Saturday, December 4, 2010

What I'm Reading (and not Reading) This Week

Isabella Blow, one of the fashion world's brightest lights, committed suicide in May 2007. It has been said that her untimely death weighed heavily on Alexander McQueen, who spurned his friend when he sold his label to Gucci. Two books were recently released about Isabella and I chose Blow by Blow which was written by her husband Detmar Blow with Tom Sykes (brother of Vogue editor Plum Sykes). While Isabella had a difficult and painful childhood, what was even more painful was to read the authors spin on it. The tenor of this book is whiny, unimaginative and unpleasant. Detmar manages to insert himself into the story as much as possible, name-dropping on every page and making the story more about him than about Isabella. I could not finish the book even though I read to page 190. I really wanted to like this book but I cannot recommend it.

In stark contrast to the blow-hard style of Blow by Blow is the witty and poignant memoir written by Toronto gallery owner Leo Kamen called Rolling the Bones. 

Like most creative people, Leo Kamen had a difficult childhood, but he writes about his experiences with a degree of detachment and humour, allowing readers to laugh along with him.  His direct style and deft touch with the pen moved the story along and kept me engaged. There is no bitterness or rancour in Leo's memoir and his fighting spirit and joie de vive make me wish I knew him better. His descriptions of people and places are vivid and amusing. For example:

"Mrs. Fluck, our grade eight art teacher, was as thin as a stalk of asparagus. She dressed in long sweaters and grey skirts. Whenever she spoke, she sounded as if she had cotton gauze stuck up her nose. I had vague ideas about what artists were like, but Mrs. Fluck didn't fit the bill. I assumed she went straight home every day after school, wrapped herself up in a housecoat and crawled into a can of sardines for dinner. Only her name, cursed as it was with one too many consonants, gave her a racy reputation she didn't deserve. I never created anything of artistic note in her classes, though towards the end of the year I managed a ceramic lion that bore a striking resemblance to our family cat. I glazed it bright spinach green and placed it on top of our television set at home, where it remained for years." 

Rolling the Bones is available at the Leo Kamen Gallery in Toronto and in e-book format at There also is a contest on Akimbo which runs until December 9th offering three books to lucky winners.

Title: Rolling the Bones, a memoir
Author: Leo Kamen
Publisher: General Karma, Toronto
Category: Non-fiction, Memoir
Number of Pages: 248