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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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    « PART TWO: the political becomes personal (for me) | Main | several big "O"s (including, but not limited to, October and Obama) »

    August 16, 2008


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    "Relentless incrementalism" is the best concept I've come across in ages. Maybe ever.

    As for the rest of this post, it is simply fabulous—a riot of green and growing crops waiting to be harvested, inside and out.

    Terry Thornton

    "Cropping reality" is what the two of you are doing --- him, with his camera and you, with your words.

    Thanks for sharing NOTHING IS WASTED ON THE WRITER --- you are an inspiration.

    BTW, served two of your recipes for cornbread at the same meal the other noonday. Both were "hits" with the potlikker (Capote Family Cornbread and the delightful Wenonah Fay's Mama's Corn Pone).

    Terry Thornton
    Fulton, Mississippi

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Hi, Jerri and Terry --- first, THANKS as always for reading so thoroughly and thoughtfully and letting me know.

    Jerri, though I've always practiced relentless incrementalism (otherwise, given all the stuff I'm interested in, nothing would ever get any attention at all), I can't claim credit for the phrase. I first heard it at a meeting the Vermont Arts Council put on, about "the creative economy." One of the speakers used it and attributed it thus: "As a friend of mine says, it's 'relentless incrementalism.'" So I can't even give full credit where credit is due. I just know that, like you, I was dazzled by it conceptually, and latched onto it barnacle-like immediately (I don't think "dazzle" and barnacle" belong in the same sentence, but there it is.) Now, when I have a bad day when I feel non-productive, I am usually able to rustle up a few things about which I can say, "Well at least I did XYZ, and, you know, it's relentless incrementalism." (The front hall got cleaned today in a couple of 15 minute segments, with a timer and everything. R.I. at work! Good idea to have front hall cleaned since it's the first you see --- good feng shui, you know.)

    And Terry --- bless you. The cropping reality thing is so interesting. I was thijnking how at one point I was talking about "it's everything --- catbox & flowers & mountains" and at another, the idea of croppi9ng / editing. Seemingly in conflict. But you have to have it all to use it all and then to choose what to leave out or cut away; to crop. Yet it's still there by implication, because you took it in. Anyway, I am so glad you get something from Nothing Is Wasted ; I do, by writing it, and that some readers do is the... hmm, the butter on the cornbread. The sorghum on the biscuits. The real Vermont maple syrup on the buckwheat pancakes (with fresh blueberries). Wenonah Fay, who is still alive, gets SUCH a kick out of knowing her mama's pones are still being enjoyed! BTW, been meaning to tell you, on the I Love Cornbread group, Zoe Caywood, a fellow member, also has big-time hands-on gristmill experience --- I've been meaning to suggest you and she contact each other. If you drop her an e through that site, just tell her I said you two should know each other.

    xxxooo to you both, dear readers.



    Speaking of good feng shui and relentless incrementalism, have you encountered the idea of approaching large tasks in increments of 27?

    Let's say I've allowed an untidy mess to develop in my writing room. You know, writing clips not filed, collage materials stacked everywhere. Tackling it all at once would be overwhelming, but I can get my head around 27 things.

    It's amazingly satisfying to tick off those numbers. 27 is a number of completion in Chinese tradition. I don't fully understand that, but I know it's large enough to make a serious dent but small enough to manage.

    I barnacled (not a verb, but should be) onto "relentless incrementalism" because it immediately made sense to me. I may not have time to weed the entire flower bed today, but I can do two square feet. I may not have time to complete that article before a meeting, but I can transcribe 15 minutes of the interview.

    Good medicine for a black-and-white thinker who longs for shades of gray.

    Finally, before this becomes the world's longest comment: it occurs to me that relentless incrementalism and cropping are vital parts of a creative life. We--creative types, I mean--are wired to take in everything. We gather images and ideas and thoughts and colors as part of our process.

    Catboxes and flowers and mountains matter to us in ways we can't always understand or articulate, but we capture their images in one way or another, maybe several.

    To reach the essence, we have to crop, to pare away in incremental bits, until we discover the meaning or the shape or the contours we seek.

    Sometimes that's an elusive composition. Sometimes it's the front hall. :)


    I can't believe it took me so long to discover that you have a blog-- of COURSE you would get around to one of those eventually! This was a perfect post to run across today, as breathing isn't coming easy to me in any sense at 8 months pregnant. Just before sitting down here, I was cleaning the bathroom (incrementally, ahem) and silently whinging to myself about my husband's carelessness around the house. No task is ever really finished, nothing is ever fully put away, I'm always the one who has to get tired of looking at the clutter or notice that the lid on that jar of heavy-duty hand-cleaning cream has been put on but not-quite-sealed . . . etc. etc. etc. At the far end of a summer pregnancy, it doesn't take me long to realize that scapegoating my spouse is not going to make me feel any more comfortable, any more in control of my life, any more at peace with the fact that I am a sporadic and begrudging house-keeper even when my abdomen isn't an impediment. Still, it's nice to be given a timely little prod in the direction of spousal appreciation and joie de vivre.


    Hilary was marvelous last night. Sure hope you post at least a little of your reaction to her speech.


    Hi, Crescent!

    There are so many layers to this essay, and your writing in general, that's it's always hard to know where to start.

    I think you've hit on a key point about figuring out how one "breathes" in life, whether it is through writing, photography, cooking, exercising, you name it. We live FOR these activities, and these activities fortify our souls so that we can keep on livin'. I think it is a paradigm shift when we realize that the time we enjoy wasting is not wasted time. (I just paraphrased a great quote from someone else, but the source eludes me right now. Please forgive me!)

    I do hope you revisit the issues that inspired you regarding the upcoming elections! As for blogging, I think everyone writes at a different pace. Your pieces are pithy and evocative, so of course you can't crank 'em out every day! It took me a while to find my blogging groove; now I'm very happy to post 1-2 times a week. The writing quality varies: sometimes I'm thrilled with a piece, other times they're more ordinary, but for me the important thing is to keep writing and keep learning through the writing process. So yes: definitely ditch the guilt about not blogging more frequently! Your readers will be ready for you when you are ready to write to us.


    What a beautiful post! So lovely to find your blog here. I've read your cookbooks, and spent a magical month a couple of years ago in Eureka Springs, as a culinary fellow at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow. What a wonderful place! I was so thrilled to be there in such a rich, nurturing place of culinary writing. I'm going back there in a couple of weeks...thank you again for starting such a wonderful place.


    What a beautiful post! So lovely to find your blog here. I've read your cookbooks, and spent a magical month a couple of years ago in Eureka Springs, as a culinary fellow at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow. What a wonderful place! I was so thrilled to be there in such a rich, nurturing place of culinary writing. I'm going back there in a couple of weeks...thank you again for starting such a wonderful place.


    Tonight I was overwhelmed.

    I was researching a new (to me) therapy that seems to combine some group and improv aspects. And I thought, wow... how is CD doing? She would be a good person to talk to about this!

    And your post here (written a couple of weeks ago) reminds me again of why I feel so drawn to your writing. You write about real things -- daily stuff.

    You've received great responses here.

    The only other thing I'd add here is that fact that you so lovingly gave David your garden to design, work in, and enjoy this year... and the fact that you so lovingly put out such a special "goodbye for now" spread for him, probably really opened his heart -- hence his need to chronicle every miracle he beheld that morning.

    Selfishly, I wish you would take pictures of some of your found art projects. Or -- maybe better -- I wish you'd share about your process with them. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is interested.

    I hope you are well.

    Deborah Crombie

    Last week my organic veggie box lady gave me what she swore was a pumpkin, although it looks more like a big greeny-white water balloon with a curved stem at one end. Busy weeks being what they are, I stuck it in the fridge, and just this weekend thought about what to do with it.

    Of course I pulled out Dairy Hollow Soup and Bread, and lit up when I saw the Pumpkin and Brocoli Chowder.

    Today I didn't make my page count on the book-in-progress, and as often happens when I get a bit creatively blocked, I cooked. My kitchen looks like the Wreck of the Hesperus, and if I didn't quite (or at least consciously) solve my plot issues, the end product was delicious.

    As Rick and I ate our soup, we talked about you, and Ned, and Z-Cat, and Dairy Hollow, and I thought I would see what you were up to in Vermont these days.

    I was so pleased to find the blog, and to see that you are doing so well!!! I will check in on a regular basis, and in the meantime I'll think about "relentless incrementalism" and see if I can put it into practice with the book, the house, the paperwork . . . Things do get done, eventually, and we need those reminders to "breathe life." Thanks for providing.



    Dear CD,

    Where are you? If you've been preserving your garden's bounty, please post photos! They inspire the rest of us. Wishing you health and happiness.

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