Quite Continental Charm School: Day 17 – Re-read Your Classics

17/05/2013 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Yes, Charm School marches on!
Because, really, why limit ourselves to one month a year?

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 17 -- Re-read Your ClassicsMarilyn Monroe by Edward Clark for Life Magazine, 1950

Day 17: Re-read Your Classics
While I can understand the allure of e-readers, and experience a slight tinge of device-envy when I see people pull them out on planes or the subway, I will probably always prefer the concreteness of books. Owing to my move cross-country a few years ago, my library today is definitely not as large as it would have been, had I not chosen to travel light. And on the whole, I don’t regret making that decision, but I do have moments where I remember a favorite book and simultaneously realize that I have no idea where it might be. I’m going to prefer to assume that they’re all buried at my parents’ home somewhere, but it is quite possible that they’re gone forever.

Today, I want you to meander over to your bookshelf and revisit some of your old friends. Reread those important, era-defining books that you held in your hand when you were 7 or 17 or 27. I guarantee two things: first, you’ll be instantly transported back to that point in your life. You’ll remember who gave you the book, or why you picked it up in the first place. You’ll remember how it affected you. But second, and perhaps more importantly, you’ll have the luxury of hindsight to reflect on how you’ve changed since your initial reading. You’ll notice new things you might have missed the first time around. Other things will resonate differently.

It is in repeat readings that I discover the living quality of books. I recently revisited To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, after viewing a documentary on the author’s life. As I read, I realized that I really half-assed my way through the book in middle school. Had I left it on the shelf, checked off as “read,” I would have missed the opportunity to more fully appreciate Lee’s work as an adult. Similarly, I frequently re-read The Lover by Marguerite Duras – perhaps partially because of the slimness of the tome, but also because it is such a sparse, beautiful and exotic work. I love the way my mind fills in all that is left unsaid, and the way it makes me feel. It’s different every single time.

What books do you return to?

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Mini March Reading List

13/03/2013 § 5 Comments

March Reading ListWPA poster dated March 25, 1941, via The Library of Congress

Inspired by the blustery lady in this charming WPA poster, I’ve picked up a few books for March that I have been meaning to read.  No promises on whether I will finish them before the month is out, but I am definitely looking forward to getting acquainted with:

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
by Nathaniel Philbrick

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Have you read any of them?  What’s currently on your nightstand for March?

Reading List || The Atlantic: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All ~ Anne-Marie Slaughter

27/06/2012 § 2 Comments

Image via The Atlantic.

By now, you’ve probably heard a bit about the controversy over Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for The Atlantic, in which she discusses the familiar difficulties surrounding the achievement of a successful work-life balance for high-performing, elite females.  Currently a professor at Princeton University and most recently the Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, I have been familiar with Slaughter for some time (mainly due to my work in political risk and the fact that I actually work quite closely with the gentleman that held the Directorship at Policy Planning before she did — so there’s a bit of a weird work/life crossover in this post).

Slaughter believes initial steps towards women truly “having it all” are a few key practical adjustments to working arrangements and — perhaps even more difficult — changing the way that women feel about working.  The latter, a realization that came sharply into focus when she decided to leave the public sector and DC, to return to her professorship and family in New Jersey:

“A rude epiphany hit me soon after I got there. When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible. I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book. But I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).

The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough. But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury. Suddenly, finally, the penny dropped.  All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”

Slaughter’s op-ed is a long read, but I urge you to read it.  As a single, professional woman without any children, ostensibly busy “concentrating on my career,” it gave me reason to examine my current priorities and wonder what I would do when (if?) the time comes for me to incorporate motherhood into my life, about the assumptions I operate under (Nanny? Of course), how much I might actually be willing to reorient my life and why I felt a kind of knee-jerk resistance to doing so.  I definitely doubt that anyone — men and women, alike — can read this op-ed without being affected.  Understandably, since being published on The Atlantic’s site last Wednesday night, it has gone on to be the most viewed article in the history of the magazine.

For further discussion, Slaughter’s op-ed has also inspired a number of passionate responses (e.g., Jodi Kantor’s piece in The New York Times, Rebecca Traister’s piece at Salon.com, Katherine Rosman’s piece on The Juggle for WSJ.com), and Slaughter will be doing a live Q&A with readers on The Atlantic’s site on Friday 29 June at 11am ET, which you can find here.

Also on the list:
The Wall Street Journal:  Lauren Mechling remembers a few “unprincessy” heroines (Ramona Quimby! Harriet the Spy!) in honor of Pixar’s first girl lead, the fiery haired archer princess Merida in Brave.

The Wall Street Journal: Michael Spector on the “singular, unmistakable worlds” of Wes Anderson.

WWD: Mini menswear crush!  A first look at Brooks Brothers’ costumes for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

The Financial Times: Monocle’s editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé on how (not) to apply for an internship.  Best line: “My favourite letters are the ones that say there’s a willingness “to fetch coffee, work late and even empty the bins.”  Fantastic! The global economy is now safe thanks to your commitment to gingerly rolling up your sleeves and doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 3 – Get a Library Card

03/02/2012 § 5 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Audrey Hepburn.

Editor’s Note: Today I am very pleased to introduce our first Charm School guest speaker!  Stephanie Madewell, the writer, designer and brilliant mind behind the exceptionally erudite blog even*cleveland, is a lady I have long admired, so you can imagine how excited I was when she accepted my request to contribute.

It is difficult to describe exactly what kind of blog even*cleveland is, which is probably why I love it so much.  Somewhat thematic in nature, Stephanie explores various topics (e.g., swans, works in miniature, Louisa May Alcott, winter) through the lenses of art, literature, photography, museum collections and fashion, connecting dots I didn’t know existed.  I find I am frequently staggered at the breadth of this lady’s knowledge about…well, pretty much everything!  Aside from that, she’s also a great source for information on cultured happenings and usually posts great music over the weekends.  If you are not yet familiar with Stephanie and even*cleveland, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Stephanie’s tip for a charmed life.


Her reputation for reading a great deal hung about her
like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic.
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Day 3: Get a Library Card
Since I’ve moved to New York, one of my favorite indulgences is watching people read on the train. New York subway riders are voracious readers – you see everything from tabloid skimmers to book editors correcting proofs. But there are certain readers whose whole presence speaks a story – every detail from the drape of their coat to the knot of their scarf is just right. They sit on the train in attitudes of unstudied elegance, exuding cosmopolitan appeal, and inevitably the grace note is a library book.

I don’t know quite what it is about library books – I love books in general, and the books in my own collection beyond reason – but library books speak straight to desire. They embody both canny frugality and boundless avarice. Library patrons are greedy readers, but smart – they know to try before buying. It’s an admirable quality.

I’ve been lucky to visit a few places in the world – not nearly as many as I would like – but in the absence of unlimited funds and unlimited time, it has been my great good fortune to love to read and to be born into a world with public libraries. I firmly believe no one should go through life without a library card. It is a free passport to places beyond time and imagining – everywhere from the siege-wracked walls of Troy to chill and lonely lunar landscapes. In the past year, I’ve flown with Margarita through the inky Russian sky, bivouacked with Cossacks, hunted blue tigers, watched the ominous shimmer of the desert sun, wandered the moon, and tracked netsuke across two continents.

Stepping into a bookstore is a wonderful thing, and I find owning books a necessity of life, but libraries are living, working monuments to the idea that knowledge should be free and that it belongs to everyone.They let you dip into the seething and magnificent mass of human thought and endeavor – thousands of years of thinking and writing and talking and tale-telling. It’s the easiest way to explore the world, and there’s surefire glamour in that.

by Stephanie Madewell, of even*cleveland


Find out how to get a library card in New York  here.

Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE, 1944.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

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