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Baby Boomer's social commentary on life in OUR sixties for those who rocked life in THE sixties.


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The Price of Illusion exposes flaws in the life of luxury

A popular song from 1969, Where Do You Go To My Lovely (click here to listen) by Peter Sarstedt played in a steady loop in my brain as I was reading The Price of Illusion, a memoir by Joan Juliet Buck:

“You talk like Marlène Dietrich
And you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire
Your clothes are all made by Balmain
And there’s diamonds and pearls in your hair, yes there are

You live in a fancy apartment
Off the Boulevard Saint-Michel
Where you keep your Rolling Stones records
And a friend of Sacha Distel, yes you do. . . ”

Joan Juliet Buck. Been there; done it; got the Chanel bag.

That song, although written long before Joan Juliet Buck embraced the lifestyle it describes, could have been her life. The Price of Illusion, a memoir by the former editor of Paris Vogue is a fascinating read. The story of her childhood drags a bit in the beginning but picks up when she becomes a young woman and begins her peripatetic transcontinental life. Buck was the silver spoon only child of Hollywood producer Jules Buck who was responsible for such memorable films as Lawrence of Arabia and Goodbye Mr. Chips starring newly discovered Peter O’Toole. She lived a transcontinental lifestyle in Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles, spending much of her childhood in Ireland at the home of her godfather, John Huston. There, she formed a life-long friendship with his daughter Angelica.

Moving in such illustrious circles obviously positions her to name-drop many famous people in the worlds of entertainment, politics and business. At first I found this off-putting but soon I was enjoying the rare first-hand insights into a world of wealth, glamour and superficiality. I learned the high life is not all glamour and glory. While Buck was an enthusiastic participant in all forms of pleasure, her highest highs were achieved while overseeing the rebirth of Paris Vogue from its traditional, staid format to a more edgy, avant garde publication. Under her stewardship in the nineties, the magazine doubled its readership and appeal.

Paris Vogue presented itself as being all things representative of French women.

Buck is an excellent writer and her brutal honesty combine to produce a wonderful read. I was halfway through the book before reaching her Vogue years but it was worth the wait. Being close friends with such icons as Yves St. Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Charlotte Rampling, Lauren Bacall and Angelica Huston, Buck transports us into worlds we would otherwise never be able to access. Like any human being, her life is composed of extreme highs and correspondingly debilitating lows. When she was sabotaged by a business associate at Paris Vogue and sent to rehab on false charges of addiction, her life unravelled. Losing her job along with its corresponding salary and benefits meant she could no longer support her ailing father. No matter how charmed one’s life may seem, no one escapes pain, loss or disappointment, even the privileged.

The Price of Illusion is obviously the story of a woman who lived most of her life in a superficial haze of privilege. As a life-long journal keeper and a keen observer of human nature, Joan Juliet Buck treats us to a view of the glamorous life that undoes many of our misconceptions. Her recollections and challenges along the way make for a fascinating read. As someone retired from the corporate world, I found the business and political challenges she encountered along the way to be particularly interesting, especially since I plan to be a magazine editor in my next life. Although I was unsure I would enjoy the book when I first began reading, I was soon swept up in the excitement of a life lived in realms beyond what any ordinary person would ever experience. And, ultimately, that’s the essence and joy of reading. I escaped into another world and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.

To order The Price of Illusion by Joan Juliet Buck from Amazon, click here.

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Visit Paris with Jojo Moyes

When I read best-selling Me Before You by British author Jojo Moyes last year, I enjoyed it although I can’t say it was one of my favourite books. I thought it was a bit over-rated. When I came across Paris For One and Other Stories by the same author I couldn’t resist—anything with Paris in the title automatically goes on my ‘to read’ list.

The main character Nell is a twenty-something single Londoner with a lost-cause boyfriend and a boring life. Controlled by an overriding sense of caution about everything in her life, she decides to venture outside her comfort zone. With a bonus she earned at work, she impulsively books two tickets on the Eurostar train for a romantic weekend in Paris for her and her boyfriend. When he stands her up, she finds herself for the first time in her life in the city of light, frightened at the prospect of nothing to do for three days. Tempted to return immediately to London, she decides to confront her fears and steps out on her own. As a reluctant single woman eating alone in a Paris café,  she soon eases into the life of food, wine and new experiences.

The story has a happy ending despite bumps along the way. For anyone who likes to read romantic fiction, this book is a winner. Even the number of pages (188 on my e-reader) conforms with the fictional romance novella formula. To be fair though, I’m not a fan of romantic fiction and I didn’t even finish the “Other Stories”. . I’m just glad I read it from the library and didn’t pay good money for it. However, if you enjoy romantic fiction, you’ll enjoy Paris For One & Other Stories.

To order Paris for One & Other Stories by Jojo Moyes from Amazon.com, click here.

To order Me Before You by Jojo Moyes from Amazon.com, click here.

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Life in Russia is complex beyond words

It’s so satisfying to become engrossed in a big fat book you really enjoy. The Patriots by Russian-born author Sana Krasikov more than satisfied my current passion for historical fiction by Russian authors. The main character Florence Fein is a Jewish intellectual who grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1930s. Educated and adventuresome, Florence becomes enamoured with communist philosophy while working for a left-wing organization when she finishes college. After falling in love with a Russian engineer visiting on a state-sponsored mission, she sets sail for Russia in hopes of finding him and building a new life in the land of her naive dreams.

Rejected by her Russian lover, Florence moves on and her language skills allow her to work in her new country. Despite the hardships endured by common working people like Florence during the Stalin years, she embraces her new culture and pursues her ideals. The story moves back and forth between her early years in Russia and the year 2008 when her American son and grandson are confronted with the consequences of her choices.

The story provides an informed look inside the daily lives of ordinary Russian citizens under Stalin. The purges, deprivations and injustices force people to live in a state of constant fear. The slightest infraction or even perceived misinterpretation of ever-changing philosophy could result in imprisonment in a labour camp in Siberia, or more likely death. Florence tries vainly to play by the rules. She marries, has a child and works at whatever job she is given in order to maintain a degree of equilibrium in her life. Despite intermittent spells of homesickness, she remains loyal to the communist ideology, even after the government confiscates her American passport and she becomes an unwilling Soviet citizen.

Like many multi-generational sagas, the story circles from Moscow back to New York where her son and his family choose to immigrate as a result of being denied his doctoral degree because of quotas against Jews. Florence is a complicated woman, made more so by the challenges of trying to stay alive and live a simple life in Russia. It’s difficult for North Americans to imagine living under the pressures and stresses of a society built around intimidation, constant surveillance, corruption and lies (although we’re learning). The plot of the story is fascinating in itself, but the psychological examination of the characters adds an even deeper layer to the narrative. As much as I loved the book, I was sorry to finish and leave behind the characters in whom I’d become so invested. I highly recommend The Patriots. I’d give it a nine out of ten.

To order The Patriots by Sana Krasikov from Amazon, click here.

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How many e-readers are too many?

To E or not to E?

At the present time, in addition to being a voracious reader of hardcopy books, magazines and newspapers, I juggle several e-readers to meet my daily needs. Just like computer nerds who have multiple monitors flashing with activity on their desks, it takes several devices to satisfy my lust for the written word. The rationale compares to having multiple pairs of black shoes or a variety of purses (Boomer women can relate). Sometimes you like the comfy rubber soled walkers and other times you prefer the stack-em high stilettos that forsake comfort and performance for attitude.

I’ve been known to shoot smart phone users the evil eye as they thumb their devices in the company of friends at lunch or dinner. I’ve indiscreetly suggested that friends leave them in their purses when we’re lunching or catching up over a cup of tea. I rarely use my own cell phone and quickly become impatient with people who are constantly fiddling with theirs. But try to separate me from my iPad and I’d immediately suffer the DTs. I must confess, though, that I still prefer to read the newspaper in old-fashioned hard copy spread out on my kitchen table. With so many newspapers, magazines and other print publications being threatened with extinction, we have a responsibility to support print publication as much as possible. I’m certainly doing my bit with eighteen subscriptions per month.

Some British mags are just too delicious to wait for the hard copy, so e-subscriptions fit the bill

Since reading is my favourite thing in the world to do, I have totally embraced the digital world which offers unlimited access to nearly every word ever written. As the owner of two Kindles, two iPads and one Kobo I’m always just arm’s length from accessing my current library book, reference book or favourite British magazine that takes too long to reach our shores in hard copy.

A friend recently emailed to ask my opinion on the best e-reader as he was contemplating buying one. Since I’ve owned five, he felt I was somewhat qualified to have an informed opinion. My answer was the iPad mini because of its light weight and versatility. But that’s subjective and I certainly don’t want to diminish the merits and joy of reading on Kindle, Kobo or old-fashioned hardcover books. It’s just that e-readers have greatly reduced my burgeoning inventory of books needing literal shelf space and have saved me a ton of money by downloading from the public library or on-line retailers. E-readers are unbeatable for loading up several books when traveling. They’re convenient for carrying in your purse for a quick read while gobbling a burger and fries at Five Guys, or while getting a pedicure. There are so many options available. Take your pick but I highly recommend picking at least one. The way I read it, the more the merrier.

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The Sense of an Ending ends with a twist

How would you react to receiving a letter or other communication from someone you were intimate with in the swinging sixties or early seventies and lost track of decades ago? And what if that communication required a face-to-face meeting, after all these years? Imagine the emotions that would be ignited. That intriguing premise is the basis for a book by Julian Barnes called The Sense of an Ending. What prompted me to read the book was a review in The New York Times. The reviewer was so impressed with the story that as soon as he finished, he immediately started at the beginning to read it again. I can’t say that was my response but I did enjoy it enormously.

At around two hundred pages, The Sense of an Ending is a quick, easy read. When I first started reading, the main character, Anthony Webster reminded me of Holden Caulfield. The story begins in the early sixties with the friendship of three schoolboys in England whose dynamic is altered by the later introduction of a fourth boy, Adrian. When they go off to different universities, they maintain a tentative friendship but their lives naturally begin to follow divergent paths. We follow Tony Webster’s journey through the changes generated early in the sexual revolution. We observe his struggles and confusion with “the meaning of life” which was a popular concern of boomers. Then, suddenly, he’s in his seventies and receives a solicitor’s letter informing him he’s been named as the beneficiary of a minor settlement in the will of the mother of an old girlfriend from university.

The emotional struggles, the mystery surrounding the endowment and the confrontations that result profoundly affect Tony Webster’s entire philosophy of life. I won’t divulge the plot and its twists as I really think you should experience the book first-hand. Baby boomers will relate to the subtleties of morals, ambitions and social relationships we experienced and will find the book particularly interesting. But it’s also a kind of mystery story with a plot twist that makes the entire book worth reading.

Click here to order The Sense of an Ending from Amazon.com

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How much is enough?

How much more do we really need when we have each other?

The other day my friend Margaret commented “I have enough.” She said that there’s nothing in life she wants or needs that she does not already have. That observation is profound and got me thinking. Now that baby boomers have reached the stage in life where we are retired, semi-retired or close to retiring, we have time for reflection, and that is a wonderful luxury. We no longer have to drag our tired bodies out of a warm bed on a cold morning and sit in grid-locked traffic to serve the master. For wont of nothing, we have enough.

We’re gradually off-loading our crap gathered over years of consumerism to accommodate moves into smaller living quarters and generally simplifying our lives. I remember when I thought my life would be complete if I just had that one special item, perhaps a certain pair of shoes or a new sofa. Going back even further, remember when we longed for enough money to make a down payment on our first home or pay off our car loan? Think of all the stuff we’ve hauled off to Goodwill or just thrown out after we got tired of it or no longer had room for it in our cluttered, busy lives. What I wouldn’t give to have that money in my bank account now. We’ve all made financial mistakes over the years; that’s how we learn. The most important thing we’ve learned now that we’re at that special age when we do have time to reflect is that happiness is not about things. It’s about sharing life with those we love and being grateful that we have enough to eat, are warm and sheltered and live in a country that values caring for and about each other.

Margaret found the realization that she has enough to be very empowering and was inspired by reading David Chilton’s recent book The Wealthy Barber Returns.  “It was like a light coming on to finally recognize that I do have enough and allowed me to see everything differently, to relax, enjoy, be grateful and live in the moment” she said. Although I’ve personally not read the book yet (it’s on my list), I did read David Chilton’s original The Wealthy Barber when it was first published more than twenty years ago.

Most boomers are finally where we want to be in life and are happy that most of the stress is behind us, as long as our health holds up. Margaret makes entries in her gratitude journal every night which is something I also used to do and found incredibly uplifting. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and reflect on the gifts that surround us already. Today I took an early morning picture of the pond behind our house. It was as still and clear as a mirror reflecting the surrounding trees and birds walking along the shoreline. I never tire of my morning pot of tea while reading the paper. When I first started blogging almost four years ago, I posted an essay The age of acquisition about appreciating these and other simple pleasures. That’s more than enough for me and for that I am truly grateful.

Click here to read The age of acquisition . . . too much of a good thing.

Click here to order The Wealthy Barber Returns from Amazon

Click here to order The Wealthy Barber from Amazon

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Is there a reward for Crime and Punishment?

There should be some kind of award for accomplishing items on your bucket list. Surely we’re entitled to a pair of new shoes for losing twenty pounds or treating ourselves to a spa day for running a marathon. That’s exactly how I’m feeling after having just finished reading Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky. Believe it or nor, reading that book was on my bucket list and I did it. Many of us have lists that includes such pleasures as visiting Paris in the springtime, writing a best-selling novel or hitting a hole-in-one. Perhaps our ambitions are as mundane as cleaning out the junk in the basement or finally paying off our Visa bill. That surely deserves a dinner out, paid for in cash of course. Not everything on our bucket list is necessarily pleasurable but it should be rewarding. For me, reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment was one of those things.

The obvious question is why would I subject myself to such brutality? It’s simple. Like someone running a marathon or climbing a mountain, it was there and demanded to be done. As an inveterate reader I felt challenged to add more classic Russian literature to my repertoire. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment kept dangling across my field of vision as a goal to be achieved. To complete my troika of classic Russian authors (having also read Tolstoy) I’m now reading Anton Chekov”s Sakhalin Island, but I’ll tell you more about that in a future posting.

I’m certainly not an academic and my take on Crime and Punishment is purely that of an amateur, but overall, I rather enjoyed it. I loved occupying the minds and lifestyles of people who lived in St. Petersburg one hundred and fifty years ago. The characters’ names in Russian literature are always challenging to follow as their names take many forms and are constantly switched about. For instance, the main character’s name has several variations: Raskolnikov, Rodion, Rodka, Rody, Romanovich, (not unlike our treatment of David as Dave, Davey or David) and all the characters names have similar variations which can be confusing.

Raskolnikov is a poor, starving university dropout who, during a period of melancholy and illness, murders a local money-lender and her half-sister during a robbery. The plot takes second place to the psychological study of Raskolnikov’s motives and rationale for committing the crime. The dilemma is relevant and worth considering. Using Napoleon as his moral compass, Raskolnikov attempts to rationalize murder as an acceptable action when committed for the higher good. If leaders of countries can justify war and killing to conquer foreign lands and defeat so-called enemies, how could a simple student be wrong in murdering an evil loan shark, despised by everyone? This premise is eerily relevant in view of the current political situation in our world today. When is killing justifiable and when is it murder? Is it ever justifiable?

Sometime we've just plain earned it.

Sometimes we’ve just plain earned it.

It was a slow and tedious but worthwhile read. The thing I enjoyed most about the book was what I also enjoyed about Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The minute detail about daily life in Russia transported me to a time and place I will never experience. Graphic descriptions of apartments, rooming houses, the clothing worn by ordinary Russians, conversations in period dialogue that reflect the thoughts, philosophy, sense of humour and worries of the characters was rich and evocative. Now that I have Crime and Punishment under my belt, I’m seriously contemplating tackling Ulysses by James Joyce, but I’m in no hurry. In the meantime I think at the very least I’ve earned a DQ Blizzard or something equally decadent. Don’t you agree?

Click here to order Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky from Amazon.

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