Archive for the 'Book' Category



Menswear Books: Gentleman by Bernhard Roetzel

A friend of mine recently asked about a menswear book I had mentioned on social media somewhere and I thought it would be interesting to write a few reviews of the ones I have in my bookshelf. I should preface this by saying that I am not an expert. If you want expert advice on a large number of menswear books, I would suggest you go to the Gentleman’s Gazette’s list of a 100 menswear books. After that, you might want to come back to this blog to read about my take on the subject.

gentleman roetzelOne of the first books I bought was Bernard Roetzel’s Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion (2009). I was looking for menswear books by Alan Flusser after reading the A Suitable Wardrobe blog. Out of curiosity, I ordered Roetzel’s book as well. More recently, I found his interview on the Gentleman’s Gazette YouTube channel and then followed him on Instagram. I also found out that he writes for Parisian Gentleman. But when I first bought Gentleman, the book was a random find and I had no idea what to expect.

The foreword told me that my copy was the revised new edition and that the original was ten years old already. Some of the information in it has not aged at all, but other things do seem a bit outdated. A section on tobacco, for example, does not seem quite appropriate any more – and I say this as a casual pipe smoker. Nevertheless, it goes over the basics very well. There is a lot of material in the book on a number of topics and I will not even try to summarize it all.  It tells you a little about grooming, clothes (of course), accessories, cultural differences and a few other gentlemanly activities. It will tell you how to fold your pocket square, how to pack your suitcase, what to wear on a fishing trip and how to wear tails. It is very nicely illustrated as well.

I understand that Roetzel’s book was a pioneering work. Today, there is more information available than we can handle, so times have definitely changed. This book required old-fashioned research and lots of time on the road and in the library. I guess the one critical thing I could say about it is that it does not go into great detail when discussing most of its topics. If you go read online forums today, people are obsessively geeking out over every little detail of every garment or code of conduct they can think of.

Roetzel deals in breadth in this book, which I do find a bit healthier than debating the merits of the hand-stitched Italian buttonhole by various regions of the country, but this unfortunately has to be counted as the book showing its age. You can still read it as a small encyclopaedia of menswear and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you want something a little more detailed, you might want to look elsewhere. For example, you may want to try Roetzel’s more recent writing. Having said all that, I do think this one is a must-read if only because it is one of the classics of the genre.

Finishing a Book: Part 5

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There is a large construction site next to my office. The symbolism is not lost on me. If I am to finish this book, I will have to put aside more time in my schedule. It is full as it is and thanks to the crisis in funding the present government has caused in Finnish universities I have taken on more translation work. The hammer could fall at any time. Until the government figures out cutting education means cutting the competitive edge of the country and the future of its economy (which is the same as making cuts to the present economy), things will stay the same. Finland, a Protestant country where suffering is a virtue in itself, has swallowed austerity with little to no criticism.

I did receive advice that basically boils down to: sleep less! I think this is necessary sometimes and lately I have worked very late nights followed by an early morning, but it is very difficult to get used to four hours of sleep a night. At least I would suffer from lack of sleep. That’s good, right? Seriously though, in this line of work your head needs to work properly and without proper sleep it would be impossible to function. Imagine lecturing in front of a hundred people when you are just about to fall asleep — it happens sometimes and it sucks. Or trying to organize the terminology and overall structure of a technical manual or a legal text. Or writing a book. Work becomes slow and the worker unproductive. Besides, even the construction workers get to go home at night.

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Finishing a Book: Part 4

WP_20161028_16_18_05_Pro.jpgI am so busy with work that finding time for the book was as difficult today as it was yesterday. I did manage to take my whiteboard to the office. It really is a surprisingly effective tool that can help you jot down ideas quickly and develop them further in a fairly spontaneous manner. There are three ideas for three articles on mine at the moment which I will plan on the board soon. Unfortunately, only one of them is directly related to the book, but it never hurts to have a few ideas going, especially if they do not have deadlines attached to them.

WP_20161028_18_34_00_Pro.jpgAt the office, I found that I was slightly too comfortable in my new surroundings and spent a lot of my time relaxing with YouTube videos and silly articles.The Internet is wonderful, but it does eat away at your time. Like the Langoliers from that horrible Stephen King miniseries. When I left the office today I felt very drowsy, tripped on the stairs and almost fell on my face. Pulse racing, I literally stumbled upon a bizarre light show projected from what I presume used to be a guard’s shack. A light shone on one of the buildings they used to guard when there was industry in Suvilahti. Bizarrely, I tend to think that if I focus a hundred percent on a project like the one I’m in the process of starting, I will not notice these little everyday miracles. Perhaps it’s better to think that the miracles are always out there whether you notice them or not. I guess they call it faith.

Finishing a Book: Part 3

wp_20161027_23_04_19_proTeaching and other things stole most of my time today, so I did not have much to think about the book. I decided to finish a book review in order to write something and it is turning out to be something very different from what I normally write. This time, the journal’s editor asked me if there was something I wanted to review instead of simply suggesting a title. I said I would like to review Dustin Griffin’s Authorship in the Long Eighteenth Century. Not sure why I said that. I guess I really liked the book, but I honestly did not think that far ahead. Thinking about the book, I decided that there should be something that links my previous research to my own book project, but found only a weak tangent to do the job. This will have to do.

The main point of Griffin’s book, as I read it, is that we too often tell ourselves cartoonish stories about topics like the Birth and Death of the Author. There are no representatives of the pure categories of the gentleman author who just writes for pleasure and the career hack who writes for money, for example. Not in the real world. There has to be more attention to detail than that in order to make claims about authorship in the eighteenth century. Scholarship does not boil down to a few talking points and grand stories about how concept X has been transformed over time from point A to point B. You cannot rely on knowing just a few tricks of form in order to complete a study like this. Nor is doing this type of research like passing your midterms, writing a term paper or even a thesis. There is a broad claim in Griffin’s book, but it is not that important. With forty years of experience behind him, his command of his materials is convincing and his perspective on his discipline is incredibly deep. It is a book of what the author himself calls a “careful historian” who is more interested in the personalities behind a dedicatory poem than the grand essence of someone’s imagined idea of what an author is or should be like.

I may never be able to write a book that is this mature. I realized this today while sitting at a table surrounded by the loveliest bunch of philosophers and philosophy enthusiasts you will ever find anywhere. Two or three minutes of staring into the void and everything was fine again. The company of the niin & näin crowd and the location of the party — a tea shop I had never noticed but was obviously the nicest and coziest little tea shop in Helsinki — helped me get over it. Walking back home in miserable weather felt fine. Feeling tired and blank was fine. Everything was fine: I would meet my deadlines, get the word count up to a decent number, maybe add that extra chapter, finish everything in time. And if I didn’t, who cares? I have been taught to resent feelings of contentment that run this deep, but it’s impossible to resent them when your friends are just so damn cute.

Finishing a Book: Part 2

wp_20161026_11_04_02_proThe new office seems nice. The guys who rented a space for me include people who publish a well-known Finnish journal. It has a warehouse vibe and is located where the übercool Flow Festival takes place every summer – we get free access, I’m told. There is a café nearby that is supposed to be great and a pub I know is one of the best in Helsinki. My new friends at the office told me there is a nice lunch place next to ours. There are Keith Haring stickers on the wall next to my desk, but I’m sure they are an ironic comment on 90s fashion and not an attempt to be actually fashionable.

The area is very industrial and no doubt very hip, but it also means it is quite basic. I am not looking for luxury. Nor am I fazed by the inevitable accusations of hipsterdom. Although it must be said I was shocked to discover recently that a Helsinki brochure labeled our neighborhood a “Hipsterområdet”, a hipster area.wp_20160918_17_29_50_pro

For anyone visiting the city, that usually translates into better coffee and better beer, but we don’t really have much of that. You need to know your way around and for that I recommend you acquire the services of a local guide. I could help you with the coffees.

My first job at the office was to settle in and translate a job I got through an agency. While translating, I ended up thinking that people in publishing seem to work really hard and on salaries that are rarely worth their input. Their reward is the finished product, something beautiful at the end of the process. While thinking about this and translating a news bulletin about an award given to someone at a networking event (or whatever) I noticed that my cynicism against the business world is slowly being eroded. These are mostly people who are trying their best to make a living and have a quiet air of despair that drives them to make contact with others. Unlike literary scholars and people in publishing I know, they never seem to break character or admit that we are all trying to do the same thing. Or that most of us fail in the end.

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Maybe a nice cup of coffee or a beer really is the best we can do to enjoy ourselves while waiting for the inevitable. I think that is more  or less the conclusion R. Jay Magill, Jr. reaches in his hipster book Sincerity. In any case, everything should now be in place. I have stuff to work with and a place where I can do it. I am appropriately world-weary, have a desperate feeling in my gut accompanied by a feeling of self-loathing shimmering in the back of my skull. Suvilahti feels like a home away from home.

Finishing a Book: Part 1

wp_20161025_20_26_28_proFor two years, I did research for a scholarly book that has been set aside for a while. Due to a recent revelation about how it should be structured, I have now decided to push through and finish it whatever it takes. Most of the research is done and there will be little if anything added to the materials. As much as I and my colleagues love to talk about research, there is also the practical work of bringing it all together in a finished product. What does it take to finish a book? I do editing work on the side and have enough experience to know what has to be done. I know the materials inside out. Everything should be in place for this thing to just emerge page after nicely edited page.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Some of the things needed to get there are easy to fix. To get things organized, my files have now been ordered in separate folders according to their corresponding chapters. There is no real need for this, but it helps me to see the structure of the book and what needs to be done next. (Picking through files can be productive sometimes: I found a sketch of an article I had put aside for later.) I bought a whiteboard which has turned out to be a really useful tool for sketching out ideas quickly. It will be of great help, I’m sure. I bought a new laptop that can handle more or less anything I throw at it. My old one was disintegrating anyway, so the investment was worth it.

I have been getting bits and pieces done while commuting or in between jobs. I have worked on it at home. It would get done eventually, but it looks like I cannot finish the book in any reasonable schedule in this haphazard fashion. Some people can do it, bless them, but I get distracted very easily. I was fortunate enough to find a workspace at an office building nearby. I shall visit the place tomorrow and report back. It is wonderful to work from home, but getting up and going to your desk at work is something I find I need. I waste far too much time at home. The rent sounds reasonable enough.

Finally, there is this blog which I will use as a journal to document whatever is going on with the project. I do not expect anyone to find it riveting reading, but if someone wants to act as my superego, feel free to do so. Mostly the journal is here to make me more aware of the things I am doing in order to advance the book.