As a fan of all things vintage (clothes, furniture, wine…I don’t discriminate!), I was particularly excited to launch into August’s book of the month, Astor Place Vintage. Describing the book to friends, I’ve used the words “historical fiction, with a side of chick-lit”.
It’s the story of two women, modern day Amanda and back-in-the-day Olive (and by BITD I mean early 1900’s). Amanda is the owner of a vintage clothing shop in the East Village, Astor Place Vintage (also important to mention she’s going through a tumultuous love affair with a married man…ahh, the modern day love triangle!) When she discovers a journal sewn into a fur muff, she gets immediately pulled into Olive’s life in the year 1907, which does much to feed her nostalgia for an earlier, simpler time…while making her realize that the life Olive and other women lived during that Victorian era were not exactly as simple as she would like to believe.
The novel goes back and forth between Amanda and Olive’s narration, and it’s quite fun to see, despite the 100 year gap between the women, all the similarities. Olive is also interested in fashion, choosing to work her way up from sales girl in a big department store to assistant buyer…forgoing instead the security that getting married would have provided her.
Okay, so now time for discussion! I’ve picked 3 questions from the author’s Book Club Discussion Guide at the back of the book, and for those of you that have read it, would love for you to join in and share your thoughts in the comment section below!
1. Early in the book, Amanda ponders how it’s “funny how styles from your own parents’ day tend to call out with that seductive aura of nostalgia” (page 10). What era’s styles appeal you?
Oh man, this is easy! I’m simply in love with the styles of the twenties (so much so that our wedding reception was totally themed to this era!) Something about pearls, drop waist dresses, and a painted red lipstick just gets me every time.
2. As a single woman in the early 1900s, Olive cannot stay alone at a reputable hotel; there are women-only areas in restaurants and bars; the idea of her working is met with significant disapproval; and the Victorian attitudes about women’s sexuality leave her ignorant and unprepared. At the end of the book she thinks, “Perhaps the day will come when women exist in the world as equals to men” (page 386). Do you think that day has come? If not, do you think it ever will?
In terms of the positive changes that have happened over the last 100 years, I do believe that womens’ equality was something that was fought VERY hard for, and in 2014, we’re lucky enough to reap the benefits of all the hard work put into this movement by women who have come before us. (HUGE thank you, ladies!) The novel certainly does a wonderful job of painting the picture of just HOW far we have come.
3. The theme of change as constant and unstoppable is present throughout the novel. Is the past always worth leaving behind? Is newer always better? Is it possible to strike a balance between preserving what is worthy about the past while allowing for modern developments?
There was a great quote somewhere in the story that said “nostalgia is a mild form of depression.” While yes, I think SOME nostalgia is good…looking at old family photographs, remembering the “simpler” time in the 90’s before the internet and smart phones, recalling childhood memories…I think these are healthiest done in moderation. Olive’s friend in the novel marveled how that crazy thing called electricity would NEVER take off…well. I think this is a perfect example of changing with the times, and appreciating that while, yes, we can pine for the days of flapper dresses because they were adorable, I certainly wouldn’t be so keen on living in NYC with the lack of technology the 20’s provided…tenement buildings before plumbing and AC? No, thank you!:-)
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book below, and make sure to join us next month for our discussion on Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which we’ll hold on Thursday, October 16th. Between now and then feel free to share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #UYCBookclub!
By: Jessica Tiare Bowen