Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Recommendation of the Week


After seeing a few episodes, I now officially love this show. It's hilarious and gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling every time the cast breaks into a musical number. I think I've found something to fill the void in my life now that was previously occupied by the acapella groups that surrounded me in college.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Catching Up, Again

Last week I flew through three books:

I first came across Kathleen DeMarco's work in a collection of essays by New Jersey writers. The main reason I picked up her novel Cranberry Queen was because it's set in an unnamed town somewhere in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. A good, but not great, book, it mostly put me in the mood to go back to the Chatsworth Cranberry Festival. I haven't gone in a really long time, but always loved it when I was younger. Cranberry bogs, cranberry ice cream, and the Jersey Devil all in one fun.

Then I went for some fluffy chick lit with Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella. Sometimes I read these kinds of books as a guilty pleasure, all the while fully aware of how bad they are, but I truly enjoyed this one. It's so funny and so fun. I won't even attempt to summarize the plot because it will only sound ridiculous, but I will say that I laughed out loud on many occasions. For some reason, the zany, goofy humor of this book just didn't get old for me.

And finally, for something with a bit more serious literary merit, I picked up Gourmet Rhapsody, the companion book to The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I loved. Really more of a novella (I read it in about two hours), Muriel Barbery here picks up and follows the story of one of the food critic who is one of the minor characters from Hedgehog. Not quite as charming as that book, but still a pleasant read. The lavish culinary descriptions that make up the bulk of the book put Julia Child's My Life in France to shame.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Recommendation of the Week

Lula Magazine

Lula is a gorgeous artsy-fashion-y magazine from the UK that's published quarterly. I recently discovered that they revamped their website and added a few videos that preview content from the latest issue. Two of the three videos on the site feature artists that are profiled in the magazine (the third video is less good, a bit creepy, and might be just a glorified ad for Topshop clothing). I especially recommend watching the video "Her Eyes are a Blue Million Miles". It shows the artist Miranda July giving a tour of her very fun, clever, whimsical garden sculptures. I also love the dress and shoes she wears.
I'm thinking of adding this "Recommendation of the Week" as a weekly blog feature. I enjoy the "Smart People Recommend..." Buzz Board section of The Daily Beast and think it might be fun to do my own version. What will I recommend next week...?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

South of Broad

I can honestly say that I don't know what I think about the new Pat Conroy novel South of Broad. I read it mostly for its Charleston setting. I had read another of his novels while actually in Charleston and enjoyed it well enough, and this book seemed like it would be even more steeped in the Charleston locale.

I keep wavering back and forth trying to decide whether I actually liked the book or not. At times I found myself liking how Conroy structured the plot, only to later find myself distracted by characters that didn't quite ring true to life. Then, coming full circle, I started to wonder if the characters were so unbelievable that they actually did do an adequate job of portraying believably unusual characters. I still can't decide.

One thing I do know for sure is that reading this reignited my intentions of reading Ulysses. I know, I know, it's bizarre that a fluffy Pat Conroy novel would lead me to some dense James Joyce, but there actually were a lot of references to Ulysses in South of Broad- one of the characters is a Joyce scholar, another shares the name Leopold Bloom with Joyce's main character, and the first chapter of the book follows the narrator around Charleston as he performs a series of daily tasks, just like Ulysses does with Dublin. Of course, I know of all these similarities because of things I've read or heard about Ulysses rather than from actually reading it myself. I'm interested in know if there are more parallels that I missed, so I may have to pull Ulysses off the spot on my shelf where it's sat in wait for the past, say, ten years and give it a higher priority among the books on my To Read list.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bon Apetit!

Seeing Julie & Julia sparked my interest in reading Julia Child's autobiography My Life in France. Now that I have, I can't decide whether it raised or lowered my opinion of her. There's a lot about her that I really like, but those are all the same things that the movie covered. The book seemed to bring out a few more negative qualities, though- like the fact that she could be a bit judgemental towards views that were not her own, whether about cooking or politics.

On the whole though, I thought the book painted a charming impression of her and of France. Surprisingly, it didn't really put me in the mood to cook since a lot of what she made seemed difficult and, frankly, not that appetizing (aspics? tripe? no thanks!). What did put me in a culinary mood were her descriptions of the way food in France tasted better, fresher, and more like it was supposed to taste. It reminded me of a restaurant I ate at in Maine that was one of the best I'd ever been to- Bandaloop (pictured in a horrendously blurry way below).

The focus of the restaurant is on organic, mostly locally grown ingredients, with a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes thrown in. We ate there two nights in a row and some of the highlights the best chicken I've ever tasted and an amazing beet salad. It definitely made the case in support of local, organic eating.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Apartment Additions

I got my Black Apple prints several months ago and I finally got them framed and hung on the wall.

Two of the three frames I found at Michael's craft store, including the top one, which is just a plain white frame plus a wooden embellishment painted white and added to the top for interest. The frame on the bottom left (actually a pretty iridescent goldish green) was thrifted for just $5. I love all three pictures and can't decide which is my favorite.

I also just added this cute little dining table to my apartment.

My parents found it by the curb and my dad refinished it. It fits just right in my little dining area.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rogue Book Club

One of my friends from my book club recently suggested The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe as the next pick for the group to read. It was vetoed, but we both thought that it sounded so good that we decided to strike out on our own and read it as part of a mini, rogue book club made up of just the two of us.

I'm glad we did because it turned out to be such a good book! It follows 5 young women living in New York and working in publishing during the 1950s. It's like a precursor to any modern chick-lit book ever written, but much, much better, with complex characters and an ending that you could never predict.

We had our discussion for this mini-book club over dinner at the Chat'n'Chew, a cute, 50's-ish restaurant near Union Square. It was the perfect place to keep with the tone of the book's era. I'm almost 99% sure that my high opinion of the book had nothing to do with the yummy mac & cheese and red velvet cake that I had there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Final Two Books of Summer

Labor Day is over, the weather is suddenly cooler, fall clothes are calling my name...summer is over and I've read the last two books that can I officially consider to be Summer Reading.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr had been on my list of books to read for years and years. I finally got around to it and it was worth the wait. The mystery is good, but the descriptions of New York in 1896 is even better. They're so vivid that, as someone who knows the city now, it's easy to imagine exactly where everything happened and how everything looked back then.

I followed that up with Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead. Fiction that reads like a memoir, it unfurls a string of anecdotes that ultimately reveal the life and family of the main character, a black teenage boy in the 1980s who lives in Manhattan and spends him summers at an African-American community on Long Island.

Both of these books, along with some others I've read recently, have made me think about the pacing of a book, and how much control authors have over that. I couldn't put down The Alienist, but it wasn't a quick read at all, and not because the book was at all difficult or dense. I wonder if the author intentionally paced his writing in a certain way that makes readers anxious to get to the end, but forced to take the story little by little in a way that mimics the way that his characters want to race to catch their killer even as they slowly piece together clues bit by bit. Sag Harbor was similar- it was a somewhat slow read for me, but was this because I wasn't enjoying it that much on the heels of finishing The Alienist, or did the author purposely try to create the slow, meandering, and sometimes stuck feeling of a teenage summer?

But that's enough theorizing for's on to Fall Reading for me, and my first book is a good one...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fluffy Vacation Reads

Two fluffy and fun books I brought with me on vacation were The Wedding Girl by Madeline Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella, who wrote the Shopaholic series) and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I guess the theme here was current chick-lit and classic chick-lit-meets-horror-and-gore. Both books were okay, but fell short of being really good guilty pleasure beach reads.

I was especially disappointed in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, mostly because I had such high hopes for it. Everything I had read about this book said it was hilarious, but I found it a little bit boring and...dare I say it?...hard to get through. I think it needed to commit more to the zombie aspect of the book. As it is, the zombie attacks are peppered through here and there throughout a watered-down version of Austen's words, making the whole thing kind of bland.

But that doesn't mean that I won't still give this book a try!


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