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March 29, 2007

Nice Work If You Can Get It


Starting next Monday, this is where you can find me from 7 am to 11 am, Monday through Friday. Nope, not hanging out in the cafe, sipping mochas, reading magazines and cookbooks. I have a new job! And I owe a huge thank you to my wonderful sister-in-law, Jen, who called me as soon as she heard about the position. Not only is it a perfect schedule, I get to wear jeans and tennis shoes! Yay!!

March 28, 2007

Daffodils

A house with daffodils in it is a house lit up,
whether or no the sun be shining outside.

~ A.A. Milne


Daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty.
~William Shakespeare


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle in the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
~William Wordsworth


When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the waterside... But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew about the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake.
~ Dorothy Wordsworth


The daffodil is our doorside queen;
She pushes upward the sword already,
To spot with sunshine the early green.
~William Cullen Bryant

March 27, 2007

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
Nonfiction - Audio (read by the author) - Abridgement
Finished on 3/13/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)




Book Description:

On a visit to her childhood home in Texas, Julie Powell pulls her mother’s battered copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the bookshelf. And the book calls out to her. Pushing thirty, living in a rundown apartment in Queens, and working at a dead-end secretarial job, Julie Powell is stuck. Is she in danger of becoming just another version of the housewife-in-a-rut? Her only hope lies in a dramatic self-rescue mission. And so she invents a deranged assignment: in the space of one year, she will cook every recipe in the Julia Child classic, all 524 of them. No skips, no substitutions. She will track down every obscure ingredient, learn every arcane cooking technique, and cook her way through sixty pounds of butter. And if it doesn’t help her make sense of her life, at least she’ll eat really, really well. How hard could it be?

But as Julie moves from the smooth sailing of Potage Parmentier into the culinary backwaters of aspics and calves’ brains, she realizes there’s more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. For every heavenly meal, an obscenity-laced nervous breakdown lurks on the horizon. But with Julia’s stern warble steady in her ear, Julie carries on. She battles sauces that separate, and she haunts the city’s butchers, buying kidneys and sweetbreads. Her husband endures the crying jags and midnight dinners. Together they discover how to mold the perfect orange Bavarian cream, the trick to extracting marrow from bone, and the illicit thrills of eating liver. With fierceness, irreverence, and unbreakable resolve, Julie Powell learns Julia Child’s most important lesson: the art of living with gusto.

I rarely listen to audio books. There’s just something more enjoyable about holding a book in hand, Post-It Notes at the ready, the static text allowing for trouble-free re-reading of passages. I’ve listened to a couple of audio books while traveling and found that experience pleasant enough, especially in the pre-iPod and satellite radio days in which I grew weary of listening to the same cds over and over again. (Or worse, driving in areas where the radio reception was poor or nonexistent.) But those occurrences are few and far between. A couple of years ago, I decided to give audio books another chance. I listened to one over the course of a few days, while cooking dinner and driving to and from work. I found myself distracted as I tried to read a recipe while listening to the narrator drone on and on, and my commute wasn’t long enough to make it worthwhile, especially when I realized I’d been daydreaming and had to spend a big chunk of time “rewinding.” (What is that called when listening to a cd?) And then there’s the issue of poor (or annoying) readers. So, it’s never been of much interest to me. That is until recently, when I discovered podcasts.

I started perusing iTunes and discovered a slew of podcasts to download to my iPod. I listened to those as I drove to work and on my daily walks. For the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed listening to something other than music while driving (read: irritating morning talk shows) or exercising. Then, after recently reading Anderson Cooper’s memoir, I felt compelled to get the audio version from the library. I loved the book and thought it’d be great to hear Cooper read his own words. Unfortunately, all the copies of Dispatches From the Edge were checked out, but I did notice a copy of Julie & Julia on the new release table and thought, why not? I love to cook and I vaguely recalled a friend’s praise of this book, so I snatched it up, brought it home, ripped the discs to my iTunes library and loaded them onto my iPod.

I listened to the first chapter on my Bose in the kitchen while fixing dinner one night. Between Frankie’s non-stop meows for attention and my distraction as I tried to follow the directions to a new recipe (how ironic), I couldn’t concentrate on the audio book, finding myself getting irritated with the noise level in my kitchen. I also felt that Julie sounded angry and brusque as she read and those doubts about audio books began to resurface. But I wasn’t ready to give up. The following day I listened to more of the book while walking on the bike trail; I generally go for just about an hour, so I got a lot “read” that afternoon. Somewhere between the first and second disc, the intonations of Powell’s voice evened out and she didn’t sound quite so harsh. I began to look forward to my afternoon walks, eager to return to Julie’s kitchen and find out what new recipe she was working on. I found myself chortling out loud on several occasions (cause for some interesting glances from fellow walkers or bike riders as they passed by), finding Powell’s self-deprecating anecdotes quite humorous. I saw a lot of me in the author: I, too, have had temper tantrums (including one involving a cookie gun and a porcelain sink) while trying out new recipes. Yet, while I love to cook, I can’t imagine spending an entire year on such a daunting cookbook. The recipes sound extremely complicated, and neither my husband nor I would enjoy very many of these fussy meals. (Does anyone even eats aspic anymore?!) I own one Julia Child cookbook, but haven’t tried more than a couple of the recipes, so don’t look forward to a similar cooking journey from this cook. If I were going to spend a year working my way through a cookbook, I think I’d rather choose Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes. I certainly wouldn’t hear any complaints from my husband!

Note: Julie tends to use the f-word quite a bit and while I don’t usually have a problem with reading it in books, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to hear it read aloud on an audio book, especially when it’s played on a stereo in the house rather than listened to through headphones. Just a cautionary note in case any of you plan to listen to this on your family vacation this summer. As I always told my daughter when it came to the use of profanity, “Know your audience.” Nothing I hate worse than hearing that particular word used in everyday conversation, especially when young children are nearby.

March 25, 2007

Dreamcatcher


Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
Horror
Finished on 3/23/07
Rating: 4.5/5 Terrific!
Chunkster Challenge #3



Book Description

Once upon a time, in the haunted city of Derry (site of the classics It and Insomnia), four boys stood together and did a brave thing. Certainly a good thing, perhaps even a great thing. Something that changed them in ways they could never begin to understand.

Twenty-five years later, the boys are now men with separate lives and separate troubles. But the ties endure. Each hunting season the foursome reunite in the woods of Maine. This year, a stranger stumbles into their camp, disoriented, mumbling something about lights in the sky. His incoherent ravings prove to be disturbingly prescient. Before long, these men will be plunged into a horrifying struggle with a creature from another world. Their only chance of survival is locked in their shared past -- and in the Dreamcatcher.

Stephen King's first full-length novel since Bag of Bones is, more than anything, a story of how men remember, and how they find their courage. Not since The Stand has King crafted a story of such astonishing range -- and never before has he contended so frankly with the heart of darkness.

It’s been many years since I ventured into Stephen King’s world of horror. I’m not sure why I let Dreamcatcher languish on a shelf; we own a non-remainder hardcover, so it’s been around our house for at least six years. Thanks to Bookfool’s Chunkster Challenge, I was finally inspired to read the novel.

YIKES!! I’d forgotten how scary King’s books are. This one had my heart racing and stomach churning, forcing me to set it aside for something a bit tamer in the late evening hours. There was absolutely no way I could read this in bed. Well, at least at first. Once I got past a certain part, I was able to relax a bit and read a little later into the night. (Although a 620-page hardcover is not the easiest thing to juggle while lying prone in bed – especially with a cat on one’s stomach!)

First thoughts: King is far superior to Dean Koontz. I think I always knew this, but Dreamcatcher is a solid confirmation. What a masterful storyteller. Not only did he maintain the pacing throughout the entire novel, but he created a believable horror story, in spite of its incredible details. That doesn’t really make sense, but King’s writing is such that it doesn’t require the reader to consciously suspend disbelief because it’s so convincing that the impossible becomes plausible. Clocks that run backwards, photographs that come to life, telepathic conversations… sure, why not? In King’s world, these are the norm.

Another thing I liked about Dreamcatcher is that it wasn’t gratuitously overpopulated with secondary characters. I suspect that’s a temptation when dealing with such a lengthy narrative, but it was nice to not have to constantly flip back and forth, trying to reacquaint myself with minor characters from earlier chapters.

Looking through my list (which I plan to post for my next Thursday Thirteen) of all the Stephen King books I’ve read, I realize my favorites are generally those of great length. Call me crazy, but I like to be drawn deep in to the terror-filled world King so deftly creates. Do I like haunted houses? No. Do I like roller coasters? Nope. Do I hide my eyes during scary movies? Yep. So why do I love to be spooked by King? Because he’s a fabulous writer; great sense of place (love that Derry), memorable characters (Pennywise and Randall made very brief appearances in Dreamcatcher), believable dialogue, and all the thrills and chills of an E-ticket ride.

Flipping back through the book, rereading the passages I marked with sticky flags, I do have one minor complaint. And it’s not really directed at the author, as I think it was part of the stylistic manner in which the story needed to be told. I simply had a tough time, early on, keeping track of the time sequence, which was anything but linear. I had to just let go mentally and take the strange flashbacks and dream sequences as they came. Trying to figure out who was where and how old they were in comparison to their friends was futile. Once I got a handle on this particular style, it really wasn’t any trouble.

I enjoyed this book so much that I’m tempted to ignore my toppling stacks and have a Stephen King marathon, beginning with The Stand (probably my #1 favorite), quickly followed by It and Bag of Bones. But, no. I have far too many new-to-me books I want to read. These will just have to wait until I have a little more time to devote to re-reading. As it was, this hefty novel took me about ten days to complete. Dreamcatcher is definitely a “keeper” and one I’ll read again. I highly recommended the book, but not to those with a weak stomach, for this one leans heavily toward the gross and disgusting side of horror.

March 20, 2007

Spring!





The year's at the Spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven--
All's right with the world!
~Robert Browning



March 19, 2007

Table For Five

Note: A similar review appeared in my monthly newsletter (Oct. 2005). Apologies to those who have previously read it.





Table For Five by Susan Wiggs
Contemporary Fiction
Finished 10/7/05
Rating: A (5/5 Excellent for its genre)
Top Ten 2005





From Booklist:

Lily Robinson is not only the godmother of the Hollway children; she's also their teacher. So when Lily calls in the divorced parents, Crystal (her best friend) and Derek, for a conference, and the two of them are killed on the way home, Lily's grief is exponentially worse because of her guilt. Sean Maguire, Derek's half-brother, is an ex-pro golfer ready for a comeback. Crystal never got around to formalizing her request that Lily take the children in case anything happened to her, and Sean is named as their guardian in the will. But Lily refuses to walk away from her godchildren, so Lily and Sean force themselves to cooperate with each other, an exercise that begins to lead to a grudging respect. Wiggs explores many aspects of grief, from guilt to anger to regret, imbuing her book with the classic would've/could've/should've emotions, and presenting realistic and sympathetic characters. Never maudlin, Wiggs writes with an even hand, thus adding another excellent title to her already-outstanding body of work.

Not great literature, but definitely entertaining fluff. Poignant fluff, at that. Table For Five grabbed my attention right away and kept calling to me when I was busy with other things. As is the case with most "beach reads," the story is unavoidably predictable, yet comforting with a satisfying ending. The first third was very difficult to read, bringing my grief for Rachel right back to the surface (where apparently it lurks every day). Many key phrases reflected my own thoughts, but I kept reading, ignoring the lump in my throat. The book read a bit like a made-for-tv movie and I found myself picturing Matthew McConaughey Viggo Mortensen as Sean.

March 17, 2007

Women of the Silk


Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 3/12/07
Rating: 3/5 (Above Average)
2007 TBR Challenge #3



Publisher’s Description:

Gail Tsukiyama lends her voice to a landscape of exceptional beauty in Women of the Silk, and she peoples it with figures of women striding together toward a dream of autonomy and self-determination – women, Tsukiyama tells us, who Do Not Go Down to the Family; Women Who Braid Their Own Hair. This is the story of Pei and Lin, of their struggle for economic independence through what was known simply as “the silk work” in 1926, in a small village in rural China.

It is the story of the evolution of a sisterhood, and of a community of women who turn each of their misfortunes into a point of embarkation and an opportunity for a better, truer life. Pei and Lin set out to spin silk and succeed in spinning the power structure of an entire town into a form so new that they are able to organize the first workers’ union and lead the first strike the village has ever seen. By the novel’s end they seem to be spinning not silk, but whole worlds, from the precious threads of tenacity, good faith, and abiding courage. Though it confronts the failure of human hope and kindness in a tumultuous and disillusioned time, Tsukiyama’s tale is ultimately of friendship, kinship, and love, rendered with exquisite grace, and with all the fluent, resounding dignity of legend or song.


This is the fourth novel of Tsukiyama’s I’ve read, and like all but The Samurai’s Garden (which I gave a perfect 10 in 2002), it was just barely better than a lukewarm experience. I enjoyed most of it, but something (dramatic tension, perhaps?) was missing. If I had enjoyed all her other books, I’d be quick to say that the cause of my disappointment was simply that this was her debut novel (and possibly not as polished as her others). But it wasn’t such a bad experience that I won’t go on and read the sequel, The Language of Threads, especially since I already own a copy. And, I doubt I’ll wait too long to get to it; I don’t want to forget too many of the details from Women of the Silk. It’s definitely not one I would want to re-read. I’m still debating whether it’s one I even want to hang on to.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to read anything by Gail Tsukiyama, I strongly advise that you begin with The Samurai’s Garden. It’s simply one of the most lyrical novels I’ve ever read.

For a more glowing response to Women of the Silk, read Jana Siciliano’s lovely review here.

March 15, 2007

Nonfiction Five Challenge



After much deliberation, I have finally selected my stack of books for Joy's Nonfiction Challenge. This was no easy task! I wanted to pick from our already existing stacks and, as my husband is a voracious reader of nonfiction, I literally have hundreds of nonfiction books to choose from.

I've put together a list of thirteen possibilities (it is Thursday, after all) and will not only attempt to read the required five in five months, but have hopes to continue with my personal goal of at least one nonfiction read every month for the entire year. I'm off to a good start. I've already read four in the first three months.

So, here's my list:

Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West

On Writing by Stephen King

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Loud and Clear by Anna Quindlen

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

Long Time Gone by David Crosby and Carl Gottlieb

Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island by Greil Marcus

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson

Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke

Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk

Counting My Chickens...:And Other Home Thoughts by The Duchess of Devonshire

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

Ooops. That's 14. Oh, well. I may need an alternate or two! That Capote bio is pretty big and I may wind up saving it for next year's Chunkster Challenge.