Tuesday, December 18, 2018

American Audacity

American Audacity: In Defense of Literary DaringAmerican Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring by William Giraldi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Smart, opinionated, I must add this book to my overflowing library. I complain about uncommitted lackluster book reviews, not Giraldi. He has something to say and strong ways of saying it. Nathaniel Rich reviews the book in the New York Times and the first paragraph is exemplary:

"If literature, as William Giraldi writes in American Audacity, is “the one religion worth having,” then Giraldi is our most tenacious revivalist preacher, his sermons galvanized by a righteous exhortative energy, a mastery of the sacred texts and — unique in contemporary literary criticism — an enthusiasm for moralizing in defense of high standards. “Do I really expect Americans to sit down with ‘Adam Bede’ or ‘Clarissa’ after all the professional and domestic hurly-burly of their day?” he asks in an essay bemoaning “Fifty Shades of Grey.” “Pardon me, but yes, I do.” The only insincerity there is the request for pardon: Giraldi is defiantly, lavishly unforgiving."

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Hot MilkHot Milk by Deborah Levy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hot Milk is a wild ride. Sometimes the richness of her writing is almost too much, like a cheesecake layered with caramel and chocolate but imaginative. The plot involves a young anthropology graduate, Sophie, fond of field studies, and her wheelchair-bound mother who drinks water "as if she had been asked to drink her own urine." They seek a medical cure for Rose at an unusual clinic in the Spanish beach town of Almería. Dr. Gómez runs the clinic with his daughter and he is as unpredictable as his dialog and passion for cats "We were talking about Wi-Fi," Gómez continued. 'I will tell you the answer to my riddle. I say "wee-fee" to rhyme with "Francis of Assisi." His mouth is black from eating pulpo sharing it with the felines.
A brief visit to Greece lets Sophie reconnect with her indifferent father and his child bride and new baby daughter. The author uses objects in every sentence to describe her characters and their relationships, lives, activities.
Levy's new memoir is next on my list.

"All summer, I had been moonwalking in the digital Milky Way. It's calm there. But I am not calm. My mind is like the edge of motorways where foxes eat the owls at night. In the starfields, with their faintly glowing paths running across the screen, I have been making footprints in the dust and glitter of the virtual universe. It never occurred to me that, like the medusa, technology stares back and that is gaze might have petrified me, made me fearful to come down, down to Earth, where all the hard stuff happens, down to the check-out tills and the barcodes and the too many words for profit and the not enough words for pain."

More quotes:

"I had been entitled to free school meals at my school and Rose knew I was ashamed. She had made me soup in a flask most days before she left for work. I carried it in my heavy schoolbag while it leaked all over my homework. That flask of soup was a torment but it was proof to my mother that the wolf had not yet arrived [at the door]."

"His hands were full because of the box of clothes, so he waggled one of his white espadrilles in my direction for emphasis."

With Juan the medical tech who treats her jellyfish stings:
"I like how he is not in love with me.
I like how I am not in love with him.
I like the yellow flesh of the two tiny wild pineapples he bought in the market.
He is kissing my shoulder. He knows I am reading an email from Alexandra."

"Ingrid sat astride the Andalusian in her helmet and boots. High in the dizzying sky an eagle spread its wings and circled the horse. The delirium of the music thundered through my headphones as she galloped towards me. Her upper arms were muscled, her long hair braided, she gripped the horse with her thighs and the sea glittered below the mountains."

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review of The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

The FriendThe Friend by Sigrid Nunez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My kind of book, Sigrid Nunez writes fondly of dogs, more critically of writing and writers (Rilke, Kundera, etc.), but mainly about grief. Told in the first person by a writing teacher after the death of a colleague and friend, it is poignant, absorbing and smart. She ends up with aged 185-pound Great Dane in her tiny, rent-controlled "no-dogs-allowed" rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan where she's lived for decades. She is unable to write. She is barely able to teach and she keeps getting threatening notices from the apartment management about the canine occupant who she grows to love. A book to savor and ponder on death, on faith, on animals and on love.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Hundred Packets of Seed while a Real Writer Muses (annuals, flowers, wriiting, James Fenton, 750words.com)

With thanks to Vonetta Young https://brevity.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/you-are-not-a-real-writer/
A real writer sits at a clean, tidy desk on a green ball or a standup affair to produce a submittable essay or story.
A real writer has requests pouring in from publishers, agents, editors.
A real writer knows who her readers are.
A real writer easily moves from Executive to Peon, structuring and generating.
A real writer writes more than an hour a day.
A real writer doesn’t go out to lunch unless she’s pitching a story.
A real writer has a resume of publications, not just one online travel piece.
A real writer understands chronology and knows the difference between the situation and the story.
A real writer has multi-dimensional characters even in her memoir.
A real writer reads for craft and understands the difference.
A real writer supports her fellows by attending readings and signings.
A real writer has a notebook with her at all times to jot down thoughts, ideas.
A real writer keeps a pen and tablet by the bed for nocturnal enlightenment.
A real writer uses a fountain pen.
A real writer revises online but generates with a pen.
A real writer has a MAC.
A real writer is not afraid to email her editor for help.
A real writer doesn’t take any more craft classes which are just an excuse.
A real writer does go to workshops but more often she goes to retreats for solitary work.
A real writer puts her social media on hold while working.
A real writer has an elevator pitch for her project.
A real writer of memoir has read the key memoirs, the Tobias Wolff, Mary Karr, Nabokov and can rattle off their techniques.
A real writer has a neat office in which to work and an unshaded window from which to gaze, vacantly.
A real writer has a log of production and submissions just like Priscilla Long recommended.
A real writer interviews subjects of stories.
A real writer has a book in her, either online, on paper, or in her mind.
A real writer does not jump up to answer the buzzer.
A real writer is dedicated to her craft.
A real writer would rather write than watch movies or read or go out drinking.
A real writer feels the call.
A real writer has a filing system, on word docs and on her desk and in her cabinets.
A real writer focuses.
A real writer does not noodle around like this.

There is an orange aeroled daffodil against a royal blue vase in a grey-tiled bathroom. How can the scent of almond cake extend all the way to my study while I work vigorously on a shiny new laptop without touching it? Without laying hands upon its pristine keys because I have a little plastic keyboard which is at an ergonomic height. The new laptop sits where the old Dell did. It perches atop two gardening encyclopedias and those rest on a wooden box. Is there anything in the wooden box. I have no idea. Packets of seed. Articles on pruning. Old photos. Perhaps a copy of James Fenton’s little book, One Hundred Packets of Seed, a gem in itself. I pick up that book - but where is it? - and I am compelled to plant at least thirty or forty packets of seeds. Fenton had a little more room on his British acreage than we do here on our urban farm. Some of my past enthusiasms still appear, the bluebells (heaven help me), the bachelor buttons, but there are many I would like to see again: cosmos, that intense lime green plant which looks so good in a vase of flowers, starts with an E?, Stock and morning glory and dianthus and foxglove, lupines, sea holly, yarrow, that drippy fuzzy red plant, poppies, pom poms. As The Guardian reviewer, Tim Adams, writes:

"What Fenton delights in mostly are intensity of colour and vibrancy of life. He rejects prissy notions of subtle palettes: the extension of the good taste greys and blues and whites of the Elle Decoration living-room beyond the French windows."

So, you see, Dear Reader whoever you are, I have gone from bemoaning the state of my writing to a tiny treatise on what I want to be doing, at least metaphorically, planting seeds for a colorful and  vibrant garden. A garden of words. And so it happens right here on 750 words. And the day drifts along.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I'm told some people like to read about day-to-day lives...

Arising around nine in the morning as befits a retiree, I went out to the kitchen to foam the milk for my first latte. I drink two each day, very milky, and then poured TJ's O's into a bowl with blueberries, banana and walnuts topped off with more milk. I figure I'm ingesting calcium without having to take pills. I hate to take pills and resist as long as possible. I am 72 years old and various parts of me have begun to break down but I'm still enthused about mornings. I read some poetry by Robert Wilbur or Fannie Howe, or a bit of the paper - two papers, the Seattle Times and the New York Times, come to the backyard every morning. Leo the Labradoodle has the responsibility of fetching them in any weather for which he is rewarded with a treat as well as three hidden treats. That gives him something to do until his breakfast of cottage cheese over kibble is served.

If I don't look at my phone, giant sync hole that it is, I can be at my laptop in my study by 10:30 pecking out 750 words a day on www.750words.com. Love the pace.

If it is MWF, then I hurry and put on a swimsuit to leave the house by 9:30 and head over to Green Lake's Evans Pool where I do water aerobics and chat with friends. Maybe we'll have coffee afterwards with a long standing group, chatting about books, theatre, art and tv shows. For years, there was a ban on discussing grandchildren but it's pretty much out of date as few of the surviving members have grandkids except Helen. And her grandkids are interesting and talented teens with various stages of sexual dysphoria giving us all sorts of cultural education on trans folk and use of pronouns. The group is interesting and living proof that growing old does not mean slowing down or dumbing down in any way. I can barely keep with the 90-year-old and her gallery hopping and volunteer work for the city's aging programs. I come from a line of long-living Swedes on my mom's side so I like to see how people age.

My grandpa was born in 1872 in Varmland, Sweden. The other day I reached for a tiny "Little Oxford Dictionary" that I keep beside my bed to look up a word and found pasted into the back of the book a yellowed clipping: "Victor Magnuson had a pleasant 95th birthday the first day of spring. Two daughter, Melva Reed and June Shepherd, and families, came to pay himi honor." So that tells me where I was March 21 of 1977, just shortly before I met Michael in April and a few week after my dad's death, assuming I joined the women . Funny parsing all of this info together. I think Grandpa was out chopping down trees well into his nineties. He was a vigorous soul and had his oldest daughter, Edee, to help. She never married and took care of her folks most of her life. I have her memories written in one of those Quillmark "My Memories" book and I am glad to filled it out. Much easier to track down Forsa, Halsingland and Varmaland in Sweden from whence they hailed. I also explored taking a transatlantic cruise on the QE2 or the like from Holland America. It seems a doable option to flying for our next trip to Europe.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Cookbooks again

Up at a reasonable hour to make a latte, then climbed back under the covers to read A Tuner of Silences, the book club novel about a kid in Mozambique hiding from war with his family of men. Made it to 106 and it's not a long book. It moves along but doesn't enchant so far.

I got up and made pastry for pie from Dorie Greenspan's Baking book, the one with 2.5 sticks of butter and 1/3 cup veg shortening for which I substitute leaf lard. Then I got out of the flannel nightie, took a shower, and dressed before caramelizing apples and adding some Dulce de Leche to them being short on heavy cream (1/2 cup needed). The recipe for the tart from The Lutéce Cookbook has you bake the crust on a cookie sheet by itself, cool and then add the caramelized apples which have been coated stovetop and then baked for ten minutes in the oven. All this is arranged atop the crust which hopefully still will be crisp by dinnertime.

Scanning about in Eat Your Books - I do love that website which I joined when it was Beta and free - I think they charge thirty bucks a year, perhaps more for an ad-free Premium membership, but it is well worth it. Every time I seek a recipe usually from one of my cookbooks (around 600 of which I have listed in my account and most are indexed, or from a popular blog (for instance, they have over 500 recipes from David Lebovitz website and over a thousand of Mark Bittman's recipes from his Minimalist days nad 80-some other blogs). Magazine recipes are indexed, too, including December 2017 issues. By indexed I mean the recipes are listed with page numbers for mags. For all, they include a shopping list of non-pantry items needed to make the dish. They do not include the actual recipe with specific amounts because they would run into conflict with copyrights. But you can use the phone app while at Safeway and see that you need scallops, saffron spinach and heavy cream for Bay Scallops with Spinach and Saffron Cream from James Peterson's cookbook and take it all home to start cooking. Or if you subscribe to a CSA, just put in "Jerusalem artichokes" to find 140 recipes in my owned books. And notes from other cooks, even photos. They have a running blog  plus notices of new cookbooks, errata from publishers on errors  (Sweet from Ottolenghi is rife with them). So Twenty-First Century all this assist for the cook, don't you think?  If only the site cooked.

Then I drifted back in time to my first honeymoon in the mid-Sixties when we were staying at a college friend's parents' home in Palo Alto, CA. They had offered lodging on our drive south to LA and we were sleeping in the den or rec room. I can't imagine now why I was reading at any time that night, but I remember finding stacks of Gourmet Magazine on the bookshelves and I was besotted by an affection that would far outlive that marriage. I pored through back issues and by the time we got home, I too was a subscriber. I continued my subscription for the next forty-five years with only a few hiatuses. Of course, being me, I tried to save all of the issues but more rational minds prevailed in our peripatetic life and now I have only three volumes of past years: 1985 and 1987, and a garage sale treasure, 1947. I rarely look at them but get the same reassurance and cooking enthusiasm when I do drag them out recalling the time I was seduced into making rose petal jam or beef wellington.

And I started thinking about John Thorne of Simple Cooking and found a review of his work here from Sandy Ebner: https://changesevenmag.com/2016/11/15/why-food-writing-matters-a-profile-of-john-thorne-by-sandy-ebner/

Much like Bourdain, part of Thorne’s appeal is that he seems so much like the rest of us. His recipes are for food that people really eat, not what they might want to eat but probably never will. Ironically, he doesn’t think of himself as a great cook, but neither does he consider that a shortcoming. In one of his best-known quotes he says, “You don’t have to be a good cook, or even aspire to be one, to be an interested cook.” That he’s interested is obvious.

I too am an "interested cook" even with the aspiring beef wellington and became interested in Thorne's passions for supermarket finds like Campbell's Pepper Pot Soup from Mexico, or his unique ideas on midnight snacks, or toast, or pine nuts. His voice convinces and gives it to his readers straight. He is also significantly to blame for my cookbook addiction because of his tantalizing reviews and sales of his own culinary book excesses. It's been two years since I received Newsletter SC95. I am ready to hear from him and Matt Thorne, his co-conspirator and a little worried about their well being.

We lost a great antiquarian book dealer this week, Louis Collins, who died of a heart attack at 77. I worked for him briefly before I moved on to the Library Answer Line. He was a genius bookseller with the right combination of memory and anecdote as he plied extensive travels in search of elusive volumes, the most memorable of which I saw was the rare edition David Roberts bound volume of Middle East sketches which I posted to a buyer in the UK.