Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello

What other bag can create such a frenzy? Victoria Beckham has more than one, Lindsay Lohan possesses a few. Of course Gisele Bunchen has a couple as do Nicky Hilton and Kelly Osbourne, just to name a sliver of the celebs who carry the luxurious and highly regarded bag. I'm talking about a Hermes Birkin of course!

I knew I would just love Bringing Home The Birkin by Michael Tonello. Reading this book was probably as close to holding a real Birkin in my hands as I'll ever get!

Michael fell in love with Barcelona, Spain on a trip. So he went home, packed up his belongings on the east coast and relocated himself to Europe. But what would he do to earn a living? Call it luck, good fortune or a case of destiny, Michael found himself brokering Birkin bags for women all over the world! He was a dealer, an import-export professional of the status symbol known as a Birkin. He writes about his escapades in the new book, Bringing Home the Birkin which is a fun and entertaining book. I ended the book not knowing whether I wanted to hang out with Michael in Barcelona or obtain a Birkin. I'm leaning towards Barcelona.

The book was really funny and charming! I think you did a great job of infusing the book with your personality. What kind of comments do you get most from people who have read the book?

Not a huge number of people have read the book yet because the publication date is April at this point, it has been read by people who fall into three categories--those working with the project at HarperCollins, those who know me personally or professionally, or those who are somehow involved with the book or media industry as a whole.

However, those that have read it say that they expected the book to be about handbags (namely the Birkin) and come away pleasantly surprised that it's so much more than that. Some have mentioned staying up late to finish it, which is a wonderful thing for an author to hear. And those who know me personally are always telling me that as they read it they feel like I am in the room, telling them a story. I always think that particular feedback could go either way, depending on how they feel about me!

You have traveled extensively. Tell me your favorite places. If I could only visit one place in Europe , where should I go?

I'd love to own a small home on Capri....that is my "if i won the lottery" dream. But if you can only visit one place in Europe, make it Barcelona. It has it, culture, big urban vibe, small town manageability, great food and wine, amazing architecture, centuries of history....I could go on and on. I guess I am probably biased, considering I live there, but it really is an amazing city.

What were some of the low points during the Birkin days?

The endless travel with accumulating baggage. It's not easy traveling with huge shopping bags. People often think that sounds silly and I say to them: okay, you fly to Zurich with two suitcases and then take the train to two or three other cities and collect a shopping bag (keeping in mind that an Hermes shopping bag with a Birkin in it is bigger than most suitcases) at each of your stops and then continue on....and on and on. It's not fun. There are no porters standing on street corners or at entrances to train stations after the taxi just dumps you there. I only have two hands.

On a more serious note, it also began to distress me how obsessive some of my clients were. After all, at the end of the day, a Birkin is just a really, really nice purse that costs a lot of money. It isn't a life or death situation, but sometimes when my Blackberry was beeping, my cell phone was vibrating, and my inbox was overflowing, all with Birkin requests, it was difficult to remember that I wasn't some kind of heart surgeon or something! You do start to think about where people place their priorities.

How did the book come about?

I bet my cousin (who had often talked about writing a book) that I would write my book first....and I only said that to get her to write hers! I really had no actual plan of writing a book. Then a week later on an extra-long flight i started making notes of all the strange things that happened to me in my little "Birkin world"....and it just went on from there. So I did end up winning the bet, too.

What are some of your hobbies?

Fine, travel (for pleasure!), theatre, film.

Living in Europe you get to see a lot of art, culture and history. Who are some of your favorite artists? Dali, Picasso and George Condo. On a related note, I have toured one of Dali's homes (it's in a tiny village in Spain), and it is one of Europe's best-kept secrets, in my opinion. His home decor ideas are as original (and occasionally disturbing) as his art.

Do you keep in touch with the women you procured Birkins for?

A few. Some have become friends.

What is the attraction of such an expensive bag- is it that is so well made, beautiful or the thrill of the chase because obtaining one is so difficult?

All of the above. They are amazingly well made and luxurious, there is no question of the quality. And beauty, while in the eye of the beholder, is sort of a given for any item that is made with such exquisite care to detail. But I believe that in some degree or another, it's the mystique of the bag that is the big allure....the idea of not being able to get it. Hermes took the old adage of wanting what you can't have, and used it as a marketing paradigm. In doing so, they created the ultimate it-bag, and an enduring symbol of luxury.

What are you doing these days?

Getting ready for book tour. Writing. I'm collaborating on a childrens book set in Barcelona, featuring my two Bengal cats, Gala and Dali.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

If you mean geographically, chiefly in Barcelona. Professionally, I see myself continuing with the childrens' books (I envision a series.). And who knows....maybe making them into movies. Maybe making this book into a movie. I don't see myself toting orange Hermes bags all over creation again, that's for sure. I have always been a "carpe diem" kind of person, so I would have to say I will go where opportunity beckons. And if I knew where I would be in the future, where would be the fun and excitement in the journey?

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Celebutantes and other books

To view the trailer for this book- click here! I was all kinds of excited to read Celebutantes. Gritty details of the Hollywood lifestyle is what I expected and to that extent, the book delivered. There is name dropping aplenty which makes the book super contemporary and of the times. It's light and has some humerous parts but at the end of the day, I didn't connect with it.

Celebutantes got some very good reviews so if you can't live without your weekly People, US Weekly, Ok and Star magazines, this book is for you.

I'm a moody reader and have to be in a certain state of mind for a certain kind of book. I've been really into historical books lately and have Elizabeth 1 by Carolly Erickson to read next. For my book club read, I chose Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wife Goes On by Leslie Lehr

Wife Goes On is the perfect book to take on vacation with you. It's an easy and entertaining read, alternating between four woman who find themselves divorced or about to get a divorce. There's the highschool beauty who married the handsome quarterback only to find he's not her Prince Charming. There's the high powered attorney who husband turned out to be gay. The gorgeous former actress who is now working at a furniture store. And last, there's the mom of two whose life unravels when she decides to leave her gambling husband.

Author Leslie Lehr does a good job of giving each woman her own distinct personality and storyline. All the woman have something in common- they are all much stronger and smarter than they give themselves credit for.

I zipped through this book quickly and found that Leslie is a great storyteller. Whether you are divorced or married, this is the ideal summer read. It's juicy and sexy in parts, funny in other parts and ends with a satisfying resolution for all four women.

Which of the four women you wrote about do you relate to the most? And you can't say a little bit of all four!

Diane. She began as the main narrator before I switched to rotating chapters. She's the most real to me, the everymom who sacrificed so much and has little to show for it except starting over and trying to be there for her kids in a way that will be best for them all later. I truly wanted to start a business for divorced women -- the learning curve is so huge then the information is wasted and why not have a AAA discount for women who need it.

I got one from many sources unofficially, free coffee, a discounted coffee table, I even got off a speeding ticket, when I shared my woe in a cheerful way with others who had been there, done that and knew the struggle. Mi Piace is a real restaurant where the manager made me feel comfortable dining alone and gave me champagne when I had my final divorce decree and told me I should have whatever I want.

My best friend from London sent me the first sex toy I'd ever seen, and my teenage daughter and I were both warned about being sexually high risk from my doctor! It's also true that each character shares other experiences I've had: Bonnie and I are both Buckeyes and had our cars stolen from a grocery store right in the thick of things; Lana and I share film experience and a love of the beach; and Annette and I both had a heartbreaking fling that taught us more about what we want than what we lost.

If you could be one of the women for a day, who would you chose? I think Id like to look like Lana! And be her too.

Oh yes, Lana has the most fun. And yet Annette is the coolest, I think, the ice queen in Armani.

Where did the idea of Instant Pleasures come from? Would Diane's storyline have been different if she chose to sell...oh I don't know...gourmet dog food?

The idea was inspired by a gift my friend sent to help when I was down - it prompted a sexual rebirth which turned out to be not only common, but instrumental with many women beginning a second act. Gail Sheehy's book, Sex and Seasoned Woman allowed me to talk openly with others about what used to be a taboo topic. And when I went to have sushi for the first time by myself, I happened to sit by another woman dining alone - who had a sex toy company! It was perfect, because wanted Diane to be smart enough t have an MBA but have a rough time on ramping back to work like so many of us do with hours and pay and experience.

The divorce laws that profess to be fair to educated women are way ahead of the reality. And Diane needed to have tough choices in terms of what was considered respectable in her new career: challenge some boundaries. Is divorce respectable? Despite the numbers, doesn't feel that way when you have so much invested in it - dreams and kids and years on the softball field. This business was a thematic metaphor for the divorce -- you can have sex with or without a partner, just like life. And when I discovered Pure Romance, Inc., this fabulous Fortune 500 company begun by a woman and empowering women to support themselves and encourage our natural sexuality, it just clicked for the story. While the company is behind this book 100%, I wasn't sure of legalities, so Diane ultimately uses the name of a Rufus Wainwright song my daughter played. The lyrics shocked me until I realized that they end with a plea of how tough it is to truly find love.

What is the last book you read?

The Female Brain by Dr. Luanne Brazelton, has a whole chapter letting me off the hook with my teenage daughters. It was a relief to know that, as they would say: it's so not about me. I also like Anatomy of Story - the author is a genius. As for novels, I'm all over the place, but have a soft spot for Caroline Leavitt and Laura Zigman.

Imagine you're let loose in the mall with five hundred dollars to spend. How do you spend your money?

A fabulous dress. I love dresses, but there are not enough fabulous ones to choose from. Then again, maybe with $500....

Do you ever read self help books or practice the ideologies from The Secret? I love to hear how successful people become successful.

I used to think that self help books were for the weak. Then my husband left me. Then he wanted to come back and I wasn't so sure.... and I found this great self help book about how to decide and I was hooked. Wayne Dyer's Power of Intention saved my life. Out of the blue, a friend's husband gave me the tapes and I listened in the car. I still do. When The Secret came out, one of my friends, the one married one who stuck with me through my divorce, called me all excited that she read it and recognized that I already knew it.

I think there's a lot of good information out there people have gathered wisdom forever, after all, but it's a matter of timing and luck -- and your intention - about when, and exactly what, works for you. That said, I can tell when I need to listen to Wayne again, have the faith that things will work out, and believe in myself and the universe enough to take the steps to make it happen.

Would you rather date Ben Affleck or Matt Damon? Did you see the infamous Jimmy Kimmel-Sarah Silverman videos?

Neither, and no. I still resent the boys' Oscar too much to crush on either type. They had so much help with a formulaic script, I can't get past it. Plus, I'm old enough to appreciate Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and was very happy to linger on that end shot of George Clooney in Michael Clayton. And lately my reality is better than any fantasy, being adored by a flesh and blood man who shows up on time with flowers and is taking me to Paris - is better than someone reading lines someone wrote anytime!

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Oops, think I covered that one. A Wrinkle In Time by the late Madeline L'Engle is my all time favorite book. I read it to my kids' elementary school classes and always embarrassed them by crying when Meg calls out to her little brother to break the spell of the evil "It" : "I love you Charles Wallace!" Still makes my heart pound. Still embarrasses my kids.:-)

Do you have any words of phrases that you use on a daily basis? I use words that were last heard during the eighties.

Like what? Since I am trying not to work on weekends, I probably say TGIF way too often. Mostly, I try not to repeat my girls' use of "like."

Where did you grow up? How was your childhood and teen years? Did any experiences prepare you for becoming a writer?

Yikes! I grew up in Ohio and both of my parents were professors at Ohio State. I was a big reader and I always wrote, but I never wanted to be a writer. In fact, I would still discourage people from writing if they have a better career option - something with better hours and guaranteed pay. But when you have something to say, it's really hard not to take advantage of any opportunity to say it. I think it's important. On the personal side, my parents had a long and violent divorce, which made me more determined to stay married despite not having a good role model fora husband. That, in turn, prompted my absolute shock at how happy I was once I finally made the heart wrenching decision...and led me to write this book so other women don't waste so much time being afraid of being alone. We are not alone! This is not our mothers' divorce! They didn't air their dirty laundry, now we wash it together. Husbands may come and go, but friends are forever.

I'm so excited that you wrote a movie which will be on Lifetime TV. Now that the writers strike is over, what's the scoop with the movie?

Right now, everyone is really excited about Wife Goes On, so my screenplay for them, "Welcome to Club Divorce," is on hold until my tour is over. Lifetime has made a lot of changes in the past year, lots more humor and modern takes on life, so I expect to be writing a new draft that reflects their new direction. Rumor has it, they want my project to be their answer to the "Starter Wife" series. It's all good. Plus, I'm almost finished with another book, I'm teaching a bit for the Writers Program at UCLA, raising my daughters...this Wife Goes On!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum

Get yourself to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and buy Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum today. It's so good that I know everyone will love it as much as I did. I started out with limited time figuring I would read just a couple pages but I ended up reading it late into the night. Sometimes I read a book and think, "WhenI know what I'm doing with screenwriting, I'm going to take these fabulous books and turn them into movies." This was one of those books. Maybe it's just that some authors paint an amazing picture of their story and it comes alive for the reader.

Janice Erlbaum's writing is incredible. Some writers are good story tellers, some have a way with words fashioning their sentences like poetry. Other writers know how to hook you and never let you go. Some writers write purely to entertain. Janice is a combination of all of these. Her memoir of her relationship with a smart, tricky street kid named Sam, is a story that will have you turning pages quickly. Sometimes you want to slap Sam, then you want to hug her. You want to do the same to Janice.

I read this book in record time wishing it was just a little big longer because I didn't want it to end. The story, the writing, the descriptions, New York city as a backdrop, its all blended together into one fascinating memoir that you simply can't miss.

I have to tell you that I've taken the liberty to cast the movie version of your book, at least mentally. All the way through the book I kept thinking that it MUST be made into a film. I cast Angelina Jolie as you, Brad Pitt as Bill (why not? they work well together), Halle Berry as Nadine, Jennifer Lopez as Maria, one of the Olsen moppets as Sam, I'm stumped on who should play Jodi. What do you think?

Cindy, I am hugely complimented by your casting! I was thinking Lauren Ambrose or Chloe Sevigny as me, and Bill claims he should be played by Jack Black, but I like Brad and Angelina much better. I mean, me and Angie have so much in common – she likes adopting needy children, and I almost did the same. So that’s perfect. Jodi’s a stumper, though – maybe Laura Linney with a Brooklyn accent?

The scene where you and Sam played Would You Rather...made me laugh so hard! I've never played the game. But here's one for you: would you rather see Sam healthy and be friends again or see Have You Found Her hit the New York Times bestseller list for a year?

I would rather see Sam healthy, and not be friends again – I think we caused each other too much pain for the relationship to be repaired. But if I heard, by some miracle, that she were alive and doing well, I’d be immensely relieved and gratified, more so than by a bestseller. I don’t need my books to be bestsellers in order to feel like they’re successful – more than two years after publication, I still get emails from people who have just read Girlbomb and are writing to say that it touched them, and that, to me, is the greatest feeling of success.

Was writing the book cathartic in any way? Could you work through any unresolved feelings while writing?

Writing the book was cathartic in every way! But it was a hard catharsis. I had to write the thing while I was still recovering from the loss of Samantha, still dealing with all my anger, grief, shame, and frustration. I bitched to my shrink constantly, and threatened to ask my editor to push the book back a year while I took the time to deal with the emotional fallout. But now I’m glad I sucked it up and just wrote it, you know? I stared my pain in the face for months, and now I know for sure that I am stronger and bigger than it is.

What do you think Sam would say if she read the book?

I think Sam would be smart enough to avoid reading this book, as it would only cause her anxiety and unhappiness. She was such a damaged kid, and I presented that damage in all its glory. Even though parts of the book are highly complimentary to her, I don’t think she’d want to read about the pain she caused, and I know she’d be ashamed to be exposed for some of the lies she told. If she were somehow able to read it, I think she’d deny all of it. And I think people would believe her.

Was it different writing this book versus Girlbomb? (which I intend to read very soon)

Absolutely. Girlbomb was written about events that had taken place almost twenty years ago, whereas the events of Have You Found Her were still fresh when I was writing the book. But in some ways, the process was the same – I went back over my old journals and notebooks and saw what I had written about the events at the time, then tried to apply a more mature understanding of what had happened as I wrote.

If music went with a book, what would be on the soundtrack to Have You Found Her?

I actually made a playlist for the book at a great site called Large Hearted Boy – you can find it right here:
It includes everything from Beethoven to Kelly Clarkson, from Drowning Pool to The Little Mermaid. An eclectic list, to be sure.

My guilty pleasures include chips and salsa, cheese and crackers, wine and the Bravo show, Millionaire Matchmaker. What are your guilty pleasures?

Oh my god, all of my pleasures are guilty! Definitely cheese, lots of cheese, and tons of reality TV – I don’t have to feel guilty about Amazing Race, because it’s a great show, but VH1’s Rock of Love? I hang my head in shame. I’ve tried to justify my love of the show by saying that it’s a metaphor for how women have to debase themselves in order to get recognition for society, but really I think I just enjoy watching what’s TV reviewer calls “whoring sea donkeys” on parade.

After two memoirs, what's next for you?

I’m working on a book about yet more horrible relationships I’ve had with women. I’m not sure whether I’m doing it as a memoir, or whether I’ll call it fiction this time, but right now I’m writing the true story – I may “fiction it up” when I’m done with this draft. I think writing too many memoirs becomes unseemly, after a while – it’s like, “Use your damn imagination, bitch!”

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Five Minutes with Maggie...

A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style by Tim Gunn

For those of us who never miss an episode of Project Runway, this book provides a further look into Tim Gunn's style genius. For those who haven't watched the show, his expertise comes through within the first few paragraphs of this delightful book. This guide is full of useful information about style, fashion, and shopping. His overall message seems to be that style doesn't necessarily mean the latest trend, and, most importantly, it's important to know and understand yourself before you go shopping – otherwise you end up with a closet full of overpriced, ill-fitting garments. Rather, you should strive to create your own unique signature look and shop with that style in mind.

The book is a very quick read – dedicate one afternoon to read it from cover to cover. However, the lessons and insights provide an invaluable resource that can be referenced often, like the chapter on decided what to wear to an event based on the invitation. On Project Runway, Gunn's intelligence shines through in each critical review of the designers' garments. In the book, he uses cultural and literary references to illustrate points or French phrases to convey an emotion. One note, though: Read the book with a dictionary on hand to really understand the full depth of meaning. -Maggie Marton

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Into The Wild

There is something hauntingly beautiful about Alaska. Maybe it's the fact that the state is so remote, so removed from the fast pace of my home in southern California. It could be the raw and natural beauty of rugged, snow capped mountains rising majestically into the vivid blue sky. Perhaps it's the verdant green trees where eagles nest in the top branches. Whatever it is, Alaska is intoxicating. I've been there twice and can't wait to go back for more. The pictures I posted in my last entry were from a trip I took to Alaska a few years ago, along with these above.

The air is clean, the sky unmarred by smog and pollution. Seeing an eagle circle the water and dive, coming up with a salmon in its mouth is something you don't shrug off and forget. Old fishing boats with peeling paint bobbing in the harbor, the crusty fisherman in a warm coffee shop eating an early morning omelet before a busy day, the light misty rain that escapes from the dense clouds on a foggy day, its etched into my mind forever. There's no doubt about it, once you've experienced Alaska, you try to find a way to get back.

During this last week, I was on a cruise to Mexico. and I brought along the book Into the Wild. I read it with intense interest. I loved it- I can understand the motivation behind Chris McCandless's journey into the heart of Alaska, leaving behind any modern conveniences to live off the land. I understand the wanderlust element. The story is heartbreaking, sad, beautiful. Coincidentally, the ship was showing the film Into the Wild. I eagerly placed myself in front of the thirteen- inch television in our cabin to watch the book come to life for me.

The movie depicted Chris as an intense drifter. The fact he was able to survive as he did amazes me, then again I'm a girl who can't live without lipstick and a blowdryer. Into The Wild, both the book and movie left me with a lingering sadness, I thought about Chris for days. The cinematography was incredible and the soundtrack, with Eddie Vedder's soulful voice, really added to the gloomy vibe- you know ahead of time that it's not going to end well.

I highly recommend the book by John Krakauer and the movie, which was written by Sean Penn. Kudos to Sean! You know how I love movies based on books.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Taking a break...

Check back in a week for some new books!