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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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    « insomniac lessons | Main | the imperatives of beans (with some Escher, Dylan Thomas, and Tao thrown in) »

    June 17, 2008


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    Jerri Farris

    "collective identity, an ever-developing gumbo of history, truth, perspective, prejudice, and, again, narrative."

    Anthony Doerr, a wonderful writer and teacher, taught me that the universal lies in the specific, and I believed. Now I also understand. The reason lies in that collective identity, in our ability to use those specifics to find ourselves within the gumbo.

    In *Telling True Stories,* a non-fiction writers' guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, Jacqui Banaszynski writes about why stories matter. She concludes with these words:

    "Stories are our prayers. Write and edit them with due reverence, even when the stories themselves are irreverent.

    Stories are parables. Write and edit and tell yours with meaning, so each tale stands in for a larger message, each story a guidepost on our collective journey.

    Stories are history. Write and edit and tell yours with accuracy and understanding and context and with unwavering devotion to the truth.

    Stories are music. Write and edit and tell yours with pace and rhythm and flow. Throw in the dips and twirls that make them exciting, but stay true to the core beat. Readers hear stories with their inner ear.

    Stories are our soul. Write and edit and tell yours with your whole selves. Tell them as if they are all that matters. It matters that you do it as if that's all there is."

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Oh, Jerri, WOW! I LOVE this! I am so thrilled you are not just reading and enjoying this but adding so much to it...I believe very much as Doerr does, and Banaszynski, and I love the latter's articulation of why stories matter. I'm going to seek out "Telling True Stories", and I'll recommend "Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of memoir," edited by William Zinsser. (I think I mentioned it in an earlier post, the one that begins with a Toni Morrison quote).

    THANK YOU!!!!

    Jerri Farris

    The connection between writing and gardening has been on my mind all day. You write:

    "All without knowing how the story comes out, or if our meaning means anything to anyone else."

    That's the way we garden, too. We plant or transplant, weed and water, all without knowing how it will turn out, how the plants will do in the conditions we (and Mother Earth) give them.

    We can't know until we do. We use our best judgment matching plant (or story) to setting, nurture it the best we can, try again if necessary. And that in itself means something, don't you think?

    Thanks for the fascinating thought trail. Also for the book recommendation. I looked it up and am now anxious to read Zinsser's book.

    This is fun!


    A wonderful mystery unfolds when we devote ourselves to nurturing something: a garden, a child, a relationship, one's self. Some of the most interesting stories told are the stories we tell ourselves about our role in helping things grow.

    Your gardening these days sounds wonderful, Crescent.

    And now, for a little blogging fun, I tagged you for a meme that's near and dear to my heart: cookbook chatter. No worries if you have more important things to occupy your time :-)

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Forgive me, sweetie, I am really newish at this --- can you tell me what's a "meme", please?


    Hola, Crescent!

    I'm glad you asked what a meme is. I looked it up to get my facts straight, and I made a connect-the-dots realization.

    In Blog Speak (the official language of bloggers--I just gave our language a name), a "meme" or a "tag" is usually a set of questions or perhaps a task that one blogger completes and then asks a few other bloggers to do. Memes are just for fun, and I don't think you should feel compelled to do them if you prefer not. For example, the cookbook meme I referred to in my first comment is a set of questions about cookbooks. The question set can be found in the post for which I gave you the link. I answered the questions (and modified or "mutated" them as I wanted) and then I picked three people whose answers I thought would be interesting. Since nobody likes an unwanted meme (or mutation--more about that in a moment), it's totally up to you if you'd like to take up the challenge.

    Here's the connect-the-dots part. A meme is a unit of cultural knowledge, such as a practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally (or perhaps textually, as in the case of blogs). [Thank you, Wikipedia.] The word "meme" was coined by Richard Dawkins to extend the analogy of Darwinian principles to cultural evolution. And like a gene, a meme can mutate, as in the case of my cookbook meme, which I altered ever-so-slightly to suit my own tastes. The connection I had not made before was where the word meme in the context of blogging originated. A blog meme is a unit that is transmitted textually, from one blogger to another, much like a virus (another unit of genetic material). Like a virus, sometimes blog memes are very much unwanted and so people just ignore them!

    Memes: pretty cool idea, huh?

    Jerri Farris

    Thank you for suggesting Inventing the Truth. I just finished my first read and there will be many more to come.

    I particularly loved Russell Baker's piece and his growing understanding that he was not reporting on his life but inventing it. His recognition that he "got" Uncle Harold by turning him into a character revealed much to me.

    It's also comforting to read that these accomplished folks struggled to find the story they were telling and the best way to tell it. Makes me feel less alone. (When you wrote about needing to be sure what you're writing is good before you write it, you could have been looking at me through a magnifying glass.)

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Jerri, this comment brought about my next post. THANK YOU for inspiring me!


    A little garden zephyr wafted me your way, and I've enjoyed reading your account of Hillary and your husband and "story." And will be sure to come back: not much is better that gardens and cooking and stories.


    P. S. Love the pictures of you, your Aunt Dot (I had one of those as well), and your mother...

    Suzette Haden Elgin

    That's a splendid post, and I'm looking forward -- breath bated -- to your next one.

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