Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Beauty Before Comfort by Allison Glock

I read a great Op-Ed piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago, by Allison Glock, where she details her trip to Target in search of Halloween costumes with her daughters. (Maybe you read it. I’d provide a link, but you have to be a Times Select member to read it on line.) The article, entitled “Halloween on Heels” describes the recent trend in adult (female) costumes toward sexy rather than scary. Sexy devil, sexy bunny, and sexy leopard costumes abound. In addition, she finds Tavern Wench, French Maid, and Cheerleader (complete with micro-miniskirt). Even the Raggedy Ann doll costume features a sexy slit skirt. In vain Glock searches for a modest pumpkin costume, or even a monster. And she also has no luck finding corresponding sexy male costumes: where was the Hot Fireman, for example?

At the end of the piece (which I enjoyed for its humor and relevance), I saw that Glock is the author of a book called Beauty Before Comfort, and I thought “I want to read more by this woman; this sounds like something to check out.” Indeed it was a good choice. It’s the story of Glock’s grandmother’s youth during the Depression in West Virginia, a poignant, unflinching look at a woman with more brains and beauty than her environment can handle, and the inevitable personal disintegration that results from her captivity in this repressive poverty-stricken society. It’s also a fascinating look at the society itself; this area of West Virginia was the pottery capital of America throughout the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Home to the Homer Laughlin China Company (maker of Fiesta Ware), Glock’s great-grandfather (and most of the townspeople) were employed by Homer Laughlin or the other potteries, and most saw their jobs disappear by the end of World War II. I found Glock’s detailed descriptions of life and work in a company town to be really interesting reading.

Glock is such a good writer she could make a shopping list sound entertaining. That’s part of the appeal of this book. I also just really like books about other cultures, and doesn’t this qualify? 1930’s West Virginia is about as distant to my life now as any book about contemporary India, for example.

(Book 46, 2006)


Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

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