Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (Dutton, 2014)
Better than Beauty: A Guide to Charm by Helen Valentine and Alice Thompson (Chronicle, 1938)
Stuck at the bottom of the social ladder at “pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya Van Wagenen decided to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell. Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help Maya on her quest to be popular?
Better than Beauty resuscitates the long-lost art of charm with hints, tips, and tricks guaranteed to boost our charm quotient. First published in 1938, this classic compendium is overflowing with timeless advice to help guide you through a maze of social interactions with wit and finesse. Much more than an etiquette or personal grooming book, Better than Beauty tackles complicated social situations with delicacy.
Why I liked them
I picked up Better Than Beauty on a whim ages ago because I honestly thought it was a kitschy joke book just based on the cover (like those Anne Taintor magnets and things). Joke was on me, though, because it was actually a reprint of a pre-WWII guide to “charm” for women. And you know what? … it was actually exactly what I needed at that point in my life. It was one of those awkward time periods — both socially and physically — and having Betty Cornell’s vintage advice was actually one of the things that helped me figure out how to grow out of that. Along those same lines, I kind of wish I’d had Maya’s book at that age, too — but knowing teenaged me, I probably would have refused to read such an obvious “guidance counselor bait” book.
Who I’d recommend them to
Well, teen girls trying to drag themselves out of one of those awkward stages, of course. Or just anyone who’s interested in fashion and etiquette and that sort of thing — especially if you (like me) sometimes need a reminder that whatever trends you see in the fashion magazines aren’t the end-all-be-all of beauty/charm/social success.