Book review: Love, Loss and What I Wore


From cooking to painting, performing to parenting, the hardest thing to do is making it look easy, not sweaty.

Fred Astaire, easy; Gene Kelly, sweaty. Julia Child, easy; Martha Stewart, sweaty. (Which is weird, because the last thing Martha Stewart would want to be associated with is funk, while I doubt that it would have bothered Julia in the least.)

Memoir writing is particularly fraught: it's hard enough to tell any story simply and well, much less your own. What do you discard? What do you put front and center? How do you stay humble and true while being compelling?

The answer, I think, is mad craft in quiet, quiet service to great idea. Like a brilliant actor who disappears in the role to further the story or a team that wins with its defensive game, great writing is not about the showing its skill, but submerging it. Divas and sequins are fascinating in their way, but its the power to move you or the impeccable seams that hold up over time.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore, an illustrated memoir by Ilene Beckerman published way, way back in 1995, tells the story of a life through the clothes that were a part of it. Important clothes, like graduation outfits and wedding gowns, but also the random dresses, patterns, fabrics and colors lodged in a memory: of a beloved relative, a youthful friend, a time of life, a mindset, a generation. Clothes illustrate love and loss, class divisions and life stages. Two navy-blue dresses that take us from a tw0-parented girlhood to a life with custodial grandparents. Sophisticated evening gowns that don't quite bridge the divide so much as point to the differences between middle-class city girls and the privileged offspring of the (American, such as it is) gentry.

Most of all, it is delicious. A crazy word for a tiny book about an ordinary life told in storybook simplicity (with drawings!), but there it is. A delicious story you can lose yourself in, albeit for a very, very short period of time. It was suggested to me by a friend who perhaps knew better than I thought she did how I struggle with...everything. Well, maybe not everything, but I tend towards overthink and making things more complicated than perhaps they need to be. (I suspect Gretchen herself is a shining example of someone who makes it look easy, although, like most people who do, she'd likely shrug it off in that charming, self-deprecating way that all people who make it look easy do and turn the subject to something else.)

It is short enough to read cover to cover standing up in the store, and charming enough that you may want to take it home with you afterward.

Above all it is, as Gretchen suggested, a wildly inspiring example of telling a story in a unique fashion.

So to speak...


Image by Darien Library via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.