Friday, September 17, 2010

Top Ten Reasons True Prep is Unreadable: A Review

My personal experience so far is that rather than being simply good or bad, Lisa Birnbach's True Prep: It's a Whole New Old World seems unreadable. I can't wait to put it down, and have a hard time picking it up.

(And I really did not want to write this piece, because it seems as dark as I am accusing the book of being. The topic of Prep should be fun and light, eschewing a certain self-seriousness and snarkiness. Nevertheless, because many have asked, and with all appropriate trepidation and apologies...)

Here are the top ten reasons why True Prep is unreadable:

1) The first person plural: I don't know any book that can survive with a first person plural narrative. Writing from the "We" perspective generates reactance. It also forgoes the humor possible in the more anthropological "they" from The Official Preppy Handbook.

2) Too many discordant moments: At least every other page, I am faced with items or people that are not Preppy. If I had to categorize, I would say that they main emphasis is on Yuppie not Preppy. To me, little of the book felt familiar.

3) This is a book about people I don't like and places I don't like, and probably for people I don't like. I don't want to spend time in this world.

4) The Official Preppy Handbook is better today than True Prep. Lisa Birnbach and friends did such a good job on creating a timeless work that it endures today.

5) Too often overly broad: Facebook? Texting? The TV series Twenty-Four? Blockbuster Video? The book focuses on culture-wide trends without much effort to put a unique Preppy context on them.

6) Too often overly narrow: The passion in this book seems to be on the travails of life in well-off New York City (plastic surgery, addictions, trials, rehab, divorce and "daddy's new girlfriend," death).

7) Not funny: Almost all attempts at humor fall flat.

8) Unattractive layout: Preppy is, in part, an aesthetic, that I do not believe this book embodies. (Photos were always the weak spot of TOPH as well. Now there are more of them.)

9) Organization seems non-existent: I don't know how this book was supposed to be organized.

10) Smarmy product placements: This book has the unfortunate combination of strongly advocating specific pricey items as the primary path to prep-dom while working closely with specific companies (weirdly disclosed at best) shilling these products. (One seldom pays these days to be the target of so much selling.)

Take a look at The Prep Pantheon's entry on this issue.

There are worse ways of spending money than buying this book. And I certainly enjoyed the first enough to pay this tribute thirty years later. Nevertheless, my dominant thought is that I believe there will not be a third Prep book from Ms. Birnbach.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Maine Boat Building and The Carpenter’s Boatshop

There are so many high school and college students who are buying from farmer markets and even seeking out well-made, thick, used sweaters at "vintage" or Good Will stores. They understand instinctively that things built with stewardship minimizes waste over time. As they can no longer take it for granted, they are beginning to actively rediscover respectful production from real American craftsmen.

Spend an afternoon at The Carpenter’s Boatshop. It represents a microcosm of a respectful production process.

A respectful production process uses:
  • Classic designs, with careful updates around necessary and improved functionality (boats have to perform):

  • Masters and apprenticeships roles (workers are not interchangeable, and masters have decades of experience):

A Master boatbuilder shows her work.

  • Natural and quality inputs:
New tools, beautiful wood
  • Minimal use of the middlemen (who disintermediate the producer from the end-buyer):
Boats in the old workshop are ready for customers
  • An established process and business model to refurbish old products (there is a wisdom that comes to organizations that encourages the repair of their old items):
Boats "returning" to be fixed.
And then there is the additional benefit of a nautical form and function. The New England classic aesthetic is inextricable from the shore.

Obviously, this level of care is impractical with much of what we use and consume. But when One looks at fresh milk available directly from dairy farms, even the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote bag, one can’t help but think the amount of products made with respect will increasingly be sought after.

Every boat from The Carpenter's Boatshop has this Scottish prayer...

The Reverend Bobby Ives.  Photo Courtesy of The Lincoln County News, Damariscotta, Maine (used with permission)