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Bohemania! Book Reviews

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Written on May 8, 2005 1:55 PM

If I had even the faintest fondness for patchouli oil, I’m sure that I’d be soaking in it given my recent reading preferences. After a lengthy trip to lands of esoteric fiction, I’ve found myself deep in book after book about that in-and-out subculture know as Bohemia. Following are snapshots of three of my favorite (and, consequently, recently published) titles:

The Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge by Laren Stover
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From the gem of a writer who brought us The Bombshell Manual of Style, comes a manifesto for the modern Bohemian that is not only entertaining to read, but a distinct pleasure to look at, ripe with heavy handed illustration and thick, glossy pages. This is a book for the coffee table (made all the more Bohemian if it doubles as a coaster and picks up a ringed coffee or red wine stain). Not as much a manifesto by definition (this isn’t in any way motivated by politics or a desire to change the world), but rather a lifestyle guide with principles from Bohemia past, the book is broken apart into broad sections such as Bohemian Psychology, Bohemian Lifestyle, and Bohemian Case Studies. Within these, readers can discover what kind of Bohemian they (or their friends: i.e., fun party reading for the literati) may be: Nouveau, Gypsy, Beat, Zen, or Dandy. There are extensive looks at decorating, food, reading material, art, even choice vehicles and names. Although she includes bits here and there on the history of Bohemia, Stover selected to leave out much of the darker side. As she writes in the introduction, “When a group elects to live on the edge, it’s not always pretty, blissful, or ecstatic. I dwell upon the originality, quirks, courage, decorative deviance and exuberance, the aspirational elements of Bohemia unclouded, for the most part, by somber depressions, morbid fantasies and extreme poverty. “ Suggestions for reading further on the darker sides of the sub-culture is not included, but Astrology and a neat little quiz finish off the tome that is encapsulated Bohemian itself: oddly attractive, non-sensical, and eccentric to the core.

The Starving Artist’s Way: Easy Projects for Low-Budget Living by Nava Lubelski
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As the subtitle suggests, this is a book crammed full of cheap ways to create, be it food, furniture, or clothing, but what takes it above and beyond the slew of project guides out there is the lifestyle aspect. This is genuinely for starving artists (or those who just like to pretend to be—we all know someone) and contains, along with project instruction, a slew of condensed art history lessons. Learn about Anne Wilson, a contemporary conceptual artist working with textiles, as you learn how to make placemats out of hot glue and magazine pages. Read up on Gustav Klimt while getting gift-wrap ideas, or sculptor and video artist Mike Kelley while attempting to make giant, edible gummy bears. Lubelski has sectioned the book in five main parts: Food, Home Decorating, Wearables, Potions, and Spectular Special Events and Gifts. Within these areas fall a seemingly endless and amazingly varied selection of things to create. Some of my favorites that I’ve made include the Pomegranate Liqueur (although I don’t have the patience to make the juice myself), the Peanut Butter Cube Cups (make sure your PB isn’t too runny or the chocolate will never mold around it), the “Seven Years’ Bad Luck” Mirror, and the Out-of-Focus Photo Album. A few of the projects are a little too freaky (felt made from wads of pet hair), or aesthetically unpleasing (detergent-Bottle Wall Sconce) for my tastes, but that’s one of the great things about the book—there is something for everyone. My only irritation is at the lack of clear images accompanying the projects. Minor illustrations are shown for some of the more intensive projects, but those are few and far between.
Still, this would be a fantastic addition to any bohemian library.

And last, but certainly not least, comes a little real-life inspiration…

Holy Skirts by René Steinke
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The Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was an original in every sense of the word. Fleeing her oppressive father and family in Germany, she wound up becoming a sensation in the New York Dada art scene. A poet, nude model, and crafty lady, she wandered Greenwich Village in the early twentieth century wearing such fantastical creations as a bra made from tin cans, a bustle complete with flashing taillight, and my personal favorite, a birdcage necklace—housing a live bird, of course.
What Steinke has done is taken the world of the baroness a step further, playing with the facts of her incredible life to create a novel rich with her loves, tragedies, and accomplishments. She comes to life on these pages, and I read having to remind myself that not every word was true (Steinke ends the book with an author’s note that offers some insight into her changes, as well as suggestions for further factual reading). Holy Skirts was what I consider a perfect “beach read” (I don’t read chick lit or mass market thrillers, nor do I go lay on the beach, but if I did…), a literate-lite, engrossing, sometimes sad, and often inspiring story about a woman who lived and loved with an enthusiasm bordering at times on insanity.
(FYI: René is the cousin of another fantastic female writer, Darcy Steinke)

All available at amazon.com

comment by saffronwoman on May 8, 2005 3:41 PM:

These all look like a lot of fun. I'm going to have to check them out.

I used to live in Camp Meeker, CA - right off the Bohemian Highway! It was, and probably still is, pretty bohemian there.

comment by happyhats on May 8, 2005 9:18 PM:

Wow, I want to read all of those books. This kind of lifestyle sounds so fun and carefree and crazy!

comment by jmdruadh on May 13, 2005 2:14 PM:

Eeee!!! I was reading through the table of contents of "The Starving Artists' Way" on Amazon, and they have instructions for a duct tape wallet! My sister made me one of those a few years ago, and it is one of the coolest and geekiest things I ever owned. You can also make them out of clear packing tape, with newspaper comics as the liner. Eeeee!!!

comment by leCandypopRock on May 13, 2005 3:17 PM:

i totally read the bombshell manual of style. it was adorable! i must check this new dig out.

comment by Schmatta on May 13, 2005 3:44 PM:

Ohmigosh! I want to read them all, right now. Thanks for the alert.

comment by Katrin on May 13, 2005 7:11 PM:

My sister gave me "The Starving Artist's Way" this past Xmas. I heartily recommend it - even if you never actually make any of the projects, it's some interesting reading that might spark other crafty ideas. The pet-fur felt made me a little sad, 'cause my extra-fluffy kitty Floyd, who passed away in October, could have helped me with that. I don't think I'd actually try it, though.

The other two books sound fascinating. I think I'll have to get both.

comment by bohemiarama on May 26, 2005 1:10 AM:

Absolutely must read those. I've been traveling for almost three years. My current lifestyle and my 35 jobs have inspired me to create my current project. http://bohemirama.moonfruit.com/
A bohemian at heart, I don't believe I can live any other way. Follow your passion and you will get your rewards. Honestly, knowing their are more of my kinds makes me warm and fuzzy inside. Too know there is such passion in the world makes me happy!

comment by Katrin on May 27, 2005 3:28 PM:

I bought the Bohemian Manifesto and am almost finished with it - it's entertaining but rather disappointing. I guess I expected more of a guide to living a creative, eccentric life. Instead, it turned out to be a somewhat pretentious collection of stereotypes and generalizations - the "if you want to be a nonconformist, you have to act just like us" kind of thing.

It's a fun, lighthearted read, though. The illustrations are pretty in an "I could do that (hey, I [i]should[/i] do that)" way, and there are some interesting tidbits of info about colorful people throughout history.

My recommendation: Probably not worth buying, but check it out from the library.