Friday, July 31, 2009


My book club's latest pick is the quick, light, and very funny Life Among the Savages.

The author Shirley Jackson is best known for writing in the horror genre, including the creepy short story The Lottery. This book, however, is an autobiographical memoir of her life raising children in a small town in Vermont during the 1940s-1950s. Her voice- a cross between June Cleaver and the slightly ironic narrator from A Christmas Story- turns the daily life of an ordinary family into a collection of truly hilarious stories. I enjoyed this much more than I expected.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Zeitoun, the new nonfiction work by Dave Eggers, is a book that reads like a movie. As I read it, I could easily see the places where the plotline would switch or a camera would cut away to a new scene. This is of note because Eggers and his wife just cowrote the film Away We Go. I was disappointed in that movie, so I was eager to see what his latest book would be like.

Zeitoun is the story of a Muslim man and his family in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. A lot could be say from a political and social point of view about this book, but I’ll just stick to the writing, which I thought was well constructed and nicely paced. It kept me reading and it kept me interested. What I did think was missing, however, was Eggers’ signature brand of self-conscious wit. I have two theories about why this may have been lacking. First, it could be that he wanted to portray the true-life characters as accurately as possible and saw his usually humor as something that would stand in the way of this. He previous book, What is the What, also told the story of a real person, a Sudanese refugee, but in fictionalized form. I think that book struck a perfect balance between portraying a unique character while still retaining a bit of Eggers’ typical voice. If I had read a passage from that book blindly, I still might have guessed that it was Eggers’ writing. I can’t say the same for Zeitoun. Perhaps positioning it as a work of pure nonfiction forced him to reign in his own voice as much as possible.

My second hypothesis is that the tone of this book could be a result of his writing style maturing over time. What I enjoy so much about his earlier works is his self-conscious humor, and the subsequent literary tricks he uses to portray a self-consciousness about being self-conscious. Logically, it makes sense that this kind of perspective would be characteristic of a younger writer, something that Eggers is moving farther away from as time goes by. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what his next book brings. And even more interestingly, what his next book will be about. Will he continue this tactic of writing about people and issues he want to raise awareness about? I must say, I probably would not have picked up a nonfiction book about this topic if it was written by a random reporter, but I will continue to pick up anything by Dave Eggers to see what he’s writing about next.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Blah Book and a Good Movie

I spent the past week slogging through The Jasmine Isle by Greek author Ioanna Karystiani. Oddly, I decided to read this book based in its publisher, Europa, which is known for translating international fiction titles and publishing them in the U.S. They published The Elegance of the Hedgehog, so I thought I've give The Jasmine Isle a try.

I'm not sure if something got lost in the translation or what, but this book dragged and was just completely uninteresting to me. The author tried for a stream of conscious narrative like that of Virginia Woolf, but it just fell flat. I didn't care about or particularly like any of the characters. The main thing the story achieved for me was a sense of boredom that could be said to emulate the boredom, tiredness, and constant state of waiting felt by the female characters who live on a tiny Greek island where all of the men are sailors away at sea for months at a time. I feel like I wasted a week of reading on this one.

So as not to be too negative, I can recommend a really good movie I watched: Ira & Abby.

Set in New York, it's a sweet, quirky romantic comedy that follows a mismatched couple that spontaneously decides to get married on the day they meet. I thought it touched on a few of the same themes as the recent Away We Go (minus the pregnancy and the roadtrip), but in a much cuter, funnier way.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Five Summer Fashion Favorites

We're just about at the halfway point of summer and these items have emerged as my favorite things to wear this year.
RayBan Wayfarers are the best sunglasses. They just make any outfit seem cooler.

I would wear this JCrew skirt every day if I could.

Tom's shoes. A bit crunchy? Yes. But also a super comfortable flip-flop alternative.

Boyfriend pants, worn slouchy and cuffed, in denim or khaki, like these from JCrew.

And finally, these gloss pencils by the Lipstick Queen. The colors look a bit scary, but they're like sheer lip balms in pencil form. I have the purple (top) and it's just a bit brighter than what I would normally wear.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Gothic Mystery

I'm giving a conditional recommendation for The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Were you an English major in college? Have you read all of Jane Austen's novels? Have you read something of the Brontes' works other than Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights? I think anyone who can answer "yes" to at least two of these three questions will enjoy reading Udolpho.

Written in the late-1700's, The Mysteries of Udolpho is a dark, romantic mystery that was popular fiction during the Jane Austen's time. It's the book that features prominently in her novel Northanger Abbey (which means I'll have to add that to my list of books to reread).

I outlined those conditions for liking this book because I can imagine that someone who is not predisposed to like Gothic British literature of that time period might find this book hard to get through. A lot of time is devoted to describing the characters' reactions to scenery; the heroine falls down weeping a lot; the author includes sections of poetry; the narrator is omniscient, but keeps a certain distance from the characters that can have a dulling effect on suspenseful moments. These are all things that could make the book tedious to an uninterested reader.

Despite being able to see these potential negatives, I actually really enjoyed reading Udolpho. It did take me a while to get through (and I admit that I even skimmed over the poems!), but it was the kind of book where I really felt like I was entering a separate little world when I opened the cover. The really interesting thing is that this was the popular (and even considered trashy by some) novel of it's time. Filled with mysteries and paranormal occurrences, it makes me wonder if it was seen in the same light that a Stephen King or a James Patterson mystery is viewed today.
(Side note: I included these pictures because they're some of the most Gothic that I have. I took them during a nighttime walk around Charleston, SC.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lucinda Taco Truck- Muy Delicioso!

I just polished off a burrito from Lucinda Burritos & Tacos Truck, which parks in my neighborhood. Tonight was the second time I've stopped there and both times it was delicious. The vegetarian burritos have both black and pinto beans in them (most places make you choose one or the other), a lime crema sauce, really good guacamole, and, unlike many burritos, aren't full of rice.

I also splurged on an iced cinnamon dulce de leche, which was really, really good and had a perfect coffee/ sweetness balance. I'm anxious to try their fish tacos as well.

Above is "Lucinda" herself- she's painted on the side of the bright yellow truck.

This definitely isn't a typical food truck, as it was written up in the NY Times and Food & Wine.

The only negative thing is that it's always parked outside on my way home from work, taunting me with promises of delicious Mexican food that will overshadow whatever dinner I have planned. I may have to make this a weekly habit.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lavender Cookies

The cool weather on Saturday was perfect for baking, so I made a big batch of lavender cookies.

The ingredients are almost prettier than the finished product! Aside from the lavender, they're all really basic- flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla. The lavender doesn't make the cookies taste overwhelming or flowery in any way. They just taste like really good sugar cookies with a little something extra.

As a little bit of catch up, I also need to mention The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, but have been putting off posting about it because I don't have that much to say. It's the sequel to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, which I wrote about in one of my first posts. In a nutshell, I had picked up the second in the series from the dollar table at B&N, so I got the first one from the library. Positioned as historical mystery meets chick lit, I thought I would like the first book until it devolved into a romance novel. I pretty much felt the same about The Masque of the Black Tulip and probably won't be reading any more of this series.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fourth of July Festivities

Happy Belated Fourth of July!

I spent my holiday weekend at home at the shore, and it (unintentionally) turned out to be quite all-American, filled with beach-going, bike riding, and porch-sitting-and-reading.

My dad did a great job decorating the house for the holiday.

On Friday night, we kept up our tradition of gathering on the front walk to watch the town fireworks display.

Our great vantage point has lessened a bit as the neighborhood trees have grown over the years.

On Saturday, I hopped on my mom's bike for some rides around the neighborhood.

The bike is about twenty years old and has a great vintage look...

...complete with wicker basket!

What a cozy-looking porch, perfect for reading in the shade or having some lunch... these yummy BLTs my mom made. Very all-American, although I guess the Earl Grey iced tea served as a nod to our former British ties.

We capped off the weekend with an evening trip to Long Beach Island.

First we walked around the Beach Haven's shopping and amusement park area.

Then we headed to Barnegat Light for a first-ever nighttime visit to the lighthouse!

Looks very ominous and looming.

The cloudy skies/ full moon combination added to the spooky atmosphere.

All-in-all, a great summer weekend. My only complaint- the mosquitoes! They were out in full force and I have about twenty bites per leg to prove it. All of the insects must be on overload after the Seattle-like weather we've had over the past month- just look at these killer bees!


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