Saturday, May 31, 2014

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

18667753Van Wagenen, Maya. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek 
 April 15th 2014 by Dutton Juvenile

Teenaged Maya, upon finding a copy of Betty Cornell's Teen-age Popularity Guide  from the 1950s among her professor father's books, decides that her life is so awful that she might as well try to follow all the guidelines in the book and see if it helps. Her school in Texas is rough, and she hasn't had much social success, so she tries the tips about appearance and behavior that the book presents. Some work well (standing up straight and eating better), and others fail rather miserably (she tries some of the fashions from the book without giving them a modern spin that would make them cute, therefore missing the point but adding comic relief to her memoir). The tips about talking to other people and making friends with everyone are the ones that she takes the most to heart and uses when she moves across the country and starts at a new school.
Strengths: Hard to fault an actual teen who tried this, wrote about it, and managed to get not only a book deal but also an option on it for a movie.
Weaknesses: Having read similar fictional accounts like Cabot's How to Be Popular and Leavitt's Going Vintage, I had high hopes for this one that just somehow weren't met. Part of this could be because life in Texas sounds absolutely horrible, and while this reached the inevitable conclusion that people will like you if you are nice to them, my own brand of Geekdom is somehow more... essentially optimistic than Van Wagenen's, and I ended up just feeling sorry for her. I don't know that other teens reading this will feel the same way. It is awesome that she was able to contact Betty Cornell, and that the Teen-age Popularity Guide was reprinted.

20579056Cornell, Betty. Betty Cornell's Teen-age Popularity Guide
April 15th 2014 by Dutton Juvenile  (Originally 1953, Prentiss Hall)

This is a fairly standard teen etiquette manual from the 1950s: it includes all of the fun chapters on how to wash your hair and use deodorant, moves on to the importance of girdles and gloves, and includes exercises and the all important calorie count guide. A perfectly fine example of this genre, but I'm picking. Having collected a good number of these over the years,  this was missing some of the humor that I have found in other guides, my very favorite being the 1967 latecomer, Edith Head's How to Dress for Success. Still, fun that younger people can see an example of this type of book that isn't crumbling to bits!

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