06 September 2006

What I'm Reading these days

So many things that I pick up to read have been because I heard a book review on NPR about the book in question. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t always like the “Oprah’s Book Club” selections, so I rarely pick them up; The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver is a great example of that….HATED IT. There are in fact a few NPR book reviewers who I always end up disagreeing with too. Or a commentator will have a new book out, and while I love their commentaries, I don’t love their books. Sandra Tsing Loh was a great example of this….she did commentary on Morning Edition years ago, and I loved everything she did on the radio. So I picked up her book, “If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now”, which is a really well written story that I just didn’t like. Her characters were really well formed, but I spent the whole time that I was reading the book wanting to beat Bronwyn, the main character. She needed more backbone. Maybe that was the point; but I’ve never picked up anything else by Tsing Loh.

I heard an interview with Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, more than a year ago. Wow, I thought. A blogger who turned her blogging into a real live book. Cool. But it has taken me more than a year to get to the book. The cover is hopelessly cute; in an endearing, giggle-out-loud-in-the-bookstore kind of way. There’s a little whisk that has an egg character as its base; the egg is frowning. Anyone who has ever suffered a kitchen disaster can relate; no matter how much you whip the egg whites, they refuse to froth beautifully, and you’re left with a runny mess and a big frown on your face. (not that I would know. No. Really.)

I read the book in about 3 hours; I tend to get engrossed in things that I enjoy and have trouble putting them down. The premise of the project is really simple; crazy, perhaps, but simple. Cook your way through the entire massive volume of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, in one year. There are things in that book that I would never ever eat. (Eggs in a beef aspic…yuk.) And things that I would never ever bother to make. (Julia Child’s French bread recipe apparently runs to some 17 pages. No thanks.) But I like the spirit of perseverance that Powell shows, making things that she wouldn’t eat either, and she does try them and finds out that she likes (some of) them. Her Julie/Julia project blog, which she hasn’t updated since the death of Julia Child in 2004, was apparently wildly popular. I am late come to the blog-osphere, so I didn’t follow her yearlong project, which really makes me sad. Most of the bloggers that I follow aren’t undertaking any such ambitious projects (helllllllloooooo, neither am I!!) and it is a great idea to “DO SOMETHING” other than blog randomly about whatever.

She’s a great writer; her voice is that of a friend gossiping happily in your ear while she’s cooking an amazing meal. She curses nearly as often as I do IRL so I think that’s funny too. She also shares my annoyance/complete lack of understanding when it comes to the fanatically religious, so that was another point in her favor. She has a new blog (here on blogger, will wonders never cease) where you can get a taste of her wit, style and spirit, http://juliapowell.blogspot.com. Which is a wonderful thing, because I have not yet heard enough of her voice. She narrates a few things that are linked to her page too, which is a real hoot, because I love her voice. And the narration of the marrow steak passage in the book is not to be missed.

I’m also making my way through George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and not really enjoying it. Lately, I’ve been disappointed in almost everything I’ve picked up in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. Is it possible that I’ve read everything interesting? In my short 31 years? I don’t think so; I just think that I’ve been picking up a lot of dreck lately. Martin writes with fiery passion, and manages to write well from a female perspective from time to time. I admire the characterization of the horrible Queen Cersei, even as I want to smack her. And the lush landscape, which isn’t overly described, is interesting. Not sure I understand the stuff about the seasons (summers which last a generation?) but well written. And yet, I’m annoyed with the whole series. Not enough of Arya and Sansa Stark, and I can’t believe (PLOT SPOILER ALERT) that he killed off Rob Stark, or Breinne, Maid of Tarth. After checking his website, I am surprised to learn that he was a writer on an 80s television series that I (as an 11-13 year-old child) really liked, Beauty and The Beast. I know, I know, I had ghastly taste. But I’m annoyed with the series for a few reasons; mostly because the latest installment isn’t out, but also because the characters refuse to do what I think they ought to be doing. Silly, no? I’ve not liked a lot of other stuff I’ve picked up lately, and can’t help but wonder if I’ve outgrown the genre. Lord, I hope not. I’d like to think that I can still escape to fantasy land with the best of them.

While IM-ing a young friend, I told her that I was annoyed with the fantasy genre because each book I pick up seems to have similar themes…there’s an unlikely hero, a maiden fair, a quest, some magic items such as a sword or two, and then they’re questing forever and ever, and the boy wins the girl in the end, they get married, and everyone lives happily ever after. My precocious 17-year old friend essentially said, yeah, so? And I complained that it seems as if no one in author land seems to have any original ideas; Beowulf reborn, and Greek mythologies told over and over. And she said, “There is no such thing as an original idea.” Yikes. I told her that she and I are both too young to be so cynical.

In the airport last week on my way home, I picked up Wicked, by Gregory Maguire . Through the first chapters, it is barely holding my attention. Too much background info…maybe. I’ll be on an airplane again this week (for a bit of a vaca this time) and instead of any of Martin’s super-heavy hardbacks from the library, I’ve got a trade size paperback of Wicked to schlep around. Thank goodness, the two installments of A Song of Ice and Fire that I had with me last week weighed a ton.

I’ve also made some ventures into the non-fiction world. I picked up a handful of things at a recent visit to Barnes & Noble. I got 21 Dirty Tricks which, gutter mind, is about politics in the world of business. I read it in about 30 minutes and it wasn’t what I was looking for. I avoid serious mentions of my work, but I was hoping to get some ideas about playing politics because I am not so good at that. And I also picked up The Girl's Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch) because I am the boss, and I’d like to be a good one. Even a great one, maybe. Yes, I have a management degree; but even with that, there are many things that the good ol’ Uni doesn’t teach you. So I have high hopes for A girl’s guide. Guess we’ll see.

I have a funny story to tell about books. One book, in particular…one that I’m going to review for Growers and Grocers. The title is Eat Here; and at the moment, I can’t even remember right now where I heard about the book. I looked for it at my local library; then B&N, then Borders. No luck locally, so then in Chicago, at some bookstore down the street from my hotel. No luck there either. So I called a B&N closest to my hotel, found from the phone book. They didn’t have it; but they offered to order it and have it shipped. I could have it shipped to my house (no, I’m not giving you my credit card number from my cel phone in a hotel room, sorry) or they offered to send it to the local B&N here in Ohio, where I could pick it up. Sweet. Sounds so simple. I stopped in the local store yesterday and checked on the order. They didn’t have it and didn’t know when it would be in. Today, I get a phone call from the B&N in Chicago; they’ve got the book and will hold it for me for 2 weeks. About an hour later, I get a phone call from the B&N here in O-hi-ia and they’ve got the book and will hold it for 2 weeks. An embarrassment of an abundance of riches. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll pick up the one in Chicago on Friday. The one here? If I like it enough, I’ll buy the second copy for a friend who has been instrumental in opening my eyes to the dismal state of food production in America.

I've been thinking about changing my blogger template; what do you think?

That’s all for today.

Soundtrack: Leaving On A Jet Plane (yes, again. Flying to Chicago again tomorrow.)

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