The Bookworm: 'Sole' food and candor nuggets

Terri Schlichenmeyer


By Rodrigo Corral, Alex French, and Howie Kahn

c. 2017. Razorbill

$24.95, $33.95 Canada; 320 pages

Left, right, left, right. You’ve been doing it since you were a few months old, picking ’em up and putting ’em down, casual-like or fleet-footed. Most of the time, you don’t even think about walking unless, of course, as in the new book “Sneakers” by Rodrigo Corral, Alex French, and Howie Kahn, you’re dressed from your head to your … whoas!

In the beginning, it was all about basic sneakers that were just plain cool. Maybe your first pair came from parents who couldn’t afford it but sacrificed for you anyway, or you were blessed by the generosity of a friend’s father, or you saved every cent from an afterschool job. Remember how you wore those first sneakers until they were tattered and “mom threw them away?”

“Sneakers,” Rodrigo Corral, Alex French, and Howie Kahn, is specific and unapologetic: it’s meant for fans who own dozens or hundreds or even thousands of soft-soled shoes. If that’s you, then this book couldn’t be more right.

But before that happened, something else did, too: you were hooked. “You really had to do your research” to find where to get the latest pair of sneakers. If you found a good outlet, it was a secret worth keeping. Sometimes, you wore the shoes even though there’s a certain amount of danger in it. And sometimes, you “vaulted” them in the hopes that they might someday pay for a year of college.

Yes, that’s where the price of sneakers can go. Up. Who knew? But those shoes don’t make themselves. Someone’s put their heart deep into designing those kicks, possibly with collaboration with a skater, an athlete, an artist, or a sick kid. Someone knew that the shoes make the outfit, and created accordingly.

Those designers could tell you a thing or two: they tell tales of sneaking fans in one door and out the other, for their safety. They remember a time when Hollywood came calling. They tell a tale of surprising a collector with his dream shoes, of growing up barefoot, of near-failures that sold millions of shoes, and of styles that elicit a “please don’t” when talk turns to revival.

But why sneakers? Says one designer, “ … how people wrap their bodies is a form of intelligence; it’s the way they communicate who they are as individuals … it’s an expression of how they look at the world.”

What’s the first thing you notice about someone you just met? If your first inclination is to look down, then move those shoe boxes over and have a seat with “Sneakers.”

Through pictures and interviews with designers, creators, and industry-watchers, authors Corral, French, and Kahn put a face to a foot for fans. This isn’t a book that explains the mania for sneakers – if you don’t get it, don’t get this book – but instead, it’s a talk-to-the-tribe kind of thing. Each of the interviewees are as steeped in the culture as readers will presumably be; there’s education to be had here, and plenty of entertaining stories but the appeal is in the inclusion implied.

Again, the audience for “Sneakers” is specific and unapologetic: it’s meant for fans who own dozens or hundreds or even thousands of soft-soled shoes. If that’s you, then this book couldn’t be more right.

“We’re Going to Need More Wine”

By Gabrielle Union

c. 2017, Dey St.

$26.99, $33.50 Canada; 263 pages

Here’s to us. A toast to our years together, our friendships, things we’ve done and laughs we’ve had. Here’s to us – together forever. We need to do this more often. We need to stay in touch. As author Gabrielle Union says, “We’re Going to Need More Wine.”

When she was still a small child, Gabrielle Union knew how life kept score.

She was born in Omaha but her parents moved the family to Pleasanton, California, about an hour from Oakland, when Union was in second grade. Her father was intent on “keeping up with the Joneses” with the move, but he didn’t quite accomplish that: he’d chosen a “nearly as good” neighborhood, but it wasn’t good enough.

For much of her childhood, Union “felt real green on being black.” She spent junior high trying to fit in with the white girls at school and wishing for a boyfriend; in summertime, she stayed with her grandmother in Nebraska, trying to catch up on “being black.” It was there where she finally realized that “black boys like me.”

Gabrielle Union is worth getting to know, as she proves in “We’re Going to Need More Wine."

It took time for her to like herself.

As with many girls, Union says that she didn’t know much about her own body, which was troubling, but she learned over time with (and from) her peers. She fought her natural hair and “learned to apologize for my very skin” because she was darker than her mother and sisters. She was told that she was “funny,” when she really wanted to hear that she was pretty.

That finally happened when a white boy went from “just as friends” to temporary boyfriend, and Union lost her virginity. It was bittersweet – their romance didn’t last long at all – but there it was. Stealing boyfriends, though … that could be problematic.

So could marrying a man when you see big issues even before the wedding.

So could a TV part, when you’re literally the first Black person to appear on the show.

So could working at a retail store, and a man with a gun walks in …

I have to say that I didn’t like “We’re Going to Need More Wine” at the outset. The introduction feels awfully familiar, in a forced-friendship kind of way, as though it was trying too hard to make me like it.

My advice: skip it. Or read it last. Whichever; you’ll like the rest of the book so much better because author Gabrielle Union is worth getting to know on more casual terms, with stories that will make you laugh, sigh, and nod in recognition – but beware. Union writes in a manner that makes you feel as though you grew up in the same neighborhood, but she also doesn’t seem to be someone who holds anything back. While that candor is refreshing, it can also be explicit, profane, and painful to read.

And yet – you’ll learn a few things in “We’re Going to Need More Wine”: about Union, about celebrity, surviving, and about responsibility. If that sounds like the book you want to read next, then here’s to you.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.