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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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    « narrative flowers, garden blues (Houseman, Hopkins, on harmony) | Main | identity gumbo »

    June 12, 2008


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    Crescent, you continue to inspire me with your wit and wisdom. How on earth did you KNOW I was feeling so scared this week? How could you know I'm wracked with fear these days? Of course you couldn't--and didn't--know, but one of your gifts as a writer and a person is your desire to help us all understand what it means to be a person. Flawed and beautiful, striving and failing, full of hope and doubt simultaneously. The human experience is, in a nutshell, uncertain and scary. But somehow knowing I'm not alone in feeling scared, and knowing that all of us scaredy-cats have the ability to move with our fear, to achieve despite our doubts...somehow I feel better and stronger, even though I'm still scared.

    I'm so glad you are writing a blog these days!

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Of course I knew you were feeling this these days, Rose-Anne... because... you're a human being!

    I think, when it comes to the big things (fear, non-negotiable loss of one kind or another), we're all, at a certain point, brutally alone. But because this sense of anxiety and isolation and nowhere-to-turn does mow all of us down sooner or later, maybe, just maybe, we're never more part of and connected to the human race than at these moments of isolation.

    I don't know that I'm exactly altruistic enough to be doing this "to help" others... it's an unlooked for bonus and privilege, that sometimes it does, and thank you for communicating to me that it did. But from this side, it's more like, articulating things in written form is how I clarify whatever is rattling around. As I think Auden said, "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" The act of writing itself is satisfying for me: ie, I'm getting more selfish pleasure than I think you have attributed to me!

    Good fortune and persistence and patience and self-gentlesness and self-pushing (side by side) (crowded!) in hanging out with your fears, Rose-Anne. There are one-foot-after-another periods. Sometimes those anxieties are very grudging about giving the gifts they have at first. But they do eventually.

    Suzette Haden Elgin

    I am greatly blessed; I fall asleep the instant I lie down, and sleep all night undisturbed; if -- now that I'm in my 70s -- I have to get up in the night, the minute I lie back down I fall asleep again. I suspect that it's because for so much of my adult life I was constantly up in the night with babies, and other needers-of-care. That taught me a principle: When you get a chance to sleep, take it. And I do.

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    You are indeed blessed! Dvid (boyfriend) has a not exactly the same but related ability and theory about this... he too can fall asleep the second his head touches the pillow - or, almost anything. He spent most of his young adulthood in Africa, where he saw people sleeping under trees, on the street, night, day... he says "I just decided that I would cultivate the ability to fall asleep wherever I was." xxoo and always good to hear from you, my blog-encourager!


    I like the whirly quality of all this--the sleep-wake-dead-starburst pattern of it all. The most interesting writing bottles life, and you seem to have plenty to spare for the bottling.

    And now that I have been a different kind of "naughty" in drifting about your blog, I am going to get up, abandon the land of dragonwagon, and go upstairs to write.

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Glad you liked it, and even gladder that you went upstairs to do your own writing! Thanks, and happy that you're visiting. I hope your writing went well. (Of course, I believe that even when it is going well, it's going well, because a, everything's part of the prtocess and b, you're writing. Oh, there I goi whirlgigging again...) Anyway, again, thanks. cd

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