Reading to Reels: Handmade Nation

handmade-nation-dvd-lgSeveral years ago, my friend Kristine and I got to see the documentary of Handmade Nation at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I wrote a review of the book of the same name, now I have a review of the movie. Enjoy!

Handmade Nation is the brainchild of Faythe Levine, a local indie crafter, musician, entrepreneur and film maker. Levine, who has been involved in the DIY art, craft and design scene for years, wanted to find others who shared her passion. She traveled throughout the United States to interview talented, passionate, creative and inspiring men and women who shun the homogenized mass-produced for something handmade and personal.

Handmade Nation grabs you from the opening credits where stop-motion animation shows the creation of handmade embroidered graphics. And throughout the just over an hour-long film, we visit crafters in places like Austin, Chicago, New York, and yes, my hometown, Milwaukee. We meet them at their personal work places and at craft fairs. We meet them in galleries and in garages. Some of them make a living doing their crafts, and others work bread and butter jobs while selling their wares on places like

But one thing binds them, passion, and it is this passion that makes Handmade Nation so absorbing. In the film we meet a young woman who is setting up her wares the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago. We meet the guys behind Buy Olympia, a one-stop shopping website for independently made products. One crafter designs erotic hook rug patterns, and another creates embroidered pictures of objects like sushi and celebrities like Loretta Lynn. Seeing one crafter create glass beads and another create intricately cut paper cut-outs was riveting. I really admire both their artistry and devotion to their craft. I was thrilled to see JW and Melissa Buchanan from Little Friends of Printmaking. As Imentioned in my book review of Handmade Nation, the three of us toiled together at Discovery World. And Levine pulls a major coup in getting an interview with one of my she-roes, Debbie Stoller, the founder and editor-in-chief of Bust and the goddess behind the Stitch and Bitch books.

These crafters got into their work for a multitude of reasons. Many of them were put off by the mass-produced stuff they found at places like Wal-Mart. Some of them wanted to make a living out of something they loved to do. Many of them expressed interest in supporting fellow crafters and artisans. But so many of them do it because it’s so much fun. They can look at their work and say, “I created this. This is mine.” Crafting very empowering. For me personally, making my own soap is more about making something that will keep me clean. It’s about experimenting with scents and colors and making something uniquely my own. And when I cut my soap into smaller bars, and none of the sizes are perfectly uniform, it’s okay. Imperfection is part of the charm of crafting.

When Handmade Nation was over, Kristine and I could not stop talking about how inspiring it was. Every once in a while Kristine and I have “crafternoons” where we drink wine, watch a DVD, and yes, make crafts.

But I don’t think you have to be a crafter to get something out of Handmade Nation. I think anyone who appreciates artistry and creativity will like this charming documentary.

Retro Review: Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown

sex and the single girlNot so long ago, if a gal wasn’t married by the time she was in her early twenties she considered a pitiful, washed-up spinster. Helen Gurley Brown thought this was a load of hogwash, and told young women to embrace single hood and have the time of their lives. And she wrote all about it in her ground-breaking, and back in the early sixties, quite scandalous book Sex and the Single Girl.

There is a chance you aren’t familiar with Helen Gurley Brown. However, you are probably aware of the magazine she ran for several decades—Cosmopolitan. She was highly responsible for making Cosmopolitan the huge success it is to this day. And she did it by convincing readers there is more to life than getting a wedding ring on your finger and changing poopy diapers.

I’m not the biggest Cosmopolitan fan. On my coffee table are magazines like Bust, Martha Stewart Living, and The Nation. But I always appreciated how Ms. Gurley Brown (who didn’t marry til later in life and never had children of her own) told readers that men are wonderful, but not all that life to offers. Women should have fulfilling lives that include careers, entertaining, hobbies, and a fun social life.

Now in 2015 this advice is hardly earth-shattering, but in the pre-feminist days, when the Pill was in its infancy (yes, pun intended) and women thought college was a way to get an MRS degree, Gurley Brown’s outrageous talk was truly revolutionary.

I picked up Sex and the Single Girl at my local library not knowing what to expect. Would it be salacious and dirty or would it offer some smart and useful advice? Well, Sex and the Single Girl was probably considered pretty darn salacious and dirty when it was published in 1962. But today it offers pretty darn good advice that wouldn’t look out of place in any current lady mag or any self-help book endorsed by Oprah.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In Sex and the Single Girl, Ms. Gurley Brown still thinks it’s very important the ladies get a man. Marriage is a good goal for any girl. She even has no qualms about girls dating married men or having affairs with one’s male co-workers. Needless to say, I’m not exactly thrilled with this advice. And I’m not exactly thrilled with how she views other women as competition and adversaries, not as a much needed support system. I know I couldn’t make it without my girlfriends.

On men, Ms. Gurley Brown discusses several types, the dreamboat (aka Mr. Right or maybe Mr. Right Now), the eligibles but who needs them type of men (guys who are dull, creepy or just completely hopeless), and the Don Juan, who today we’d call a Man Whore (guys who are exciting, but will tear your heart to shreds). Other types of men Ms. Gurley Brown discusses are the homosexuals, the divorcees, the younger men and the married men. Ms. Gurley Brown is a bit offensive when she refers to homosexual men as basically “girls” and I didn’t like how she encouraged readers to date married men. Plus, nothing wrong with guys who are divorced or younger than you. You can find Mr. Right in these demographics.

Beyond that, I actually liked a lot of what Ms. Gurley Brown advises in Sex and the Single Girl. She told women that having a job is a good thing and to embrace financial independence. She told women to get passionate about work for everything from the sense of accomplishment it could give you to the access of the men you could meet.

She told women to be financially savvy, discover what works for you fashion-wise, decorate your apartment to suit your taste and budget, learn how to entertain (and the book includes recipes), and to travel the world. She also told women to embrace fitness and good eating habits, even extolling the virtues of health food stores. You don’t have to wait until Mrs. is in front of your name. Do these things now!

And guess what ladies? Ms. Gurley Brown also told women you don’t need Mrs. in front of your name to embrace your sexuality and have an enriching erotic love life. Now this is hardly controversial today, but in the early sixties is was quite shocking. I’m sure some uptight pearl clutchers claimed, “Why should a man buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?” To which I’m sure Ms. Gurley Brown thought, “Why buy the pig when all you want is a little sausage?”

Certain aspects of Sex and the Single Girl are quite out-dated (and some of it offensive), and at times I found Ms. Gurley Brown’s writing style to verge on total purple prose (however, I do want to insert “pippy-poo” into my every day vernancular). However, like with any self-help book, Sex and the Single Girl is one to take with a grain of salt (and a bit of tequila). A lot of Ms. Gurley Brown’s advice is spot-on, which makes Sex and the Single Girl a fun and vital read even in 2015.


Book Marks

bookmarkIt’s easier to be a writer when someone else has the money to pay the bills.

Good news and bad news for brick and mortar stores in the age of digital.

Considering writing a memoir? Here are some tips on how to write about your family (and still have them talk to you).

If you are thinking of starting a book club, here are some dos and don’ts you might want to consider.

Libraries-Books and so much more!

Book Review: Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl

Handmade NationYears ago, if you would have asked me to go to a craft fair, I would have laughed. Why would I want to go to a craft fair? Weren’t craft fairs filled with crocheted toilet cozies and gingham-clad rag dolls made by blue-haired grannies? That wasn’t my scene. Well, my attitude changed when I attended my first Art vs. Craft Fair here in Milwaukee in 2006. I was overwhelmed by the multitude of interesting and creative crafts made by young men and women (some with blue hair). I was so impressed by the T-shirts, candles, jewelry, toys, journals, knitwear and assorted artistic items. I bought a few things, and talked to the crafters about their wares. Crafting to them wasn’t just a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon; it was a calling.

Art vs. Craft was the brain child of Milwaukee crafter, musician, documentary film maker and boutique owner, Faythe Levine. And along with Cortney Heimerl, Ms. Levine has written the book Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design. In Handmade Nation, Levine and Heimerl interviewed various crafters throughout the United States and tells their stories in the crafters’ own words. The crafters make everything from jewelry to toys to clothing. Some of the crafters are able to support themselves through their work while others have regular day jobs and work on their projects in their spare time. In the essays, the crafters explain how they came to crafting and why they create. And they don’t just describe the nuts and bolts of crafting, they describe the philosophy behind their work. Many of the crafters profiled said they got into crafts not only for the creative aspect, but because its also an escape from the generic and mass-produced. There is more joy in purchasing something unique at a craft fair than the same-old thing at the mall.

Crafting is also a community, with many crafters talking about the support they receive from other crafters, sharing ideas and advice about all aspects of crafting. The crafters profiled aren’t just funky artistic types; they’re also business people, organizing craft fairs and setting up their own shops on And I’m happy to say that I know two of the people profiled in Handmade Nation, JW and Melissa Buchanan from Little Friends of Printmaking. JW and Melissa have been designing art posters for years and they also teach how to create silk screen prints. I was fortunate to work with them at Milwaukee’s Discovery World where they ran the print lab and I was a copywriter. To see two such talented people profiled in Handmade Nation is quite a thrill.

Aesthetically, Handmade Nation is wonderfully designed. The photographs lovingly capture the crafters’ themselves, their work and their workspaces. The words give life to what each person profiled creates. I also liked the hand-drawn timeline of the DIY crafting scene. Not only is the timeline charmingly drawn, it’s also very informative. Even after I was finished with this book, I found myself looking through it again and again. Sure, I was jealous of the huge workspace some of the crafters had. It can be a bit toiling and trying to make my soap and other bath products in my tiny kitchen. But mostly I felt inspired to do more crafting, and not just making bath soap. Now I just have to get some of my crafting supplies more organized and figure out what I want to create. My brain is filled with possibilities.

Still, Handmade Nation left me wanting more. I wanted to learn more about the crafters and other crafters throughout the United States. And Handmade Nation isn’t just a book; it’s also a documentary. *

In the end, Handmade Nation is an excellent primer on the world of crafting and DIY projects, and an interesting read for both crafting veterans and crafting novices.

* I was fortunate to see this documentary when it was shown at the Milwaukee Art Museum a few years ago, and I will post a review of it shortly.

Brag Book

271040d6a7385ecf726f6cb706a1294fI decided to send Linda Tirado the link of my review of her book “Hand to Mouth” and she loved it.

In her email back to me, Tirado wrote:
“You know? People rarely tell me when they review or mention me. That’s really awesome of you, thanks!”

Tirado’s response, is short but sweet. And I greatly appreciate it. I can’t wait to find out what she has up next!

Book Review: Hand to Mouth-Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

Hand to mouthIn the fall of 2013 an online message board asked its members why are so many poor people so self-destructive? Why do they make such crappy decisions? One such member, a self-described poor person named Linda Tirado decided to answer this question in an essay called “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or Poverty Thoughts.”

Tirado’s brutally honest essay went viral and kicked up a storm of thoughts (some not so nice) about poor people’s moral fiber, work ethic, family values and even their sex lives. Tirado caught the attention of online publications like the Huffington Post and people like Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote about going undercover as a member of the working poor and documented her experiences in the seminal book Nickel and Dimed. Tirado became both a celebrated and derided Internet celebrity. Her notoriety helped her raise funds so she could write further about her experiences as a member of the working poor. The result is her brutally honest book: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.

It’s not exactly a shock that people have their opinions, ideas and misconceptions about the poor in America. For some conservatives, the poor are lazy, uneducated, and amoral. They have lots of out-of-wedlock babies with multiple partners, and often continue to have children so they can get more benefits. They spend their welfare checks on designer clothes and expensive electronics; and their food stamps on steak, lobster, cigarettes and booze. The poor would rather sit on their butts watching “Jerry Springer” than get a job.

And to be honest, some liberals aren’t much better when it comes to viewing the poor. They might not view their less-than-privileged brothers and sisters as welfare scum out the cheat hard-working, tax paying American citizens. But far too many liberals view the poor in ways that are both paternalistic and condescending. They think they know what is best to help the poor, not realizing that there is not one size fits all solution.

To these conservatives and liberals, Linda Tirado would probably like to say, “Fuck you.”

In Hand to Mouth, Tirado doesn’t claim to speak for every other poor person out there. However, she does speak and boy, does she have a story to tell.

Tirado didn’t grow up poor. Her family was middle class and she even attended a pricy boarding school on scholarship. After high school graduation, she went to college, later dropping out because at the time she didn’t have the maturity to handle college life. However, she did return to her studies when she was older. She also admits to being estranged from her family for a while.

Tirado has always worked, often working more than one job at a time. She worked a lot of restaurant jobs, mostly waiting on tables, bartending, and at times managing restaurants. With an interest in politics Tirado also worked on various political campaigns. Sadly, these jobs, despite requiring a strong work ethic, experience, skill, smarts and talent, didn’t exactly bring in the money and benefits. Tirado often worked at these jobs because at times they were the only gigs she could get and she needed jobs that worked with her college studies.

While working in these low wage jobs, Tirado was merely a cog in the machine, and she writes eloquently and with biting candor about some of the humiliation she and her co-workers faced on a daily basis. They included being harassed by upper management, denied raises and promotions unless they provided sexual favors, having to ask permission to go use the bathroom and having their bags and purses searched for any stolen goods they may want to take home. Tirado was often forced to change shifts on very short notice, which sometimes conflicted with school and any other job she might be working.

Going to school? Working more than one job? So much for the no work ethic the poor are supposed to have.

Tirado laments about the low pay, the crappy hours, the day-to-day drudgery and the bad management she had to endure, but what really got under her skin was how devalued she felt as a human being. Or as she puts it: “Nobody is interested in our thoughts, opinions or the contributions we might be able to make—they want robots.” When dealing with people working in the service industry, Tirado behooves the reader to be nice to them, treat them with respect, and ask them intelligent questions. This can really go a long way of making service workers feel valued.

Other than her time in the survival jobs trenches, Tirado writes about her experiences as a wife and mother of two children. Yes, a lot of poor women have spouses and their children are born in holy wedlock. Tirado’s husband is a former member of the military. They did not have children to get more benefits; they had their children because they desired to have children, just like any well-to-do couple. And just like a lot of parents out there, Tirado makes sure her kids know their manners, are educated and eat their veggies. Yes, poor people are good parents, too.

However, Tirado doesn’t fail to mention how the poor live is scrutinized and judged much more harshly than those of more considerable means. Not surprisingly, it is the poor people’s sex lives that are the most scrutinized the most. Sure, some Wall Street titan can frequent high-priced call girls and a millionaire rock star can bang a bunch of groupies, but Heaven forbid someone who isn’t flush with cash enjoy a little horizontal sweaty. Tirado admits she often had sex simply because she wanted to feel close to someone and sex feels good. What a harlot!

And Tirado is quite honest on other ways where she doesn’t exactly measure up to virtuous standards. For one, thing, she smokes. Yes, a filthy and disgusting habit that may end up killing her. And how dare she waste her money on those cancer sticks! Tirado knows fully well how bad smoking is for her health and her wallet, But sometimes a quick drag on a cigarette is what gave Tirado an extra bolt of energy to keep on working.

Tirado admits she sometimes she other bad decisions, too. She has often bought crappy items that soon fall apart because they are cheaper and at the time she can’t invest in better quality items. She often ate horrid processed foods, not because she was too lazy to cook, but because her apartment at the time lacked the amenities to cook a good, nutritious meal. And instead of saving money, she often spent it because she thought she might not have access to extra cash ever again.

Now besides having casual sex, smoking and bad spending habits, what else did Tirado do inspire derision? Well, she also spent some time on WIC and food stamps. WIC made sure she got the nutrients she needed when pregnant and food stamps helped keep her family got fed. Tirado makes no apology for needing these benefits, and she shouldn’t have to. We spend a lot less of our tax dollars on individual welfare than corporate welfare, but that’s another book.

Tirado also had her share of unfortunate events that suck for any well-off person, but were absolutely devastating to someone of Tirado’s economic station. She was in a horrible car accident in her younger years, which knocked out a bunch of her teeth. And while pregnant, her apartment was completely damaged by a flood; she lost nearly all of her possessions. It’s hard enough to deal with these when you make good money, but when you’re poor, these things can destroy you.

And then there people who should have helped Tirado the most, but were often the most dismissive and condescending like the dentist who accused her of being on crystal meth because of her messed up teeth or various social works who treated her rudely or ignored her plight. The section of the book where Tirado explains the frustration of trying to get the state of Ohio to stop her food stamp benefits because her family was moving to Utah was especially exasperating.

At the end of Hand to Mouth, Tirado writes an open letter to rich people where she snarks on them for their expensive titanium strollers, their insane drive to make sure their kids get into the right pre-school and their obsession with anti-bacterial hand gels. Sure, she stereotypes the rich a bit, but it’s only fair considering poor people get stereotyped all the time.

Hand to Mouth is a provocative read, and at times, very difficult. Tirado isn’t necessarily likable. Some readers will find her whiny and obstinate. And many others will be put off by the many swear words Tirado drops in the pages of this book. There are also naysayers out there who are questioning Tirado’s story, thinking a lot of it is made up.

Do I believe Tirado? Do I believe the naysayers? Right now I’m holding my judgment. I do think the stories of the working poor need to be known and considered without derision and with more a little more compassion. I’m sure there are members of the working poor who can relate to Hand to Mouth, but perhaps so can the professional class, especially in an era of stagnant and falling wages, at-will employment, excessive CEO pay and out-sourcing of jobs.

Hand to Mouth is not a perfect book, but it is needed and will probably be a book that will be read and debated for a long time.



Book Marks

Je Suis CharlieDarling readers. I was hoping to have a book review up by today, but due to a bit of a head cold, I put that on hold. Hopefully, I will be feeling better soon and have it up next week. Enjoy the following books marks I have found for your reading pleasure.

What happened at the Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris chills me to my tailbone. As a reader and writer, I’m a huge proponent of free speech and free expression, even if I disagree with someone or find certain speech ignorant, tasteless or silly. Huffington Post has some good articles on the happenings regarding Charlie Hebdo.

Publisher’s Weekly announce the most promising debut books this upcoming spring.

CBS Sunday Morning’s delightful interview with Jeff Kinney the creator of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.

The 2014 releases Salon book critic Laura Miller chose not to read and why.

Fellow writers, do you need some dos and don’ts when it comes to meeting deadlines? Here is a handy list.



Writer’s Block

meaningful-happy-new-year-wishes-messages-1Hello Readers and Happy New Year! I’d be remiss if I didn’t explain my absence from this blog. Once again the holiday season kept me very busy. I worked some overtime at the office due to some late year craziness and preparing for Christmas kept me out of the blogging loop.

However, a spanking new year is a time to refresh and regroup and that means new postings at The Book Self. I just finished a very interesting and eye-opening book, which is begging a good review. I’m going to start that review shortly and hopefully have my review up by next week.

I also have other books I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing on my list, and I’m constantly on the prowl to find new books and authors. I’m also thinking of other ideas on how to keep this blog exciting and fun to read. Look for further developments as 2015 proceeds.

Well, that’s about all for now. Once again, Happy New Year!!!