Monday, January 31, 2011

Food For Thought: Gravity's Rainbow Cont.

"In the kitchen... Teddy Bloat is mincing bananas with a great isosceles knife, from beneath whose nervous blade Pirate with one hand shovels the blonde mash into waffle batter resilient with fresh hens' eggs, for which Osbie Feel has exchanged an equal number of golf balls, these being even rarer this winter than real eggs, other hand blending the fruit in, not over vigourously, with a wire whisk, whilst surly Osbie himself, sucking frequently at a half pint Milk bottle filled with Vat69 and water tends to the bananas in the skillet and the broiler...

Acton and I had Fresh Direct deliver the ingredients the day before. We had settled on a recipe for yeasted waffles from the adorable blog Honey & Jam. And while yeasted waffles need a little more prep time than your average Bisquick mix... it somehow seemed fitting that for a Pynchon-themed meal the recipe for our simple banana waffles should be as complicated as humanly possible!  In the end, the result was well worth the extra effort. (Ahem...Hoping this proves true of the book too...?) Our waffles were divine. We think Pirate would approve.

For the banana feast, we had some options to work with. Here are just a few of the delicacies that Pynchon mentions in the famous banana breakfast scene:

Banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas molded in the shape of a British lion rampant, banana french toast , banana blancmange, banana croissants, banana kreplach, banana oatmeal, banana jam, banana bread, banana flambed in brandy... and let's not forget the mugs full of fermented banana mead.
And, of course, finally: "Tall cruets of pale banana syrup pour oozing over banana waffles"

Thanks to Honey and Jam for the recipe!

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground clove
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup mashed ripe banana
2 tablespoons sour cream
The morning before:
In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, milk and vanilla. Set aside, the mixture should be warm but not hot. (oops. my butter kind of burnt in the microwave. try and maybe heat yours stove-top.)

In a large mixing bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, brown sugar, yeast, salt and spices. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisking until smooth. (We liked the addition of spices. But the ginger was a little strong at the end. Maybe just a pinch less next time). Stir in the beaten eggs. Cover the bowl loosely with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, but up to 24.
Morning Waffles:
About 30 minutes before you want to make waffles, take the batter out of the refrigerator to come up to room temperature slightly. Stir in sour cream to mashed bananas and then mix into the batter. Fire up your waffle iron and get ready to cook! (Also, our first batch totally overflowed all over the kitchen counter so go easy on the ladling at the beginning while you gauge how much you really need).
Banana Frappes
Breyer's Vanilla Icecream 2 Cups
Milk 1/4 Cup
Bananas 2-3
Honey 1 Tbs (a must!)

Mix in a blender and serve chilled!

Poem to Start the Week

I would douse them all with luck. They need
It. They need it
worst than I do.

"Luck" by Charles Bukowski

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Sun Also Vomits"

Hemingway madlibs on Youtube.

When this girl's high school English teacher's commented that "Hemingway asks you to fill in the blanks," she asked Youtube users to answer the challenge. They came up with an abridged version of "The Sun Also Vomits," which includes lines like, "There's also Belmonte who has found much to his disappointment that he can no longer spit gerbils as well as he used to."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Food for Thought: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

As part of our ongoing quest to create a contemporary dialogue about the literary classics, we're delighted to bring you our first installation of Food For Thought, a 'dine-by-pages post' aimed to bring your favorite books right to your table. We hope that these meals will work equally well as dinner party fodder or as a simple week-night indulgence. Enjoy!

First up is Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon pgs 9-11:

An installation of Zac Smith's spectacular Gravity's Rainbow Illustrated: One picture for Every Page.

Background: Captain Geoffory "Pirate" Prentice, a Special Operations Executive living with his messmates in a maisonette near the bohemian end of London, has just witnessed the V-2 Rocket's deadly vapor trail (or rainbow) from his roof. The sighting inspires him to go downstairs and cook up an orgiastic banana breakfast. The war is momentarily put on hold and everyone pitches in to help serve up a killer banana-feast. It's a hilarious, iconic, and extremist 'making-do' image. An excerpt is below. Tomorrow morning we'll be serving up a modified version of this breakfast of champions on Livre Life so make sure you check back!

"In the kitchen, black-market marshmallows slide languid into syrup atop Pirate's double boiler, and soon begin thickly to bubble. Coffee brews. On a wooden pub sign daringly taken, one daylight raid, by a drunken Barley Gobbitch across which still survives in intaglio the legend SNIPE AND SHAFT. Teddy Bloat is mincing bananas with a great isosceles knife, from beneath whose nervous blade Pirate with one hand shovels the blonde mash into waffle batter resilient with fresh hens' eggs, for which Osbie Feel has exchanged an equal number of golf balls, these being even rarer this winter than real eggs, other hand blending the fruit in, not over vigourously, with a wire whisk, whilst surly Osbie himself, sucking frequently at a half pint Milk bottle filled with Vat69 and water tends to the bananas in the skillet and the broiler. Near the exit to the blue patio, DeCoverley Poz and Joaquin Stick stand by a concrete scale model of the Jungfrau, which some enthusiast back during the twenties spent a painstaking year modeling and casting before finding out it was too large to get out of any door, socking the slopes of the famous mountain with red rubber hot-water bags full of ice cubes, the idea being to pulverize ithe ice for pirate's banana frappes. With their nights growths of beard, matted hair, bloodshot eyes, miasmata of foul breath, DeCoverley and Joaquin are water gods urging on a tardy glacier..

...Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night's old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjurors secret by which -though it is not often Death is told so lcearly to fuck off-the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down ten or twenty the same asserttion-through structure allows this war morning's banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail. Is ther any reason not to open every window, and let the kind scent blanket all Chelsea? As a spell, against falling objects...." p9-11

Wow The Internet is AMAZING. Check out this chart that Mattikeltanen made. Sad day. He seems to have stopped blogging soon after he made this list. Wonder if the Pynchon challenge had anything to do with his hiatus? Hmm...we're just saying.
Here are a few footnotes that we hope will inspire some scintillating Pynchon-related breakfast table convo:

1. "Pirate" Prentice is a nod to the Glibert & Sullivan musical the Pirates of Penzance. Ruth, the well-meaning but hard of hearing nursery maid, apprentices (see) the dashing Frederick to a "Pirate" as opposed to a Pilot as his father intended.  Pynchon gives Geoffory P Prentice a hero's name. And, with this book, you kind of have to take what you can get in terms of instructive narrative. We've been using GPP as a sort of moral compass in Gravity's Rainbow. (Full disclosure: still only on page 304 so we'll see where this leads.)

At any rate, Prentice's reaction to seeing the V-2/A4 rocket in the sky is not to have a serious freak out but to 'keep calm and carry on', specifically he picks bananas. 

 "Oughtn't he to be doing something...get on to the operations room at Stanmore, they must have it on the Channel radars-no: no time, really. Less than five minutes Hague to here (the time it takes to walk down to the teashop on the corner...for light from the sun to reach the planet of time at all). Run out in the street? Warn the others? 
Pick bananas. He trudges through the black compost in to the hothouse. He feels he's about to shit. Th emissle, sixty miles high, must be coming up on th epeak of its trajectory by now...beginning its"

What does this say about Pirate's character? Pynchon seems to think that heroism doesn't have a place in this instance. Sure, Pirate doesn't have enough time to alert anyone, but another author might have him try. Does this make you nervous/enervated/energized about the overall tone of the book?

2. Guido Almansi, an Oxford scholar and one of Pynchon's biggest champions, suggests that the banana breakfast is an homage to Henry Miller's fried banana breakfast in his novel Tropic of Capricorn. 

Recipes and banana breakfast pics to follow!

Also, it's important not to overlook banana=phallus. In case you had forgotten, for a second, that this book is about MEN in the ARMY. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Classics by Design: Howards End

Design Sponge posted this glorious collage of Howards End inspired livin' this a.m. I'm just in love with that pretty Bloomsbury wallpaper!
"Was Mrs Wilcox one of the unsatisfactory people--there are many of them--who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it? They evoke our interests and affections, and keep the life of the spirit dawdling round them. Then they withdraw. When physical passion is involved, there is a definite name for such behavior--flirting--and if carried far enough it is punishable by law. But no law--not public opinion even--punishes those who coquette with friendship, thought the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of misdirected effort and exhaustion, may be as intolerable. Was she one of these?"
- E.M. Forster, Howards End, Ch. 10

Howards End, written by EM Forster in 1910, was considered to be the author's greatest masterpiece. Forster's other notable works include Room with a View and Passage to India. From 1929-1960,  Forster hosted a radio show on the BBC, which he used as a platform to discuss the nation's artistic landscape. You can buy a compilation of those discussions from Amazon here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lives: Nora Barnacle

Nora Barnacle was the long-time girlfriend and eventual wife of James Joyce, and she is all over his writing. The two met in 1904, when Nora was twenty, and in addition to exchanging extremely dirty NSFW love letters with Joyce, she influenced many of his female characters, showing up as any woman who is quick-smart but anti-intellectual, who is passionate and very much of her body, who is pretty, vulnerable, sad, or from Galway--all of which Nora Barnacle was.

Apparently Nora was constantly complaining about Joyce's writing habits and style, calling him nonsensical, overly erudite, and snobbish to her sister in letters, and probably to his face, too. If you've read Ulysses, you will recognize Molly Bloom in Nora Barnacle.

She also shows up in Joyce's famous story, "The Dead," which I recently read for the first time. Set at a party, it is about (among other things) Gabriel, an ambitious literary-type Irish man and his feelings about his wife, Gretta, a woman from Galway who fits in easily with the people at the party, people whom Gabriel feels a little superior to, in spite of himself. Some events take place at the party, but the main "event" is Gabriel's intense tenderness for Gretta that comes over him at the end of the night, and his struggle to connect with her over it. Gretta confesses she's been thinking about a boy who once loved her, named Michael, but who died young, something that Nora Barnacle also suffered as a teenager.

It ends with this famous last sentence, which I had heard before, but never in context, so I got that old meeting a friend of a friend for the first time feeling:

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

I think that sentence must be used in every single English 101 class in America to demonstrate one of about ten devices it uses. But as beautiful as it is on its own, what it does to the rest of the story is even better, though I'm not sure what that is. What do you guys think? Why does he focus on the snow at the end?

Wings of the Dove

We took pity on poor Henry James, the alleged victim of Hemingway's metaphorical gunshot, and chose him for our next book club book, The Wings of the Dove. The novel was named one of the English language's 100 best novels by the (unavoidably subjective) list we've been using as guide.

The plot involves a young, rich woman who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and the schemers who anticipate her inheritance. The book was dedicated to, and apparently inspired by, Henry James' cousin who died of tuberculosis.

The movie, by the way, looks amazing mostly because it is starring--sigh--Helena Bonham Carter, the love of my life. She plays the evil schemer, or so it would seem from her picture, above, with Allison Eliot of the delicate eyebrows as the disease-stricken victim.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bookmark Worthy Events: Week of January 24th

Monday, January 24th
What: Penguin Classics 65th Anniversary: Saul Bellow Slam
Where: Housing Works Cafe, 126 Crosby Street, New York, NY 10012 :: 212-334-3324
When: 7:00pm
Why: Readings by Joseph O’Neill, Gary Shteyngart, Joshua Furst, Francine Prose and many others.
Cost: Free

Monday, January 24th
What: Crosby Hotel Presents: Under the Influence: Writers on Film with Paul Auster
Where: 79 Crosby St (between Prince and Spring Sts)
When: 6:30pm
Why: Cost includes, presentation, film and the cocktail party afterwards
Cost: $35

Monday, January 24th
What: Greenpoint Writers Group
Where: Word 136 Franklin Street
When: 6:30
Cost: Free

Wednesday, January 26th
What: Cousin Corinnes Launch Party
Where: Book Court
When: 7:00pm
Why: Rub shoulders with fellow writers get a copy of Issue #2 of Book Court's zine.
Cost: Free

Friday, January 28th
Where: KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street 
When: 7:00 PM; 
Why: Featuring two of the finest poets working today: Meena Alexander & Christian Barter
Cost: Free and Open to the Public

Saturday, January 29th
What: Saturday Sessions
Where: MoMA PS1
When: 4:00-6:00pm
Why: Designed to introduce a wide range of performance, each event welcomes a different host and occurs every other Saturday of the month. Past Saturday Sessions have included music, film, and multidisciplinary elements. This season’s programs will expand to include artist lectures and architecture-based projects.
Cost: Free

The Elements of Style

"If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie, its second act would conclude with the young Ernest walking into a saloon, finding an etiolated Henry James slumped at the bar in a haze of indecision, and shooting him dead. The terse, declarative sentence in all its masculine hardness routed the passive involutions of a higher, denser style."

-full text from Slate in a piece that takes on Strunk and White's iconic style manual, a relevant read given this weekend's Gordon Lish talk.

I think the piece overstates White's militancy, given the guide is so full of irony and humor. Still, it was definitely a product of a movement, and one that possibly should be revalued. A new manual from Stanley Fish called How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One takes a less violent approach to style, perhaps bearing in mind the contemporary American writers like David Foster Wallace who broke all of Strunk's rules.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Literary Lives: Raymond Carver

On my run this morning, I listened to a New Yorker Fiction Podcast featuring David Means reading Chef's House by Raymond Carver.

Raymond Carver was one of America's preiminent short story writers and, famously, a once troubled alcoholic. Gordon Lish, his longtime friend and editor, launched Carver's writing career after accepting Carver’s story “Neighbors” to Esquire in 1971. Carver achieved critical acclaim but struggled financially. He also began drinking heavily. In the fall semester of 1973, Carver became a teacher in the Iowa Writers' Workshop with John Cheever, but "Carver stated that they did less teaching than drinking and almost no writing." After joining AA in 1977, Carver began a second life at Syracuse University where he taught English alongside his second wife Tess Gallagher. He published his first collection of short stories Will You Be Quiet, Please? shortly thereafter. Carver died of lung cancer in 1988.

As Acton has pointed out before, one of the best bits of the New Yorker podcast series is having Deborah Treisman guide you through the text at the beginning and end of each segment. After Means read the story, Treisman and Means began discussing the influence of Gordon Lish on Carver's writing. It's interesting because in the dialogue it became clear that Means was Pro-Lish. He liked what Lish did to Carver's style in the early years at the New Yorker. He even went as far as to say (albeit jokingly) he wished Deborah Treisman would edit his essays/ stories in a similar fashion to a similar degree. Treisman felt, in certain instances, that Lish changed the nature of the story enough so that the Carver stories became, in her words, 'co-productions' and not the author's own.

What readers notice when they begin reading Carver is his style. His work has become synonymous with a plain spoken presentation of quotidien struggles. His strength often lies in restraint, in what he leaves out. So I was curious to see the extent to which his style was a manufactured product. After a little research, I found an original draft of Carver's Beginners or as it was later titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love with the New Yorker's edits visible. What side of the debate do you fall on? Pro or Con?

Additions to Carver’s draft appear in bold; a strike-through indicates a deletion; and paragraph marks indicate paragraph breaks that were inserted during the editing process.

My friend Mel Herb McGinnis, a cardiologist, was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right.  The four of us were sitting around his kitchen table drinking gin. It was Saturday afternoon. Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink. There were Mel Herb and me I and his second wife, Teresa—Terri, we called her—and my wife, Laura. We lived in Albuquerque, then.  But but we were all from somewhere else. There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and the tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love. Mel Herb thought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He said When he was young he’d spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He He’d left the Church at the same time, but he said he still looked back on to those years in the seminary as the most important in his life.

Click here for the full text.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Algonquin's Round Table (cont.)

Hey Now...
It turns out the Robert Altman directed Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. Topofthenetflixqueue thankyouverymuch!

Livin' It Livre: New York's Algonquin Hotel

Acton and I had a lovely evening at the Algonquin last night. I wasn't sure what to expect. (The two of us have braved some pretty awful historical homes in our day; Monet's Giverny coming in at an all time low). I was prepared for a faded relic layered with a Madam Tussauds-esque Kitsch. 
But to our delight we found the Algonquin to be still very much au courante. The staff was extremely friendly and the cocktails were delicious, if pricey. 
We toasted to literary greats past with what we thought would be their drinks of choice: A Manhattan for Acton and an Old Fasioned for me.  Our table was literally a stones throw away from the actual round table. And we were inspired to talk writing projects, short story reads, and our up coming post schedule for Livre Life. At the end of the night, we were given a nice informative brochure detailing the history of the Algonquin, which I've excerpted below!
PS Acton let it slip that we were covering the Algonquin for Livre Life and when we left our uber nice waiter waived goodbye and thanked us for gracing the hotel! If only! Maybe in a few years we'll come back and toast as published writers!

Legendary manager and owner Frank Case, who joined the Algonquin staff while the hotel was still under construction, believer that the original name-The Puritan-was too straitlaced. He changed it to the Algonquin, opting for an indigenous American name rather than a grand European name favored by the other hoteliers of the age.

Among other notables: Three Nobel Laureates visited on a regular basis, including Sinclair Lewis (who offered to buy the hotel), Derek Walcott, and most memorably William Faulker, who drafter his Nobel PRize acceptance speech at the Algonquin in 1950. 

The Algonquin Round Table (See Acton's previous post for great detail): Mrs. Parker and her friends were immortalized in 1987 in Aviva Slesin's Academy Award-winning documentary, The Ten Year Lunch. In 1994 the group was once again transported to the big screen in Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle, produced by Robert Altman and starring Jennifer Jasom Leigh as mrs. Parker.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Algonquin Hotel

Ellis and I have long-standing plans to meet at The Algonquin Hotel this evening. I knew vaguely that The Algonquin, New York's oldest operating hotel, was a literary hangout of the twenties and that they give out New Yorkers and ipods stocked with audiobooks to guests. I am quickly realizing just how juicy its history is. Unlike (I'm assuming) its neighbors on "club row" as its called because of the nearby Harvard and University clubs, the Algonquin's history is chalk full of wit and hilarity. I get the feeling the club was at its prime in a lighthearted time for literature, pre-World War I. Its most famous patrons were the staff of Vanity Fair, the inner circle of which founded in 1919 the Round Table or "The Vicious Circle" as it was nicknamed by Dorothy Parker. The Round Table counted all of New York's most feared critics among its members whose respective wikipedia pages are to this day full of cross references and witicisms at each other's expense. Here are a few of the crew's best:

Franklin P. Adams

The so-called "comma-hunter of Park Row," F.P.A. is the formidable hero of E.B. White and many writers of the generation after him. He edited a gossip column in the New York Tribune called "Conning Towers," gathering much of his dirt from conversations at the Round Table.

Quotable: "There are plenty of good five cent cigars in the country. The trouble is they cost a quarter."

Harold Ross

You might recognize his name as the founder of the New Yorker (1925). He used his Round Table friends as his first staff writers in his goal to create a magazine of sophistication and metropolitan sensibilities, though he himself was raised in Aspen and never finished high school.

Quotable: The first issue of the New Yorker states it is "not edited for the old lady in Dubuque"

Alexander Woollcott

My favorite Round Tabler. Born into a childhood of illness and poverty in an artist commune, after moving to New York, Woolcott quickly established a reputation as a notorious grouch and the cruelest theater critic in history, famous for slamming the most beloved entertainers of his generation. ("There is nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle can't fix"). He was banned from The Shubert and lost his law suit of protest against them. He would, however, just as enthusiastically support his tastes; his rave review of the Marx Brothers' first show propelled them into fame and began a lifelong friendship between he and the brothers.

Woollcott founded the "Shouts and Murmurs" column in the New Yorker, where he would write (often incomprehensible) satirical pieces in the flowery style of his favorite writer, Dickens. He famously said of his frenemy, Harold Ross, that he "looked like a dishonest Abe Lincoln."

Another quotable:
"The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm"

Dorothy Parker

The founding member and heart of the Round Table, she is known for her short and sweet, hilarious poems. She eventually gave up The Round Table for Hollywood and she actually cites Woolcott's difficult humor as the reason for her disillusionment. She said, "I remember hearing Woollcott say 'reading Proust is like lying in someone else's dirty bath water.' And then he'd go into ecstasy about something called, Valiant Is the Word for Carrie, and I knew I had enough of the Round Table."

So many of her little poems are so quotable. She has a devoted fan base to this day and apparently many fan sites where I've been perusing her work all morning. I think this one is a good way to end this (way too comprehensive) post. It's called "Bohemia:"

Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horses' necks
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing, and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
God, for a man that solicits insurance!

Weekend Watch: Downton Abbey

For those of us whose Netflix Queue often reads English Period Pieces Featuring a Strong Female Lead (not naming any names):
The fabulous Miss Heather Clawson of Habitually Chic has turned me on to a new TV show, Downton Abbey. Written for Masterpiece Theatre by Julian Fellowes, the same fine Englishman who brought us Gosford Park and Snobs, the plot of Downton Abbey focuses on the inhabitants of a stately Edwardian manse who encounter a succession crisis after the sinking of the Titanic.

As synopsis from the PBS website:
It's 1912, and life in the Edwardian country house of Downton Abbey is idyllic and bustling for the Crawley family, aided by their cadre of servants. Robert, Earl of Grantham, his American heiress wife Cora, and their three daughters, along with Robert's mother Violet, have lived largely uncomplicated lives. But the sinking of the Titanic hits home in an unexpected and dramatic way — Lord Grantham's heir, James Crawley, and his son Patrick have perished. It's personally agonizing (momentarily) for daughter Mary who was supposed to marry Patrick. On a grander scale, suddenly all the predictable succession plans have gone terribly awry, and unheard of questions now loom large — Who will be the new heir to the earldom? And what will happen to this distinguished estate, now in jeopardy? Mary's grief is short lived as she sets her sights on another suitor, the Duke of Crowborough.

The show stars Maggie Smith as the matriarch Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham and Masterpiece Theatre veteran Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Earl of Grantham. Elizabeth McGovern plays Robert's wife Cora Smith. Their three young daughters are played by Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael and Jessica Brown-Findlay.
Channel 13
Sundays at 9:00pm

I think this calls for dinner and a movie, no?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kids Book Suggestions

Tonight I'm going to my boyfriend's niece's first birthday party. We're gifting Miss Mabel some Dwell Studio building blocks and a few choice reads. I was thinking that I actually, awkwardly maybe, still own alot of the books I read as a child. Even though I've passed my expiry date on bedtime stories (barring a good accidental George Saunders sextory from Acton that is), the books I had read to me when I was 5 or 6 are still some of my most cherised possessions.  What are some of your all time favorites? My top ten is below. Am i forgetting anything? It's been a while..

1. Blueberries for Sal
2. The Very Hungry Catepillar (bonus points for interactive page design)
3. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst  
4. The Mitten by Jan Bret
5. Renard the Fox, by Rachel Anderson
6. Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
7. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch
8. Bread and Jam for Francis, Russell Hoban
9. Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney
10. The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cheever Fever

The prayer that opens the short story "The Trouble of Marcie Flint:"

"My suitcase is full of peanut butter, and I am a fugitive from the suburbs of all large cities. What holes! The suburbs, I mean. God preserve me from the lovely ladies taking in their asters and their roses at dusk lest the frost kill them, and from the ladies with their heads whirling with civic zeal. I'm off to Torino, where the girls love peanut butter and the world is a man's castle and...God preserve me...from women who dress like toreros to go to the supermarket, and from cowhide dispatch cases, and from flannels and gaberdines. Preserve me from word games and adulterers, from basset hounds and swimming pools and frozen canap├ęs and Bloody Marys and smugness and syringa bushes and P.T.A. meetings"

I was too nervous to search for what a "woman dressed like torero" would dredge up on google, so I found what I hope is a modern day equivalent:

Our next book club book is The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever, and I'm gearing up as I wait for the amazon shipment with some short stories. I wonder what separates ladies who like peanut butter from the ladies of suburbia.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Most Embarrassing Subway Reads

Many new yorkers do most of our pleasure-reading on the subway, a habit which presents either an opportunity or a problem for the self-conscious traveler. As much as the Livre Life book club has helped my sub-street cred, I have been known in the past to embarrass myself. For example, I recently read back-to-back what are possibly the two most embarrassing subway reads of all time when I followed my reading of Cunt, the controversial third wave feminist manifesto by Inga Muscio, with I Love Dick, Chris Kraus' memoir about her obsession with a man named Dick. Hard to beat, I know.

And since I sacrificed my dignity for these books daily for half a month, I thought I would review them here, lest my abnegation go in vain.

First, neither statement-making title succeeded in making its statement unpretentiously. This review in the blog, Bookslut, pretty much sums up all that was problematic about Cunt: A Declaration of Independence.

The author, pictured above with her skateboard, preaches about the right and only way to practice birth control, love your body, and become free of the Patriarchy. In the process, she also recounts her own count-em three unplanned pregnancies, de-legitimizing her own "know- your-body-love-your-body" sermon. Now this sounds insufferable, and it was, but I'm glad I read it. The book had become a cult classic among the girls in my liberal arts college and had caused a number of my friends to re-think the pill on principle. I suggest it for those interested in the problems and popularity of radical feminism, provided they are also willing to suffer a truly heinous writing style.

I Love Dick also gets a mixed review from me. The tiresome love story plays out a married couple of intellectuals' increasingly consuming obsession with a young professor named Dick. Dick, who is real, is told about "the interesting philosophical problem," that is their obsession with him, and soon he becomes co-opted against his will as a metaphor for the couple'ssexual frustration, fears about aging, and, mostly, Kraus' own insecurities, which are so cloying they come off as disingenuous (ah, my ravaged body! it's too skinny to be sexy!...yeah, right.) That's her below.
It is also an interesting story about the limits of literary readings on real life, but it will exhaust even those of us who actually like literary theory (precious few to begin with). The memoir is shockingly honest and the turn of events always interesting, but it is unrelentingly pretentious, as the letter writing trio out-theorize each other ad infinitum.

Some kindled day in the future we won't have to worry about what we read one the subway, but in the meantime, I think it's worth asking, were they worth it? What are your most embarrassing subway reads?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sloane Crosley's Fashion Diary

For some to admire and some to pick apart....My fave twenty something writer was profiled in the New York Times Style Section today. In the article, Crosley mention's she's quit her job in the publicity department of Vintage Books to begin working on her novel. Writers always talk about the act of producing a manuscript as an inherently solitary pursuit, but Crosley finds a good balance, filling her week with breakfasts with fellow authors, lunches with literary agents, and drinks with close friends and family. Read on to find out how she effortlessly breezes through time management  right here

A Temperley gown, stacked Louboutin heels and an Alexis Bittar tiara. Just kidding. The beginning of the day brought a hotel robe and a pair of Totes Toasties socks, circa 1990. There’s a hole in the toe from the time my former roommate’s psychotic albino ferret decided to attack my feet. Then to Joseph Leonard for a late lunch, followed by two firsts for the new year: a trip to Bryant Park to go ice skating for the first time ever, followed by the turning on of the oven in my apartment. For the former, I swapped Costume National heels for blue plastic rental skates and wore American Apparel tights, a Blumarine T-shirt, a cardigan from Anthropologie, a Paul Smith knit hat, United Bamboo gloves and a general expression of terror.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jonathan Franzen Character Outline

I'm reading the Paris Review interview with Jonathan Franzen as we speak. The article opens with a page from Franzen's notes on the Joey character in Freedom. I couldn't help but scan it for y'all. Franzen seems to have used the chart to move along character development in tandem with plot.

I guess I was particularly interested in his mapping of the Joey attributes since many readers viewed Joey as Franzen's crowning achievement in the storyline.

New York's Greatest Book, continued.

Daniel Day Lewis with Winona, the good waif wife in Age of Innocence, who favors the latest fashions.
Daniel Day Lewis with Michelle Pfiefer, the hot Euro misfit, who wears out-of-fashion, overly sexy clothes.

I love The Age of Innocence, the book and the movie, but I have always seen it as the quintessential period piece, as in "WOW, times were so different then; can you believe they still had human emotion?" So NYMag's recent declaration had me "couldn't help but wondering" a la Carrie Bradshaw, is the "strain of distinction vs. assimilation" still New York's defining struggle? Does anyone really want to assimilate these days?

On second thought, the last scene in The Age of Innocence does encapsulate a very "now" moment. Daniel Archer, the lead, gets the opportunity of his lifetime: a chance to get with his dream girl, guilt-free. But he chooses to bypass it saying only that he's "old-fashioned." Awesome ending! I've always thought, he is proud, because "his" New York is changing and he wants to defend the one that he lived. So, he is an individual (read: a New Yorker) after all, not an assimilator.

The Age of Innocence was a period piece when it was written (it was written in the twenties about Victorian times, and the amazing last father-son scene, which ends with "just tell her I'm old fashioned") and I think that is very "New York" too, the clash of the eras defining the time.