Thursday, February 13, 2014

Homemade Chai

One of the gifts I got for Christmas was a little set of the spices and teas that go into making homemade chai.

Boiling them in water and milk with a few teaspoons of sugar yields a really delicious cup of chai that's more delicate that what you typically find at coffee shops. It's such an easy treat that I plan to buy my own spices once I deplete the supply from the chai making kit.

And for best results, serve in a pretty mug.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Characters on Film

There's been a distinct cinematic connection to much of my reading over the past few weeks. What's more is that the films in question have actually enhanced the reading experience for me, breaking with the notion that the book is always superior to the movie.

First, I finally got around to watching last year's film adaptation of Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. After watching the beautifully shot film, I immediately picked up the novella to reread the story of moody young bride Dolly as she prepares for her wedding day by brooding upstairs over a hidden bottle of rum while her wedding guests gather downstairs. On its own, the book is amusing but somewhat difficult to wholeheartedly like since none of its characters are particularly likable. The movie tries to elicit more sympathy for Dolly through flashbacks to an earlier romance. I felt neutral about these not entirely necessary additional scenes, but what I really loved was the way the movie brought to life the cast of minor characters that make up Dolly's eccentric family and friends. With a newly vivid picture of them in my mind, it was these characters who stood out for me during my second reading of Strachey's book.

Another novel that was enhanced by a film counterpart was Helen Fielding's latest installment in the Bridget Jones saga, Mad About the Boy. I could actually be a bit harsher here and say that the memory of the earlier films was the only thing that saved the current book. There were spoilers all over the internet when Mad About the Boy was first released, so I won't repeat them here other than to say that the book picks up with Bridget as a fifty-year-old mother of two. In the first Bridget Jones novel, her diary cheekily tracked her smoking and dieting habits, among other things. This time around, two of its major focuses are Bridget's Twitter followers and texting habits. What might have been a cute joke if left at one or two mentions is tediously drawn out through the entire book. When she's not texting or tweeting, Bridget's up to some of her same old antics, only they don't translate as well as they used to. For much of this book, I could only find Bridget's character remotely appealing if I pictured Renee Zellweger's charming portrayal. On the whole, I think I'd say that the Bridget Jones films have definitely eclipsed the books.

And finally, proving that good things come to those who leave half-written blog posts sitting in the draft folder for a week, on Sunday night I stumbled onto The Making of a Lady on PBS, the film version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Making of a Marchioness. The novel was the very first Persephone classic that I read and while I enjoyed it, it was subsequently eclipsed in my mind by other Persephone novels. Seeing the movie version reminded me of how much I enjoyed the story. It was a perfect blend of the romance and the creepiness that make up the two halves of Burnett's work. I know what I'll be picking up to reread next.

Do you have any favorite film adaptations that you think are as good as, or even better than, the books they're based on?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Heat Lightning

When I was in Maine last summer, I went to the Big Chicken Barn Antique and Used Book store, which has a massive second floor entirely devoted to shelves and shelves of used books. Although I only came away with one find, it was a good one: a vintage copy of Heat Lightning by Helen Hull, which I snapped up knowing that it had been recently reissued by Persephone Books. It wasn't until several months had passed, however, and I finally took it off the shelf to read that I realized what I treasure I had found....

...when I opened the front cover and discovered an inscription from the author, reading "Inscribed for Gale M. Hinckley, Most Sincerely Yours, Helen Hull, July 31, 1936". 

Interestingly, on a whim I Googled Gale M. Hinckley and, in addition to some census records, a number of results came up for used book dealers that mention Gale M. Hinckley's bookplate in the description of various books they have available for sale. One is even noted as being inscribed "with cordial regards, J. Edgar Hoover, 1938". It's so fascinating to think that this woman, a fairly ordinary person as far as I can tell, has spread a tiny legacy of herself through her bookplates. It makes me want to start using them in my own books now.

After the discovery of the inscription, it was icing on the cake to find that I completely loved Hull's writing in Heat Lightning. The novel tells the story of Amy Norton, a New Yorker who returns to her Midwestern hometown for a week's respite to escape a rough patch in her marriage. Amy's family is one of the most prominent in their small town and her week with them is filled with all manner of drama, from birth to death with several revelations of scandalous family secrets in between. It's a plot that in lesser hands could easily fall into the territory of silly melodrama, but Hull handles them skillfully and with subtlety. The family members' interactions with one another offer one of the most realistic portrayals of an extended family that I've seen, even in spite of some of the less than typical situations that are thrown at them. During the course of Amy's visit, she sees the lifecycle of her family condensed into a matter of days, which in turn makes her reassess her own life with her family in New York. I highly recommend this one--even if you're not lucky enough to get your hands on an autographed copy.

Monday, February 3, 2014

That Time I Drank Wine With a Giraffe

Today I have some photos to share that are a throwback to last fall when, during my non-blogging black hole, I went to a wine festival at Six Flags Great Adventure. I realize that Six Flags might not seem like the most classy place to be sipping wine, but it was actually a really fun day. The amusement park was closed for the season and they had two large pavilions set up for local New Jersey wineries to offer tastings. After trying endless sips of delicious wine, we then got to go on a ride through Six Flag's animal safari (which, incidentally, has become much more pleasant since my elementary school days, when people drove themselves through and the big thrill was waiting to see if the monkeys were going to climb all over your car).

At about the halfway point, we got to stop and get off of the safari vehicle, taste more wines, and feed giraffes.

This one was Meredith. She thought her mixture of giraffe pellets and crushed-up sugar cones was full bodied with just a hint of sweetness.


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