Q&A and Upcoming Reading with Rhonda Garelick

This Monday, November 3rd at 7pm, Professor Rhonda Garelick launches her fascinating new book, Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History.

Coco Chanel transformed forever the way women dressed. Her influence remains so pervasive that to this day we can see her afterimage a dozen times while just walking down a single street: in all the little black dresses, flat shoes, costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, and tortoiseshell eyeglasses on women of every age and background. A bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every three seconds. Arguably, no other individual has had a deeper impact on the visual aesthetic of the world. But how did a poor orphan become a global icon of both luxury and everyday style? How did she develop such vast, undying influence? And what does our ongoing love of all things Chanel tell us about ourselves? These are the mysteries that Rhonda K. Garelick unravels in Mademoiselle.

We took some time to ask Professor Garelick a few questions about what inspired her to delve into the life of Coco Chanel, her personal reading, and upcoming projects…


How did you come to write Mademoiselle?

Actually the book began as a study of Chanel’s work as a costume designer for dance, drama, and cinema. I am a scholar and critic of performance and had realized that no one had studied the vast range of Chanel’s work in this field. She had a 30 year career doing costumes–and they were very interesting. Her collaborators for stage work had included Picasso, Diaghilev, Cocteau, Stravinsky, Visconti, Alain Resnais, Jean Renoir, Balanchine, Nijinsky, and so on.

But as I was working on that project, it dawned on me that Chanel was indeed a costumer–but not just of performers– of the entire world. I realized that the women of the industrialized world were all still walking around essentially costumed by Coco Chanel–in our trousers, jersey separates, neutral colors,  flat-heeled shoes, eyeglasses, short hair, skirt suits, costume jewelry, shoulder bag purses, chain link belts, T-shirts, etc.  Her influence is so vast and deep that most of us no longer even recognize it.  She is like the air we breathe, all around us but invisible. I decided that no other woman of the twentieth century had had even close to as much influence as this woman, so I expanded the project’s scope into a full biography.

What are you currently reading?

I’m in the middle of a fascinating book by Toril Moi, Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism–which offers a very new perspective on Ibsen, whom I love.

Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?

That’s one of those nearly unanswerable questions, there are so many. Lolita is at the top of the list, because Nabokov’s astonishingly gorgeous, jewel-like prose makes us fall in love with one of literary history’s most heinous protagonists and one of its most disturbing stories.  It’s a tour de force that owes a lot to the French decadents.  Other favorites are De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, King Lear, Middlemarch, The House of Mirth, Jane Eyre; and Song of the Lark.

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?

I am very much looking forward to my friend Glenn Kurtz’s new book, Three Minutes in Poland, out in November with FSG!

What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?

I am working on a few things, a translation of Victor Margueritte’s scandalous novel of 1922, La Garçonne and a much larger project on the history and role of admiration in America–its function, its decline, and how that change affects politics, religion, education, fashion and popular culture.


October 31, 2014 at 11:45 am Leave a comment

Bagel Breakfast This Saturday @112th

  Join us this Saturday, November 1st, at 10am for our monthly Bagel Breakfast!

We will have delicious bagels from a local, independent shop, as well as fresh fruit, and a selection of beverages. Come to eat, find a great book, browse our remainder tables, or simply enjoy the start of November with us.  Looking forward to seeing you!

October 30, 2014 at 5:15 pm Leave a comment

Spotlight on: Yelena Bryksenkova


Yelena Bryksenkova is a Russian born illustrator based in New Haven, Connecticut.  Using vibrant colors and amazing detail, Bryksenkova’s drawings depict scenes of everyday life that are anything but ordinary.  In her work that toes the line between being dreamy and realistic, the familiar is fantastically alive: every object and creature–whether a face, tree, table, dress, imaginary elephant–buzzes with personality.

Bryksenkova’s work has been featured in fashion, art, and design magazines, as well as in a special edition of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway’s Party (La Fiesta de la Señora Dalloway), published by Random House Mondadori.

dalloway1   Above: La Fiesta de la Señora Dalloway

Below: A mock cover for Anna Karenina


Recently, we received Ronald Tauber’s The Little Book of Jewish Celebrations,  illustrated by Bryksenkova and published by Chronicle Books.  As written in the introduction, the book “is a tribute to the time-honored customs that enrich Jewish life, connecting Jews from all corners of the world in celebration.” Bryksenkova’s illustrations beautifully accompany Tauber’s thoughtful accounts of Jewish tradition, each piece expressing history and ritual as part of life:


photo 3

Be sure to also check out Bryksenkova’s “Happy Birthday” and “New Baby” cards, by Red Cap Cards.


To learn more, visit http://yelenabryksenkova.com/. 

October 29, 2014 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

Important Article From The New Republic


This week The New Republic features editor Franklin Foer’s powerful article that examines the crushing effects of Amazon on small businesses and independent publishers.  Foer’s portrait of Amazon is not only eye opening, it is also disturbing– especially for the book industry:

“…as [Amazon] amasses economic power, it also acquires greater influence in the cultural and intellectual life of the nation.  Consider Amazon’s relationship to the publishing industry.  A recent survey conducted by the Codex Group , released in March, found that Amazon commands a 67 percent share of the e-books market…And when it comes to the sale of all new books–hard, soft, and electronic–Amazon accounts for 41 percent…Even though the five major publishing houses have political connections and economic power of their own, they just can’t compete.”

Looking back to America’s Gilded Age and the history of monopolies in this country, Foer writes that we must put an end to “our collective denial,” calling for nothing short of a “radical plan to stop” Amazon’s monopoly on today’s market.

If you haven’t already read this article, you can read it online or in this week’s printed issue.




October 24, 2014 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

Q&A with L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy

On Tuesday, October 28th at 7pm, scholar-activist L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy will give a reading and discussion of his new book, Inequality in the Promised Land: Race, Resources, and Suburban Schooling

Lewis-McCoy’s book examines the premise that suburban public schools have superior resources than their inner-city peers and are known from their extracurricular offerings and college preparatory programs.  He argues that despite the glowing opportunities that many families associate with suburban schooling, accessing a district’s resources is not always straightforward, particularly for black and poorer families. Moving beyond class- and race-based explanations, Inequality in the Promised Land focuses on the everyday interactions between parents, students, teachers, and school administrators in order to understand why resources seldom trickle down to a school district’s racial and economic minorities.


We had the opportunity to ask Lewis-McCoy a few questions about the inspiration of Inequality in the Promised Land, his personal reading, and an upcoming project:

How did you come to write Inequality in the Promised Land?

I have always been interested in education, because it should be the engine of social change. However, the more I dug into education, particularly work on educational opportunity, I realized a great deal of writing talked about how much was spent on schools, what test scores resulted, but too little of it talked about what was happening in schools. Also, when I looked further into education that looked at the experiences of Black families and low-income families these books were almost exclusively in high-poverty urban areas. I was raised in working and middle class areas and schools and realized that the experiences of people like myself were missing from books shelves. I wondered, “Where are all the Black middle class families? Where are the poor White families? Where are the families in the suburbs?” The more I asked these questions, the more I realized we’ve assumed for too long suburban schools are doing well and that they’re not diverse. The more I researched I realized neither of those assumptions were correct. Instead, today’s suburban schools are diverse, but even though they’re racially and economically diverse, they’re still deeply unequal. In the end, I wrote Inequality in the Promised Land because it tells my story and the story of so many families seeking better opportunities who have been overlooked by researchers, policy makers, and everyday people.

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading a number of things. In terms of the researcher side, I’m digging into On Intellectual Activism by Patricia Hill Collins, This Is Not a Test by Jose Vilson, and online I like to read the blog Racism Review by Jessie Daniels and Joe Feagin. For pleasure I’m reading This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz and preparing to dig into Long Division by Kiese Laymon.

Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?

My favorite book of all time is the Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. The Autobiography was one of the first books I read that helped me make sense of my identity as a Black male in America. I keep going back to it because there are so many layers to it and at each phase of my life, I find new jewels about politics, love, and history.

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?

I’m looking forward to Daniel Black’s forthcoming book The Coming. I got my hands on an excerpt of an earlier draft and it’s literally some of the most breathtaking writing I’ve ever read. Also, I’m patiently awaiting Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book. I don’t even know the title or if it has one but once I heard he was writing it, I’ve just been waiting on it.

What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?

 Right now, I am working on a co-authored a book with Marc Lamont Hill on educational myths. This moment is particularly exciting in the world of education because there are more people interested in educational reform than ever before. This means there are new initiatives and experimental schools and inspired entrepreneurs, but between all these moving parts, good information often gets lost. Our book seeks to translate some of the more complex research and agendas into accessible ways, so that a caring parent who wants the best for their child can better navigate the system and make the best decisions for them.



October 22, 2014 at 9:47 pm Leave a comment

Starting this Friday: French Story Time!

We are thrilled to announce that native speaker, Camille Gros, will be hosting French Story Time this fall! French Story Time will be held at Book Culture on Broadway every Friday at 3:30pm, from October 24th through November 21st.

A little bit about Camille:


My name is Camille and I am a French native speaker currently studying bilingual/bicultural education at Columbia University. I am the eldest of four, so I have always enjoyed taking care of children. I love music and basketball too!
I look forward to meeting you all!
A très bientôt.


Best for native French speakers ages 4 to 8 – all are welcome

Drop in – Free of charge  

french story timefrench story time II

October 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm Leave a comment

This Week: Film Society begins Marguerite Duras Retrospective

the lover

Beginning this week, The Film Society of Lincoln Center is launching a retrospective on playwright, novelist, essayist, and film director Marguerite Duras. The retrospective marks her centennial as well as the re-release of Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), directed by Alain Resnais with a screenplay written by Duras. Though I have not yet seen Duras’ films, her writing has resonated with me since I first encountered her autobiographical text, The Lover (1984) in a graduate seminar last year. I remember her book fascinated me as her writing broke all conventions of storytelling. Unlike other authors, Duras’ writing is both visceral and unblinkingly literal; she gives voice to silence, and shapes what cannot be seen—desire, loss, memory. In anticipation of the retrospective, I recently returned to The Lover, and found, again, a window into the life of an artist whose writing questions not only how we write, but also how we see.  So in hopes of stirring our thoughts as we look forward to Duras’ films this week, The Lover is the subject of this post.

The Lover tells the story of a French girl growing up in colonial Indochina. The narrator lives in Sadec, a city in the Southern part of the colony, with her widowed mother and two brothers. Elliptically tracing her departure into adulthood and her development as a writer, the narrator tells the story of her life, which she describes, in a moment of both defiance and negation, as having no “center,” “No path, no line.”

The story opens with a description of a “photograph” that exists only in the narrator’s memory.  The image is of a girl—the narrator—crossing the Mekong River at age fifteen and a half, traveling to her boarding school in Saigon. She remembers herself wearing her mother’s silk dress, a man’s flat brimmed hat, and gold lamé high heels.  She recalls:

“I think it was during this journey [across the river] that the image became detached, removed from all the rest. It might have existed,a photograph might have been taken, just like any other, somewhere else, in other circumstances.  But it wasn’t.  The subject was too slight.  Who would have thought of such a thing?”

As her childhood is marked by her family’s failure to recognize her as an individual, denying her subjectivity, it is precisely the photograph’s “slightness” that marks its importance to her life: “it’s to this, this failure to have been created, that the image owes its virtue.” The photo exists for no one but the narrator; she is its only creator.

The details of the photograph unfold over the course of the book and take on new meaning as time moves forward and backwards, within and around the image. With the movement of the story, we learn that this image takes place before she meets the older Chinese man who will later become her lover; before their clandestine affair causes an unbridgeable rift between the narrator and her family; before desire carves out a space that undercuts and reveals her alienation from her colonial environment.

By focusing on the non-existent photograph, Duras’ text speaks to a new way of seeing. It is provocative that the narrator chooses to call her memory a “photograph,” as the image is not still, but moving; she is journeying across the river. Unlike the manicured and stagnant portraits that the narrator’s mother sought for herself—portraits that the narrator describes as “uniformly rejuvenated”—the photograph that the text returns to again and again expands and changes as the story and narrator evolves in time.

Images, as seen in Duras’ fixation on the absent photograph, appear differently throughout the story to not only the narrator, but also to the reader . Unlike other narratives about growing up, we are not meant to accept one version of the story and then move on. Instead, as the narrator writes, we can always find “hidden stretches of that same youth, of certain facts, feelings, events that [are] buried.” Indeed, I only realized on a second reading that the narrator’s shortest (and very first) recollection of the photograph is, perhaps, the most expansive:

“So, I’m fifteen and a half.

It’s on a ferry crossing the Mekong River.

The image lasts all the way across.”

From this early description, she reveals that the image of herself crossing the river can never be concluded, that all events preceding and following that day are and have always been contained in its memory. For Duras, the photographic image becomes a site of constant movement, a space of departure and return. The image lasts all the way across.


For more information and a schedule of the upcoming screenings, visit the Film Society’s website.


By Maxine


October 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm Leave a comment

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