There's more to the past than what we read in the history books. We often forget about the objects, trinkets, dishes, appliances -- you know, stuff -- that populated the lives of earlier generations.
In "Let's Bring Back," author Lesley Blume provides an "encyclopedia" of all the not-so-ancient artifacts and gives readers a peak into what life was like before the Internet.
Read an excerpt of the book below and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
One night, in a bygone era, the Oscar de la Rentas gave a dinner party. And at that party, the following exchange is said to have taken place: Swifty Lazar, famed talent agent, turned to legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland and told her, "The problem with you, dollface, is that your whole world is nostalgic."
Vreeland's response: "Listen, Swifty, we all have our own ways of making a living, so shut up!"
And then she punched him right in the nose.
You might think that this was a rather extreme reaction, but if you ask me, it was perfectly justified. For I, like Diana Vreeland, am an incurable nostalgist, and life is difficult for nostalgists these days. "Status updates" have replaced gossiping over cocktails; Starbucks runs have supplanted high tea; synthetic Spanx have taken over where silk corsets left off.
So, you can see why nostalgists occasionally have to get violent when it comes to preserving our sepia-drenched outlooks: we're absolutely drowning in Newest, Latest, Faster, and Disposable.
Let's be realistic: no one is immune to the allure of novelty. I enjoy my iPod as much as the next person, and I do write for an online publication—several, in fact—which is an undeniably contemporary occupation. Even Mrs. Vreeland—as she was always called—admitted to the advantages of living in the age of penicillin.
Yet the benefits of today's über-connectedness come at a price. Modern living is increasingly about convenience, often leaving behind the pleasures of ornamentation and ceremony. As many of us are discovering, efficiency and quality of life are not necessarily synonymous. New products and diversions whiz through our lives at lightning speed; as we discard older objects and occupations to make room for them, we often don't fully realize what we've given up until it's too late (like the concept of privacy, for example—along with privacy's cousins, mystery and elegance).
An encyclopedia of nostalgia, Let's Bring Back celebrates hundreds of discarded or forgotten objects, pastimes, curiosities, recipes, words, architectural works, and personas—some visionary, some deliciously notorious—from bygone eras that should reintroduced today. The entries are by turns humorous, practical, frivolous, solemn, and whimsical; several have been included solely in the spirit of sheer absurdity. The material draws on a vast array of eras, from ancient times to the Deco-saturated 1920s to the elaborately coiffed 1960s. Not all of the objects mentioned here are extinct, per se, but play a reduced role in our lives after falling out of fashion's favor.
While most of these entries are comprised of my own personal appreciations, I have also invited luminaries from various fields to cite something that they believe should be brought back; these include designer Kate Spade, filmmakers James L. Brooks and Nora Ephron, media icons Arianna Huffington and Ted Koppel, interior decorator Jonathan Adler, chef Daniel Boulud, and many other celebrated and accomplished cultural figures. Let's Bring Back even includes whispers from Camelot in the form of advice from Letitia Baldrige, Jacqueline Kennedy's White House social secretary and one of America's foremost experts on etiquette.
Before you get the wrong idea, Let's Bring Back is not about stopping the clock or extolling the virtues of simpler times. Times have never been simple. Nor is Let's Bring Back about nostalgia for nostalgia's sake alone. Looking back in this way helps us to become intelligently forward-looking as well. It makes us preservation-minded, astute observers of contemporary culture, and helps us evaluate what traditions, heirlooms, and elements of our own lifestyles and households we want to pass on to the next generation. It makes us consider why we value an object or ritual one day and forsake it the next.
At heart, Let's Bring Back is a simple appreciation, honoring the history of artful living and artfully-lived lives. Each of us hopes to leave a legacy of some sort when we die; yet all legacies—no matter how grand or modest—require an appreciative audience. Even the most astounding legacies can get lost in the dust kicked up by progress if they are not documented and discussed in retrospect.
So, let's rediscover some of the things that entertained, awed, scandalized, beautified, satiated, and fascinated people in eras past. From sealing wax and quill pens to the Orient Express, from dumbwaiters to quizzing glasses to the Ziegfeld Follies, there are many delights to be dusted off and enjoyed once again.
"X" Marks the Spot
As in: faded old treasure maps that you would improbably find in your grandparents' attics.
Yarn Hair Ribbons
Tied in bows around pigtails, ponytails, and the ends of braids. They always unraveled, but that was part of their charm.
As in, a "good yarn." A tall tale. An outlandish fib of a story.
Yellow-Bulbed Theater Marquees
There's something heady about seeing movie stars' names spelled out in lights, and something distinctly discrediting about seeing those same names in cellophane letters, showcased against a dingy, flickering fluorescent backdrop.
The Yellow Book
First published in London in 1894, The Yellow Book was a notorious avant-garde magazine determined to beam a ray of light into the dusty closet of Victorian literary sensibilities. While it only had a (controversial) three-year run, the publication was the talk of London's salon society; it included the writings of Henry James, William Butler Yeats, and Max Beerbohm and the illustrations of the great Aubrey Beardsley. Wholly dedicated to breaking artistic barriers, The Yellow Book shaped the genre of the short story and showcased new and exciting forms of writing. It would be nice if we had a similarly trail-blazing literary publication today; I feel like I read the same short story over and over again in today's prominent fiction-publishing magazines.
Yellow Café Lights on Strings
One of the few forms of electric light that can be as flattering and evocative as candlelight.
The Yule Log
In the 1960s, television programming was occasionally suspended for a few hours on Christmas Eve; then some genius came up with the idea of replacing a static-filled or black screen with an image of a burning yule log. As a result, viewers who tuned to New York's WPIX on December 24, 1966, were treated to three hours of looped footage of yule logs flaming cheerily away in a fireplace, accompanied by Christmas music.
Time magazine has called the WPIX Yule Log "a surrealist's joke, a postmodernist's dream—the television, literally, as the family hearth—and an immediate success." Many other stations picked up WPIX's footage or shot their own—but television executives extinguished the flame in 1989, preferring to use the slot for revenue-producing programming instead.
The chicest way to travel, aside from the old Orient Express.
The Ziegfeld Follies
These lavish, wildly creative Broadway revue productions—which ran from 1907 through 1931—are likely most remembered today for the beautiful chorus girls, nicknamed the "Ziegfeld girls"; yet every aspect of the Ziegfeld productions was a feat of imagination and engineering. Founded by showman Florenz Ziegfeld—who sought to "glorify the American Girl"—the legendary Follies has long embodied Broadway at its most glamorous.
Many films have devoted themselves to recreating the Follies and portraying the lives of its stars and creator; The Great Ziegfeld (1936) contains one astonishing scene that captures the extravagance of the original shows: an eight-minute number called "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody," one of the most famous musical performances ever filmed. Shot in a single take, the scene centered around a tall, elaborate, revolving set shaped like a wedding cake; on the tops of the spiraling layers danced nearly two hundred elaborately costumed performers in various historical scenarios, including a Viennese ball and an eighteenth-century French court. Elsewhere a "Japanese" princess sings an aria from Madama Butterfly, women dressed as masked bats swoop up and down the stairs, along with others dressed as eagle-headed valkyries. In one section of the set, the "floor" is composed of the tops of a dozen or so white pianos, onto which the bat ladies descend and dance.
The total effect of all of this plumage and fanfare is nearly indescribable—but it came at a price: according to one source, the set and shot cost "more than the entire Follies would have set back Ziggie himself in the grand days."
Popular among the Assyrians and Babylonians, these ancient pyramid temples were very chic. Their distinguishing feature: they were usually terraced, making it easy to stop and have a restorative lemonade while climbing to the top in the hot sun.
While largely forgotten by most people, modern architects still occasionally reference the design; for example, the famous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York was conceived by architect Frank Lloyd Wright as an "inverted ziggurat."
These traditional Parisian bistros were named for their now-rare zinc-topped bars, which looked terribly modern during the height of their popularity in the early twentieth century. "Zincs" have become an evocative symbol of the 1920s expatriate life (look for their mention in Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises); the Musée Montmartre in Paris has thoughtfully preserved one as an homage to its role in the lives of the Lost Generation.