Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sunday Salon--Cookbook Reading in Bed

The Sunday

Over the last week, my daughter caught a cold, and then my husband got it, and then I got it. I have been recovering slowly, but haven't had any time to blog.

I have had a chance to read, but I haven't been able to concentrate on anything for any length of time. So one thing I like to read in short bursts is cookbooks. Often I take them up to bed with me. I don't often eat in bed, but I'll read about cooking and eating there. I love to fantasize about cooking, probably more than I like to actually cook.

I received some really good cookbooks this holiday season. I've been leafing through them quite a bit while sniffling and using up whole boxes of tissues, and tossing them without making it into the wastebasket.

One of my lovely sisters-in-law sent me Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking, which has all kinds of good cooking tips, and recipes, and like all of Julia Child's books, is really fun to read. I challenge you, however, to read her writing without imagining her voice. Or without imagining Dan Aykroyd doing Julia, "I've cut the dickens out of my finger!"

Reading Julia's Kitchen Wisdom inspired me to finally get a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which, of course, has become a bestseller again since the movie "Julie and Julia" came out, and which also makes for interesting reading.

I also read food blogs fairly religiously. I've been reading Heidi Swanson's blog 101 Cookbooks, which inspired me to get a copy of her book, Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways to Incorporate Whole and Natural Foods into Your Cooking. This has recipes, but it's also a sort of primer on natural foods and has a section called "Build a Natural Foods Pantry", which I found informative.

I also reacquainted myself with Mark Bittman, and his tenth anniversary edition of How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition), Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food I always enjoy his writing style, when I read him in the New York Times, or here in this book. And this book is a great cooking reference.

And for dessert, I decided to lighten up, while still feeding my chocolate habit, so I've been drooling over Camilla Saulsbury's book Enlightened Chocolate: More Than 200 Decadently Light, Lowfat, and Inspired Recipes Using Dark Chocolate and Unsweetened Cocoa Powder. A girl after my own heart, she adds chocolate to almost everything. Chocolate for breakfast? Why not?

And as for coveting non-cookbooks, this Sunday's New York Times Book Review features a review of Patti Smith's memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids, which sounds fascinating, and which I'm really looking forward to reading at some point.

How's your reading going this week? Any new books you're coveting?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Booking Through Thursday--Favorite Unknown

This week's Booking Through Thursday question:

Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading?
The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

I guess I don't read that many authors that nobody has heard of, because I can't truly answer this question the way it's phrased. However, I do have a pretty long list of authors who are not unknown or unread, but who I think are underappreciated. My list includes the book I've read that puts them on my list...

Elizabeth Bowen (The Death of the Heart)
Dawn Powell (Dance Night)
Elizabeth Hardwick (Sleepless Nights)
J.L. Carr (A Month in the Country)
May Sarton (Kinds of Love)
Lynne Sharon Schwartz (Rough Strife)

It doesn't surprise me that a couple of these books are published by NYRB Classics. I'm sure I could go on. Who is your favorite underappreciated author?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Salon--Books I read a little bit of today

The Sunday

This week I've been slowly making my way through several books, and this weekend I've dipped into all of them.

I've been reading Alejandro Junger, M.D.'s book Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body's Natural Ability to Heal Itself. I've always been intrigued by doing a "cleanse", and according to a holistic doctor I know, and to Gwyneth Paltrow (!), whose website I actually like, this is one of the safest cleanses out there. Junger gives reasonable reasons why, in this modern world of pollutants and stresses, our bodies need a rest from toxins every once in awhile. He also sets forth a program, with recipes, that actually seems doable. I'll let you know how it goes if I ever give it a try.

Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin is the novel my book group chose for its next discussion. I just started reading it, and I found the beginning section to be beautifully lyrical. It is a novel about New York, and it takes place in August of 1974, when high-wire walker Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Last year, I saw the documentary about Philippe Petit, the high-wire walker, and found it fascinating. And although Petit's exploits only provide background for the novel, I was intrigued by the scope of the story McCann is telling.

I also began the fruit of Francine Prose's close reading of Anne Frank's diary, Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife. I love how Prose describes her first reading of Anne Frank's diary, at an age younger than Anne was when she began to write it--it mirrors my reading experience at the same age. She immediately goes on, however, to say that on rereading the novel, feels she originally misread it as the "innocent and spontaneous outpourings" of a teenager, but now sees it as a consciously crafted work of literature. Intriguing...

I'm looking forward to sneaking in as much reading as possible this week. What's on your reading agenda for the week?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver--a review

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, is a rich novel chronicling the life of a novelist: Harrison Shepherd, a man one might characterize as the ultimate outsider. As someone who straddles two worlds, that of his divorced Mexican mother and that of his estranged American father, he doesn’t truly feel at home in either one. Shepherd’s whole history makes him an outsider. Shepherd’s mother abruptly leaves his father and takes her son to live on an island in Mexico with her lover, and her narcissism, benign neglect, and man-chasing start her son on the path to being an internal person who observes life, and writes it down, rather than fully participating. Shepherd is truly an outcast at a Washington D.C. boarding school, where he is ignored by his father, and where he realizes he’s gay.

Later, back in Mexico, he works as a cook in the household of the painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It’s a wonderful place for a would-be novelist to hone his craft, watching but not quite participating in their colorful lives. Shepherd meets, and then works as secretary to, Lev Trotsky, who comes to use the Kahlo-Riveras’ house as a sanctuary from Stalin’s assassins.

Without going into detail that will give away the story entirely, Shepherd’s experiences in Mexico both contribute to his development as a novelist, and to his development of an anxiety disorder that keeps him away from the public eye, and brings him to a small, neat, orderly existence in North Carolina. There he becomes a famous novelist and a target of the American government’s anti-communist purges in the late 1940s.

I truly enjoyed this as a historical novel, and as a novel of ideas. Kingsolver successfully uses many formats to tell her story—diary entries, memoir, the notes of the main character’s secretary-turned archivist/biographer, book reviews, newspaper articles, letters, and even congressional transcripts.

For me, there are three fascinating relationships in the book—the relationship between Shepherd and his mother, the relationship between Shepherd and the painter Frida Kahlo, and the relationship between Shepherd and his assistant, Violet Brown. Shepherd was a gay man, but he never had a really successful affair of the heart, and his most important relationships were with women. His mother taught him to be wary of human relationships, Frida Kahlo taught him to be an artist, and Violet Brown taught him the meaning of loyalty.

The time Shepherd spends in Mexico in the Kahlo-Rivera household and the Trotsky household is the most compelling and colorfully drawn segment of the novel. Kingsolver’s imagining of Kahlo’s character is captivating. She is difficult, capricious, mysterious, and narcissistic, yet she recognizes a kindred spirit in Shepherd and encourages him to become a writer.

Also fascinating is the section of the novel that has to do with Shepherd’s persecution by the U.S. government as a potential communist sympathizer. Kingsolver deftly explores the American obsession with communists, and its hypocrisies, and paints a portrait of a man who just wants to have a private life, who is driven away from the country that should be his sanctuary.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Gifts

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Barbara wants to know:

What books did you get for Christmas (or whichever holiday you may have celebrated last month)?

Do you usually ask for books on gift-giving occasions or do you prefer to buy them yourself?

I didn't receive as many books as I usually do this holiday season. My husband doesn't like to buy me books as much as he used to, because he fears that I will have already read what he's chosen! So he has to ask me what I want, which isn't our gift-giving style, as we like to surprise each other. So my love of books has ultimately resulted in me receiving less books as gifts. Hmmm...

However, this doesn't cut down on the volume of books I actually attain. I do receive some bookstore gift certificates, usually, so I get to choose a few things for myself every year. This year I bought Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned: Stories, by Wells Tower, Let the Great World Spin: A Novel, by Colum McCann, and Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy.

My book group will be reading Let The Great World Spin next, so I'm set!

What did Santa or Chanuklaus bring you this year?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Reading Resolutions

I'm not a big New Year's resolution maker.  That's because I usually break those resolutions so darned quickly, it's just not worth it.  Last year, I remember putting a moratorium on book-buying that lasted maybe a couple of months--and looking back, I can now say that even that was a minor miracle. 

This year I have some reading resolutions I need to say out loud, so that maybe they'll stick.

1.  Keep better track of the books I've read.  I belong to LibraryThing, Shelfari, and goodreads; all great services, but I don't put them to good use.  I don't use them nearly enough to really track what I've read.  I used to keep a physical notebook, but was pretty sporadic about that, so I went digital.  Which somehow was my excuse to just stop keeping track altogether.  Hmm...must remedy this.

2.  Review books directly after reading.  Obviously.  Because then reviews have a better chance of actually being written.  Right.

3.  Write something every day.  For me, reading, writing, journaling, blogging and even meditation all go hand in hand, and if one suffers, they all suffer.  Also, I have a wee problem with consistency, and I think I need to train myself to do a little bit every day.  I'm working on it.

I have some non-reading-related resolutions, too (The Game On! Diet, anyone?), but they tend to be the same stale ones every year, and I don't even kid myself about keeping them for very long.  

Any resolutions, reading-related or not, you'd like to share?