r e a d i n g r o o m

about : me : contact : i read : others read : reviews of books

archives: 2006: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec 2005: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2004: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2003: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2002: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2001: may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec

what i read in: 2006 : 2005 : 2004 : 2003 : 2002 : 2001 : 2000 : 1999 : 1998 : 1997 : 1996

chez pim
chocolate & zucchini
The food section
is my blog burning?
saute wednesday
a full belly
edible tulip

daily olive
cheese diaries

becks & posh

leite's culinaria
food history news
gastronomy @ BU
food timeline

Nomad chronicles
travel writers

small spiral notebook
pete lit
elegant variation
reading experience
moorish girl


blog of death

diglot (DY-glot) adjective: Bilingual.
noun : A bilingual book, person, etc.

1.30 FDR, Shirley Hazzard, & Barbara Tuchman
1.29 Thomas Paine, Edward Abbey, & Anton Chekhov
holus-bolus (HO-luhs BO-luhs) adverb

All at once.

[Apparently a reduplication of bolus (lump), or a rhyming compound based on the phrase whole bolus.]

1.28 Colette
niminy-piminy (NIM-uh-nee PIM-uh-nee) adjective

Affectedly delicate or refined.

[Origin uncertain; probably alteration of namby-pamby.]

1.26 Mary Mapes Dodge
riprap (RIP-rap) noun

1. A protective foundation, embankment, etc. made of loose chunks of stones placed together.

2. Material used for such a construction.

verb tr. To construct, or strengthen with, a riprap.

1.25 Virginia Woolf
hubble-bubble (HUB-buhl-BUB-buhl) noun

1. A form of hookah: a smoking device in which the smoke is passed
through a bowl of water, making a bubbling noise, before being
drawn through a long pipe.

2. Commotion, uproar, turmoil.

[Reduplication of the word bubble.]

1.24 Edith Wharton

airy-fairy (AIR-ee FAIR-ee) adjective: 1. Light, delicate, fragile.

2. Fanciful, impractical, unrealistic.

[From Alfred, Lord Tennyson's 1830 poem Lilian whose opening lines are:
Airy, Fairy Lilian,
Flitting, fairy Lilian,
When I ask her if she love me,
Claps her tiny hands above me,
Laughing all she can.]

habiliment \huh-BILL-uh-munt\ noun

1 plural : characteristic apparatus : trappings
2 a : the dress characteristic of an occupation or occasion — usually used in plural *b : clothes — usually used in plural

saturine \SAT-er-nyne\adjective 1 : born under or influenced astrologically by the planet Saturn
2 a : cold and steady in mood : slow to act or change *b : of a gloomy or surly disposition c : having a sardonic aspect

1.20 Julia Morgan, Robert Olen Butler, & Joy Adamson
diriment (DIR-uh-ment) adjective: Nullifying.
1.19 Patricia Highsmith, Edgar Allen Poe, & Janis Joplin
1.18 Peter Mark Roget & A.A. Milne
1.17 Anne Bronte
1.16 Robert W. Service & Susan Sontag
emprise \em-PRYZE\ noun: an adventurous, daring, or chivalric enterprise

1.15 Victor Hugo & Moliere
efficacious \ef-uh-KAY-shus\ adjective: having the power to produce a desired effect

1.14 Mary Robinson, Anchee Min, Maureen Dowd, & John Dos Passos
1.13 Lorrie Moore
1.12 Jack London
serendipity \seh-run-DIP-uh-tee\ noun : the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also : an instance of this
1.11 William James
earwig \EER-wig\ verb : to annoy or attempt to influence by private talk
doughty \DOW-tee ("OW" as in "cow")\ adjective

: marked by fearless resolution : valiant

1.9 Simone de Beauvoir
1.8 David Bowie
claque \KLAK\ noun

1 : a group hired to applaud at a performance
*2 : a group of sycophants

1.7.1896 Fannie Farmer cookbook debuted
couloir \kool-WAHR\ noun : a steep mountainside gorge
1.6 St. Joan of Arc
chaparral (shap-uh-RAL, chap-) noun
A dense, often impenetrable, growth of shrubs and thorny bushes.
[From Spanish chaparral, from chaparro (dwarf evergreen oak), from Basque txapar (thicket).]

skookum (SKOO-kuhm) adjective
Powerful; first-rate; impressive.
[From Chinook Jargon, from a Chehalis word meaning spirit or ghost.]

soigne \swahn-YAY\ adjective

*1 : dressed with great care and elegance : well-groomed, sleek
2 : elegantly maintained or designed



Monday, January 31, 2005
fabrication, malls, & purse-power

I can get behind personal fabrication. MIT gives ordinary people the opportunity to fabricate anything they dream of. I want a fab lab. "The idea is that they can be empowering, especially in rural, developing communities, by giving people the ability to design and create the tools they want or need to solve local problems." This doesn't sound so different from what my grandfather did all the time. He deigned and built his own ladders and outbuildings, among other things, and modified his tools. All without a fancy fab lab.

Finished Betrayal of work. It was filled with statistics, but still readable. And the author's suggestions for making policy changes that would help the working poor were moderate and well-thought, but were shy of where I think things need to go. She wants part-time employees covered under a company's health care benefits. I want socialized medicine or universal coverage, whatever it's called.

Call of the mall was much lighter reading than I imagined it would be. I hoped the book explored the psychology of shopping, but that's probably what Underhill's previous book covered. In this one, Underhill, a retail anthropologist (a provocative job title) takes the reader on a trip to the mall and describes the hows and whys of architecture, traffic patterns inside the mall, product placement, retail aesthetics, etc. While I learned new bits of knowledge, it wasn't quite what I wanted. I hoped for something more subversive and it could be that Underhill couldn't give away all of his secrets, and that's why the book felt lukewarm to me. However, it was illuminating. Underhill and his worker bees study footage of shoppers as they maneuver about stores. They're able to discern patterns of behavior and predict the shopper's next move. So yes, it it subversive in the wrong way: Corporations use this information to manipulate its customers.

I've not started anything new, but bought three new books this weekend. One is mostly for browsing, though it does have text: Handbags: The power of the purse by Anna Johnson. I was drawn to it. I love bags and purses, and this undersized, yet thick book boasts hundreds of photos of vintage and contemporary handbags. Inventing beauty: A history of innovations that have made us beautiful intrigued me; I couldn't put it down. The section on bras fascinated me. After looking through the first third of I had to have it. I appreciate the designer/author's aesthetic and knew that the projects inside Childhood treasures: handmade gifts for babies and children. My god-son arrives in April and I'm running out of time to make things for him. This book promises lovely projects.

Thursday, January 27, 2005
behold more books

Last night I treated myself by starting The betrayal of work: How low-wage jobs fail 30 million Americans. I stayed up two hours past my bedtime to almost complete it. It's chock-full of statistics and in some chapters almost every sentence is footnoted.For most of the book, Shulman provides statistics and information taken from interviews with the working poor to back up her argument that the working poor are most Americans and not those who come to mind when we speak of workers whose wages are below poverty level. From her introduction I understand that she offers a solution to this problem in her conclusion. That's what I look forward to. There were several statistics and passages that struck me, but alas, I can't refer to the book at this moment for those phrases.

At lunch I turned my attention to something more "frivolous," The classic ten: The true story of the little black dress and nine other fashion favorites. The first chapter is about the LBD. Smith's writing is energetic and the information she conveys is interesting and pertinent. However, I noticed that she focuses on western fashion history. In her discussion of the LBD, she charts the history of black clothing in general, noting its relationship with mourning, but doesn't mention the Asian tradition of using black as a wedding color and white as a mourning color. Perhaps that information was too much outside the scope of her topic. The second chapter discusses the origins of the suit which I find a bit boring as a topic since I own one suit and have worn it thrice in ten years.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005
bold & bloody

Rising star of young adult fiction discovered in Random House mailroom. What does it take to be a hot novelist in the YA genre and earn a five-figure deal? "the first few chapters of Hand of the Devil. It was bold and bloody, and Ms Sheppard knew immediately the company had a genius in its midst."

Andrea Levy's Small island won the Whitbread. And, who knew that the best selling book in London is the London A-Z? Still more in Brit Lit; I've saved the best for last. Hugh Grant's interview in which he describes the trials of being a literary judge.

It didn't surprise me that the MacArthur Award fails in its mission. A story at Chicago Business tells how the John T. MacArthur and Catherine T. MacArthur--you know their philanthropic deeds; they're all over public radio--Award of $500,000 to a writer is supposed to allow them to produce their best work. It turns out that by the time a write gets a Mac Award, they've already written their best work. The study shows that "88% of the MacArthur recipients wrote their greatest works before being recognized by the Chicago-based foundation" and "The sheer number of books produced by the writers declined, too, after their MacArthur awards." Actually, it comes down to this: "Writers are mostly chosen too late in their careers, average age 48, and well after the literary establishment has recognized them for excellence."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
book buying

The list of books I bought in Boston last week:

Midnight disease: The drive to write, writer's block, and the creative brain ; Singular women: Writing the artist ; Women artists in the 20th and 21st century ; Tips for vintage style ; A guide to elegance ; The classic ten: The true story of the little black dress and nine other fashion favorites ; All Maine cooking ; and Man who ate everything: And other gastronomic feats, disputes, and pleasurable pursuits.

Other books that arrived in the mail while I was out of town:

Recipes for reading: Community cookbooks, stories, histories ; Fertile ground, narrow choices: Women on Texas cotton farms, 1900-1940 ; and Karoo.

Lots of books to read. Soon I shall have slightly interesting things to write about each of them.

And the Telegraph's ode to the London Library warms the hearts of all library fans. Book review sell books. Isn't that a given? A NYT article tells how Professor Gronas analyzed the reviews at Amazon to "study how tastes inform what people read." Obscure German book lands St. Louis, Mo. bookseller in trouble. It seems the book was stolen and now Rod Shene may not collect the $596,100 profit due him because the German government wants the book back.The Rocky Mountain News give the inside scoop on what living with a writer is like.

Monday, January 24, 2005
books and a bookstore

Aaaaaah, procrastination. The Guardian's story about why writers stall out.

Then, there's an article at the Dallas News about the porn trend in publishing. Porn has long been a multibillion-dollar industry – in its Internet and direct-to-DVD ghetto. But rarely has "aboveground" publishing been so saturated with sex. If you want to read the article use this sign in: noone99999@nowhere.com and 123456. It works. At least for now.

On the plane to Cincinnati, which then took me to Boston last week, I started Can she bake a cherry pie?: American women and the kitchen in the twentieth century.[What I meant to put here was Eat my words: reading women's lives through the cookbooks they wrote by Janet Theophano. I read the former several weeks ago.] It was not light enough for air travel reading. I got through the first few pages, and picked it up again at the Cincinnati airport I tried to read more of it during my two-hour layover, but a friendly woman kept talking to me. She worked for Mary Kay, and gave me her card.

While in Boston I visited the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum. The space was divine and I ached to have it all to myself. Her courtyard is one of the most magical spaces I've sat on the edge of. To prolong my stay, I bought Mrs. Jack: A biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner and trotted back to the courtyard where I sat a read the first chapter or two of the book .I couldn't get comfortable because i was afraid I would inadvertently crush an orchid that was pressing against my leg. I've been reading this book on and off all week, and am probably a third of the way through it. While it's the best IBG biography out there, it is a bit dry in spots. I'm not up to the point where she builds the museum, for that is what most intrigues me.

As for other books I bought in Boston... I have yet to compile the list. However, I visited a lovely use book shop called Commonwealth Books, the one downtown. I happened upon it on my all-day walk of the city and could not NOT go inside. The bookseller was helpful. I found two books there that I bought. One was an old book of recipes from Maine, and the other was a fairly best-selling food essay book, but I can't recall the title now. The bookseller suggested that I visit the other store on Commonwealth, for their food section is larger than the downtown store's. Alas, when I walked there one evening after dinner, the store was closed. Then later in the week, I decided that I didn't need to buy more books, and that is a terrible thing. It was a good decision in the end, for while checking my bag at the airport, I was forced to lighten it by ten pounds. I pulled out all the books I'd stuffed in my luggage and transferred them to my carry on. My plan to pass along the heavy book toting to the airport's baggage handlers was foiled!

I started Cherokee women: Gender and culture change, 1700-1865 by Theda Perdue, something that I've previously read, but am rereading for a class.

Thursday, January 20, 2005
catching up & other things

Do the masses read great books? This story at City Journal discusses ways to "make literature once again exciting and life-transforming for "common" readers."

Shakespeare in the news. Or rather, a new book about how Will became Will.

Chicago Tribune story about Bookslut.

Your ultimate astrology planner at January Magazine.

University of Chicago has a student-run sex magazine, Vita Excolatur, too.

Annual tsunami of literature? Yeah, it's those wilyPW book reviews in the news again. Who wants anonymity, anyway?

Something from the Guardian about writers who become "dupes or accomplices of a publishing industry that is exploiting its writers as its unpaid representatives."

The new Anna Wintour biography looks saucy.

New posts after 19 January 2005

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
to bake or not to bake

Can she bake a cherry pie? American women in the kitchen in the twentieth century was excellent. Each chapter dealt with a different decade in American food and kitchen technology. The author, a librarian, covers the trends of each decade like the return to the kitchen during the cold war wherein women were charged with the responsibility of keeping their families well-nourished. She credits the 1963 loosening of immigration rules for bringing more variety, ahem, more spice, to American cuisine which up until then stressed assimilation. Ethnic cooks employed by middle and upper class households learned to cook "American," often learning the language as well by consulting bi-lingual cookbooks published expressly for that purpose. I learned a lot and was refreshed in several areas. It's historically rich and her sentences are peppered with dates, so that the reader learns when bouillon cubes, jello, cake mixes, etc. were introduced to the market. She covers a few appliances as well. Gas stoves and refrigerators are the first and towards the end she writes about the food processor. It's an excellent introduction to the history of women in the kitchen. A book I read a few months ago, Something from the oven: Reinventing dinner in 1950s America, went more into depth about particular cookbook authors and their effect upon women and cooking. Between the two, I have an informed picture of American food in the twentieth century. I can't wait for more, so I'll probably start Eat my words: Reading women's lives through the cookbooks they wrote next.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
automatic, systematic, & hydromatic

William James, whose birthday it is today, created the notion of "stream of consciousness." Additionally, he helped establish automatic writing as a form of elf-analysis [should be self-analysis, but the former sounds better]. Gertrude Stein used that as the basis for her writing style.

Bibliotherapy ascends new heights. GPs in Devon prescribe books for depressed patients. According to an article at the Guardian, they're "packing people off to the library with prescriptions for self-help books."

One of many Great Publishing Adventures chronicled in the Chronicle. Two professors write about their "sentimental education in the ways of publishing." Great tips for guerrilla marketing like having their friends mention the book in other reviews they wrote at amazon and moving their six books from the bottom of the shelf at B&N to the New & Noteworthy section, with a little help from their mothers.

Christopher Allen Waldrop contemplates the future of libraries at MobyLives. It's that google thing again. And while Waldrop doesn't say anything that I haven't already heard, it still makes for interesting reading for librarians.

I'm a few chapters into Can she bake a cherry pie: American women in the kitchen in the twentieth century. Other than saying that it's quite good, I'm at a loss this moment. Basically, it discusses the history of women in the kitchen. Early chapters were about the difficulties of cooking over a fire, or with a wood stove that constantly needed stoking. Now we're moving into the Fannie Farmer era, of scientific management, or "home economics, wherein scientific principles were applied to women's work in the kitchen to make them more efficient. Exciting technology like refrigerators and gas stoves enter the picture as well.

Monday, January 10, 2005
steering, reading, & book consumption

Margaret Atwood has tired of signing her books while touring and promoting them. She invented a book-signing machine. It works because "an electronically steered pen reproduces the dedication precisely as originally inscribed."

Just as I'm about to go to Boston, a story breaks about porn magazines being published there. A BU senior's first issue of the sex magazine Boink comes out in February.

Otherwise I read nothing, really. Decided to skip the Julia Child bio for now, as it is a tome and a half. And, the other food history book, Perfection salad: Women and cooking at the turn of the century wasn't whetting my whistle. I'll return to both later, but I'm in one of those strange reading moods where I cannot find anything to spur my interest.

However, I purchased books and magazines this weekend. I found that my Frommer's Irreverent guide to Boston was incomplete. Normally, I consult these books first and supplement with the National Geographic guide to the city as well. The dearth of historic homes listed in Irreverent bothered me. I decided to be unpredictable and bought an Access Boston in hopes that it will not lead me astray. The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005 shall serve me well while in transit and be something that I can dip into at will should long commutes occur. Also bought Seek the living and Case Histories.

2004 Best Music Scribing Awards by Jason Gross gives a state of the industry report on music journalism and links to the awards.

Friday, January 7, 2005
librarians are "ultimate search engine"

Tick tock, time is running out for public libraries and possibly literature as well according to David Kipen's story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Budget cuts closed the Salinas Public Library rendering the community library-less and forcing librarians to find work elsewhere. More than $80 million has been cut from public library budgets in the past year alone. A story in the Boston Globe characterizes ALA's Midwinter meeting as "a storied team with more than 64,000 members and millions of loyal fans will gather in Boston to try to lift a 'curse' that has been haunting them for decades."

Andrea Levy won the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award. The best part was that Hugh Grant served on the judging panel for the award.

OUP offers Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists, which fills a void by being "the first comprehensive history of African-American women artists, from slavery to the present day."

Kay S. Hymowitz reviews American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare which follows three women in Milwaukee who found alternate means of support when welfare ended It seems that many women on welfare always worked, but their wages fell below the poverty level and welfare supplemented their incomes.

I have the Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations: The Illiterati's Guide to Latin Maxims, Mottoes, Proverbs, and Sayings to review for LJ. This is a great departure from subject areas I regularly review in. For a few days, I was flummoxed. But now that I've considered the subtitle again, illiterati... that's me when it comes to Latin; I took French and German after I decided that a career in medicine was not in my future.

Thursday, January 6, 2005
kingdoms for a poet

First California, now Montana. Why the dearth of poet laureates? It doesn't pay. The Californian must have the traits listed in this article from the LA Times.

After I finished Vamped, and thought about its ending, I decided that its theme of conformity and promotion of traditional family values were unusual for the genre nor did the story appeal to me in that context. That wasn't the only surprise. There were a few interesting plot twists, but I don't want to give them away. Ultimately, a happy ending, even for vampires, is unrealistic. Characters and dialogue were good. The setting though, I can't remember where it was. Detroit, maybe? That's Marty's hometown. It was a fun read and the author's flair for dialogue and skill in fleshing out Marty make the book worth reading, though no doubt it's an essential read for vampire fans.

Though I haven't decided yet, it's likely that I'll start the Julia Child biography tonight. That, or Perfection salad: Women and cooking at the turn of the century.

What else? A question I've wondered about is answered. On television, why is it okay for men on sitcoms to be fat and ugly when it's not okay for women? You never see a fat woman paired with a hot guy, but every other comedy has an unaesthetic male lead paired with a hot young leading woman. Matt Feeney asks the same thing in a story posted yesterday at Slate. Feeney writes: "Since these pairings could not conceivably reflect the sexual or romantic desires of the female protagonists, they look a bit like arranged marriages." Is it a feminist issue or is it unfair to men to represent them as "lousy parents, marginal breadwinners, and repellant sexual partners?"

A quasi-book review/interview of/with The Polysyllabic Spree/Nick Hornby in LA Weekly. Funny, Hornby hadn't "seen anyone write about exactly what they’ve read, as opposed to what they’ve been paid to read" and that's how his column for the Believer originated. People get paid to read books?

Wednesday, January 5, 2005
covering your head & getting under the skin

There's something charming about the statement "I come from a tradition in which you’re not supposed to have your head uncovered." It's in reference to Lee Siegel writing for opposing periodicals, the Nation and the New Republic. Besides being a book critic, Siegel writes about TV, movies, and art. The article discusses the editor's (of Nation) strategy for waking up a sleepy book section "he cut back on the academic contributors, he said, and sought to bring in more professional writers, who would be more inclined to write essays instead of straight reviews." Siegel doesn't mind to offend or piss people off and this will renew the magazine's readership, making it "more exciting, more surprising, more entertaining—even if he does get under the skin of some of our readers." This bit confirms my feeling that academics are out of touch with popular writing conventions. There's very little academic writing I read that I enjoy or understand. But, are we supposed to?

Read another two or three chapters from Vamped last night. I'm ambivalent about it. It's fun and pulses with energy, but is it good for me? I'm having a hard time believing that Marty's boredom translates to keeping the kid alive. I'm unconvinced. I'm not feeling it. And then, in a chapter, a year passed. But, there is a vampire priest with his vampire dog. The reason that the human/vampire ratio flipped so quickly was the Catholic church's intervention. That may give away too much of the plot. And, Marty and Isuzu celebrated Halloween. When she moved in, he removed his vampire/skull/corpse tchotchkes so that she would be comfortable. Now, at Halloween, he brings them out and they have a trick or treat in his apartment. The basketball that he's made into a pumpkin catches fire and all but he and Isuzu vacate the building. They peek out the window at all the un-VC (that's vampirically correct) folks wearing trad costumes in the style of Bela Lugosi.

The Denver Post has a story about litblogs.There's an explosion of them .Personal voices are their main characteristic. Who knew? There's something for everyone.

While deleting messages in my inbox, I discovered an unread issue of LA Weekly. There's a list of Some Very Excellent Books, but few appeal to me. Then there's the Five Lit-Obsessed Books.

Couldn't resist this bit of librarian stereotyping: Maryland is sort of like the nerdy librarian who keeps a drawer full of poppers, lube and dildos next to her bed. Basically it's a sex travel plug for Maryland.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005
lies, damn lies, & vampires

Somehow I forgot that I read John Dufresne's Lie that tells a truth: A guide to fiction writing. Itt's probably because his writing is so good, that it was more like a one-way conversation that I soaked up like cornbread does a glass of buttermilk, if you're into that kind of thing. His rules to writing are pretty standard. He advocates the "show don't tell" approach. Divided into three sections, the book includes exercises that the burgeoning writer might work through. The text is peppered with quotes from other writers and Dufresne uses anecdotes and his own writing to illustrate his points. ALl in all, this is one of the best books about writing that I've read. But, I've read so many now, that my eyes glossed over occasionally and I skipped a few paragraphs here and there. From the examples of his fiction that I read, I want to read more. Though he's a native of Mass., he writes about Louisiana and his characters are captivating.

What to say about Vamped, other than I am a sucker for vampire stories? The book's premise is intriguing: Vampires reversed the human/vampire ratio by creating so many of themselves that they are the cultural norm and humans hide. Grocery stores don't stock food. Blood is industrially manufactured. Boxes of Count Chocula sell for $100 on eBay. Human children are raised on farms for rich vampires to buy and nibble upon. Marty is an eighty year old vampire in the body of a twenty year old. Mortally wounded while fighting on the German front during WWII, he was saved by a female vampire wearing sunglasses similar to those worn by Marlene Dietrich. The terrible fact of his life is that he's so damn bored. Instead of sucking the life out of a five or six year old child, Isuzu Trooper Cassidy whom he encounters, he takes her in to live with him and to protect her from his brethren. However, he likens his kind to cats: They both like to play with their prey before they kill them. I'm interested to see how this story ends. Sosnowski (Mary Doria Russell recommends him, btw) uses Anne Rice's standards of vampire mythology in his creation of Marty's character, lifestyle, and surroundings, and so there's nothing unusual there. What frustrates me is that I'm very interested in the current story of Marty and Isuzu, but Sosnowski flashes back to share the vampire's history and memories with the reader. Sosnowski's writing keeps me reading, and this alternative world that he created is fascinating. Marty's voice interests me. It is flippant, cocky, irreverent, and laced with humor.

Who knew that Susan Sontag was lesbian? Not I, but my knowledge of lesbian history and culture is miniscule. Her obituaries in the national papers didn't mention her sexuality. Her "omnisexual charisma opened doors," that otherwise remains closed to lesbians in the public eye who are marginalized and dismissed because of sexuality.

Monday, January 3, 2005
food, war, & Corfu

Since I read A house in Corfu: A family’s sojourn in Greece right after Extra virgin, it is impossible not to compare them, even though one is set in Greece, the other in Italy. Emma Tennant’s A house in Corfu chronicles the changes that took place on the island between 1964, the year that her parents erected their retirement home, and the late 1980s. Her writing is very good and her approach to the subject is similar to that of Annie Hawes’, author of Extra virgin, which covers a decade and a half beginning in the early 1980s. Neither constructs their accounts using me/I, and rarely do they divulge personal trivia, something more characteristic of the generation of travel writers that I belong to. Instead, their eyes and pens (or keyboards?) emphasize the native inhabitants, the changing seasons, the landscape, and everyday struggles. Each woman finds a guide in a local person, someone who smoothes the way and teaches the foreigners proper comportment; Tennant’s is Marie and Hawes’s is Dominico. Tennant’s quirky use of vocabulary was delightfully unexpected. Where else in contemporary writing can the reader encounter snood? And, she used smelt (as the inflected verb, not the noun), my personal favorite, once. She writes about the “fug of the kitchen,” a “rootle in the big suitcase,” and her “mother snaffles a blue-glass sugar bowl.” The new vocabulary words that I encountered charmed me. Tennant’s book showed awareness of gender roles and cultural changes that feminism brought to Corfoit women in the 1960s and 1970s.

Not until I was two-thirds of the way into My kitchen wars: A memoir did food make a prominent appearance. I picked this up because it was shelved in the 641.3092 shelf at the library, close by a biography of Julia Child. The beginning was rough, as Fussell shares her family’s genealogy, but after that brief bit of information, the rest was like butter. Fussell writes about her childhood in California in the 1930s. Her mother dies and Fussell and her brother are raised by their grandparents until her father marries a sour woman. Fussell cried a lot. Her treatment of her first menses was surprising and her analysis of its complexities was insightful. The heady days of WW II are covered, Fussell escapes home for college, she moves to NYC, she marries, etc. She and her husband raise children. She supports his career while earning an MA part-time. She teaches Shakespeare and eventually earns a PhD in English Lit.  Food becomes a theme when she writes about the cocktail party culture and how her endeavors in this area propped up her husband’s academic aspirations. Julia Child’s importance to women of that generation is explored. Fussell brilliantly analyzes gender roles and expectations throughout her memoir. Finally, she turns to journalism and learns the craft, writing food articles for the NYT, reviewing restaurants for the New Jersey section of the Sunday Times, and publishing half-a-dozen or more cookbooks. Mind you, all of this is beautifully written. It’s not lyrical, but is accessible and engaging. Fussell draws the reader into her life as she lives it.

Library Journal enters the fray of compiling lists of best books. Topping the list of Books most Borrowed in U.S. Libraries are Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, and Dan Brown.

Schopenhauer’s The Art of Always Being Right teaches one how to bewilder an opponent; its other strengths are cataloged in the review at the New Statesman.

There was more, but a technical foul-up erased that section of the entry and I cannot recall its content.

I may begin Vamped, for a bit of fun, or the Julia Child biography, Appetite for life. Who can say? Either way, feeding are prominent themes.






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