The Day I Read A Book.

A continuation of the books I read in 2011.  Read about April.

May

  • By the time I got around to reading it, I’d forgotten all of the reviews of Elizabeth Strout‘s Olive Kitteridge.  I’d forgotten that Ms. Strout’s work was more anthology of related stories than novel, that the setting was a small New England town in coastal Maine, that the titular character wasn’t in fact the main character after all.  Worth the read, but it’s up to the reader to decide if it’s worth the hype.
  • The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber is an absolutely terrible novel that everybody in the world should read.  I mean, it’s about a pack of way-more-intense-than-werewolves wolves living, hunting and killing in 1970s New York City and the two police detectives that are tracking them down.  Oh, and I should mention that parts of the story are told from the point of view of the wolves.  So awesomely bad.  One of my goals for 2012 is to get my hands on a copy of the film adaptation.
  • Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table, a Collection of Essays from The New York Times edited by Amanda Hesser is pretty self-explanatory.
  • So is, in a way, Elizabeth Graver‘s The Honey Thief, as it is about a thief of honey, but imagine how boring a story it would be if that were it as far as plot were concerned.  The novel is about mothers and daughters, religion, inheritances and friendships, as well as honey.
  • I purchased a copy of Room at Fully Booked in Manila; at that point in our trip, I had read all of the books I’d packed and The Wolfen off of Keith’s iPad, and was desperate for something to read, as I had three days in Hong Kong and a twenty-something-hour flight back to the States to get through.  I hadn’t followed the previous year’s hoopla surrounding Emma Donoghue‘s novel but it just so happened that Room‘s plot fit in perfectly with my kidnapping/crime obsession.  Though told from five-year-old Jack’s point of view, the reader quickly realizes that Jack and his mother live a grim and terrible sort of life: abducted at nineteen, Jack’s mother had gotten pregnant and gave birth in captivity, and all Jack knows of the world is the 11 x 11 room he was born in.  Though I sometimes find the use of children’s first-person narration in adult novels to be gimmicky, Jack’s perspective was unique and interesting enough to keep me reading.
  • After years of trying, Keith and I secured reservations at elBulli in November of 2010, and for that reason I was particularly interested in The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli by Lisa Abend, which chronicles not a year of elBulli so much as a year in the life of a stagiaire at elBulli.  It’s fascinating to learn of all their backgrounds, interests, successes and failings, regardless of whether or not you’d eaten at the restaurant or not.
  • I should’ve kicked my kidnapping kick before reading Still Missing, as I found the abducted narrator of Chevy Stevens‘s novel to be both irritating and without redeeming factors.  Skip it.
  • Laura Lippman‘s I’d Know You Anywhere is also about kidnapping, is leagues better, and ultimately forgettable.

June

  • I hadn’t read any Nick Hornby in years; it was only Juliet, Naked‘s availability at my local library that made Mr. Hornby’s most recent novel my first of his to read since About a Boy.  Funny stuff, this, and a must-read for those who have music nerds in their lives or who are self-aware music nerds.
  • My book club needed something to read, so I recommended In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff, simple because I already had it out of the library and had just started the book the same day.  The mystery takes place in turn of the century New York — a genre, historical period and location that the ladies in book club all love, so for that reason it was it good fit.  The main character, a detective with a tragic past, transfers out of a gritty and corrupt New York City precinct to sleepy, quiet Westchester County.  Instead of finding tranquility, he’s face-to-face with the most brutal murder he’s ever seen.
  • I’m not going to lie, I read Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family and Finding the Perfect Lipstick by Molly Ringwald only because I was on a Breakfast Club kick.
  • Sue Miller’s The Lake Shore Limited is told from the perspective of four characters, a writing technique that I as a reader and a writer really enjoy.  Sometimes it can be done beautifully (In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, for example) but more often than not, this is done in a mediocre fashion.  Ms. Miller is a fine writer, and she tackles this well, but I didn’t find any of the four characters to be unforgettable.
The Day I Read A Book” by Jimmy Durante.
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Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler.

alone-in-the-kitchen-with-an-eggplant I had picked up Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone several times last year, but for one reason or another, I never purchased the book.  It was getting to the point that I thought perhaps I was jinxed, and that the reading experience wasn’t meant to be.  This is what I went through: no room in my suitcase when flying home from Oregon after going a little overboard at Powell’s; only a copy with a torn cover at the bookseller’s at home; out of stock.  Finally, though, a happy ending: I recently got my hot little hands on a pristine edition, which I promptly toted around town.

Here’s the concept behind the book: editor Jenni Ferrari-Adler was living alone for the first time in 2004 while at grad school in Michigan.  As she adjusted to the Ann Arbor rhythms, Ferrari-Adler realized a few things.  Firstly, that she had to “remember how to make friends,” something I know I personally forgot how to do after leaving college.  Secondly, that she was loaded — with time.  She writes:

There were hours… everywhere I looked. In addition to time, I had a galley kitchen, a shelf of cookbooks, two heavy pots, and a chef’s knife. I lived near the farmers’ market, a cooperative grocery, and a butcher shop. My bicycle had a basket. Which is all to say it was an excellent domestic setup.

In the midst of a rough winter, Ferrari-Adler makes for herself a meal following an Amanda Hesser recipe.  As she eats, she reads “Single Cuisine,” Hesser’s piece on cooking for one, and comes to a realization:

This was all I really wanted — to be let in on other people’s secrets. What better place to start than in their kitchens?  Remembering Laurie Colwin’s essay “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant” …I giggled [reading] the description of Colwin’s absurdly small Greenwich Village apartment, “the coziest place on earth,” where she did dishes in the bathtub. She’d brought her kitchen into my living room… The connectedness I felt was the opposite of the drifting into space I’d experienced whenever I spent more than three consecutive nights alone. We read to feel close to people we don’t know, to get into other people’s heads. I get the same sensation of intimacy from following a recipe. I began to scheme: Hesser, Colwin, and me … maybe I could break the silence and help men and women everywhere be less alone together.

And so, Ferrari-Adler shoots off correspondences to writers like my beloved Ann Patchett, my old teacher Steve Almond and grand dame Marcella Hazan.  It’s incredible, to read of Jeremy Jackson‘s romance with beans and editor Holly Hughes’s frustrations with cooking for a family.  It’s also, of course, impossible to thumb through an anthology such as this without thinking about what you yourself had cooked or currently cooks when putting together a meal for one.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had to make a full-blown dinner for just me.  Lunches I make all the time, lately something like a mâche and mixed herb salad with yellow tomatoes, crumbles of French feta, half a segmented orange and the barest sprinkle of lemon juice swirled with olive oil, sea salt and freshly grated pepper, eaten with some chicken or maybe fruit.  Dinner, on the other hand…

But when I did cook for just one, there were a lot of empty pasta boxes in the trash.  I remember one dish involving a tomato deseeded, diced and sealed in a container with its sundried sisters, sliced olives and olive oil; this mixture would sit in the fridge overnight, and the next evening I’d empty the jar over penne and toss a few basil leaves on top.  Another meal was spaghetti mixed with plain yogurt, then doused with garlic powder.  Yet another: rotini, cubes of mozzarella, olives, more sundried tomatoes, chopped red peppers and an entire bottle of Kraft Light Done Right! Italian dressing, eaten cold.

If not pasta, then eggs.  I would place the largest skillet on the stove, and glide a nugget of butter directly in its center.  While it melted, I mixed three eggs together with diced yellow peppers and milk.  Then I would pour it all into the skillet and reduce the heat to medium; once the edges crisped, I’d use a spatula to push the cooked bits to the side and tilt pan to and fro until the liquid eggs set.  Just before sliding it onto my plate, I’d fold slices of Kraft American cheese into raggedy squares and scatter them across the eggs’ surface.  Later, on my futon, I’d use my finger to swipe the dish clean.

Not so glamorous stuff, this, but if I may — that marinated sundried tomato pasta dish was so good.  My cheesy scramble too.