Saturday, July 31, 2010

I write like...

I write like
Jane Austen
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Have you seen this? It's too much fun not to share.

Helen's Book Blog featured a link to "I Write Like...". Copy and paste a sample of your writing and see which famous author comes up . My latest post, Cheri and The Last of Cheri, yielded a Jane Austen match. Of course I'm delighted, but that was a slight departure from my usual style.  Think I'll experiment with a few others...

Analyze your writing here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cheri and The Last of Cheri

Oh, Colette...
Your books Cheri and The Last of Cheri have put me through the emotional wringer! But I mean that in a good way. It feels as if I have walked alongside your characters as they strolled through those lovely Parisian gardens.
"Between the curving garden path a stream of red salvia wound between banks of grey-mauve Michaelmas daisies. Golden butterflies flitted as if it were summer and the scent of chrysanthemums, strengthened by the hot sun, was wafted into the garden-room. A yellowing birch tree trembled in the wind above beds of tea roses, where the last of the bees still were busy." (page 53)
Your characters are so real! They were truly the best part of this novel. First there was Lea, an aging courtesan involved with Cheri, the son of her friend Charlotte.
"Thus, for a long time, she mused over her future, veering between alarm and resignation... She saw day follow day with clockwork monotony, and herself beside Charlotte Peloux - their spirited rivalry helping the time pass. In this way, she would be spared, for many years, the degrading listlessness of women past their prime, who abandon first their stays, then their hair-dye, and who finally no longer bother about the quality of their underclothes." (page 121)
Then there was the handsome Cheri (Fred), a play-boy type half her age. The exploration of his relationship with Lea in the first book was perfectly done. The inevitable breakup comes as he marries. However, neither has fully realized the importance of their relationship or imagined how difficult ending it would prove.

In The Last of Cheri, Cheri returns from the war, changed and aged, to a loveless marriage where he finds himself superfluous in his own household. Poor man...
"...he recoiled with unspeakable repugnance from the idea of the two of them living together in a home where love no longer held sway. His childhood as a bastard, his long adolescence as a ward, had taught him that the world, though people thought of it as reckless, was governed by a code almost as narrow-minded as middle class prejudice. In it, Cheri had learned that love is a question of money, infidelity, betrayals, and cowardly resignation. But now he was well on the way to forgetting the rules he had been taught, and to be repelled by acts of silent condescension." (page 259)
And, the ending? Although predictable, it was still very powerful. My husband, upon observing my mood while reading, said a couple of times "I don't think I like the book you're reading." Whatever... I loved it and can't wait to meet a new cast of your marvelous characters. Thank you.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

TSS: Live, from New York..

... it's Sunday morning! Corny, I know, but let's blame it in on the humidity. It's a hot, muggy, sticky morning in New York City. Perfect museum weather. Our itinerary includes the (air-conditioned) Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters, and, with luck, the Tenement Museum. I'd like to find time for Housingworks Bookstore, too.

On the reading front, I finished The Last of Cheri, and will post a review later this week. I'll definitely keep an eye out for more titles by Colette today.

Paris in July continued with "Farewell" by Guy de Maupassant, my Short Story Monday offering. A Year in Japan, my warm up act for The Japanese Literature Challenge 4, was featured on Thursday.

My current read is the Persephone Classic Mariana by Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles). I'm just under 100 pages in, but it is proving to be an ideal summer read.

My husband agreed to let me continue listening to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot during part of our drive yesterday. Have I mentioned what a wonderful book this is? I'm impressed with the author's extensive research, but just love how it's all put together in an incredibly readable (listenable?) manner. This is one fascinating book!

Hope you're all enjoying the weekend.... and staying cool!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Year in Japan

A Year in Japan
by Kate T. Williamson
2006, Princeton Architectural Press

The Japanese Literature Challenge 4 is underway and, while this lovely graphic travel memoir may not officially qualify, it has served as the perfect warm-up! The charming watercolors and journal-like essays touch upon so many aspects of everyday life in Japan. Through entries like KEITAI (cell phones), MOON VIEWING, KARAOKE: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, and FUNKY MONKEY BABY, I learned interesting bits of Japanese culture. Who knew there was such a thing as an electric rug?

Williams also talks about...

the food,


sumo wrestlers,

and the incredibly elegant Japanese taxis.

An hour spent with this gorgeous little book will surely motivate you to pick up one of those Japanese novels waiting on your shelf!

FTC disclosure: I bought this book from amazon. Unfortunately, my library system does not own a copy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Mariana

"People were kind and friendly and amusing, but they though that companionship and conversation were synonymous; and some of them had voices that jarred in your head. There was a lot to be said for dogs. They understood without telling you so, and they were pleasing to look at, awake or asleep..." (page 2)

by Monica Dickens

I just started this morning, but I think Mariana is going to be an excellent summer read!

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Short Story Monday: "Farewell" by Guy de Maupassant

A one sentence summary of "Farewell" by Guy de Maupassant might go something like this: As two old friends reflect on aging, one recounts how the process went unnoticed until a chance meeting with a former lover sparked the revelation of his own decline. Simple, yet there is much more...

The opening sentences set the Parisian atmosphere.
"The two friends were getting near the end of their dinner. Through the cafe windows they could see the Boulevard, crowded with people. They could feel the gentle breezes which are wafted over Paris on warm summer evenings and make you feel like going out somewhere, you care not where, under the trees, and make you dream of moonlit rivers, of fireflies and of larks."
But the story quickly takes a more thoughtful turn as one man (perhaps 45 years old) laments growing old. Where he formerly felt full of life on such an evening, he now experiences pangs of regret. His older friend, who is thinner and more lively, remarks that he, personally, had aged without even noticing.
"As one sees oneself in the mirror every day, one does not realize the work of age, for it is slow, regular, and it modifies the countenance so gently that the changes are unnoticeable."
However, he continues, the same cannot be true for women:
"And the women, my friend, how I pity the poor beings! All their joy, all their power, all their life, lies in their beauty, which lasts ten years."
The man goes on to recount a three month love affair and how, upon a chance meeting twelve years later, he failed to recognize the woman. A comment from the woman causes him to take a good look in the mirror and, finally, come to terms with his own altered appearance.
"At night, alone, at home, I stood in front of the mirror for a long time, a very long time. And I finally remembered what I had been, finally saw in my mind's eye my brown mustache, my black hair and the youthful expression of my face. Now I was old. Farewell!"
I loved this story! It resonated so strongly with me. I am "of a certain age" and, as I celebrate a birthday later this week, think not only about that increasing number, but of changes reflected in my mirror. You may read the story for yourself here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set. Paris in July is sponsored by Karen and Tamara.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

TSS: A Personal Bloggiesta

Good morning! It's a lovely summer morning here by the lake, so I'll just type a quick post before heading out to the Adirondack chair with another cup of coffee, a book, and the newspaper.

It hasn't been the most productive reading week, but I did spend some time on my own personal "bloggiesta". My current books are the same: The Last of Cheri by Colette (will finish today) and, on audio, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I also read a few short stories by Emile Zola from Dead Men Tell No Tales and wrote a Zola post for Paris in July.

 As for the bloggiesta, I changed to one of the new blogger templates, put up a new header photo, and started updating my blogroll (thanks for the motivation, Thomas!). The blogroll is becoming quite an undertaking, and I'm still trying to decide how to handle it. 

Yesterday I tried to experiment with a 3-column format, but couldn't get into blogger template designer at all. It seems to be working today, so maybe I'll try again later. Diane had some difficulties with this template looking a little strange with Internet Explorer, so we'll see. Any feedback would be appreciated.

After some morning reading and dog walking, I need to spend time cleaning up the flower garden and weeding. A family dinner is on tap for later this afternoon. What are your plans for the day?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Oh, la la ... Zola

Paris in July wouldn't be complete without spending time with Emile Zola. My fascination began about eighteen months ago when a former blogger's review inspired me to pick up Therese Raquin (my review). The novels offers an amazing portrayal of the effects of guilt and is truly one of the best psychological dramas I've read.

The Classics Circuit's April tour provided the motivation to return to Zola. This time, I chose The Ladies' Paradise (my review) from the Les Rougon Macquart twenty novel series. The 1883 novel focuses on the rise of the modern department store in Paris and has a surprisingly contemporary feel. From the owner/capitalists, to the workers, to the nearby small businessmen with eroding livelihoods, Zola puts a face to all sides of the issue... and I put Zola on my list of favorite authors.

On my most recent visit to New York City, there was an opportunity to browse the cozy Shakespeare & Co.'s Broadway location. Lately, I have fallen into the habit of perusing the "Z" shelves. Without fail, the only titles available in my city are Therese Raquin, Nana, and Germinal, so I'm always curious to see what else might be out there.

Several out of the ordinary titles were in stock, but it was The Belly of Paris that caught my eye. I love food, cooking, and culinary concerns in general (Lakeside Kitchen is my other blog), plus I was reminded of Karen's wonderful review.  There were even two translations available! This was too good to pass up.  After sampling a portion of each, I settled on the Modern Library Classics edition translated by Mark Kurlansky. My plan is to read this in the fall.

Finally, there was the collection of short stories Dead Men Tell No Tales. Regular reader of this blog know I rediscovered short stories last year and try to participate in Short Story Monday regularly. How could I pass up an opportunity to sample some of Zola's short fiction?

"The Girl Who Loves Me", written in 1864 when Zola was just 24 years old, appeared in his first collection of stories. The eleven pages center around a carnival attraction called The Mirror of Love. For a mere two sous, men are encouraged to step forward and gaze upon "the girl who loves you".

The story opens with the narrator's speculation on the girl's identity:
"Is the girl who loves me a fine lady dressed in silk and lace and jewels, reclining on a sofa in her boudoir, dreaming of our love? Is She a marchioness or a duchess, as light-footed and dainty as a dream, languorously trailing her long flowing white gown over sumptuous rugs with a charming pout, softer than a smile, on her lips?"
It moves on with a beautiful, detailed description of the fair itself. I was reminded of passages from The Ladies Paradise describing gorgeous silks or those in Therese Raquin when Camille's decomposing body lies in the morgue. Zola certainly paints a vivid picture with his words!

Eventually, the story settles into themes his novels will explore in greater detail. Human wants and desire are examined. Zola shows what happens when they collide with life's harsh realities. This is definitely the work of the young writer whose work would come to be so strongly associated with Naturalism. I'll continue reading this collection throughout the summer.

Have you read Zola? Do you plan to? Paris in July (hosted by Karen and Tamara) would be an idea time to start.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

TSS: Boilermaker Sunday Edition

Good morning! The heat wave has finally lifted and it's a beautiful, sunny morning in upstate New York - perfect weather for the Boilermaker Road Race that kicks off as I type. No, I'm not running, but my husband is one of nearly 13,000 in the 15K race that winds through the neighborhoods of Utica and ends with a big party at the Saranac Beer brewery. My morning plans are a little quieter - another cup of coffee, a Sunday Salon post, visiting a few of my favorite blogs, and walking the dog.

It has been a productive reading week, for a change. I finished A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper (my review here), and even read a couple stories by Emile Zola.

Today I'll spend time with The Last of Cheri by Colette and listen to the audio version of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot while I walk the dog. Later this afternoon, most of us will celebrate my niece's sixth birthday. I'm assuming hubby will be tired after the race, but maybe I can convince him to watch Gigi with me later tonight. Did I mention how much I'm enjoying Paris in July?

I hope you're all having a good weekend. Will you be spending any time with a book today?

Friday, July 9, 2010

The House at Sugar Beach

The House at Sugar Beach:
In Search of a Lost African Childhood
by Helene Cooper
read by the author
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2008
9 hours and 30 minutes

Publisher's Description:
In this poignant memoir, New York Times journalist Helene Cooper tells the story of her privileged Liberian childhood cut brutally short by a bloody 1980 coup, her family's escape and survival, and twenty three years later, her return to her native country to find the foster sister her family left behind.

My thoughts:
The cheery yellow cover prominently displayed in area Starbucks first caught my eye, but it would take another year to download the audio version from  Although my knowledge of Liberia is limited, Cooper provided just the right amount of historical background to make sense of the political unrest, coups, and years of civil war. What I found even more fascinating, however, was the juxtaposition of political tensions with typical teenage concerns. While Cooper was growing up, the riots and executions occurred alongside the Sadie Hawkins dance, a new crush, and her reading of the latest trashy romance novels.

Cooper's family belongs to the elite group known as "Congo" people. Their ancestry can be traced to the first settlers of freemen that came from New York in 1820 and founded Monrovia. She was raised in a mansion with servants and attended private school. As was often the custom, the family took in a Bassa girl, named Eunice, as a foster child and raised her as their own. Her relatives held high government positions before the coup. Afterwards, some were executed and some fled. Eunice went back to her village when the Cooper family left in 1980.

"When we climbed aboard Pan Am 150, we were privileged, elite Congo People. When we arrived in Knoxville, we were African refugees."

Cooper's high school and college experience, cultural assimilation, and career in journalism (inspired by reading All The President's Men) is the focus of the rest of the book. A job with The Wall Street Journal job allowed her to travel the world, but Cooper would not go to Africa. It was a near-death experience in Iraq ("wrong country, wrong war") that finally convinced her to return to Liberia... and Eunice.

Bottom Line:
This was an excellent audio production. The author has a captivating writing style, but her own voice, especially when it came to Liberian English, added much to the experience. However, I also borrowed a print copy from the library since photos, maps, and a family tree are included.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

Happy 4th of July! Our celebration begins early this morning with a road race around the lake (I'll be encouraging the participants, but R will be running), followed by a community party at the finish line in the park. After that, we'll take a walk around the arts and crafts festival set up at the end of the lake.

The parade steps off mid-afternoon, then it's back home for a family barbecue. Our extended family will gather for food, swimming, and boating. Later in the evening we'll roast marshmallows over the fire and make s'mores. The grand finale is always the fireworks display over the lake.

I love Independence Day, and our town goes all-out for its celebration!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Weekend Cooking: On Secret Recipes

It's the 4th of July holiday weekend in the US and we traditionally celebrate our independence with fireworks, parades, and, of course, food. Our food is typically barbecue or picnic fare. My brother-in-law fires up his smoker for the meats, my sister makes her special pasta salad, my aunt always made sugar cookies decorated to look like watermelon slices, and now my daughter is gaining fame for her desserts. While each of us may be associated with a "specialty", we always share our recipes and love to try new ones.

There's a passage I came across this week in A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg that perfectly reflects my family's recipe philosophy.
"Recipes were made to be shared. That's how they improve, how they change, how new ideas are formed and older ones made ripe. They way I see it, sharing a recipe is how you pay back fate - in the karmic sense, if you believe in such things - for bringing you something so tasty in the first place. To stop a recipe in its tracks, to label it secret just seems mean. And isn't cooking about making people, on some level or another, feel good? It seems to me, then, that it only makes sense to give people the means to continue feeling good. By which I mean the recipe." (page 177)

Not all people, however, feel this way. I was reminded of "The Secret Ingredient", an essay by M.F.K. Fisher that I posted on last winter. She wrote about Bertie Bastalizzo, who frequently prepared food for her friends and neighbors. She would include specific instruction on everything from how long to let the food "rest", suggested accompaniments, and even the type of bowl or tray to serve it on. But Bertie would not share her recipe! I'll guess we've all known someone like Bertie - for me it was my mother's friend Tina.

So here is my question of the week:  What are your thoughts on "secret recipes"? Do you always share, or is there one guarded family treasure? Are you a Molly or a Bertie?  

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone with a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button, head over to Beth Fish Reads, and link up anytime over the weekend.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Paris in departing

Welcome to Paris in July! Karen at BookBath and Tamara at Thyme for Tea have joined forces to host a blogging event that celebrates their love of all thing French and Parisian. They write:
We are two friends with a deep interest and love of French culture and way of life - although we experience and demonstrate this passion in very different ways. Karen has only recently discovered the magic of Paris - the city, the architecture, the fashion and the literature whereas the French experience has been a part of Tamara's life for a long time, leading her to learn the language and experience the culture in a deeper way. But for both of us as Australian's, the reality of traveling to France is a costly and timely experience - so we need to find ways of bringing France to us!

So, in order to help us do that we will be jointly hosting a French themed blogging experience running from the 1st - 31st July this year called "Paris In July".

The aim of the month is to celebrate our French experiences through reading, watching, listening to, observing, cooking and eating all things French!

There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of Paris In July - just blog about anything French and you can join in.

Of course, I have all sorts of grand plans for the month - Short Story Mondays featuring French authors, reading Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette (I've just finished Cheri!), finally taking A Moveable Feast down from the shelf, trying new French recipes, and maybe even watching a French movie...

This quote from my current read, and summer book club selection seems an appropriate send off:

"There's been so much said and written about Paris that it's daunting to hazard a statement of my own. That city just has something. I can't think of any other place so idealized, so longed for, so sighed over...." (page 161-162)

by Molly Wizenberg

Bon voyage!


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