Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Something You'll Never See Here Again: A Book Review

You know the expression "there's one born every minute"? It’s an expression typically used to describe the fecundity of TFIs. (There’s a lot of them, you guys.) But the same cliché could easily be applied to would-be bloggers. If I had a nickel for every time someone reached out to me about how to start a blog and attract readers, I’d be all, “what the hell am I supposed to do with these damn nickels??? This isn’t the ‘70s!”

Blogs are free, did you know? That’s right, anyone can have a blog. There’s no paperwork to fill out, no resume to submit, you don’t even have to have a readership to be a “blogger”, technically. Anyone with a couple minutes to spare and computer access can set up a blog. Hypothetically, none of that bothers me. I mean, if you want to wax poetic about your new life in the big city as you stumble through awkward dates and live to tell about it or film video after video of your cat being a dick, then go right ahead with your bad self. It’s the people who start “lifestyle” blogs (read: blogs that focus on fashion that they pretty much copy from blogs like this, this, and this, but sometimes throw in the occasional Instagram picture of some pasta dish they “whipped up”) with the goal of becoming a spokesperson for Payless or the next featured blogger-model for Spike the Punch or, I dunno, an author, that are giving the rest of us a bad name. Shit y’all, there’s even a whole website dedicated to hating on self-promotional fashion bloggers, which is, incidentally my new favorite time suck.

If I’m being honest, which I never am, I’ll freely admit to having fantasized about making oodles money off my CupcakesOMG! efforts.  I’d buy shoes you can’t afford from designers you’ve never heard of and rub it in your face. I’d travel to places you’ve only seen in James Bond movies and stay at resorts too good for even Beyonce and Blue Ivy. I’d sit front row at New York Fashion Week and tweet you pics from backstage. But none of that would be any fun if you guys weren’t IN on the joke with me. And therein lies the problem with Emily Schuman’s blog-volution intothe world of books. (Whew, that was a heavy lead in, y’all.)

Emily Schuman, better known as Cupcakes & Cashmere, is a pioneer in the world of “lifestyle” bloggers. She began C&C in 2008, about a year or two after graduating college. She worked at a magazine where she felt unfulfilled or something equally trite and started blogging to celebrate “life’s little pleasures”. Indeed, $2,000 handbags are exactly the kind of thing I file away under my “life’s little pleasures” folder. But like, whatever. The point is, she may not have been the first blogger (I’m pretty sure Al Gore was), but she was definitely one of the earliest bloggers to become her own brand. She designed a bag for Coach, became the 18-35 demographic’s spokesperson for Estee Lauder, and somewhere along the way, landed the opportunity to author a book.

I’ve been a longtime reader of Cupcakes & Cashmere—it’s been a daily morning pitstop on my way to things-I-actually-have-to-do-for-work for the past three years. Once upon a time, she was my blidol (blog idol, let’s just go with it). Like many of her fans, I was taken by her all-American good looks, creative gel manicures, and her collection of Jeffrey Campbell shoes. I envied the fact that her then-boyfriend/now-husband seemed to have no other wish in life than to take pictures of her in a variety of getups and locales with the perfect graffiti wall or field of flowers as backdrop. And last year, I was thrilled to learn that I could have even more access to Emily and her “lifestyle” advice when she announced she would be releasing a book.  

I ordered my copy last week and despite the fact that it arrived Friday, only opened the 8”x7” book last night. I’m pointing out the size of the book because it was the first thing I noticed. If you’re expecting a coffee table-sized book, you’re in for a rude awakening. It’s the size of a children’s book…like something written by Judy Blume, only much, much worse. It’s roughly the height of a pamphlet you might get from the doctor’s office on safe sex or a playbill at a high school production of RENT. But it’s cool, ‘cus there’s Emily, front and right-of-center, holding pink balloons, walking by her lonesome on what looks like a pier that leads to NOWHERE! Seriously, Em, where are you going with those balloons and that leopard jacket draped over your shoulders just so??? I feel like I’m in some kind of Salvador Dali-esque surrealist performance piece. And it’s making me uncomfortable.

Once you get past the size and cover of the book, you’ll learn that Em has divided the book the only way she knows how: into the four seasons. This confuses me since her blog never really emphasizes anything about seasons, save the occasional whimper she tosses out when the balmy L.A. weather dips below 60 degrees. So already, we’re off to a rocky start. You know how her blog’s divided? 60% Fashion; 20% Food; 10% Décor; 7% Beauty; 3% Whining about how many meetings she has this week. Roughly. I see no reason why the book couldn't have followed the same formula, but given that she lifts more than half of the book’s content from previous blog posts (yes, I’m serious), I suppose there had to be some kind of clear difference between the two formats.

Within the four sections, she does highlight her fashion choices (take your look from summer to fall with a pair of black tights—did you know you could do that, guys?!?!), party ideas (just in case you didn’t know how to open a bottle of champagne, Em will teach you!), and some brilliant recipes (pasta with tomatoes and cucumbers is just offensive to the word "recipe"), but so much of the content is stuff I've already seen on the blog. Of course, the pictures are beautiful and I loved a lot of the content the first time, but I was expecting more out of a book. Like, isn’t that the whole point?

I’d be willing to overlook the fact that Emily either thinks her readers are super dumb and wouldn't catch on to her self-plagiarism or that she thinks she’ll reach a totally new audience through the book that might never have seen the blog before, if it weren’t for this atrocity at the end of the book. If you’re so bold as to put the word “Cupcakes” in the title of you blog, you ought to be pretty fucking equipped to talk about them (see: CupcakesOMG!). So when I read Emily’s proclamation that boxed mix cupcakes are every bit as good, if not better, than homemade, I nearly shat myself:

There are so many things wrong with this scenario, I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll do what I normally do and just react

WHAT?? Wait…WHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatttttttttTTTTTTTTTTT???? Is she serious right now? Like, literally, in a book that extols the making of your own stationery, we’re gonna start taking shortcuts on the cupcake making??? The very THING that you’re so inspired by as to name your blog after it?? Oh, and by the way—you’re a connoisseur?? Tell me Emily, would or should a wine connoisseur write a book recommending Franzia for your next dinner party? How about a connoisseur traveler recommending a trip to Ft. Lauderdale and staying at a Hilton Garden Inn?? This is outlandish and frankly, it sounds like a cry for help!! If your homemade cupcakes taste like dry cornbread then you’re doing it wrong. You’ve either overbaked, overbeat, or skimped on something. You know what this now proves? That if Emily doesn’t get it right the first time, she doesn’t bother to do it again. I guess it’s MY fault. She did warn me on the cover that her book is all about “entertaining with ease.” Using a boxed cake mix really isn't any easier than homemade, okay???
She goes on to lay a stake in the ground at the icing. “Icing should always be homemade” she says. Well, at least she gets that part right. Working quickly to clamor back onto the pedestal she’s set herself onto, she goes on to teach you how to properly frost the cupcake, but she can’t even manage to do that part correctly.  Any good cupcake decorator knows you start with your frosting tip in the center of the cupcake so that the icing is high and has an even edge. Doing it the way she's demonstrating (i.e., starting on the outer rim) will result in a flat, uneven topping. Fuck.
In summation, I spent $11 on this book (two day shipping was free thanks to Amazon Prime) and it’s $11 I’ll never get back. I don’t want to act like this is the worst book I've ever read, because it’s not—I’ve read “Confessions of An Heiress”. It’s actually charming and cute if you've never read the blog before or are 14 years old and fantasize about throwing dinner parties every weekend for your friends (wake up call—that doesn't happen). But I lost respect for Emily after the whole cupcake debacle and I don’t care how petty you think it is. I’m going to continue to read her blog, but I hope the quality picks back up. Anyone else notice that her outfits started to suffer just before the book release??

I’m reminded of an article I read the other day about the return of Breaking Bad (omg, who else is obsessedicals??), and the writer pulled some quote about Bob Dylan or something (we’re nothing if not thorough on the fact checking here at CupcakesOMG!). The quote was about believing your own hype. What I’m getting at is, it seems like whatever intent Emily started the blog with has gotten lost in the hype of being a brand, and therein lies the problem with the blogging industry as a whole. I’m pretty sure this phenomenon is what’s known as “selling out.” If that’s what you’re doing it for, then have at it, but at least PRETEND like we’re in on the joke with you, Emily. Oh and by the way, look for my book hitting shelves the summer of 2014.

*For homemade cupcake recipes that don't taste like dry cornbread, check out my collection here.*

What does everyone else think? Have you picked up this blook (blog book)? What do you think of the whole thing? Are you a fan of bloggers selling out??

**EDIT: If Shamepuff/GOMI brought you here, first of all, welcome! I love cat ladies about as much as cupcakes, which is a shit ton. If you also happen to read this post, congratulations--you know how to work the internet! 

Some of you might realize I wrote that 3 years ago, when I first discovered C&C, and when her outfits didn't look like they were cutting off her circulation and she credited her recipes to their original source and didn't do posts on things like ruining a brand new J. Crew chambray shirt for fun. But still, there are some of you who are all "omg what a poseur...aren't you trying to be JUST like here? go kill yourself," etc. To those of you, have you SEEN my blog? Aside from the title including the word "Cupcakes," what really do our blogs have in common? (fun fact: I launched my blog long before I even knew C&C existed) I've done like 12 outfit posts ever, which basically look like any other blogger's awkward attempt to "model" and have never, I repeat NEVER hot glued plastic flowers to sunglasses. So mine is a story much like yours, I'm sure--one-time fan turned ongoing hate-reader in the wake of Em's complete and total lack of sincerity and, clearly, personality. If you still think I should go kill myself, that's fine, but can you at least reference a different reason to do so? Looking forward to having you as a new hate-reader!


Erica said...

well, shit. i'm glad i didn't buy the book. thank you for this.

oh, and also, thank you for this line that completely made my week.
"So when I read Emily’s proclamation that boxed mix cupcakes are every bit as good, if not better, than homemade, I nearly shat myself:"

you should do book reviews more often :)

Jenna | The Eighty Twenty said...

This review was so good. So honest and so page turning (had there been pages that is, I'd be turning them!!!) .... Dude - I love the part about the hype of being a brand. Boom.

Cara said...

First of all, I love this. Second of all, I love this. I, too, read Emily's blog daily and I don't know how to better explain it other than a car crash. You don't want to look but you just can't look away. I think she is beautiful and does have a good fashion sense but on the other hand if I had all of the time in the world to put together outfits and shop, I'd look damn good everyday too.

I have not bought this book yet and I've been on the fence about it too. You have just taken me off the fence, so for that, I thank you.

I have this thing with bloggers who make it seem like they have a perfect life (perfect job, perfect husband, perfect house, etc) and she is the epitome of that blogger that I dislike.

I think she just jumped on the bloggy train before the rest of us and she had a great head start. I don't think she is a "writer" because she never actually writes anything. Posting an outfit and telling us where you got it does not constitute good writing or adding value to anything.

But you know what? More power to her for making a career out of blogging. She better milk it while she can, it is like being a pro athlete, she only has a short time left before a younger, hotter, better dressed blonde is taking over her corner.

Just sayin. But thanks for posting this review- it was fun to read and I admire your blunt honesty. I feel like there isn't ever enough of that in blogland.

Beth said...

Before this post I'd never actually heard of her before, and if she really thinks that a store-bought cake mix is as good as homemade then I'm not sure I want to know about her. I enjoy the whole process of making cakes properly, she just seems lazy!

Laura said...

I pre-ordered this book in December and got it on July 10th(? I think?) I really liked it but I supposed that's because the book was EXACTLY what I was anticipating. I figured it wouldn't be super wordy, since her blog isn't like that. I can totally see why people wouldn't like it, though.

Julie (Middle Maintenance) said...

You are hilarious! This is amazing. I haven't read the book, but have been pretty bored with her blog lately. I feel like her recent posts/content lack personality. Also, cupcakes made with box mix? No. Just, no.

blair.bonnie said...

Checked out Shamepuff. It's everything I could have hoped for, and more.

And I'm glad the book sucked. I didn't expect anything more! Thanks for the FYI!

Hope you're well!

Erin @ Currently Coveting said...

This posts makes me sad. I love Emily and am disappointed that the book is as you describe! Boo!

I do use boxed cake here and there to make semi-homemade recipes. Adding juices or champagne to it is an easy way to whip up something creative without breaking the bank (are you disgusted with me? I'm sorry!)


Alisa Marie said...

Love your honest opinion, definitely won't be putting this in the cue for summer reading! OH and PS, I'm obsessed with Breaking Bad too :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with one of the other comment-ers that I'm disappointed to hear that the book is so lackluster. I'd heard it was mostly stuff from her blog, but didn't know it was like this. Thx for the review!!

Quiet Luxury

Raven said...

Oh. my. gosh. Someone actually emailed me this post of yours because they thought I would like it.

The wine connoisseur/franzia comment made me pee my pants. HILARIOUS.

I despise fashion bloggers. I voice this opinion quite a bit actually. I also spend my time on that website dedicated to laughing at them. RIGHT BEFORE I read this post, I tweeted "Do you think the only ones who don't "get it" are the fashion bloggers themselves?

Anyway, this was fabulous.

Megan | Freckled Italian said...

She sucks, and she insults me by thinking that I don't know how to open a bottle of champagne. No.

Unknown said...

I love everything about this, including the fact that it reaffirms my decision to not buy the book in the first place

sara said...

you couldn't have worded it any better. imo, emily is the typical vanilla box cupcake... appealing to pretty much everyone but nothing particularly special. i am not surprised her book is the same way... and no cupcake "connoisseur" would claim boxed cake tastes better than homemade cake.

kat said...

I am always a bit confounded and skeptical of people who make a living out of blogging, because really, when you just write about your new outfit or dinner destination what are you really doing for the world? At the same time...would I pass-up the opportunity to get free goods & travel around the world? (probably not)

I am also terrified by the amount of misinformation many young- beautiful-stay-at-home-pregnancy didn't change my body "mommy" bloggers put on the internet (ie: lots of incorrect vaccination facts) It is scary how some people can influence the masses by just hitting enter on their computers.

Anyway, great review! I love your blog and your are a talented and witty writer and I always look forward to new posts!

Unknown said...

THIS IS SO REFRESHING! I loved her blog... in the beginning. It's now become so materialistic and pretentious that I honestly don't even look at it anymore. Don't get me wrong, she is a smart, savvy business woman who clearly did something right. With that being said, kudos to her, but I am not interested in your overpriced wares, your elaborate parties and your rip-off DIY projects.

Mrs. Humps said...

Well said Melissa. Well said. Yes, box cake/cupcakes are good but it's insulting to ones who truly are bakers, that spend the time creating delicious treats!
I can't wait to start this damn book club! I love how I thought The Shining would be the perfect book to start off with...that got vetoed pretty quick.
I think we should also do Dance Moms wine nights. Yes. We should. Oh Abby, you bitch. :)

Annalilly said...

I read her blog, and I constantly waver between liking it and feeling like it's a completely unrealistic portrait of someone's life. Let's have a little self-humor and admittance that life it's always a Chanel clutch. What's missing from her blog is what I like about yours. I love baking, mostly because I love creaming butter and sugar together and stealing a bite before adding the eggs. I can be a baking snob, but I won't lie, if I'm forced to make cupcakes for a coworker I don't really like - I may just use a box. I would have thought Emily would like her readers more than I like my coworker who eats his sunflower seeds too effing loudly.

Kelly said...

I do see where you are coming from, but tend to disagree on some points. Though, I am waiting to pass judgment until I actually have the book in my hands!

That being said, I don't know whether or not I should say thank you or curse you for introducing me to GOMI. I may as well say goodbye to many otherwise productive hours of my life. :)

Sarah said...

I love this and you should do more book reviews.

I was dying over your instagram pics the other night and could not wait to read your review. I saw an article on Get Off My Internets (have you seen that site?) the other day indicating that her book was going over like a (pink) lead balloon.
I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. I mean, doesn't she think it's weird that she can't bake cupcakes?! And that maybe she should work on that a little harder?

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa,

This was definitely one of the funniest book/blogger critiques I've read ever! I've been following your blog and Emily's for quite a while (I'm also a DC area blogger), and I whole heartedly agree that this is the work of someone selling out.

It's really unfortunate that this is how bloggers tend to make their money. I think it's hard to blog about things other people make and then try to capitalize on your "knowledge" about them. But isn't that the problem with blogging in general. We're just sharing other people's ideas, unless we're letting everyone in on ours.

When a blog is more of a portfolio I can understand being able to call yourself a connoisseur, but when it's a collection of work from other people, you most definitely are not. Basically she is a fan, as are so many of the rest of us.

Anyhow, I didn't want to go off on a tangent, just tell you that this review was awesome! I'm so glad you didn't hold back, or worse, say how great it was.

Looking forward to reading your next review!


Jamie said...

"I... fell in love with the bite-sized confections long before they ever gained notoriety."

Cupcake Hipster.

ROBIN said...

Haha, love your website! Came here while looking for a review of Schuman's book and decided to DEFINATELY become a "Follower". Didn't order her book! You're hilarious :) xx from the Netherlands

andrea nicole said...

oh man. funniest thing i've read online in a while. wow.

and this: (take your look from summer to fall with a pair of black tights—did you know you could do that, guys?!?!)

just, YES.

christin said...

First of all, I agree 100%. I used to LOVE Emily and her blog and everything about it but now I feel like she's giving everyone the finger and not even trying. I don't use boxed cake mixes because all of the terrible shit they put in there and my blog isn't even about me being the perfect girl.

Secondly, how on gods green earth are people defending her? It's like stockholm syndrome for blogs.

Third, if I paid for that book I would rage. Thanks for the hot tips of how to apply lipstick and make a playlist. What would I do without you, Emily!?

Dina El-Hakim said...

your review of the book was absolutely hilarious and refreshing...and spot-on! i also was surprised at the size of the book, and the quality of some of the photographs (some were just too blurry for my taste, and for 2012...they were blurry and not in the artistic sense) and i did raise an eyebrow at that cupcake comment lol

i don't bake much but if its one thing i know, is that you are supposed to do your OWN mix!! therein lies half the challenge! anyone can make cupcakes with a BOX... connoisseur my a$$ haha. and the whole comment about her loving cupcakes before they gained notoriety was kind of cocky. cupcakes have been around since we were children (i'm 29) and they've been there all the time, just until recently where they became more popular again because of Carrie Bradshaw eating a Magnolia cupcake in Sex and the City.

the other thing...i enjoy her blog, but im baffled at how she has turned in into her career (as a previous commentator said, she was ahead of the blogging game and is a good business woman), and baffled at how she spends her days - its can get quite narcissistic. the reason i stumbled on your blog post is because i was wondering how the hell she stays so thin when she eats so many desserts and rich savoury foods. i don't get it! i wonder if she exercises? i guess that's part of her life we don't know much about...her health and diet.

i also wonder sometimes how long she can keep this up for. doesn't she get bored of blogging about the same thing? don't get me wrong, im a total girly girl who loves shopping just as much as the next girly girl, but at some point you move on past the intense materialistic fixation on it...i guess my focus has shifted from things i buy that make me temporarily happy, to things i can do in the future such as grow my photography business, run a little seaside bed&breakfast, etc :)

thanks for your book review and ill be checking in on your blog from time to time! :)


Grace (The Stripe) said...

Hi Melissa,
I work with Christin (With a CH) and she sent me your post, thinking I'd like it. Hilarious and spot on. I used to love her but got sick of her when she started complaining about her busy days and how hard/awful it was buying sheets. Really? Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I loved this - best part of my day!


Anonymous said...

Please write more "coffee table book" reviews!!
I agree with you on many points. I do not disagree with the whole concept of turning your blog into your business, but all that is left of Emily's blog seems business...btw yes I know how to put on lipstick, thanks Emily for Estée Lauder...
The most I probably agree with your initial comment "and started blogging to celebrate “life’s little pleasures”. Indeed, $2,000 handbags are exactly the kind of thing I file away under my “life’s little pleasures” folder." EXACTLY.
Was send here via the above, amazing Grace of Stripes & Sequins, who seems to me to be the perfect antidote of Schuman, turning her blog slowly into business without loosing sight of what brought us initially to her: DIY and personal little notes on everything she posts.
One last thing: Why I haven't liked Emily's blog for a while now: she has not even once commented on a comment by her readers in the last year! Your readers are the ones who bring you all that money you spend on Chanel, don't treat us like sh**. (that's also one of the reasons why stripes%sequins and the daybook are my favourite bloggers, they really care)
Greetings from Brussels! You rock!

Naturally Carly said...

I too landed here from Stripes & Sequins. After reading your hilarious and insightful review of the book, I'll be back to read more.

And I do love I can't wait to try your recipes.

You made me laugh out loud. Something my kids say I need to do more of.

Kristine said...

I just found you from Stripes and Sequins and I am instantly smitten. Thanks for the delightful rant and for keeping it real!I have checked out Cupcakes and Cashmere a few times and just felt very confused by it all.

Rachel said...

This is so true! People bow down to her like she is a goddess or something. I feel like I personally know so many "little bloggers" who could fill a book with new ideas that I would enjoy!

Chandra said...

I need your help with something! I know you said that good bakers start frosting from the middle!! However, I've been looking at blogs/books/videos/pins and everyone frosts from the edge!! Can you show us a difference??


Joon said...

Emily sucks. Jeez, how many more ways can she look demure wearing her coral lipstick and faux posing in front of a brick wall in downtown LA? Uhh, SO BORING! give me some humor, some sass, some attitude. Oh wait, Emily's into draping yellow silk ribbon over her office chair this week? Awesome!

Mallory said...

1.) We should be friends. This is fantastic.
2.) I wish more women dissected these blogs (specifically C&C) and saw how utterly ridiculous they are. Moreover, that they only further promote a world that is already far too based on materialism. Aside from which, what they wear is entirely un-affordable to 99.9% of the population. It shows a world that looks prim, proper and perfectly curated at all times, no hiccups. I want her to write a post about a blowout argument she and her husband are having. Something with substance! To say that it lacks creativity and innovation would be an understatement. It’s basically a deranged modern-day Martha Stewart who’s clad from head to toe in over-priced no-name designers that she's being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to promote.

Anyway, I digress

sgt pepper said...

thank you, thank you, thank you... i used to really like her blog, then realized how vapid and self diluted she really is. her ideal's on what is "must have" and "simple" are so completely out of touch with reality -- seeing a post about a "must have" anything that is excessively costly just continues to illustrate how truly out of touch with reality she is and how little depth there is to her.

Elsa said...

Of course, this was posted many years ago, but I'm been incredibly disappointed with the decline of Cupcakes & Cashmere content as of late. I'm a long-time reader, and much like your original post, used to be so impressed and inspired, now it's anything but. Thanks for sharing - I'd love to hear what you have to say now with her clothing line for skinny people, and excessive sponsored posts.
Thanks again :)

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