I'm a public librarian in Massachusetts who loves to give reading suggestions, whether asked-for or not, a specialty known in library jargon as "reader's advisory". I read a lot -- mostly literary, genre, and young adult fiction, but also short stories and memoirs -- and listen to a lot of audiobooks. Newer favorites include Patry Francis, Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, Lev Grossman, Jennifer Egan, Laurie R. King, Lionel Shriver, Carolyn Parkhurst, Penny Vincenzi, Michael Connelly, Alexander McCall Smith, Orson Scott Card, Patrick Rothfuss, Martha Southgate, Jennifer Haigh, Zadie Smith, and Louise Penny. Some older favorites are Lorrie Moore, Anne Tyler, Ian McEwan, Susan Howatch, and Connie Willis.
This week I’ll be starting Cross Talk by Connie Willis. It’s a book I got for Christmas, and have been looking forward to reading. I’ve read most of Connie Willis’ other books, but not all, so this will take me one book closer!
Here’s the publisher’s description:
Science fiction icon Connie Willis brilliantly mixes a speculative plot, the wit of Nora Ephron, and the comedic flair of P. G. Wodehouse in Crosstalk—a genre-bending novel that pushes social media, smartphone technology, and twenty-four-hour availability to hilarious and chilling extremes as one young woman abruptly finds herself with way more connectivity than she ever desired.
I’ll also be listening to The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close this week. It’s narrated by a woman in her early twenties, a newlywed living in DC, homesick for New York City life and flummoxed by her husband’s (and all of their new acquaintances’) obsession with politics after working on the Obama campaign.
It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (#IMWAYR) is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. It’s a great post to organize yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever-growing TBR pile! So welcome in, everyone. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at Book Date.
Something I’ve always thought would be fun would be a cookbook club where everyone would try a recipe from a cookbook, bring it to the meeting, and the group would talk about the good and bad of the cookbook, the recipes we tried, and the recipes we still wanted to try.
So I got the Good Taste Cookbook Club started at my library last September, and it’s going strong! Except for meeting every other month instead of monthly, it’s just like any other library book club, except that the books we read are cookbooks. Oh, and we also eat extremely well at every meeting!
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl was the January selection. It’s a combination memoir/cookbook that the longtime restaurant critic ended up writing after Gourmet – the magazine she had edited for ten years – was suddenly shut down, with everyone on staff laid off. Its format, design, and recipe layout are unusual for a cookbook (e.g. loose, conversational-style, sometimes inexact, instructions; ingredient lists divided into “Shopping List” and “Staples”; personal notes woven into the recipe directions) which some of the group didn’t care for, but others enjoyed.
“For the past six months, cooking had been my lifeline, and I was grateful for everything I had learned in the kitchen. Most cookbooks, I thought as I reached for an orange and began to squeeze it for juice, are in search of perfection, an attempt to constantly re-create the same good dishes. But you’re not a chef in your own kitchen, trying to please paying guests. You’re a traveler, following your own path, seeking adventure. I wanted to write about the fun of cooking, encourage people to take risks. Alone in the kitchen you are simply a cook, free to do anything you want. If it doesn’t work out – well, there’s always another meal” – My Kitchen Year
I made Lemon Panna Cotta for my contribution to the meeting, which was a very simple recipe from My Kitchen Year, having just three ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, and three lemons. As an example of the inexact directions, the recipe calls for the juice and zest of three lemons, but doesn’t tell you approximately how much juice and zest you should end up with. So I wondered if I had it right as I mixed the lemon juice and zest together and plopped it all into the hot cream, but the recipe worked – simple as it was! Even people who don’t particularly care for lemon desserts raved about it.
I put the Lemon Panna Cotta into plastic shot glasses for individual servings, with the remaining amount filling two ramekins. During the meeting, we discovered that it would probably be best kept refrigerated right up until serving time, because it got a little soupy in the bottom of the shot glasses. (The thinner layers in the ramekins seemed to stay firm, though.)
I also wanted to try the recipe for Food Cart Curry Chicken before the cookbook club met, but didn’t have time, so my personal chef (aka Mr. BaystateRA) kindly made it for me. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was delicious! Mr. B. complained about grinding spices when we had ground spices in the spice cabinet already, but I think the extra work – his, that is – was definitely worth it, for the flavor explosion.)
I’ve read many of Ruth Reichl’s other books, including the novel she also worked on during this year of unemployment (Delicious!). My Kitchen Year is divided into seasons – Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer – and chronicles her time spent in two residences, a New York City apartment and a country home, upstate.
My Kitchen Year happened to resonate with me, personally, because I had an unexpected six months of unemployment starting in the late fall of last year, which caused me to reevaluate my career and how I spent my time. Like Ruth Reichl, who found so much comfort in the kitchen during her year at home while looking for new employment, I did more cooking than usual during those months and also found it soothing. Although, unlike Ruth Reichl, I didn’t write a book (much less a cookbook AND a novel) during my time of unemployment, I discovered that preparing healthful meals can be as relaxing as baking, and got a lot more creative with salads, so I count that as an overall plus.
I’m three-quarters of the way through The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, so if I don’t do a Mid-Readalong post soon, I’ll have to do a Wrap-Up post instead. It’s a good thing the #BoneClocks17 readalong was scheduled for a leisurely pace, because I’ve been at it for well over a month, interspersed with other reading. (I seem to remember I took forever to read Cloud Atlas, too!)
It’s a good book to read slowly because The Bone Clocks is all about time and the brevity of the human lifespan. There are naturally atemporal beings (resurrected souls) who never die, characters who die tragically young, and otherwise regular people who suffer from debilitating visions of the past and future. I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers here in this post, but it’s a discussion post, not a book review, so if you’re a paranoid, spoiler-averse reader like myself, be forewarned!
I’ve been reading The Bone Clocks in ebook format downloaded through the library, so I lost the notes and highlights from the first half of the book when the ebook loan expired (twice). There is a lot happening, and a lot to ponder on every page, so notes would have been helpful!
I knew nothing about The Bone Clocks going into the readalong. The only other book by David Mitchell that I’ve read is Cloud Atlas, which also has loosely connected stories widely separate in time and place and characters who appear in the periphery of other books. The Bone Clocks has an element of dark fantasy that I don’t recall from Cloud Atlas. After The Bone Clocks comes Slade House, (which I mistakenly thought came before, at the start of the readalong) and that has some recurring characters, too, I believe.
I also had been confusedly thinking that I’d read David Mitchell’s first novel before he was a well-known writer, which would have been Black Swan Green from 2006, but turns out I was mixing up my authors and was thinking of A Question of Attraction by David Nicholls from 2003. (Are there as many English novelists named David as there are American novelists named Jonathan, I wonder?)
The section of the book narrated by the literary enfant terrible character, Crispin Hershey, adds a metafictional aspect to the dark humor prevalent throughout The Bone Clocks, which over all, has a melancholy, rather than funny, I would say. (Being a good person in the time you have on earth is a good thing, but no one can really say why.)
Crispin Hershey’s later novels never sold as well as his first cult classic, Dessicated Embryos (referred to earlier in The Bone Clocks before readers meet Crispin Hershey) and he’s way beyond the deadline for turning the new novel about the lighthouse in Australia he’s under contract to his publisher for.
In this passage from The Bone Clocks, Crispin is on the phone with his agent, Hal, desperately trying to avoid paying back the advance on the nonexistent next book, which sounds suspiciously like the The Bone Clocks:
“Where does the Australian lighthouse fit in?”
I take a deep breath. And another. “It doesn’t.”
Hal, I am fairly sure, is miming shooting himself.
“But this one’s got legs, Hal. A jet-lagged businessman has the mother of all breakdowns in a labyrinthine hotel in Shanghai, encounters a minister, a CEO, a cleaner, a psychic woman who hears voices” – gabbling garbling – “think Solaris meets Noam Chomsky via The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Add a dash of Twin Peaks…”
Hal is pouring himself a whisky and soda: Hear it fizz? His voice is flat and accusative: ‘Crispin. Are you trying to tell me that you’re writing a fantasy novel?’
‘Me? Never! Or it’s only one-third fantasy. Half, at most.’
‘A book can’t be half fantasy any more than a woman can be half pregnant. How many pages have you got?’
‘Oh, it’s humming along really well. About a hundred.’
‘Crispin. This is me. How many pages have you got?’
How does he always know? ‘Thirty – but the rest is all mapped out, I swear.’
Hal the Hyena exhales a sawtoothed groan. ‘Shitting Nora.’
Enjoying an unexpected day off due to the major nor’easter named Niko that blew in early this morning. I hope the storm doesn’t bring harm to anyone who has to go out in it today!