or “you’re”. This is careless. It shows one cannot think of a way to address the audience except by using second-person “you”.

Ambiguous pronoun references, especially “it” and “they”. This is simply not acceptable in argumentative writing.

Cliches and the first phrase that you have heard so often, it immediately comes to mind. One example is ending your paper with “In conclusion…”

Alot (aka a lot of) This is not even a real word but should be two words. “A lot” (or even more horrendous) “A lota” means so many different things to different people that it has no meaning.  Twenty-five pennies is a lot of money to a two-year-old, a fist full.  Give a young adult twenty-five pennies, and he/she will say,  “This isn’t even a quarter… besides they won’t even fit in a vending machine!”

Using “where” incorrectly.  Do not use it to mean “that” (I read in the paper where they’re going to build a new office building downtown. This use sounds like you have  discovered the location of the building. )

The following are often seen in print, but are not standard English usage and are not acceptable for formal writing aimed at an academic audience:

Writers who use “that” referring to people, animals and things. My rule of thumb is to use “who” for people and “that” only for animals and things. “The student that wants to get ahead…” simply is WRONG!  The limb that broke my fall from the tree”… or the puppy that captured my heart”… both are correct.

People who use the term “very unique” are not choosing their words well.  Conventionally, “unique” means “one of a kind”. something cannot be” very one of a kind”.  Choose a different phrase such as  “very original” or  “very special”.  Save “unique” for something that IS one of a kind, the only one in existence.

Believe it or not (If you are a teacher you see it every day.) these errors turn up in every paper in every class.  I usually hand a list of these out the first day, titled PET PEEVES, and inform the students that if they want to please me, their target audience for their papers,  to avoid these pitfalls at all costs.  Even though I circle these errors over and over again each time I collect a set of papers,  I know I will still be circling them when grading final papers.  Sigh…


Sunday (Evening) Post

Finished:  The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant.  What a delicious, thought-provoking read!  Will probably review it here tomorrow. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, a wonderful graphic novel/memoir (reviewed here yesterday) and the Sunday Edition of The Houston Chronicle my Sunday afternoon “guilty pleasure.” A children’s book, Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris , illustrated by Vincent X Kirsch.  I will review this soon; it is special.

Started: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (author of Rules of Civility).  I am only on page 109, the beginning of Book Two and am already asking, “What else has this author written? I want to read more of his stuff soon.”

Looking at next: 25 reviews of chapters of Zinsser’s On Writing Well, which have to be graded by Wednesday.  Since the students had their pick of one of eight chapters, all eight chapters had to be read first (which was a delight). I have been wanting to “get this in” for several semesters now and finally was able to.  I am not complaining but looking forward to grading for a change!

This was a busy week for us all.  Some “good” busy, some not so good.  The cat, Lena, is upset because she seldom has so many people in and out of her house.  A man’s home may be his castle, but so is a cat’s home, especially when the cat is fifteen years old (that’s 79 in human years–it is figured based on chronological  age and the weight of the cat.)

Before I wax philosophical, I’m going to go start those papers.


THE BEST WE COULD DO: A graphic novel/memoir

This unique piece of family history, a debut graphic novel/memoir written and illustrated by Thi Bui was an advance copy I borrowed from a friend’s LFL (Little Free Library).  She often receives books ahead of publication at book conventions and fairs. This book will be published in 2017, and I predict it will educate and inspire many readers.

It tells one family’s story  of its journey from war torn Vietnam to a new home in America.  Bui describes herself in the book’s Preface as “…a product of war.” The writing of the memoir itself is the author’s “…journey of understanding” as she nears the birth of her first child and seeks to understand her mother’s same journey so many times in Vietnam.  In the Preface, she states, “I realized the book was all about parents and children, and it [the title] became The Best We Could Do.”

The illustrative sketches themselves must be commented upon.  When the author is dealing with facts and/or history, the panels are crisp, detailed and strongly drawn.  When she is dealing with memories or perceived, personal history, the drawings are mere sketches, fuzzy-lined, hazy backgrounds.

As the author begins to take on the roles as parent and child simultaneously, her emotions about her new born son intermingle with feelings about the new grandmother, her mother, as well.

It is a touching, fascinating look at a period in history, both ours and Vietnam’s, that is enlightening and moving at the same time, and we agree that Thi Bui’s family did indeed do the best they could do.

Tuesday Teaser//Attn. PWR

Books with a Beat offers a Tuesday Teaser each Tuesday to tempt others to read the book participants are reading.  The instructions are to randomly open a book to a page, run a finger down the page and copy a couple  of sentences from where you are reading, being careful of spoiler alerts.  The reader must also give the title and author, and sometimes I include whether the book is from the library, a book I own (and might be willing to loan out when I finish) etc.

If you write a blog, please include the address of your blog for us to find your Tuesday Teaser on.  THIS IS SOMETHING I WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU (PWR on-line member , friend, first time commenter) PARTICIPATE IN.  Just scroll down until you see the open comment box or click on comments on the left hand side, read others’ comments, and scroll down until you find an open comment/reply box that you can type in.  After you have copied your /Tuesday Teaser into the box, hit post comment. And, voila! You are either there, published or awaiting me to moderate which I will do asap, so your Teaser will be published for all to see.  Perhaps someone will be tempted to read your book! Who will be first to put down her/his Tuesday Teaser.

Here is my Tuesday Teaser from The Thoughtful Dresser  by Linda Grant.

“There are nostalgic items I do not want but do not want to throw away, and there are things that don’t fit, and things that don’t suit me , and things that were always a mistake, and things I meant to wear but didn’t, and the workhorses of my collection…”  Then she gives some examples of these.  Has she been peeking into my closet?  Who knew there was a book about clothes and shopping for them?  It is at the Alvin Library (after me, please, I’m only half way through.

I have a wonderful idea PWR members! Let’s have a clothes exchange like the book exchange we do every so often when we get together. Anybody interested?

Monday Morning Musings

Ok, ok, so it’s afternoon.  We all get a bit behind sometimes, and besides I just fixed the best spicy chicken, black beans, corn , onions, and green chilies tortilla roll-ups for lunch, using up leftover vegetables and giving us an early, well-deserved, healthy lunch.

What I’m musing about today is the fun I have stolen time for to spend on catching up on e-mails and mailings from the blogging world–especially all things bookish and Halloween. The trick or treaters coming tonight are always one of my favorite things of the year.  I love to see the little ones’ costumes with sometimes also dressed up mom and dad taking them into the neighborhood before it is even dark out.  We try to be one of the “good stops” with miniature candy bars, “Yes of course you should take two!” and Skittles, which are always crowd pleasers.  I even enjoy the junior highers who put blood (lots of blood) sweat, tears, and thought into their costumes.  Some will even sweet talk this old grandma-type into giving them more by saying, “Oh, lady you seem so nice; you remind me of my grandma!” Little manipulators!  They are so much fun and that age, and I remember teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth graders for the first twenty of my almost-fifty years of teaching.  I think of them  as my first loves.

Looking forward to reading:  Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  I’ve read such diverse reviews.  I have it on hold at the library.  The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir by Thi But, which I borrowed from a friend’s Little Free Library to read tonight. The morning Houston Chronicle, and several back issues from The New Yorker.  Except for the fiction stories each month, I’ve just about caught up with October’s issues and hope to get a start on November’s. I have the bad habit of wanting to read everything because I seem to get interested in everything.  And, after all…if it’s good enough to be published by The New Yorker…

Checked out from the library:  The Thoughtful Dresser, which I’m enjoying immensely and The Gentleman from Moscow, which I’ve admired the cover of and read ABOUT. It promises to be a very good read.

If I know what’s good for me, I’ll stop musing, clean up the kitchen, and unpack the candy for tonight.


Sunday (Evening) Post

What I am reading:   Not much.  This week has been filled with grading papers, leaving very little time for reading.  I am continuing to read The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, The Pleasures of Shopping and Why Clothes Matter by Linda Grant.  I am taking my time reading one chapter here, another there, making this the perfect pick up and put down book. If I had to make up a title, it would be The Philosophy of Fashions and Shopping for Clothes.

What I am watching:  No time for TV or movies–busy week.

What I want to read soon:  The Trouble With Lexie, a novel by Jessica Anya Blau, The Best We Could Do an illustrated memoir by The Bui (like a graphic novel), and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, which I have checked out from the local library.

I still have a lesson plan to finish for Wednesday and two latest issues of The New Yorker to catch up on, so I will wish you Happy Reading and Goodnight. 

More Serious Reading #2: Another Review

The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas by Anad Giridhardas is the true story I took on as an “assignment”, but it ended up as a good investment of my valuable reading time.  This (2014 published) book was required reading for a friend’s Texas History class, and after visiting the class, I was intrigued with the idea/theme of the book and borrowed his  copy (marked and annotated in the margins).

It is non-fiction and deals with the themes of forgiveness, immigrants in America, and some US citizens’ (over) reactions to the events of 9/11.  There is the story of Raisuddin “Rais” Bhuiyan, the  convenience store clerk from Bangladesh and Mark Stroman, a US citizen of the “redneck” mentality who shot and nearly killed Rais for no reason except that Rais was a Muslim.

The psychology behind the actions of the two men is unique in every respect.  the author gives insights into how Rais proceeded from helpless anger to forgiveness and his desire to teach forgiveness and brotherly love and into how Mark’s background and upbringing probably caused him to react to 9/11 by randomly shooting another human being. The author somehow manages to plant empathy for both men in the hearts of his readers.  He, towards the end, chronicles his own involvement with Rais’s desire to spread his message of forgiveness and Mark’s supporters’ appeals (including those of Rais and death penalty critics) for a stay of execution.  Here’s where the suspense clicks in as the minutes click down to Mark’s execution.

It was a New York Times bestseller, and its reviewer described the book as “seek[ing] less to uplift as to illuminate…” To me it was a rewarding read on several levels, very thought- provoking and opinion-forming.

I would recommend this book to individuals, book clubs, and college classes.

MORE SERIOUS READING (Yes, I do some): A Review

The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell was the Gulf Coast Read for this year.  Several counties on the Gulf Coast all read the same book, discussions and book club meetings are held about that book, and individuals participate in an “everyone has-read-that- book”  atmosphere.  Our Third Tuesday Book Club at the local library selected it as the “assignment” for October as well.

I did not think I wanted to read the book.  In the past, I have always been a reader of novels, especially specializing in debut novels, but as a self-improvement project, I was glad to read this book.

It is the true story of “FDR’s secret prisoner exchange program and America’s only family (italics mine) internment camp during WWII.”  It brings to light the hysteria of Americans against the Germans and Japanese living “among us” in those days, not necessarily a proud time in American history. It also describes the behind-the-scenes, political maneuvering of FDR as he used tactics presumably to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan.

The book tells, in anecdotal form, the stories of two teenage girls, one born to German parents, and one born to Japanese parents, both born here in the United States. It chronicles their eventual exchange and return to war devastated Germany and Japan, respectively, and the toll it had on their adult lives–all stemming from decisions made by their fathers, who had struggles of loyalties and allegiance  to their native countries, Germany and Japan, in spite of their offsprings’ pleas to remain in the only home they had ever known, the US.

The Star Tribune, Minneapolis, describes the book as “…compelling, thought-provoking, and impossible to put down.”  I found this a spot-on description as I read. It is a fine read for book clubs and individuals alike ,and history students will have an eye-opening peek into one of our fairly unknown periods of US history.  Because the camp was located in Crystal City, Texas, its descriptions and information will be of special interest to Texans.

It took me a renewal of the book to finish, and I barely finished by book club meeting day, but I am glad I read The Train to Crystal City.

Monday Morning Musings

In my reading of other blogger’s posts and visiting I did during my feeble attempt at the Dewey’s 24 Hour Marathon this past weekend, I came across one blogger’s meme/item called, “Where Did You Leave Your Bookmark?” (Apologies to the blogger for not writing down her blog address and giving her a “plug” here…)

Reading those words led me to think, “Where is my bookmark, LITERALLY?”  I am constantly losing them, passing them along to someone, bending them in half and making them unattractive and pretty unusable.  So that said, here are some things I frequently use as bookmarks:

  • library date due slips
  • receipts (hopefully only those for cash purposes, for my husband requires charged receipts to use to justify charges on our monthly bill.  He once found a $300 charge at a Sears store in Florida (We live in Texas and have not travelled to Florida) that took months to “straighten out”, but straighten out it did, and we got our $300 credit.
  • recipes (mostly clipped from newspapers conveniently close to where my library book lies)
  • gift book marks  (always welcome)
  • fronts of cards and notes received in the mail with cute kittens, lovely flowers or other pictures that make me smile, both at the picture and remembering the kind friend who sent the card/note

What, friend, are you using for a bookmark?  Do not be like an elderly friend I once had, who after her death, her executor was throwing out old, musty books from her enclosed back porch.  A younger friend of the woman stopped him and said, “Wait, we’d better rifle through the pages first.”  They did, and there was a $2 bill or several of them, a $1 here and there, and even a  few fivers that the dear, older friend had marked her place with!