Book Club

Lessons from Lee.

By: Jen Shoop

Lee Radziwill’s book was bizarre.  Pretty to look at — I especially loved the picture of her and her daughter on the right above (can that be me and mini?!) — but bizarre.  In it, she assumes everyone knows the plot-points of her life (possibly fair? — I didn’t, though, and resorted to Wikipedia), dispenses of narrative, and instead lightly annotates a series of beautiful photographs depicting that jet set life with brief, superlative notes — “so-and-so is the most incredible cook,” “so-and-so is the most fabulously talented designer” — etc.  In essence, she keeps the reader at arm’s length, obliquely exposing her outrageously stylish life through her photographed liaisons to many celebrated, wealthy men and women and a puzzling, multi-page facsimile of a series of letters she wrote to esteemed art critic Bernard Berenson as a teen.  The letters are far from interesting; as with many of the photographs in the book, their presence instead establishes her camaraderie with the cultural elite.  All in, it’s a vanity project, but how can I blame her?  It’s beautiful to look at, and I bought it with the voyeuristic impulse that made the project possible.

That said, I found one observation in the book fascinating: Lee wrote that she finds that people tend to be either “life enhancers” or “life diminishers,” and that she works to avoid the latter.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it — we all know the types of people who leave us feeling bad about ourselves, or who somehow bring out the worst in us, vs. those that leave us feeling whole, full, the best versions of ourselves.  I hadn’t thought about categorizing acquaintances in this light, and while I’m generally squeamish about reductive formulas along these lines (INFJ, ENTP, BARF), it’s a striking litmus test.  A few days later, I read Liz Adams’ honest reflection on how motherhood has changed her, and she had this to say about social media as a new parent: “I find myself unfollowing so many accounts that make me feel like my life isn’t good enough.”

At the same time, I was taken back to some of your insightful reactions to this post, where I shared a critical comment by one of my readers.  One of you (heyyy A.!) wrote:

“…I think you were right to give [the critical remark] a little reflection rather than just dismissing it outright. I think you’re ultimately right about the reaction being largely a misunderstanding of tone (or maybe something just hit a nerve in a weird way for that person), but there is value in knowing that someone has misunderstood something (even it seemed so clear to you!)”

I could not agree more; the reader’s comment has made me more aware of some of the things I take for granted, and has also — I hope — made me a more sensitive writer.  I don’t want to come off as a glutton for punishment, but sometimes unpleasant, challenging interactions with others have forced me to acknowledge my faults, put things in perspective, and grow.

So where does this leave us?  On the one hand, I tend to agree with Lee and Liz: why would we clutter our lives or feeds with those who make us feel badly about ourselves?  On the other hand, conflict, cognitive dissonance, challenge can lead to change — and I certainly don’t want to live in a world of yesmen and yeswomen.

Am I conflating two different things, though?  What say you, Magpies?

Post-Script: Le Truly Random.

+Did anyone else LOVE the movie Grease growing up?  My sisters and I must have watched it 2000 times — we all wanted to be Sandy, I had a crush on Kenickie, and my baby sister once mimicked Rizzo, loudly, with no concept as to what she was saying: “I can get my kicks and get ’em while I’m young, too.”  Anyway, if you share our Grease obsession, you might enjoy this remake of You’re the One I Want, which I’ve been playing on repeat.

+Everyone is now raving about this face mask.  It’s next on my list, when I finish my tub of Tata Harper.

+With all this talk about the Kennedy/Bouvier dynasty (sorry/not sorry), isn’t it weirdly apropos that I recently shared how Caroline Kennedy changed my life?

+This precious coat is on sale!!!

+I’m very excited about this movie.  It’s been a minute since a good chick movie came out, hasn’t it?

+If, like me, you weren’t able to snag one of the Hanes x Karla white t-shirts, check this one out — people rave about the quality!

+These are GENIUS!  Single-serve popcorn makers for le microwave?!?!  Would make a great gift, along with some Anson Mills popping corn, which Mr. Magpie gifted me as a stocking stuffer last year!  (If you place an order from them, though, BE SURE TO BUY A BAG OF THEIR GRITS.  They are next-level.

+This dress has turned my head.

+Love the vintage vibes of these placemats.  Since Mr. Magpie and I have a small dropleaf dining table in our petite Manhattan dining room, it’s been hard to find a suitable runner/tablecloth, so I’ve resorted to chic placemats.  These ones are the list!

+OK, planning ahead: these darling Christmas jammies from RRR, on sale, and matching ones for your mini (also on sale!)

+Love this pretty throw pillow.

+While home in DC the weekend before last, I noticed my mom had this sponge holder — genius!  Is it shameful to admit I’d been just leaving my sponge on the rim of the sink?  This will be so much more sanitary, and tidy!

+These chic gift enclosures are on sale!

+Getting my hair done in early April, and this beautiful bride has me re-thinking my blond highlights.  Should I go back to my (dark brown) roots?  And/or go with French girl bangs?

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

10 thoughts on “Lessons from Lee.

  1. Awww, thanks! I didn’t even recognize my own comment at first — I read it and thought, that’s good advice. But it’s soooo funny that you mention personality tests like MBTI. I redid MBTI for the first time since high school (my grad program is big on knowing yourself as an important part of leadership — who knew MBAs were so touchy feely?) and it was this crazy light bulb moment, it made so much sense to me and things clicked into place in such a good way. It was like this lovely sigh of relief.
    Anyway, I certainly don’t want to be thought of as a weird cluster of letters (and don’t want to look at others that way) but I do think there can be some value in understanding the very different ways that humans interact with one another. I will be thinking about “life diminishers” for awhile!

    1. You know, Alison, I completely agree — I think those tests are good at giving people a common language to discuss their differences in non-frictive ways. I.e., in an office: “oh, he’s behaving that way because he’s an introvert” or “I guess I’m always on the thinking side of this, and she’s always on the feeling side of this.” It gives people something a bit more concrete when they’re working through differences.


    1. OOH. I pretty much squealed when I clicked over to the OXO caddy. My only issue is that I have three (ugh) soap dispensers — one for hand soap, one for dish soap, and one for baby dish soap (Dapple, which you might have recommended?) How can I make it work…

  2. “I don’t want to come off as a glutton for punishment, but sometimes unpleasant, challenging interactions with others have forced me to acknowledge my faults, put things in perspective, and grow.” — this is so refreshing! I could not agree more. I see and understand the viewpoint about cutting out the people who make you feel bad about your life — I certainly feel this way when talking about something like Instagram and deciding who to follow and unfollow. There’s a fine line between being inspired and being made to feel bad that you don’t also have that perfect life. BUT I think it’s all about perspective, and also I don’t think negative commenters are quite the same thing. There’s a difference (at least to me) between projecting anxieties onto people you might not know in real life and people who are actively engaging with you and challenging things you do or say. Does that make sense?

    Either way, I love the reflection you present here!

    I am not super familiar with the book on Lee Radziwill BUT I do find Assouline’s books to be quite fluffy/surface-y, so I’m not surprised at your takeaway 🙂

    Finally: do not be ashamed about the sponge! I have been looking for a good holder for ours (subconsciously, I think, without any actual searching, ha!) and this one looks like a good option. Thanks for that!

    1. Hi! Same page, per usual. And completely agree that there is such a fine line w/r/t Instagram in particular. If I find myself scrunching up my face or heaving sighs or otherwise going to a negative place while scrolling through Instagram, I click unfollow — just don’t have the emotional juice to deal with it!


Previous Article

Next Article

Discover more from Magpie by Jen Shoop

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading