I've got two little things in the December issue of Open Letters. First up, my latest perfume column: "On the Scent: A Dip in the Mainstream," in which I review stuff you can get at big chain stores for under $100 a pop. I talk a little about the problems with mainstream perfumes:
New mainstream releases tend to suffer from a tedious adherence to trends (we’ve been stuck in a cycle of thin fruity florals, super-clean musky florals, and Angel-esque fruity-patchouli numbers for a good decade now) as well as a certain cheapness that belies their price tags. This cheapness usually manifests as a bare minimum, or complete lack, of natural materials, which give body and complexity to perfume. Simple, mostly synthetic formulas can smell pleasant at first, but get boring very quickly, since they don’t offer all that much more than the fragrance in your $10 shampoo.
Also problematic is the fact that even if you are looking for something in particular – say you’ve set your fancy on a green floral – the sales assistants often can’t guide you to something that properly fits this description. It’s not entirely their fault – they’re encouraged if not forced by management to push the newer releases, so they’ve got to find something relatively green among this season’s batch of fruity florals; they can’t or don’t think to show you perfectly serviceable green florals of decades past, such as Chanel Cristalle or Estee Lauder Alliage. “Green” simply isn’t in these days.Nonetheless, there were some solid releases in the past couple of years. You'll find reviews of scents including Bottega Veneta, Cartier Baiser Vole, Tom Ford Violet Blonde, and Diane.
Also, I contributed to the "Our Year in Reading" feature (Part 1, Part 2) along with the other contributing editors (including John Cotter, Steve Donoghue, Adam Golaski, Lisa Peet, and Sam Sacks). I wrote about the most memorable novels I read this year:
In 2010, my hands-down favorite reads were Howards End by E.M Forster and A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. This year, I only managed to cross one classic off my list: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I started this book about a month before moving 2,000 miles across the country, and what with the packing and unpacking and everything in between, I might not have finished it, were it not for Mick, surely one of the best young female characters in all of American literature. This novel starts off feeling like linked stories, until you realize the chapters are cycling through a handful of major characters, all misfits in a small Southern town. Each has an interesting story, but I fell completely for Mick, a fierce, protective tomboy with a secret passion for music. Struggling against hate and poverty, she eventually succumbs, unwillingly and almost unknowingly, to the banal horror of an ordinary life. The fifth chapter in Part 2, in which Mick’s little brother runs away, is twenty pages of utter perfection, a self-contained wonder I’ll keep coming back to.To read about some of the great poetry books I read this year, see here and here.
The issue also includes cool art by Pattie Lee Becker (the above is her print "Ramona's Bright Idea") and lots of good book reviews as always. Go read!