What’s That Book? Football for a Buck by Jeff Pearlman

TitleFootball for a Buck

Author:  Jeff Pearlman

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating:

What’s it about?
This book highlights the rise and fall of the United States Football League (USFL), which lasted for three seasons in the 1980s. It dives into the incredible highs that the league experienced, such as enticing the talents of Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Reggie White to play in the league. But it also goes into detail on the laundry list of reasons why the league failed so quickly, as well as its ties to current US President, Donald Trump, who was one of the league’s team owners.

How did you hear about it?
I follow Pearlman on Twitter, so I was pulled in as he shared info about the book during the reporting process. I have also read two of his previous books, Gunslinger and Sweetness, which are biographies on Brett Favre and Walter Payton, respectively.

Closing comments:
It is impossible to read this book and not draw parallels between Trump’s actions now and how he acted in the USFL, despite that being over 30 years ago. Whether you support him or not, Trump was a key contributor to the eventual downfall of the league. Backed by a series of bold lies, he convinced the other league owners that a move from the spring to the fall to compete directly with the NFL was not only necessary, but it would allow the USFL to win a lawsuit against them for creating a monopoly on professional football. Instead of the slow, steady progress that the league initially aimed for, the immediately-shoot-for-the-moon path instead catapulted the USFL directly into the sun as it faded away into football history.

This book was especially interesting to read after the Alliance of American Football (AAF) failed this past spring as it also attempted to provide football for fans during the NFL offseason. That league was shut down after half a year due to some of the same pitfalls as the USFL, but after reading more about both leagues, it was clear the USFL had a lot of things right that the AAF didn’t. The USFL had some of the best football players in the world, while the AAF primarily had NFL rejects. And with Vince McMahon’s reboot of the XFL planned for next year, it’ll be curious to see if one of the other biggest egos in sports entertainment will take the history of these failed leagues and turn his venture into a success.

In closing, the reporting and storytelling by Pearlman are top notch as usual. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in pro football history.

Contributor:  Austin Vitelli is an associate editor for a medical publishing company and graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism. He’s been a football fan his whole life, cheering for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles. His blog, which mostly focuses on the Eagles, can be viewed at http://austinvitelli.com/thephillysportsreport/.


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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Audiobook review: Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Rating:

In 1994, Piper Kerman, was a recent graduate of Smith College when she became romantically involved with a woman who was deep into a heroin smuggling scheme. Soon, out of a combination of infatuation and boredom, Piper agreed to help with the business. The ugly reality and danger of moving drugs, however, made her nervous, so she eventually broke free, moved across the country and started a new life.

Piper’s old life caught up with her, however, and in 1998 she was indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking. In 2004, after years of delays, due to other pending indictments and sentencings, Piper was ordered to report to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury where she would serve thirteen months.

Orange Is the New Black is Piper’s memoir about her experience in this minimum security prison. Her story was published in 2010 and was adapted for Netflix in the Emmy award-winning show of the same name. Season 7, its final season, is scheduled for release on July 26.

I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by Cassandra Campbell, who does an excellent job adapting her voice to many characters. I thought her voice sounded familiar and that’s because Campbell is an audiobook superstar. She’s narrated over 700 titles, has won four Audie Awards and is in Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame.

Piper’s engaging story tells of a young a privileged white woman who learns to assimilate herself in a diverse population of women. While life at Danbury is far different from anything she has experienced, she approaches it with a positive attitude and develops strong friendships with her “bunkies” and other women in the prison. Of course, she has many regular visitors from the outside, including her journalist fiancé. And she receives a lot of mail and books and remote support from her family, including plenty of money to get what she needs at the commissary.

Many of the women at Danbury are in far worse shape, serving long sentences, separated from their children, and with few visitors. Piper’s empathy seems genuine, though and, despite the differences, the women find ways to connect and support each other.

I enjoyed listening to this memoir. I’m late to the party in learning about the book and the show, but I’m glad I finally got to it.

Today, Piper Kerman is an outspoken advocate for women in prison. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her family and teaches writing in two state prisons as an Affiliate Instructor with Otterbein University.

Have you read or listened to Orange Is the New Black? Have you watched the show? I plan to watch eventually!

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The Right Stuff – the book by Tom Wolfe, the 1983 movie and how we got to the moon

Image: Wikipedia

Did you know that we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing? On July 20, 1969, the United States Apollo 11 was the first crewed mission to land on the moon. Six hours after the lunar module landed, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to walk on the moon!

The race to space began over a decade earlier, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957. In response, the United States formed the Mercury Seven, a group of seven pilots who began training to be the first Americans in space. They were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. This was the beginning of the new astronaut profession and, between 1961 and 1963, all seven flew into space. All this training led to the historic moon landing in 1969.

Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff is about this group and the test pilots that came before them, including Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Wolfe’s critically-praised book was published in 1974 and became the Academy Award-winning film in 1983.

I recently watched the movie, starring Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and even a very young Jeff Goldblum. I enjoyed the movie very much because, even though I knew about the Space Race, I didn’t see the movie back in 1983 and didn’t know much about the Mercury Seven. What is the most impressive is the tremendous risk these men were willing to take to venture into the unknown. They suffered setbacks and failure and Gus Grissom died in a pre-launch test. But the public’s adulation of these men marked the beginning of America’s fascination with space exploration.

The Mercury Seven/Image: Wikipedia

At three hours, it’s a longer film than most, and I had to split it into two nights, but I’d recommend it. Seeing the cast as young actors was also fun!

Have you read The Right Stuff or watched the movie? Maybe you’re too young, but if you’re around my age, you will remember the lunar landing!

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Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir
by
Maggie Thrash

Rating:

Honor Girl is a graphic memoir about the author’s coming-out experience at a summer camp in the mountains of Kentucky. When Maggie returns to Camp Bellflower at age fifteen, friends, traditions and camp activities are largely the same, until she meets Erin, a college-age camp counselor. Her crush is undeniable, but also frightening and confusing and Maggie makes her best effort to sort out her feelings, spending her free time at the rifle range where she is trying to earn a Distinguished Expert certification.

Rumors spread, however, when Maggie’s camper friends begin to question her relationship with Erin, subjecting Maggie to embarrassing jokes and conversations. Despite the taunts, she is surprisingly strong and her good friends are generally accepting.

The story has a coming-of-age and camp camaraderie feel to it and even readers who have never attended summer camp will ease into life in tents and canoes. The author tells her story with humor and light sarcasm, making Honor Girl an easy read, without a heavy message. And while the story is about Maggie’s feelings for another girl, its appeal is in the author’s ability to describe her experience in the same way as a traditional boy-girl crush.

I have not read many graphic novels or graphic memoirs, so this was a nice change. Like a comic book, it’s mostly illustrated dialogue, with occasional narrative. Honor Girl is a Young Adult book, but I would recommend it to any reader who likes to try different genres. As for the artwork, I did find the illustrations a little difficult to follow. They are simple drawings and it was sometimes hard for me to figure out who was who, as many of the faces are similar. All in all, however, a good (and fast) read.

Do you read graphic novels or memoirs? What are your favorites?

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Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Sounds Like Titanic
by
Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Rating:

Imagine being hired to play violin in a prestigious touring orchestra, only to discover that the microphones are turned off. What’s turned on is a $14.95 CD player from Walmart, playing a recorded version of a composer’s music, performed by other musicians. Also imagine that the music sounds suspiciously like, but a strategic note or two different from, the score of the popular 1997 film, Titanic.

Oh, and the job also includes gigs “playing” violin and selling The Composer’s CDs at craft fairs and malls. When you’re a college student, struggling to pay tuition, you might be okay with that.

Here’s a terrific memoir about a young woman from West Virginia who dreams of becoming a concert violinist, but isn’t quite good enough, something she quickly discovers in her first year at Columbia University. She takes the violinist job to help pay her tuition, where she majors in Middle East Studies. Her study abroad in Egypt has just begun when 9/11 happens and, while most American students return, she decides to finish out the semester, preferring to develop her war correspondent skills. Back at Columbia, scrambling between classes, doing the work, and making money to pay for the classes, the author hits many lows, turns to drugs and suffers debilitating panic attacks.

It’s during Hindman’s time in college, after 9/11, when she begins to question what is real and what is fake, a major theme in her memoir. Her gigs in the orchestra are a perfect metaphor for these feelings, which to her also represent Bush’s responsibility for the Iraq War and his failed search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

While Hindman’s book is mostly about her experiences, the reader gets a look at who the unnamed orchestra leader is, but she only refers to him as The Composer. She does not want to “out” him. Her reasons are clear. He is wildly popular during a post 9/11 period of American anxiety and is wholly devoted to his fans, whom he spends hours greeting and listening to after concerts. He also supports and donates large amounts of money to many worthy causes. He’s clearly selfless in that regard. She says in the beginning that, “when it comes to the most genuine gesture an American can make—giving away money—The Composer is the real deal.”

As a reader, however, I wanted to know who this enigmatic man was, the one who continues to smile maniacally during performances and public appearances and demands the same of his performers. It’s easy enough to find out who it might be, but by the end of the book, it doesn’t really matter.

I highly recommend Sounds Like Titanic to anyone who likes a good story. It’s well-written, real, funny and original. Hindman abandoned her dreams of becoming a concert violinist and a war correspondent. But during that period, she came to better understand herself. She received her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia and a PhD in English from the University of North Texas. She now teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University.

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Book Club Mom’s May recap – books, birthdays and a graduation

I don’t know what happened to May, but here we are at the finish. It’s a big month for birthdays in my family and we squeezed in a college graduation too! It’s always nice to settle into a comfy chair during the down times and relax with a book, a show or a puzzle.

I’ve become a bit crazy with a word game I have on my ancient Kindle called Every Word: Crossings, and I have been playing it obsessively. I never look at that as a waste of time, though. Things like that always help me sort out my day.

And I went a little overboard with my Barbie doll posts (see below), but it’s been fun (for me, at least!) sharing something that I loved as a girl.


This month, I read and reviewed three regular books:

 

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – if you like mystery series, this is the first of the Bess Crawford stories, set in England during World War I. I enjoyed both the characters and the historical setting. The author, Charles Todd, is actually a mother-son writing team.


More and more, it seems, fiction books are being co-authored and this month I wrote a post about this very thing!

Author teams and pen names – if the story’s good, does it matter? Not to me!


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – in this memoir about becoming a female scientist, Jahren writes a compelling personal story about family, love, friendship, mental health and the difficulties of earning a living as a scientist. (Jahren made it big, after a long road, and has won many awards.)


The Beneficiary – Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father by Janny Scott – a biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter. A tale of four generations of a wealthy Main Line, Pennsylvania family and their 800-acre estate and the complicated relationships among family members.


As I mentioned above, I also started a series that celebrates books about the Barbie doll’s 60th birthday. Here are the first two posts, indulging my obsession. I’ll share my final Barbie post next week.

Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them – Carol Spencer

Look what Barbie’s wearing! Barbie Fashion 1959-1967 by Sarah Sink Eames


May was a busier indie author month. I introduced three hard-working writers:

Richard Doiron
Lucia N. Davis
Frank Prem

If you are an indie or self-published author and would like to be featured on Who’s That Indie Author, please email me at bvitelli2009@gmail.com. To shake things up, I’ve updated my interview with a new set of questions!


Next week, we’re starting a Summer Reading program at the library where I work, so I’ll be signing up for that. I plan to work these two books onto my list:

June book previews: Lot – Stories by Bryan Washington and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim


And last, I was sorry to see that American author Herman Wouk died on May 17, at age 103. I’ve enjoyed many of his books and think I will go back to some of them this summer. I had a fun time looking at these book covers – did you notice that the last two, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, fit together to make a bigger picture?

Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

I hope you had a good month, out in the world and between the pages. I’m looking forward to a good summer!

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Who’s That Indie Author? Frank Prem

Author name:  Frank Prem

Genre:  Free Verse Poetry/Memoir

Books:  Devil In The Wind (2019); Small Town Kid (2018)

What’s your story and how did you become a writer?  I’ve been a prolific free verse poet for over 40 years now. Mainly keeping my work low key and developing skills and a kind of back catalogue of completed work. I’ve started to draw on that work now as I move in to presenting myself to the public in book form.

My professional career has been as a Psychiatric Nurse, which I’ve also been doing for 40 odd years, now. In that role, I have spanned the days of the old mental asylum, which I grew up with in my town, through student nursing for three years and a range of clinical experiences at different facilities around my state (Victoria, Australia). My current plan is to have a third memoir style collection of poems focusing on my experience of psychiatry in book form by the end of 2019, or early in 2020.

I started writing way back, when I was in high school. I discovered then that my teacher was so impressed that a student had attempted poetry that I was given credit even though my essay submission was a few hundred words short of requirements. I figured there was something very ‘right’ about that, and I’ve been a poet ever since.

How do you balance your work with other demands?  I’m not entirely sure that I do achieve balance in this respect. In my professional career I was always charging at my next objective as though NOW was the only possible moment in universal history to achieve it.

I am like that with my writing as well. I chase my fads with a singlemindedness that leaves other routine or mundane considerations behind.

It’s not necessarily a great trait to have and I need to constantly remind myself (or have others do it for me) to give attention to the other important things in my life that aren’t the passion of the moment.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life:  There are a few big moments across a life such as I’ve had, but the memory that comes to mind is from about 15 years ago. At the time I was courting a lady considerably younger than myself and had all the doubts that you might expect an old-ster (as I saw myself) having.

The memory is of the lady in question – a talented singer/songwriter – turning up to one of our earliest get togethers bearing a cassette tape, on which she had taped herself playing and singing a song that she’d created from one of my poems.

That was a very big moment.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?  I am a ‘pantser,’ in every respect.

Why plan, when you can write? Why trouble to create a story arc and plot, when the next thing you write is the next thing in the sequence?

Creatively delightful, but tricky as I’ve had to transmogrify myself from simple writer into author, editor, publisher and self-publicist.

Very tricky.

Can or could you write in a café with people around?  Yes I can.

The likelihood is that the people in the café will become the subjects that I write about.

In all seriousness, I find I can tune out most distractions when I have something to write, and on occasion, at least, the atmosphere in a busy café is positively stimulating.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it?  I have indeed, and have even had the privilege of being published in another country (that being the USA) with a poem using that ‘voice.’

My family was originally from Croatia in what was then Yugoslavia. I grew up with the Croatian language all around me and for a period in my writing evolution I wrote in pidgin language that is half Australian English and half Croatian.

This may sound a little arty-odd, but when I’m writing I have made it my practice to allow the idea I’m pursuing or the image I am contemplating to find its own voice and tell its own story. My job is to steer it so that it remains coherent and meaningful for a reader. In the case of the Croatian voice, I had enough familiarity with the idiom and vernacular and with the way this particular migrant population was likely to think to be able to shape poems in a reasonably accurate representation.

Quite a task, and not always successful, but completely unique when it worked.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  For a favorite book, I draw on my ‘go to’ library here at home, which includes Tolkien, Le Guin, Robin Hobb, and Mathew Reilly, to name a few.

I’m currently re-reading a Mather Reilly book – Ice Station, but I’d probably have to nominate Tolkien and Lord of the Rings as my favorite because of the inspiration and pleasure they have given me over the journey.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  Paperback, for me. Hard cover is fine, too, but I really struggle with the electronic book forms. I think it may be because I sweat over the keyboard for as much as 12 hours a day, and the idea of reading for pleasure electronically just doesn’t feel right.

Do you think print books will always be around?  I’m a print book guy who is only now discovering electronic forms with any purpose, so I say yes.

If you ask me in a few years’ time, when I’m perhaps scratching a living out an e-book readership, I may give a different response.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  Yes. I do that now, when I need to, and reluctantly. I don’t own an e-reader.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else?  I have an Android device. The first I have owned and I fell in love with its picture taking capacities long before I began using it as a phone.

I have begun to make something of an art out of writing to the image and letting the image communicate its own story without too much control from myself. The Android device has been quite material in allowing me to develop a new capacity within my writing skillset.

How long could you go without checking your phone?  I check it frequently. Not for the phone, but for the email and the social media that I might be working with. Looking for responses to my latest posting of a poem on my blog.

I’ve become a bit of a junkie in that respect.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening?  I have listened to audio books when traveling. Usually something from The Great Course range of educational materials, rather than novels.

I am very interested in perhaps creating my own audio books in future and have done a number of amateur audio recordings and podcasts and radio interviews, all of which are accessible from my Author page on the web.

I enjoy reading to live audiences very much.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  The only reason I use Social media is to pursue connections regarding writing and publishing and promotion of my work. It is a critical element in the pursuit of free publicity and promotion of new works.

The tricky bit is how to make contact with an audience that isn’t myself in disguise i.e. another author, pursuing the same goals and objectives that I am (only maybe better and smarter than me).

What I enjoy most is contact with genuine readers who might be curious about what I’ve done, why and how and so on.

That, I enjoy very much.

Website and social media links:
Website: frankprem.com
Daily Poetry Blog: frankprem.wordpress.com
Facebook: FrankPrem11 and @frankprem2
Twitter: @frank_prem

Awards/special recognition:  No Awards for a number of years – I stopped seeking them a long time back. Book reviews at Goodreads are worth a look, though. Try these: Small Town Kid and Devil In The Wind.


Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

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The Beneficiary – Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father by Janny Scott

The Beneficiary
Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father
by
Janny Scott

Rating:

Here’s an interesting biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter Janny Scott. It’s actually a family history, spanning four generations of a wealthy family that settled on what’s called the Main Line outside of Philadelphia. In the early 1900s, Janny Scott’s great grandfather acquired over 800 acres of rolling land in Radnor, Pennsylvania, named it Ardrossan, and built a stone mansion, plus many other luxurious homes, farm buildings and cottages to house his family and the people who worked for him. Most of the first three generations lived in various homes on Ardrossan, including cousins and sometimes less than enthusiastic in-laws.

Locals will recognize the family names and their roles in business and law, especially the financial services firm, Janney Montgomery Scott. Robert Montgomery Scott was also a longtime president of the Philadelphia Museum and the family had a strong presence in business and among the wealthy.

A playwright named Philip Barry met Janny Scott’s grandfather at Harvard and wrote The Philadelphia Story. The Broadway play was produced in 1939 and starred Katherine Hepburn. Her character was based on Edgar Scott’s wife, Helen Hope Montgomery. The movie of the same name hit the theaters in 1940 and starred Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.

Although united by wealth, there were plenty of divisions and a great deal of power struggles, plus a debilitating history of alcoholism in the family. Robert Montgomery Scott, who died in 2005, was a charmer and a schmoozer, but his later years were marked by this disease.

Janny Scott wrote this book in order to know her father a little better. A prolific writer, he left a lifetime of personal journals to her, which were both painful and insightful to read.

I enjoyed this biography because of its local interest and also because I like reading about mansions and their history. What strikes me most is how stunted many of these family members were and also how out of touch they were with the rest of the world. Interestingly, the author’s generation branched out and became independent in their lives and careers.

I recommend The Beneficiary to readers who like biographies and studies of family history.

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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl
by
Hope Jahren

Rating:

Here’s a book I resisted reading for two reasons. First, there was so much hype about Lab Girl that I took a step back. When everyone gushes about a book, I feel as if the decision is already made that I have to like it. Stubborn as I am, I like to make my own decisions.

I also avoided Lab Girl because I am not a science person. I fulfilled my lab science in college (barely) and then moved on to English. Years later, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book about a scientist.

But then my book club friend chose Lab Girl and I committed to reading it.

So, wow. This book was excellent. Jahren writes beautifully about her lonely childhood in Minnesota, college life and early years trying to make it as a scientist.

Being a female scientist is not easy. Applying for grants and university pressures make financial stability a long-distant goal. She describes how she built her first lab out of a neglected basement classroom and how she and her lab partner, Bill, made do and scrounged for used equipment.

Jahren’s field is plants, especially trees, and her interest in them is contagious. She explains the fascinating way in which they grow, reproduce and adapt, making me think I probably would have liked this kind of science. She is perpetually curious and awestruck by the way nature works. I learned how seeds can lay dormant for years, waiting for the opportunity and courage to take a chance on growing. I like how she applies this to human life.

In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.

Lab Girl is a memoir more than it is a science book. Jahren’s father taught science at a community college and it was in his lab where she developed a love for learning. But her parents were cold and distant and she craved a nurturing existence. She also describes her personal struggles with bipolar disorder, a condition which reveals itself in her young adult years. Equally important to Jahren is her relationship with Bill, to whom she gives ample credit for their successes. Their connection, while not romantic, is like a marriage.

The lengths scientists go to satisfy their obsessive curiosity is what makes them successful at their jobs, even when the way they go about achieving their goals runs counter to how the rest of us live. All-nighters in the lab, eating junk food, cross-country road trips without a map, spontaneous overseas trips to study soil: these are normal times for Jahren, Bill and her students. I’m glad there are people like Jahren because they give us the gift of their knowledge. Jahren’s delivery is beautiful.

Lab Girl deserves all the hype and recognition it has received and I recommend it to all readers.

Jahren is an American geobiologist and geochemist and has won many prestigious awards. She currently works at the University of Oslo in Norway.

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Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them – Carol Spencer

Part one of three in a series celebrating Barbie’s 60th Anniversary

In my room, in the back yard, on the beach and almost always with my friend Nancy, Barbie and her crew were a big part of my childhood. In the 1960s and 70s and admittedly, almost into our teens, we spread out wherever there was space for our dolls, outfits, cases, dream houses, cars, and even a swimming pool. We were open to ideas, and readily included accessories from other toys, whether or not they were exact fits. All the while, we played out scenarios. Many of them were typical story lines for girls back then. Barbie and Ken go for a drive. Barbie and Casey get ready for the prom. Barbie babysits little sister Tutti at the beach. But sometimes our Barbies argued, got lost, wiped out in the surf or fell out of trees.

Introduced in 1959 as a teenage model, Barbie was the brainchild of Ruth Handler, whose husband Elliot founded Mattel with Harold Matson. From the start, Barbie had a spectacular wardrobe. Early outfits resembled the classic style of Jackie Kennedy, including Spencer’s first outfit shown here:

I was especially thrilled when my sister handed down her Barbies and many of these clothes to me because they also included hand sewn and custom knitted outfits, created by our grandmother.

Barbie turned 60 this year. To mark this occasion, Harper Design released a new memoir about one of Mattel’s original fashion designers, Carol Spencer: Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them. Spencer was a designer at Mattel for over 35 years and her fashions became ours.

Raised in Minneapolis, Spencer learned to sew as a girl. In 1950, she graduated high school, broke up with her boyfriend and enrolled at the Minneapolis School of Art. From there, she got a plum job as Guest Editor at Mademoiselle, then returned to Minneapolis where she designed children’s wear for Wonderalls and “misses sportswear” for Junior House. Her career at Mattel began when she answered a blind ad in Women’s Wear magazine, seeking a fashion designer. She got the job in 1963 and joined a team of four other designers, under Charlotte Johnson, Barbie’s original stylist. The intense competition between designers resulted in a mini closetful of fun styles for Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Scooter, Casey, Francie, Tutti and friends. And many of Barbie’s fashions were inspired by Spencer’s personal wardrobe.

Dressing Barbie includes pages of beautiful high quality images of a fantastic collection of dolls and clothes. As times in America and across the world changed, so did Barbie and her clothes. From the mod clothes of the 70s, to shoulder pads and big hair in the 80s and 90s, Barbie tried on more than just the latest fashion. New multi-cultural versions of Barbie were introduced, addressing a need for a better representation of girls around the world. New careers also opened up and Barbie became an astronaut, surgeon, CEO and now runs for President every election year.

Aerobics Barbie, shown here, made a cameo in Toy Story II.

I enjoyed reading about Spencer’s experiences as a fashion designer at Mattel and learning about the process of creating Barbie’s clothes. When Spencer started her career, designing was hands-on, using glue and tiny patterns. Later, computer designs made the job easier, although Spencer had always enjoyed using her hands to craft her ideas. One of the challenges was to find patterns and prints that were suitable to scale for a doll. I had not thought of that and was interested to read how they determined what to use. The Oil Embargo in 1973 also had an impact on Barbie’s clothes because they were no longer able to use polyester, acrylics or nylon fabrics which use petroleum as a base.

Although I eventually outgrew playing with Barbies, I was sorry to put them away. But I never got rid of them – they still live in my closet. I was also sorry that the best-selling Barbie of all time came out long after I stopped playing with them. Totally Hair Barbie, shown here, had a mane of hair I would have totally loved!

Dressing Barbie is a reminder of how important imaginative play is to children. Spencer leaves the reader with these thoughts:

Because I’ve been in the toy industry for so many years, I can’t help but worry about future generations. As play becomes more centered on the virtual world, will children miss out on the real-life experiences and imagination that playing with Barbie dolls offered?

For more information, click here to read a recent article from the New York Times about Carol Spencer and Dressing Barbie.

For more visit: Look what Barbie’s wearing! Barbie Fashion 1959-1967

Images shown above are from the pages of Dressing Barbie.

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