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Books by the bed

Books I'm listening to in the car

  • Sena Jeter Naslund: Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette (P.S.)

    Sena Jeter Naslund: Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette (P.S.)
    I don't like historical fiction. I have very little interest in the French monarchy. But Sena Jeter Nashland, whose first novel could not've been more different, is a brilliant writer, and has me utterly pulled into this world, time, and place, and given me sympathy towards a person to whom I had none. A novel like this reminds me of why I fall in love with fiction, over and over again. Transporting, tragic, and deeply fascinating. (****)

  • Markus Zusak: I Am the Messenger

    Markus Zusak: I Am the Messenger

  • L.A. Meyer: Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary 'Jacky' Faber, Ship's Boy (Bloody Jack Adventures)

    L.A. Meyer: Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary 'Jacky' Faber, Ship's Boy (Bloody Jack Adventures)

  • Robert Mnookin: Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight

    Robert Mnookin: Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight

  • Curtis Sittenfeld: American Wife: A Novel

    Curtis Sittenfeld: American Wife: A Novel
    Alice Lindgren Blackwell's normal-enough middle-class Wisconsin life goes through the windshield twice, once quickly and literally (a car wreck when she is in her early teens, in which she kills the young man who just may have been the love of her life) and once very slowly, and for a long, long time (when she marries Charlie, a super-wealthy, basically incompetent charmer with fierce political ambitions, who ends up --- somewhat to everyone's surprise --- in the White House). An imagining of a life loosely based on Laura Bush's, Sittenfield's writing is unshow-offy, as unobtrusive and accommodating as her careful protagonist, who tries to walk the impossible line of being "good wife" to a public figure with whose actions, public and private, she does not always agree, and cleaving to her own conscience, which may have gotten lost somewhere along the way. The book is inhabited by carefully drawn, detailed, dimensional characters: Alice's off-again-on-again best friend, her wise, quietly lesbian grandmother, the members of the dynasty into which she has married. An endless war, a weak wealthy husband saved from being a total wash-up by the embrace of a Christianity Alice herself does not understand, a bereaved parent whose son has died in the war, who attempts to meet the president ... all these echo the tragedy of the Bush years from an imagined perspective. Yet finally the novel rings true not because of this echo, but because Sittenfeld has created characters and a plot as complex, flawed, and mysterious as life itself. (****)

  • Nora Ephron: I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections (Vintage)

    Nora Ephron: I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections (Vintage)
    The wry, funny Nora Ephron, in her own words. She forgot more than many of us knew. Highly entertaining, and makes me grieve her recent death even more. (***)

Books in my (culinary) office

  • Mary Donovan: The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook: A Collection of Favourite Receipts from Thirteen Exemplary Eighteenth-Century Cooks With Proper Menus for Simple Fare
    Early American recipes and lots of good quotes from period source material, this is just the kind of thing that fascinates me. (***)
  • Kevin Young: The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink

    Kevin Young: The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink

  • Michael Natkin: Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes

    Michael Natkin: Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes

  • Ben Hewitt: The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food

    Ben Hewitt: The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food
    Hewitt raises more questions and hypotheses than he answer... one has the sense that he was grappling with issues that were too large for him, and the subject of the book, the food-centric (sort of) hardscrabble town of Hardwick, Vermont. I got frustrated with his asides and a certain precious town that occasionally crept in, but I couldn't help but find it enthralling. He tries to make peace with the fact that environmentally sound, home gardening, and incremental agricultural semi-self-sufficiency may be elitist and nay not be economically sustainable. But that our present-day food system is also frighteningly fragile and unhealthful in any way, and simply would work unsubsidized: 1 single fast-food mega-ag calorie on the plate takes an average of ***95*** calories of fossil fuel to get from seed to plate. A gardener himself, Ben Hewitt writes: "The scale on which my family and I grow food is arguably inefficient, in terms of economics, efficiency, and land use. We don't utilize chemical fertilizers, synthetic weed and pest control, or genetically modified seed; these things could probably boost production in the short run, but then, we don't farm for the short run. "I can buy a fine potato from any number of local farmers, but (not) the May afternoon I spent w/ Penny in the garden, sticking our hands deep into the cool soil. I can buy a head of lettuce, but (not) the pleasure & pride of my boys returning from the garden w/ a basket of greens & saying 'We picked it ourselves, Papa.' " And, in this Monsanto-fast food-fake-food world... being willing and able to feed yourself, even partially is a true "Occupy" act. Hewitt quotes a farmer named Eliot Coleman: "Small farmers are the last bastion protecting society from corporate industry. When we feed ourselves, we become unconquerable." I wish this book had been better edited: someone needed to keep Hewitt more on track and focused, with fewer asides. He needed to be less anecdotal and more fact-based, or more anecdotal and... Well. Still very much worth a read. (***)

  • Ayun Halliday: Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste
    A feisty memoiristic series of vignettes, from growing up in Indiana and aspiring to Betty Crocker Enchanted Castle cakes with a mom who aspired to Julia Child and a fried-chicken-and-mashed-potato cooking grandmother to the author's own "postcoital breakfasts", labor, deliveries, and childrearing (one picky eater, one not). Categorized on the jacket as "FOOD / HUMOR" it is both, sort of. A recipe, written slap-dash but followable, and certainly with personal, um, zest, follows each chapter. It kept me somewhat amused; it kept me reading; and it did warn "questionable taste." The latter was over-the-top for me; a combination of TMI, reliance on gross-out, and a few too many gratuitous 'fucks' crossed the just-have-to-drop-the-#-of-stars line. Ayun's a good writer; a little less smart-assiness and a little more depth to the revelations, and I could be done for the cause with her. (**)

Books in my (writing/creativity/teaching) office

Charlotte, Aunt Dot & me

  • Cz_laughing_happy
    An elderly mother, her even older sister, their middle-aged daughter/niece ... and a small sheep.

National Cornbread Festival

  • Fashion to a T
    The apogee of all experiences for the true cornbread lover is the National Cornbread Festival, held annually the last full weekend of April in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

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    « Maurice Zolotow & Roman Polanski (with a side of absinthe) | Main | dreaming, as two decades join: "rare hare of hope," part one »

    October 12, 2009


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    Diane Potter

    Ahhh, Ms. Crescent~ What a lovely post. You have brought out ideas that have been on my mind lately. I feel young at 51 to be a grandmother to 5 grandchildren, but my heart keeps remembering my own dear grandmother, MaMa K, and how much she saved me from my tumultuous, and sometimes terrifyingly dangerous, childhood. I wonder now about conversations we had when I was a child and see alternate meanings that at that young age I couldn't possibly have understood with my limited life experience. I think I will read this post over and over in the next few months as there are so many layers in it. Thanks so much for this one.


    What a beauty.

    I believe that houses can have souls - as a result of being loved by those who have lived in them....

    Yours must be such a house.


    I'm so glad that you wrote here about this because I've always wondered about how you came to be given your aunt's home in Vermont.

    I think one of the reasons I feel such kinship with you is that you grew up in a micro-culture where subtext often had more meaning than the text -- or what was actually said.

    That awareness of deeper meanings comes through in all of your writings and in how you listen to others.

    I appreciate you.

    Barbara H.

    Thank you. I just purchased your cornbread book for myself and my sister (same birthday 7 years apart) for Christmas. I used to work in the children's library of the central branch of a large public library system, so I was acquainted with your name and children's books, with the sad loss of Ned, and with your mother's wonderful books. My mother died a month ago at the age of 95 1/2, so this is a poignant post to read. I have been unable to cry much, everything blocked off, but I can tell the floodgates are opening, at least just a little. Thank you for sharing this.

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Barbara, thank you for this kind and thoughtful response. First, I hope you and your sister have many delicious adventures in and with cornbread! Second... I appreciate your familiarity with my work and especially with Neds death. I feel, now, 9 years on, that probably one way, or reason,  I got through that brutal period, is that so many, many people, including many I didnt know (like you) were thinking of me and sending those wishes my way --- I feel that perhaps it formed a sort of protective circle around me, and kept me anchored to the earth at the time I was just ready to float away, and indeed felt like I was. Of course theres no way to ever prove such things --- its just a sense I have now as I look back on that period.

    I dont agree with Dylan Thomas that after the first death there is no other. As each relationship is different, the ending that death brings --- to the person, not, perhaps, the relationship, which continues, changed --- is different. How you grieve for your mom --- even if it was a good death as it may have been, or if you felt it was time --- will depend so much on what your lifelong patterns were and how they changed over time and circumstance. I know you know this, just as I know you will grieve, in your own way, when the time is right. Grief has its own schedule, its own ideas about how and when it should be expressed.

    I also think that grief is an inevitable part of love, and that it exists side by side with celebration.

    I wish you courage and persistence on your journey, Barbara.

    Barbara H.

    Thank you so, so much for this kind and generous response to my comment. Yes, each death is different. I believe that the thoughts and prayers of family and friends got us through the last month of my mother's life, enabling us to keep her at home as she wished. The circle of love was palpable at times.

    You have given me much to ponder over and explore, both in your post and your response. I look forward to exploring the older posts and being led forward in my life. With much gratitude, I send my very best wishes in your own journey of caring for those wonderful women in your life.

    The comments to this entry are closed.