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The Price of Illusion: A Memoir Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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“A parade of stars and styles . . . . Think of anyone who had cachet in the world of movies, literature or fashion starting in 1970 or so, and chances are good that they pop up in this book. . . . Buck has been a fabulous Zelig in the world of memoirs.” (The New York Times)
“Relentlessly candid and often absorbing account of a complex life spent in and out of the fashion spotlight." (Kirkus Reviews)
“Lapidary. . . elegant. . . psychedelic. . . brilliant.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“[A] lush, charming memoir.” (People)
"If you loved The Devil Wears Prada, you’ll adore Joan Juliet Buck’s The Price of Illusion, her deliciously written memoir of her golden life in Hollywood and at Paris Vogue, which became more and more about running as fast as she could until, in one of the best blow-by-blows of being fired you’ll ever read, she finally began to figure out what matter.” (Elle)
"Fans of high fashion and celebrity culture will enjoy this insider account."
“Ms. Buck has been everywhere, done everything — the most delicious…pages I’ve read in months….sure to ravish the best-seller lists.” (Liz Smith, NewYorkSocialDiary.com)
“Joan Juliet Buck had lived a more brilliant, stranger, more glamorous, sadder, happier, richer, poorer life by the age of twenty-five than most of us do in three times that long and then she went right on living it and then she wrote it down. I'm a sucker for good, smart writing and this book is nothing but good, smart writing and great stories. Terrific stuff." (Salman Rushdie, bestselling author of Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights)
“One knows from the opening paragraph that one is in the presence of a truly original, and compelling, voice; and that the scope of the book to come will be both ravishingly large and, at the same time, rife with perfect, telling details.” (Michael Cunningham, bestselling author of A Wild Swan and The Hours)
“Brimming over with voluptuous details, this is delicious writing—intelligent, provocative, ironic, and so compulsively readable I simply could not put it down.” (Patricia Bosworth, New York Times bestselling author of Diane Arbus)
“In this often hilarious yet ultimately profound memoir, Joan Juliet Buck explores life’s most gorgeous surfaces and agonizing depths. She writes with brio even when she narrates times of difficulty, and achieves a remarkable mixture of modesty, exuberance, and pained confession. Buck’s brilliant wit, her entirely original sense of style, her capacity to negotiate tragedy, and her gift for self-analysis make this book not only riveting, but also unforgettable.” (Andrew Solomon, bestselling author of Far From the Tree)
“A startling and memorable memoir, filled with stars and scars, matters of business and affairs of the heart, successes and failures, all seen with Buck’s seemingly photographic memory in infinite detail. A must for any lover of fashion and culture, and for all those who cherish a life lived to its fullest. The Price of Illusion is a great record of a truly remarkable life.” (Robert Goolrick, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Reliable Wife)
"Anybody could make a riveting life story of the events and rolodex of people in this book, but reading it, I was most reminded of James Salter's autobiography Burning the Days, the inquiry by a great writer into his own remarkable life. It is a moving, Bildungsroman-like account of the inner workings of fame and culture, houses built of cards, aspiration and loss, and a brave search for love. At once an unputdownable romp through sixty years of a world that no one will ever know better than Joan Juliet Buck, and a great literary accomplishment." (Peter Nichols, bestselling author of The Rocks)
"The Price of Illusion is a spilled treasure of a book. Unexpected sudden diamonds cascade across every page. The language is dazzling, but even more overwhelming is the Proustian level of observation. Fashion is laid bare of its artifice. Celebrated giants like Peter O'Toole and John Huston show up in human form. And Miss Buck's career and family flameouts dovetail into a single, heartbreaking tragedy. If you are drawn to glamour and pain, get ready to be mesmerized." (John Patrick Shanley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Doubt)
“Buck offers sharp, candid observations….the author is an appealing protagonist who never takes herself too seriously, nor those around her….By the end of this exquisitely written memoir, Buck emerges triumphant.” (USA Today, 4 Stars)
A happy ending? Try this: As she recovers from her addiction to Conde Nast and fashion, Joan Juliet Buck is at last free to be the writer she always wanted to be.” (HEADBUTLER.COM)
"A-" (Entertainment Weekly)
"Like a tin of caviar or a strand of heirloom pearls, Joan Juliet Buck's memoir...satisfies the appetite for luxury [and] poignant instrospection." (O, The Oprah Magazine)
"A juicy read that leaves no stone unturned in its critical view of the fashion and publishing worlds..." (VF.com)
Praise for Joan Juliet Buck:
"One of the most compelling personalities in the world of style...a shrewd and longtime chronicler of trends." (New York Times)
About the Author
Joan Juliet Buck is an American novelist, critic, essayist, and editor. She served as editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris from 1994 to 2001. While a contributing editor to Vogue, Vanity Fair, Traveler, and The New Yorker, she wrote two novels, The Only Place to Be and Daughter of the Swan. Currently, she writes for W, Harper’s Bazaar, and New York Times T Magazine.
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When we met, I thought we were very much the same: magazine writers making our way up the pole. Joan didn’t talk much about her childhood and the start of her career, but if she had, I’d have quickly understood how little we had in common. Her father more or less discovered Peter O’Toole. Anjelica Huston was her childhood playmate and lifelong friend. Her parents owned a pink marble palace, “a 1900 copy of the Grand Trianon at Versailles, but smaller.” She was writing book reviews for Glamour when she was at Sarah Lawrence. At 22, Andy Warhol anointed her as Interview Magazine’s London correspondent. At 23, she became features editor of British Vogue. The year I met her, she was 32, just starting at American Vogue and writing her first novel.
A few years later, I profiled Alexander Liberman, the legendary editorial director of Conde Nast. “Make your living here,” he told me, “but don’t ignore your own work.” Alex was a good example of that dictum; on weekends and in the summer, he created giant steel sculptures and had a second career as an artist. But Alex’s advice didn’t apply to what Conde Nast was becoming: an all-consuming editorial-advertising machine. Thanks to Tina Brown at Vanity Fair, writers were paid handsomely in the years Joan and I were there. It took me a while to understand that, beyond generosity, there was savvy business logic to those six-figure salaries: When you suddenly earn more money, you want to prove you’re worth it.
The first half of “The Price of Illusion” explains vividly why Buck — who became the first American to edit French Vogue — would so willingly and completely embrace fashion journalism. From her parents, she learned “how things looked and where they came from and how old they were and whether they went together.” In short order, “surface became everything, surface became substance. I clung to inanimate objects and gave my allegiance to things.” This lesson is cemented for her as she watches John Huston draw, “more interested in his pencil than in what anyone said.” The front door of her parents’ home was painted midnight blue, “the same color as the Duke of Windsor’s dinner jackets.” The walls: “Dior gray.”
Her father “knew that the key to success was the perception of success.” But then Peter O’Toole drifts away. The money no longer gushes like oil. The Bucks’ only child will pay dearly for lessons like this — in the early sections of the book, you feel you’re watching the set-up of a brilliant horror film from a faded era.
Joan’s direction is fixed early: ”While my friends were drinking in pubs and discovering marijuana, I got high on color.” She dazzles Tom Wolfe. Leonard Cohen invites her to Greece. She trades apartments with Jeanne Moreau. She is “accepted, inducted, subsumed into what they called le petit clan, a court where the ultimate accolade was to say someone was de bon qualité.”
No one joins a cult; they just forget to leave. That’s the story — the rise and rise of Joan Buck — of the second half of “The Price of Illusion.” But when she’s offered The Big Job, she doesn’t leap with joy: "I am an artist in a garret who can borrow Saint Laurent couture anytime she wants and would never be caught dead eating lunch at Maxim’s. I might be a serious writer if I could finish my second novel and write a third one. I am American Vogue’s French-speaking creature, Vanity Fair’s French-movie-star correspondent. I don’t want the play-pretend power of a magazine editor. I have play-pretend bohemia instead."
Distance from the mission does not play well in fashion or at Conde Nast. When she’s in, she’s all in, “trapped in an ecology of splendor.” She flew the Concorde: “The caviar was followed by langoustines holding up basil leaves in their claws so that they looked like tiny Martian newscasters.” Is that criticism? I can’t tell. In my first marriage, I too flew the Concorde and ate those meals, and, if memory serves, I was quite delighted to do so. Then.
A book with this title is, by definition, a morality tale, and the price of the knowledge gained is high. Joan Buck gets to that right away, in the prologue, which you can read here. But long before her fall from grace at Conde Nast, she knows how much she enjoys simpler things, like Sunday bike rides where she sees mud and sky and “a leaf no one designed, a leaf I don’t have to praise.”
There’s a problem with “The Price of Illusion,” and it’s not Joan Buck. It’s the other people in the book, the bold-faced names who are, in the main, beautiful only when their photos are retouched. In these pages, fashion editors and fashion designers are often cruel, but that doesn’t matter to them, as they’re part of an all-important conspiracy — the merger of fashion and magazines. We know better. Fashion? It’s now irrelevant. Magazines? They’re now fighting for their lives. For most of this memoir, they’re very much alive, unaware of the doom that awaits them, pinned like butterflies in Joan Buck’s colorful, if overly kind prose. A happy ending? Try this: As she recovers from her addiction to Conde Nast and fashion, Joan Juliet Buck is at last free to be the writer she always wanted to be.