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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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    « the imperatives of beans (with some Escher, Dylan Thomas, and Tao thrown in) | Main | PART ONE / the winning ways of a presumptive loser: Hillary's remarkable acceptance speech »

    July 17, 2008


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    Suzette Haden Elgin

    Welcome back, and thank you for the wonderful post; I'm looking forward to the political ones. And purslane.... purslane grows everywhere at our place. All over the front yard, all down the stone path, all over -- infuriatingly -- the perennial bed out front, where it takes over like kudzu unless you keep after it constantly. I love purslane, and I love lamb's quarters. I'd have enjoyed that omelet you described.

    Gardening is bliss. It's the antithesis of "clerical work."

    Jerri Farris

    "tolerating of unpleasant feelings instead of being deterred by them"

    Quite a trick to learn, but I'm working on it. In this school, everyone's a lifelong learner, I think.

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Suzette --- thank you!I'm happy to be back. This blog stuff really is satisfying and fascinating. Speaking of fascinating, I wind it SUCH a wonder, I know I've said this before, that we find ourselves on the same page, literally and metaphorically, at the very moment when we are no longer on the same page geographically... But blessed be the purslane that bind!***Clerical work***... ugh. I wonder how, in England, where "clerk" is pronounced "clark", "clerical" is pronounced. Though it would still suck in any event.

    And Jerri, oh yeah. "Tolerating anxiety" --- we are ALL lifelong learners in that department, every single one of us. This is why I love teaching "Fearless Writing," it gives me, as it does my students, the abstract framework in which to do that work. I mean I already know and understand it, but I still have to do it - there;s no "get out of jail free" card for it. Just doing it over and over again, reminding oneself what's happening over and over again.

    Fond greetings on a misty, coolish Vermont day to you both!


    Hello -- I also have a bright yellow colander, and I take it outside with me whenever I weed so that I can save the "tasty" weeds. I keep looking for purslane here, and I haven't found it yet. I'm sure it's right under my nose or down the path a bit.

    This weekend I finally got outside (after three weeks!) to weed for 10 minutes, and it helped my emotional health quite a bit. Tonight I went outside and noticed the freshened bed and felt re-inspired to make the weeding happen daily for a short bit. It's so hard with my 3-year-old right now...

    Glad you're back.


    Crescent, reading your blog is like driving on a winding country road, surrounded by beauty on all sides. You twist and turn from one topic to another, but I’m happy to go along for the ride.

    The nice thing about this writing medium is how it allows you to come and go as you please. When you are return to the keyboard, thoughts and emotions ready for words, you are welcomed back with open arms. Blogging is great!

    And your opening paragraph cracked me up! You know your readers well!

    crescent dragonwagon

    Hi, Cathy and Rose-Anne!
    Cathy, o Sister of the Yellow Colander, thanks for the welcome, and good luck in your own purslane pursuit. I'm pretty sure you do have it --- and lamb's quarter is unbiquitous. As for weeding, it's the old thing I'm always touting and trying to live: **** relentless incrementalism****. Just a little bit when possible, and the giving up of perfectionism, goes a long way towards contentment (even w/ the inherent labor intensive insanity of a 3-year old).

    I often wonder why we ask impossible perfection of ourselves. Not only does it make us miserable, not only would we never ask or expect it or a friend, if we ACHIEVED it --- wouldn't everyone else have to kill us?

    Rose-Anne, thanks for your kind words and your willingness to go along for the ride. My late father, the one who first indoctrinated me inthe idea that "nothing is wasted on the writer" and much else, was a GREAT extemporaenous speaker. From hearing him speak I learned to trust the digression... that it is often your unconscious piping up with a new revelation and if you don't freeze up, it will show you something new that WILL lead you back to the main point, eventuallly.

    Glad you were amused by "CD gets all gung-ho on blogging and then drops off the face of the earth" and felt it expressed knowing my readers (which I think I'm just beginning to do, as I am just starting to understand the forgiveness of the medium which you reference). Mostly that "gung-ho" coment came, I think, from listening in on self-talk.... honestly, I can feel guilty if a chicken crosses road, and if I start a blog (or anything else) that others like, or for which I feel responsible, and then seem to disappear... It's that perfectionist thing I was just saying to Cathy.

    I do a lot of weeding pyschologically around guilt amd perfectionism. (Really, it's like some ultra-twisted subterranean ego-trip of self-importance, I think. If I miss blogging, weeding, working out, whatever, one day or even a week --- it's not like the world's going to end or that there will be riots in the street. It's just, you know, missing blogging or a work-out or weeding for a bit. ) (On the other hand, such an attitude could easily be a slippery slope, don't you think?)

    Anyway, thank ou both for your kindness.

    Until we weed again,


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