Ivy Style

9780300170559Ivy Style is a work published by the Yale University Press describing a very particular style of clothes and dressing that was all the rage in the mid-20th century. Ivy style itself is something that most people would recognise on sight, but would be hard-pressed to describe beyond being ‘preppy’. It came out of American college campuses, generally in the Ivy League, and was extensively catalogued in the seminal Japanese work Take Ivy. Think lots of chinos, blazers, loafers, button-down collars and sweaters and you’re getting close. There have been many attempts to catalogue and extensively describe the Ivy look, and it’s hard to find a book that doesn’t at least do a halfway decent job, but Ivy Style has some of the best writing and photographic work that I’ve seen in a work on the subject.

There has been much written about the printing of this book – the typesetting, in particular. There are many complaints that the font is too small and printed in a light grey colour that makes it difficult to differentiate from the background, but I haven’t found this to be the case: you simply need to read it in the correct light. Even with this caveat, I’ve read this book by some pretty dim bedside lighting and not found myself straining my eyes. Of course, black type would be the ideal choice, but ultimately this is a pretty minor quibble.

When it comes to the quality of writing, there is some true insight to be gleaned from the various essays and pieces compiled in this book: a variety of writers have brought their ideas on Ivy fashion to the table, whether describing it in its native location on the 40s, 50s and 60s American college campus or detailing how this style of dressing has been disseminated throughout modern fashion trends and Western society as a whole.

It’s interesting to read some pieces in this book that revolve around non-American countries’ adopting of Ivy style and fashion, and consider how it could be seen as a reflection of the Westernisation of the rest of the world. Ivy Style truly makes one consider how such an Anglo-centric style that was particular to a fairly specific subset of American society became such an influence on other societies with very little in common with your average mid-20th century US fraternity member. Worth a read, definitely.

 

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang

bkcover-hpIf you are at all interested in hip hop or rap, then this book is an absolute must-read. Even if you have a fleeting interest in American culture in the last half of the twentieth century, then Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is a great way to examine it. It’s hard to discount how much of an impact rap music and culture has had on American modern culture – and that of the world, and this book works wonders to describe how it all started and how this form of music, art and expression has coloured a great deal of the world’s culture, industry and societal norms for years.

Jeff Chang melds the world of music journalism with general cultural criticism and historical discussion beautifully. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop describes the New York of the 70s and 80s in a way that gives an excellent and vivid backdrop to how rap music came about, and also gives readers who are not particularly well-versed in the intricacies of American politics and society a quick lesson in the societal factors that formed rap. As much as some would like to forget it, politics were vital in how a lot of rap music was created and how the form progressed, so the attention paid to political and societal factors in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is justified, in my opinion.

As a narrative, the book works well – there is a little unevenness in how some periods and events are described, but if there was to be a truly exhaustive account of the creation of rap music, it would be essentially unreadable, particularly since rap as an art form became so widely disseminated and spread. Chang gives a generally impartial, but at times fiery and impassioned, look at America in general to push this work forward. There are plenty of interviews and quotes from primary sources that lend much flavour and anecdotal interest to how the book plays out, and it truly does feel part of a cohesive whole.

It’s clear from the work how much research Chang has put into the book: one needs simply to look at the list of sources and references. This is a vital and important book for anyone interested in modern music, generally – it’s impossible to deny how much music nowadays owes to rap music in all of its forms.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

AWizardOfEarthseaFantasy is one genre of fiction that many people shy away from, but almost every problem people have with fantasy is addressed in the Earthsea series. Ursula Le Guin provides a much-needed female perspective on traditional fantasy tropes and works against the generally male-oriented and male-constructed world of fantasy writing. There isn’t much sword-clanging and the like to be found here: simply the construction of a vivid, interesting world, filled with characters you care about and can actually tell apart.

A Wizard of Earthsea describes the early life of the main character, Ged, who becomes a talented wizard. There is much, much more to it than this, but this is really all you need to know: the simplicity and ease at which Le Guin eases into her narrative is something to behold. There is a really open feel to this entire work, which makes one feel as though they really are travelling with the characters throughout a world with plenty of open space – moreso than other works like The Lord of the Rings, which I found to be overly consumed with attention to detail and less concerned with telling a story.

The plot moves along at an excellent pace and never seems to flag or get caught up in its own details, and the focus on a single character is an excellent decision. The character of Ged is expressive and interesting enough to carry an entire book without needing the common fantasy device of a wisecracking band of travellers – not to say that the tone of the book is entirely serious and dour, which, again, is an all-too-common experience in fantasy literature. There are plenty of opportunities for the book to become mired down in drama, but this does not happen: there is simply apt and well-written description of events, relationships and happenings that entice the reader to read further.

There are plenty of plot devices in this book to be found in many other works: in fact, the idea of an academy for wizards and mages is something that Harry Potter owes a lot to. This work can be read by old and young alike, and has that magical quality of really transporting the reader to another world. It’s definitely a worthwhile read and should be sought out by everybody, even those without a real taste for fantasy.