Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Maynard & Jennica

Picking up Maynard & Jennica was a no brainer when I found it at a library book sale earlier this year. Its one that had frequently caught my eye at the book store, mostly because something about it seemed to give off a vaguely Salinger-esque vibe, as if the characters could have been modern day descendants of the Glass family.
The Salinger comparison didn't exactly pan out, but that's okay. What I discovered instead was a quirky and interesting book. There are so many intricate plot devices and convoluted twists that I can't even try to explain them all, other than to say that its told from the viewpoints of literally dozens of characters (including a few inanimate objects), spans just pre- and just post-9/11 New York, and revolves around the relationship between the eccentric title characters, Maynard and Jennica.
I felt lukewarm about both of them right up until the moment in the middle of the novel when they finally get together as a couple. In just a few pages, the author does such a good job of conveying the way they appear to each other through lovestruck eyes that I suddenly felt like I could suddenly see all of their good traits, too. That section of the book alone was probably the high point for me, good enough to make me just about love the book.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Scenes of Thanksgiving

After a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, my family spent Friday shopping- but not at any Black Friday craziness. Instead, we celebrated Small Business Saturday early and spent the day strolling around the quaint main street of a nearby town, browsing in little boutiques and antique shops. I spent the rest of the weekend getting a jump on some Christmas decorating and now, after some online shopping tonight, I'm feeling thoroughly in need of a rest before any more festivities start.

What's next on your holiday agenda now that the Christmas season is about to being in earnest?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday Fancies

Before I head off for Thanksgiving, here are a few things that caught my fancy this (half) week.

Chic gloves from Target.

An interesting book blogger conversation about One Day.

Anthology's winter gift guide put me in a festive mood.

So did this London skating outing. Wouldn't you love to drink hot chocolate from a blue Tiffany's cup?

And once I've recovered from Thursday's feast, I might like a slice of Kale, Pancetta, and Grape pizza.

What are you fancying this week? A special Thanksgiving dish? A Black Friday sale?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Going Out

You'd think that the free, "leave a book, take a book" shelf at a publishing company would be pretty great, right? That's not quite the case at my office, where our communal shelf seems to have an endless supply of romance novels or old, paperback westerns, and not much else. I consider anything that doesn't fall into either of those categories to be a good find, which is why I picked up Going Out without really knowing anything about it.

It turns out that the author, Scarlett Thomas, seems to have something of a cult following and, from what I read on Goodreads, Going Out is one of her early, hard to find novels. Set in Britain, it's the story of Luke, who's allergic to everything under the sun (including the sun itself) and lives a nocturnal existence shut up in his room, and his best friend Julie, who could be living a normal life but is paralyzed by a fear of almost everything. Joined by a ragtag group of friends, they break Luke out of his house and head out on a road trip to visit a healer who claims he can help Luke.

I liked this book well enough. The characters are sympathetic and their dialogue is so sharply written that it read like a movie script playing in my head. The journey they take puts a modern day spin on The Wizard of Oz, with a few Murakami-esque elements thrown in. The morals of the story (not letting your fears imprison you, etc., etc.) tend to be treated a little heavy-handedly, but for the most part I found that endearing rather than annoying. I'd definitely consider trying something else by the author in the future.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Old Fashioned Music

I can't get over the latest fantasy splurge I spotted in the Anthropologie catalog: ipod speakers designed to look like old victrolas.

How fun would it be to play your music collection on these? Or maybe some 1920's jazz for a Gatsby theme party?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Fancies

I just can't help jumping on the bandwagon and doing a Friday roundup post. Here are some things that caught my fancy this week.

(image via Matchbook)

This interesting, behind the scenes video of The Sartorialist at work, shooting on the streets of Tokyo.

These whimsical macaron and French cruller rings could satisfy a sweet craving through jewelry.

I want to try this recipe (it looks like the spicier, Latin cousin of one that Leslie blogged about recently).

I've added this children's book to my To Read list after getting a peek at its lush, magical looking illustrations. (And interesting note- it's written by the lead singer of The Decemberists.)

And even though it was my birthday on Wednesday (thanks for all of the nice wishes!), seeing this picture put me in the mood to hold a dog birthday party.

What caught your fancy this week?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oh, By the Way

Did I forget to mention...

It's my birthday today!!

(image via Pinterest)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Russian Winter

In Russian Winter, Daphne Kalotay combines a bit of historical fiction, a bit of mystery, and two of my favorite things- ballet and Boston. The novel weaves together three narratives: that of Nina, an elderly, former ballerina, now living in Boston, who danced with the Bolshoi Ballet and defected from Soviet Russia; Grigori, a Russian scholar who believes he has a connection to Nina; and Drew, a woman working for an auction house that's selling a collection of Nina's jewelry. The three narratives become intertwined when a mystery emerges surrounding an amber necklace and Nina's past life.

With the world of the ballet and the Boston setting so prominently featured, I had hoped to like this book more than I did. The mystery is well crafted, if a little predictable, and the depiction Soviet Russia is interesting, but I just wasn't able to connect with the characters. Something about the writing seemed to keep all three narrators at arm's length, which left me feeling a bit cool towards them. At a certain point, I realized that I wasn't so much wrapped up in the story as I was interested in just getting through the book.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Out of Print Totes

Out of Print Clothing now has canvas tote bags to go along with their cute t-shirts. I got a sneak peek at these at BEA last spring and it looks like they're finally available.

I just love the Pride and Prejudice design and even though The Great Gatsby design has never been my favorite of book covers, I actually think it has some nice graphic impact when used on the tote.

These would be perfect bags for carrying your library books, don't you think?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Borrower

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai has an intriguing premise that grabbed my attention right away: Lucy, a disenchanted, twenty-something children's librarian, inadvertently kidnaps one of her favorite patrons when she finds him hiding in the library after he runs away from home. Instead of returning him to his strict, overbearing mother, she allows herself to be cajoled into taking him on what ends up being a cross country road trip.

There's a lot to like about this book, from its quirky characters to its many literary references. Something kept me from loving it, though, and I'm finding it hard to put my finger on exactly what. There were times when I felt like the author was a little too heavy handed with the way she treated certain things, like Lucy's Russian immigrant father who, though humorously and vividly drawn, veers headfirst into a Russian mafia cliche, or the way in which Lucy's conflicting feelings about her actions seem to repeat the same cycle throughout the story, to the point where I felt like I was being hit over the head with her inner conflict. Since the plot itself is a bit outlandish to begin with, I thought it could have been better balanced by more subtle treatment of certain characters and themes.

Overall, an interesting, worthwhile read (especially for library lovers), but not a favorite.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Roasted Tomatoes

So I'm not a vegetarian, but I play one in real life. Meaning that I briefly went vegetarian when I was in high school, gradually added chicken and fish back into my diet, and eventually ended up at the point I'm at now, where the red meat I eat is limited to bacon and the occasional hamburger.

Despite following my own special brand of vegetarianism, I'd say that 80% of the meals I eat are meatless, mostly because I don't like handling meat when I'm cooking at home. I'm always looking for new meatless recipes, so I was thrilled when I learned about Heidi Swanson's cookbook, Super Natural Everyday and blog, 101 Cookbooks. Both are filled with lots of meatless recipes made with fresh, wholesome ingredients. One that I've tried is a simple recipe that results in the most delicious roasted tomatoes I've ever had.

The cherry tomatoes are tossed with olive oil, salt, and a tablespoon of maple syrup, which I think is the secret ingredient that makes all the difference. They smell amazing as they're roasting and end up tasting nicely sweet. I really can't stop making these. Besides eating them as the book suggests, in a salad with black beans and feta cheese, I've also mixed them in with some simple quinoa.

Eating them by the bowlful wouldn't be too bad, either.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Well Covered Territory

It's no secret that I have a penchant for pretty or interesting book covers and like to collect different editions of my favorite books. A few new releases have caught my eye, any of which would make great additions to my bookshelf.

Penguin Classics (see here, here, and here for some past examples of me serving in my unofficial capacity their volunteer publicist) has put out a series of cloth editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald novels.

The covers, like on this edition of The Beautiful and the Damned, are all designed with an art deco inspired pattern.

And there are some new Jane Austen editions with illustrations by Audrey Niffenegger. I think this version of Persuasion is pretty great.

But now it's time for full disclosure: This entire post was just a thinly veiled hint. So, for any readers who also happen to be my mom, feel free to use these has holiday gift ideas!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Priory

I'm the kind of person who, every once in a while, will go look at the Austen, Bronte, and Gaskell shelves at the bookstore, fruitlessly hoping that an undiscovered novel by one of them will have been secretly published to no fanfare and be sitting there waiting for me. Until that day comes, the closest thing I've found in terms of pure reading enjoyment has been The Priory by Dorothy Whipple.

Another Persephone book, The Priory is set in the pre-WWII English countryside and centers around an aristocratic family of dwindling means living in a run down priory. In an Upstairs, Downstairs fashion, the story follows the doings of both the family and the servants of the house. Each and every character entertains, from the deadbeat master of the house who squanders all of his money on cricket matches to the scheming housemaid who tricks a man into marrying her. The story completely hooked me, and was made even better by the frequent feeling that the author was giving the reader a satirical wink.

(Image via here)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Celebrity BFFs

Here's a non-exhaustive list of celebrities I've seen in my lifetime:

Rick Moranis (right around the peak of the Honey I Shrunk the Kids fame, my dad and I got into the same elevator as him and his kids in the Yacht Club Hotel at Disney World)
Yoko Ono
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Natalie Portman (sitting eating a yogurt in the lobby of a Harvard theater that I happened to be running through, on my way to a play that I was late for because I spent too long shopping at JCrew)
This guy
Brooke Shields

The latest addition to that list is: Mindy Kaling! Last night I went to a reading and signing she did to promote her new book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns). I've been really excited for this book to come out (and the first third of it has lived up to my expectations). She has such a smart, approachable writing style that makes it seem like she could actually be one of my friends in real life.

Now, I always feel a little bit awkward at book signings, fretting over what to say when it's my turn to meet the author. And normally I would never ask for a picture with a celebrity, but since everyone else was doing it....

Notice my awkward half-crouching pose? And the tired, "this is my hundredth picture" look in her eyes? I'm pretty sure those are both signs that we're on our way to becoming best friends!

I should also mention the fact that, between Mindy's Q&A and the signing, the event was hijacked by a woman who suddenly stood up on her chair wearing a clown wig, a painted on mustache, and, oh, by the way, was topless, and started ranting about some play she was in while she snapped pictures of the stunned crowd. She had to be escorted out by police, and was later seen peeking out from behind a newsstand outside of the store. It was quite a night.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkin Porridge

I've felt a bit remiss in recent days because I haven't posted about any pumpkin recipes. I feel out of step with the rest of the blog world, so to make up for it, here's my suggestion: Pumpkin Porridge.

It's really less of a true recipe and more of a general idea for adding a bit of pumpkin flavor to your breakfast. I used King Arthur Flour's Pompanoosuc Porridge (a mixture of steel cut oatmeal, bulger, and flax), but it could work with plain oatmeal, too. Once I prepared it according to the package, I stirred in a few tablespoons of canned pumpkin and added liberal sprinklings of cinnamon and nutmeg. Now it's not exactly as good as pumpkin pie, but it does bring a nice, seasonal flavor to a cool morning.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cutting for Stone

Before reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, I had heard so many raves about it, sometimes from unexpected quarters. It would come up in, say, a random conversation at work and a colleague who had read it would just start gushing about how amazing it was. After reading it, I can safely say that it did live up to all of the hype. It's epic, engrossing, and vivid, and left me with a lot of ideas to talk about the next time my book club meets. Problem is, I've let a bit of time pass since I finished it, so now I'm left with a bunch of random, possibly disjointed thoughts that I can't seem to wrangle into a concise post. I've decided to embrace the disjointedness and just mention two of the things that struck me the most about the book.

1- Every single character is so well drawn, from the main characters all the way down to the most minor patient who passes through the clinic. Each seems to warrant his or her own separate novel.

2- You often hear about nonfiction that reads as fiction. I can't help but thinking that this is fiction that reads like the best kind of nonfiction. It includes meticulous details about Ethiopian culture and history, as well as intricately depicted, play by play scenes of various surgeries and medical procedures. So vivid, they were sometimes painful to read, though always fascinating.

I'm sure something will come to me later that I'll be sorry for not mentioning. It's one of those books that sticks with you, prompting new thoughts here and there well after the last page.


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