Book Review: Art and Sole

I’ve never been much for sneakers. I often visit my neighborhood and surrounding area shoe lockers just to yawn at the same design I saw occupying the shelf four years ago, but in a different colour or with some celebrity or athlete’s name on it. I began to see the error in my ways when I picked up Art & Sole, written and designed by Intercity.

Intercity’s “sneakers” are sports shoes originally intended for basketball, skateboarding or just strolling, elevated to their own subculture by the skateboarding and hip-hop style phenomena. This detailed and up-to-date sneaker art history features oodles of Nikes, as well as other famous labels including Vans, New Balance, and Onitsuka Tiger. Lesser-known labels like Madfoot!, JB Classics and The Quiet Life also make an appearance.

The book is divided into halves: Sneakers & Art looks at collaborations and projects, while Art & Sneakers is composed of sneaker art, publications, exhibitions and toys, all sneaker-themed. Among the toys featured were Swiss design collective +41’s mini chocolate kicks crafted to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Air Force 1 and Takara Tomy’s Nike Transformer dolls, oscillating between toy-shoes and toy-toys.
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Book Review: Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them

I have been clogging around in my graceless size 11s since puberty, when my feet reached their decisive magnitude. These babies are too wide, long, flat, and plain ugly to fit into anything revealing, and so began my early distaste for provocative footwear.

Upon spying Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them, I was hoping to undercover a juicy attack on the shoes that my feet can’t wear.

Leora Tanenbaum delivers an empathetic treatise on alluring footwear and its effects on the foundations of physical health. Don’t be fooled by the pretty, light-hearted book cover; in her evaluation of poor footwear, Tanenbaum delivers seven chapters of raw footage that does not miss a step.

“Beautiful shoes, ugly feet” attempts to ground the reader by pointing to the beautification-mortification paradox of footwear—essentially the act of wearing high fashion footwear to distract from the ugly foot, which in turn results in even greater disfiguration. Several women testify to their love affairs with shoes in “Love stories, horror stories.” Unfortunately, these affairs are not entirely romantic; these stories of deceit and abuse pose certain reevaluations after love’s gone bad.

Establishing the platform that footwear can be hazardous, Tanenbaum then delves into how. “What you should know from heel to toe” highlights common maladies of the foot. Perhaps save it for after dinner though, as reading about corns may not sit well with your corn on the cob. “Toetox: Cosmetic Surgery of the Foot” follows, as an evaluation of surgical solutions that sheds light upon health risks in extreme foot makeovers. Tanenbuam compiles research and interviews with podiatrists of varying surgical bents from across the United States to try to reveal a true cost-benefit analysis of cosmetic foot surgery.

For those of you who dig theory, a thorough analysis of shoe-love is saved for a little bit later in the book. Through written historical accounts and interviews, Tanenbaum explores the roots of the heeled shoe from antiquity and forward in “The History of High Heels.” For centuries, societies have cross-culturally denounced one another’s poor footwear over practical and ideological differences. What is revealed is a long history of hazardous footwear and ideological hypocrisy. In a chapter on “The Sex Life of Women’s Shoes,” Tanenbaum guides the reader through myriad proposed theories on the sexual symbolism of the foot and shoe. It is a careful navigation of varying biblical, folkloric, psychoanalytical, and sociological theorems regarding shoes. The bulk of the history is foot for thought, but it is undeniable that shoes have historically been and remain sexualized objects, and that sexing our feet is in turn vexing our health.

Bad Shoes does not leave the reader hanging with no one to save your sole. The final chapter entitled “Shoes Wisely,” evaluates footwear designs that best and worst fit the foot ergonomically, including lists of manufacturers with the most foot-friendly reputation.

Leora Tanenbaum has taken on a serious feat in crafting this concise evaluation of footwear, one that is both practical and theoretical in approach. Any woman, and even any man (despite its female-oriented marketing), can benefit from this vault of foot-‘n’-shoe information. The conclusive message is clear: when walking greater distances, be sure to wear styles of footwear that support the shape, size, and arch of your foot. Now, perhaps you have already been told this by a parental figure of sorts, but Bad Shoes outlines all of the cringe-worthy reasons to care, so don’t be so callous about it.

Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them, by Leora Tanenbaum, Seven Stories Press, 2010
Reviewed by Jennifer Carroll

Book Review: Jews and Shoes

“Fashion is a social force that functions effectively not only as an economic engine but as a semiotic system that transmits social and political messages by means of nonverbal language rich in signs, symbols and iconography.” - Ayala Raz, The Equalizing Shoe

For most people, shoes are not the first thing that come to mind when thinking about Jewish cultural heritage. However, after taking a look at Jews and Shoes, a compilation of fourteen academic essays on the apparently unique relationship Jewish people have had with shoes, one must rethink the assumption that shoes are of no particular importance.

Given the Jewish people’s legacy as eternal wanderers, it makes sense that footwear may have taken on a deeper meaning for them. However, this book is far more detailed than that. Split into four thematic sections, it covers a variety of cultural instances where shoes play an important role: religion and the Bible, memorials, political ideology and the arts. To my mind, the strongest essay in this book is a fascinating analysis that questions the commodity fetishism of the piles of shoes found at Holocaust memorials. Having never been to a Holocaust memorial myself, I was surprised to learn of their emphasis on displaying the personal items of those interred and killed at the camps to show the magnitude of the numbers of possessions that were methodically sorted into piles by Nazis intending to redistribute them later. The author, Jeffrey Feldman, does an absolutely superb job of relating memorial attendees’ very visceral reactions to these piles upon piles of shoes of all sorts and the sights, smells, and textures that come from all that rotting leather. The questions posed are not only thought provoking in terms of the legacy of the Holocaust, but about how artefacts and museum objects are structured and displayed in order to evoke an emotional response.
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