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LET’S CATCH UP 9.4.20

Perhaps a little worse for the wear, but we’ve made it to the unofficial last weekend of summer. Adam and I have been in the throes of some really demanding work weeks lately and are more than ready to blissfully check out at the lake house all weekend. Hope you all have equally relaxing plans. Below – what’s on my mind, on my bookshelf and in my shopping cart.

ON MY MIND:

  • I think we are all in agreement on how crucial voting is this year. I just submitted an application to be a poll worker. As someone with flexibility in my schedule and in good health – I want to make sure that I’m doing anything I can to help the in-person process at my local polling sites go smoothly. Apply here if you’re interested.
  • Museums have finally reopened here in the city! You need to buy tickets in advance and there are plenty of safety measures in place, but I’m already planning on a trip in late September or early October so that I can see the leaves of Central Park in all their glory from the rooftop of the Met. It’s one of my absolute favorite spots in the entire city.
  • The other night Adam and I spent several hours indulging a vivid fantasy in which we buy a cottage in the English countryside. I’m talking Google maps street view down rural roads, floor plan comparisons – the whole thing. I blame @hillhousevintage and the entire #cottagecore trend.

ON MY BOOKSHELF:

  • Truly one of the best things to come out of this strange year is the fact that I started two book clubs. And we’re into our second sessions already! The virtual group is reading The Paris Hours by Alex George this month and my NYC-based group is reading The Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson.
  • I tragically once ran out of books to read at the lake and I’ll never not overpack them again. I’ve got my library copies of The Chelsea Girls and The Topeka School in my weekender bag – just in case.
  • Claire – my other half @prettwords – has been reading and raving about André Leon Talley’s (former Vogue Creative Director) memoir: The Chiffon Trenches and I’ve promptly added it to my list. In a year of sweatpants, we could all use a dose of high fashion, no?

IN MY SHOPPING CART:

  • One of my goals this year was to invest in basics. Not that they necessarily needed to be expensive – but just to put a focus on filling in the holes in my wardrobe with good, solid staples. I always find myself wishing I had a dark brown leather belt – and this one could finally solve that problem.
  • I just switched over my closet from summer to fall and have plenty of great dresses to wear again this season. But if I do add a new one to my rotation, I think it will be this Seventies-inspired floral midi dress (30% off sitewide). Belted with boots for a stroll through the park or barefoot on the couch for Saturday napping – it works either way.
  • We’ve been using this year to tie up the loose ends around the apartment. Case in point – finally getting around to hanging curtains. We worked with Calico Corners on a quick home office update back in March (see that post here) – and loved those draperies so much we moved them down into the living room. Meaning we now need to replace the office/bedroom panels. They’re running a 25% off sitewide sale right now and I can’t tell you how much it elevates a room to have true, quality window treatments. It makes me feel like a real grown-up!
  • I want to add another pair of non-denim pants to my rotation for the fall and these wide leg cropped khakis are less than $40 now and look super flattering. I like the olive green shade.
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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Look at me! Getting you book reviews in a timely fashion! Honestly changing the format of these posts to simply recap what I read in the past month instead of forecasting what I’ll read next and then having to stick to those really helped. So we’ll keep that going! I can’t say this was my all-time favorite stack of books but there were some gems in this batch, some light just for fun reads and a couple of more challenging books. Something for everyone!

All Adults Here by Emma Straub: I read Modern Lovers by Straub a few summer’s back and admittedly wasn’t really blown away, but I tend to lean towards literary fiction more than popular fiction. That being said – I liked this one more and felt like I was equally invested in all of the family members in the story. I also liked that there was a good representation of relationship types. This would make a great “beach read” if you’re still looking for something for the long weekend. (4 stars)

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo: I can safely say I’ve never read anything like this. Written in uniquely casual prose it took me a couple of chapters to absorb the rhythm but once I did I was hooked. This novel weaves together the stories of 12 different British women of color – giving a voice to those who are rarely the center of the story. I loved it. (5 stars)

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradel: A multi-generational story of female brewers set in the midwest. This book felt slow at times to me but I’m glad I stuck with it because the last half picked up and I liked where the story went. Best enjoyed with a cold lager, naturally. (3.5 stars)

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson: This book is a YA memoir – but honestly I don’t think you need to fall in the ‘young adult’ category to glean something from Johnson’s straightforward and honest account of growing up Black and Queer in America. (4.5 stars)

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham: A quick read that offered a light-hearted look at Graham’s career and life. It wasn’t the most riveting information but I think this would have been fun on audiobook and more-so made me want to re-watch Gilmore Girls, which is a perfect “on in the background” fall show. (3 stars)

Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson: Shifting between NYC in the 1970s and present day and following a young girl’s rise in the competitive world of ballet alongside a life-altering relationship, this book was a little bit coming of age nostalgia a little bit dark thriller. Lolita meets Black Swan. (4 stars)

The Perfect Date by Evelyn Lozada & Holly Lorincz: Set in the Bronx and featuring a diverse cast of characters, this quick read romance followed a down and out star baseball player and a hard-working single mom. To be honest I’m not sure that I really loved our leading man here but I read the entire thing in an afternoon and the other aspects of the story were still enjoyable. (3 stars)

Supper Club by Lara Williams: I heard the term “millenial malaise” the other day and this book definitely would fall into this category. If you were a fan of Sally Rooney’s Normal People or Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest & Relaxation I think you’d like this. Honestly, I was on the fence about those two but in comparison liked Supper Club more. (4 stars)

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MY TOP 10 BEST HOME BUYS

A lot of what I feel makes our home feel unique and like “us” comes down to the sentimental pieces, the vintage finds and the souvenirs from travel. However, when it comes to more mainstream purchases – there are a handful that we’ve purchased for this apartment that I truly love and would recommend. Below, my top picks and reasons why.

SHOP MY TOP 10 HOME BUYS:

No. 1 – Blue Velvet Couch: this was probably our biggest purchase for the apartment and so far we’ve been so happy with it (isn’t that nice when that works out?). In rich, navy blue and easy to clean performance fabric this feels like both a statement piece and also something with a practical, long life in our home.

The Steele Maiden: DIY Fireplace Makeover with The Home Depot

No. 2 – Glass Lanterns: I wanted the decorative fireplace in our living room to feel warm and cozy each night. These gold lanterns play off the geometric tile we chose (full DIY fireplace design here) and bring a sense of warmth to the whole space.

No. 3 – Bedroom Wallpaper: I looked at what felt like hundreds of options, but I still swoon over the one we ended up with (linked as similar as I could find as the original is sold out) and it truly elevated the entire room. I love that it’s a traditional looking floral/brand design in a modern feeling oversized scale. I honestly feel happy every time I see it.

No. 4 – Milk Glass Ceiling Light: I’ve talked about it before, but replacing the stock lighting in a home makes such a world of difference. It’s an affordable upgrade and if you’re a fellow renter, simply store the originals and then take the new ones with you when you go. This milk glass ceiling light is a huge improvement from the weird black, three pronged fixture that was there before.

No. 5 – Mantle Mirror: I was looking for a mirror that was large in scale but small in price and this one fit the bill at almost 4′ tall. It turned out to be such good quality for less than $60! I painted the wood frame to this ivory color as a small upgrade.

No. 6 – Clothing Rack: Not only does it perfectly hide the strange eyesore that is this extra door in our bedroom but it also provides SO much extra storage while looking pretty seamless with our other furniture. Judging by the fact that I get DM’s every time this appears in the background of my style videos, I think you all agree.

No. 7 – Electric Tea Kettle: I’m embarrassed by how long I was heating up water in the microwave or a pot on the stove. This electric kettle looks like a real teapot but heats up lightning fast and the copper looks chic enough to leave out on the counter.

No. 8 – Jewelry Box: I’ve had this gold jewelry box for a few years now and still love it. It holds a ton, has a tiered, removable shelf inside and looks sleek on my dresser top.

No. 9 – Jute Rug: I wanted something that provided a lot of coverage without being too expensive in case it doesn’t work in the next place. I love the look of this natural jute and it’s still soft on bare feet!

No. 10 – Record Player: Our old record player was what I’d call a ‘starter model’ but when it finally gave out on us after a few years we knew we wanted a slight upgrade. This one is still compact in size but has better quality sound and a sleek, more modern look.

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WHAT’S NEXT FOR NEW YORK?

Last night Adam and I reminisced about summer nights in the city. We have a shared favorite memory that started at happy hour in the East Village followed by a crowded subway ride, then an outdoor movie in the park – a blanket squeezed in among strangers – which led us to a loft party in Williamsburg and finally a cab ride back to my old apartment on the Upper East Side. It was the kind of night that began with almost no plans at all and was swept along by the current of New York City in the summertime. A night that seems as impossible now as it seemed possible then.

A few of you have asked me to describe New York right now and if I had to sum it up – it would be that the spark has sort of gone out this summer. That feeling of spontaneity (the best kind of uncertainty) has gone missing. The spark has been replaced instead with a slow burning tension. A shared understanding that we’re all but powerless over the fate of this city.

Teenagers sit on stoops looking restless, itching to get into trouble just to have some say in the story of their summer. A cashier at the grocery store laments to me that he used to work in theater and misses the creativity.. but is thankful to have a job. The park is full of women and their babies in the morning, many of whom look unsure about their newly appointed title of stay at home mom. They wear workout clothes while their heels presumably collect dust at home. 

Cops stand guard alongside barricades outside our neighborhood precinct and in front of the Washington Square Park Arch. Protecting themselves and their monuments while a convenience store 20 blocks away is robbed at gunpoint. An older woman in our neighborhood compares it to the New York of the 1970s. She says she’s seen it all. Tells us to be careful.

Moving trucks line the streets as fair weather city dwellers go in search of fairer weather. Without the usual swarm of summer tourists those of us that are left spread out like we own the place – because well, we do. The streets are ours alone to rule or to ruin.

The truth is that no one has ever known what’s next for New York but that hasn’t stopped the evolution. And so, we go on. The protests and the progress. The work that needs to be done and the feelings that need to be wrestled with. The thick August heat and our relentless hope keeping the embers of this city hot until it can spark up again.

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Since my last reading round-up post in April, I’ve probably gotten through 5x the amount of books that I mentioned were in my “to be read” stack. What’s even better is that SO many of them were 4 or 5 star reads. Thanks for something quarantine! In order to play catch-up – I’m going to change the format of these posts a bit going forward and instead of sticking to just a handful of pre-selected books, I’m simply going to recap and review everything I’ve read since the last post. Ideally once a month. And if you’re ever curious about what I’m reading in real time – you can find that on my bookstagram account @prettywords.

Shop all my reads from 2020 so far + my 5 star favorites here (and help support indie bookstores while you’re at it!).

Writers & Lovers by Lily King: If you liked Sweetbitter or Wild – I think you’d like this story of an aspiring young writer who waits tables in Boston to make ends meet. (4 stars)

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner: One of the “fluffier” books I read these past few months but not without substance – if you liked The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society this will be right up your alley, featuring an ensemble cast of Jane Austen-lovers. (3.5 stars)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I loved this book and truly feel like I learned a lot – Trevor approaches everything from his childhood to in Apartheid South Africa to his relationship to his mother to his insights on racism with honesty and humor. Everyone should read this book. (5 stars)

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman: How did I wait for so long to read this book? A crushing “first love” story that just viscerally grabbed me and didn’t let go. Plus – then I finally got to watch the movie which I loved too. (5 stars)

The Caring & Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray: A family torn apart by the conviction of two parents, as the daughters and Aunts try to grapple with life without them. (3.5 stars)

Pizza Girl by Jean Young Frazier: A debut novel that really dazzled me – I read this in just a couple of days and still am thinking about the antihero at the center of the story. (4 stars)

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes: A pitch-perfect (pun intended) rom-com novel – make this your next beach read. (4.5 stars)

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: An engrossing novel about a group of friends in 1980’s Chicago battling the AIDS crisis. (5 stars)

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: A quirky British rom-com of a book that has the type of lovable characters you can’t help but root for. (4 stars)

My Name by Chanel Miller: This memoir allows the world to see the famous Brock Turner sexual assault case from victim Chanel Miller’s point of view. One of the most powerfully moving books I’ve ever read, in my opinion this should be required reading for every high school student in this country. (5 stars)

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle: If you’re a fan of rom-com type reads that aren’t too fluffy, you’ll like this one. Love, loss and friendship set in (nearly) present day NYC. (3.5 stars)

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender: A heartwarming story of a Black trans boy navigating high school and first love in NYC. (4.5 stars)

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin: I’ve always been a fan of Steve Martin and I also love comedian’s autobiographies (a specific niche I know..) so I really liked this look into his humble beginnings and motivations behind his craft and career. (3.5 stars)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I’ve been a fan of hers since I devoured Daisy Jones last summer and this one didn’t disappoint. (4.5 stars)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: Really just one of the most soul-gripping books I’ve read in my life, based on a real life Jim Crow-era boys reform school. Please read this book. (5 stars)

Sissy by Jacob Tobia: A “coming of gender” memoir that will make you laugh and cry, Tobia’s writing reminds me of Mindy Kaling meets the LGBTQ+ experience. (4 stars)

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: I’ve got my virtual book clubs meeting on this next week so I’m not going to say too much – but suffice to say I thought it definitely lived up to all the hype. (5 stars)

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Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.