My Back Pages: Perfume in “Bergdorf Blondes”

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In 2003 I moved back to New York after living in other states for graduate school and work. Things had changed during the decade I was away. I’m nearing the ten-year anniversary of that return, and I’m remembering how surprised I was by certain things that women my age were suddenly saying and doing. They had made manicures a weekly routine, rather than a luxury for special occasions. They teetered through their daily commutes in stiletto heels. They freely discussed their Brazilian waxes on their cell phones in public. They wore 3-carat engagement rings. And they were reading novels from a sub-genre nicknamed “chick lit.”

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My Back Pages: Emily Dickinson, “I tend my flowers for thee —“

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It’s almost Spring (really! soon!) and the green leaf-tips and purple-edged buds of crocus flowers have been peeping up from the dirt in front-yard garden patches along my street.

For me, no writer conveys the anticipation of each changing season as well as Emily Dickinson. I love Dickinson’s poem beginning with the line “I tend my flowers for thee —,” especially this flower-filled stanza, which evokes the fragrance of a garden in bloom:

Carnations — tip their spice —

And Bees — pick up —

A Hyacinth — I hid —

Puts out a ruffled head —

And odors fall —

From flasks — so small —

You wonder how they held —

You can read the rest of the poem here. (Of course, it holds deeper layers of interpretation!) You might also enjoy this discussion of garden imagery in Dickinson’s work, here.

My Back Pages: Perfume in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses

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The past week-and-a-half have been draining for me: I caught the flu, my husband caught the flu from me, and our sweet cat M. was suddenly ill (but not with the flu). We’re all on the mend now, I’m happy to say.

“Escapism” and “Cormac McCarthy” aren’t words that you usually see in the same sentence, but McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Horses gave me something to focus on last week when I needed an emotional break from our various illnesses.

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My Back Pages: Perfume in The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

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I started reading Evelyn Waugh’s fiction when I was in high school and Brideshead Revisited had just been re-aired, in all its glory, on public television. One of Waugh’s funniest novels (which is saying something) is The Loved One, a black comedy written after Waugh had traveled to Los Angeles. Short and sharp, it skewers the funeral industry, life in Hollywood, romantic courtship and, in passing, beauty products.

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My Back Pages: Perfume in Beverly Cleary’s “Fifteen”

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Being a teenager wasn’t quite what I expected. This disappointment might have resulted from my earlier reading of Beverly Cleary’s four high-school novels—Fifteen, Jean and Johnny, Sister of the Bride, and The Luckiest Girl—and the obvious gap between their 1950s world and my own. Where were the dates at soda fountains, the school dances that required semi-formal gowns and corsages, the baby-sitting jobs?

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