Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Intro: A Moveable Feast

Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the CafĂ© des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside. It was a sad, evilly run cafe where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of dirty bodies and the sour smell of drunkenness.  The men and women who frequented the Amateurs stayed drunk all of the time, or all of the time they could afford it, mostly on wine which they bought by the half-liter or liter. Many strangely named aperitifs were advertised, but few people could afford them except as a foundation to build their wine drunks on. The women drunkards were called poivrottes which meant female rummies.

A Moveable Feast
by Ernest Hemingway

Would you keep reading? I love the images of Paris Hemingway's writing paints in my mind. Paris in July begins on Friday.

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"A Box to Hide In" by James Thurber

James Thurber always manages to bring a smile to may face. It's been a couple of years since I read "The Unicorn in the Garden" (my post is here), so I was delighted to find Thurber's "A Box to Hide In" featured as last week's Library of America story.

This story opens with a man asking a grocery clerk for a box - one large enough to crawl into and hide. When none is available,  the question is posed (unsuccessfully) at several other groceries.  One confused clerk asks "Whatta you mean?" and our narrator responds,

"It's a form of escape, hiding in a box. It circumscribes your worries and the range of your anguish. You don't see people, either."

The next morning as the cleaning lady arrives, our narrator imagines a scenario (think Walter Mitty) in which he barks or laughs from inside the box as the unsuspecting woman walks past... precipitating her fatal heart attack.

As the story closes, a box has yet to be located.

"I haven't found one yet, but I still have this overpowering urge to hide in a box. Maybe it'll go away, maybe I'll be all right. Maybe it will get worse. It's hard to say."

In just three pages, Thurber has created a story with universal appeal. Haven't we all dreamed of escape at one time or another?

The story may be read here. Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Paris in July

It's almost here. After last summer's huge success,  Karen and Tamara are teaming up again to host another trip to Paris in July. The rules are simple. Karen says:
For those of you who participated last year the guidelines for the event will be pretty much the same (Tamara and I reserve the right to throw in some surprises here and there1). Paris in July will run from the 1st - 31st July 2011 and 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. Some ideas for the month might include:
- Reading a French book - fiction or non-fiction 
- Watching a French movie 
- Listening to French music
- Cooking French food
         - Experiencing French art, architecture or travel 

My pile of books is growing, but I have no expectation of reading them all. With any luck, I'll acquire another Colette novel to add to the stack.  Cheri and The Last of Cheri were high points of my time in Paris last summer.

Short Story Mondays will feature French authors all month and my Weekend Cooking posts may take on a French flavor, too.

Departure is just a week away. Will you join us?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Author Birthday: Ian McEwan

From today's Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of novelist Ian McEwan (books by this author), born in Aldershot, England (1948). His father served in the army, so the boy grew up all over the world, including Singapore, Germany, and Libya. His father was a working-class Scot who had worked his way up to an officer's rank in the army. He drank too much, and Ian and his mother were both frightened of him. His mother was constantly anxious about trying to fit in with the other officers' wives, who spoke polished English with upper-class accents. McEwan said: "I don't write like my mother, but for many years I spoke like her, and her particular, timorous relationship with language has shaped my own. There are people who move confidently within their own horizons of speech; whether it is cockney, estuary, RP or valley girl, they stride with the unselfconscious ease of a landowner on his own turf. My mother, Rose, was never like that. She never owned the language she spoke. Her displacement within the intricacies of English class, and the uncertainty that went with it, taught her to regard language as something that might go off in her face, like a letter bomb. A word bomb. I've inherited her wariness, or more accurately, I learnt it as a child. I used to think I would have to spend a lifetime shaking it off. Now I know that's impossible, and unnecessary, and that you have to work with what you've got."

When McEwan was 11 years old, living in Libya, his parents sent him off to boarding school in England, where he eventually learned to correct his grammar and write polished sentences. But he kept the tendency to approach language with caution, and he is a notoriously slow and careful writer. He spent more than a year brainstorming before he began Atonement —he said, "I had a number of good descriptions of novels, as if they had already been written," but no actual writing to speak of. Then he took his sons away to a weekend resort and he had a vision of a young woman arranging flowers and thinking about the gardener outside her window. He managed to write a paragraph and a half, and that became the beginning of his second chapter of Atonement (2001). He wrote: "Partly because of her youth and the glory of the day, partly because of her blossoming need for a cigarette, Cecilia Tallis half ran with her flowers along the path that went by the river, by the old diving pool with its mossy brick wall, before curving away through the oak woods. The accumulated inactivity of the summer weeks since finals also hurried her along; since coming home, her life had stood still and a fine day like this made her impatient, almost desperate."

Ian McEwan's other novels include Amsterdam (1998), Saturday (2005), On Chesil Beach (2007), and Solar (2010). His novels have sold more than 15 million copies.

He said, "My ideal state as a reader when I'm reading other people is feeling I'm vaguely wasting my time when I'm not reading that novel."

*photo credit

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Intro: This Is Where I Leave You

"Dad's dead," Wendy says offhandedly, like its happened before, like it happens every day. It can be grating, this act of hers, to be utterly unfazed at all times, even in the face of tragedy. "He died two hours ago."
     "How's Mom doing?"
     "She's Mom, you know? She wanted to know how much to tip the coroner."
This is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper

How's that for an opening? Would you keep reading? I'll tell you right now, you'd be very wrong if you didn't.

Although I finished the book last week, this opening is too good not to share. We're off to New York City tomorrow, so the review will have to wait until next week. In the meantime, I'll just say I loved this book. Haven't laughed this hard in ages...

Tuesday Intro is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Short Story Monday: "Overseasoned" by Anton Chekhov

There's a hole in my short story reading where Anton Chekhov belongs. Widely regarded as one of the greatest short story writers, he has never been mentioned here at Lakeside Musing.  At least one or two of his collections appear on my amazon wish list, I've read articles and reviews about his stories, but don't recall ever reading an actual story. Surely, he must have been assigned in high school?

A couple of weeks ago, we moved our oldest daughter into her NYU summer housing and I jumped at the opportunity to spend a few minutes at Strand Books. Working under time pressure, I found three books in five or ten minutes (though my husband claims it was closer to thirty), including this edition of Wordsworth Classics Selected Stories.

The first story, "Overseasoned" (1885),  seemed vaguely familiar. A surveyor arrives at a station, only to find that his business is still another thirty or forty miles farther. With no post horses are available, he warily enlists the services of a willing peasant.
They left the station at dusk. To the right stretched a cold, dark plain so boundless and vast that if you crossed it no doubt you would come out the Other End of Nowhere. The cold autumn sunset burnt out slowly where the edge of it melted into the sky. To the left, in the fading light, some little mounds rose up that might have been trees or last year's haystacks. The surveyor could not see what lay ahead, for here the whole landscape was blotted out by the broad, clumsy back of the driver. The air was still, but frosty and cold.
What a vivid picture Chekhov paints! The surveyor soon becomes uncomfortable and more than a little nervous. He begins boasting (falsely) to the driver about a revolver he claims to be carrying, his physical prowess in fighting off would-be robbers, and a group of his friends trying to catch up with the wagon. In a comic twist, his bravado backfires and causes the driver to become afraid of the surveyor.

I have probably read this story before and am curious to see if the others produce a similar feeling of deja vu. A different translation of this story can be read online. Interestingly, it is more aptly titles as "Overdoing It".

Short Story Monday is hosed by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Another Summer Salad

Wegmans has done it again. Another Menu magazine, loaded with ideas, recipes, and new products to try, appeared in our mailbox a few weeks ago. The large section devoted to fresh summer salads is especially appealing. We've tried several and have an early favorite to share.

Quinoa has long been something of a mystery to me. Even its pronunciation posed a problem (the consensus seems to be keen-wah). This recipe for Red Quinoa-Avocado Salad contains many of our favorite summer ingredients and seemed a promising place to begin.

Red Quinoa-Avocado Salad

1 pkg (7 oz) Food You Feel Good About Red Quinoa, cooked per pkg directions, chilled 
1 pkg (12 oz) Food You Feel Good About Frozen Super-Sweet Corn, thawed 
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro 
1 cup green onions, thinly sliced on the bias 
2 plum tomatoes, 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup) 
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, cubed small 
1/2 cup Food You Feel Good About Lemon Vinaigrette 
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp pepper

Add cooked quinoa, corn, cilantro, green onions, and tomatoes to mixing bowl. Fold in avocados and dressing; mix until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper; serve

Nutrition Info: Each serving (1 cup) contains 210 calories, 27 g carbohydrate, (4 g fiber), 5 g protein, 9 g fat, (1 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, and 240 mg sodium.
Calories: 210

It was delicious! The nutty flavor of the quinoa was an unexpected treat. Are you a quinoa fan?  How do you prepare it? Any ideas would be welcome.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone with a food-related post to share: Book 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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner (audio)

The Big Rock Candy Mountain
by Wallace Stegner, 1942
Blackstone Audio,  2010
narrated by Mark Bramhall
25 hours 41 minutes

source: purchased

In a nutshell:
Based largely on his own childhood, Stegner has created a masterful, harrowing saga of a family trying to survive during the lean years of the early 20th century. It is the conflict between the hardscrabble existence and Bo's pursuit of the frontier myth and of the American dream that gives the book such resonance and power. (from publisher)

My thoughts:
My appreciation for Wallace Stegner grows every time I read (or listen to) one of his novels. The Big Rock Candy Mountain, a family saga simply told with dignity and honesty, features writing that is startling beautiful and, at times, even haunting.

Stegner writes of family relationships and dynamics with amazing acuity. I was not surprised to learn this is considered his most autobiographical novel. Stegner's love of nature, the outdoors and the American west is evident in the stunning physical descriptions of the land. I was also quite taken with his thoughts on home, roots and permanence. In fact, I ended up borrowing the book from the library to reread a several passages.
You had to stay in a place to make it a home.  A home had to be lived in every day, every month, every year for a long time, till it was worn like an old shoe and fitted the comfortable curvatures of your life. (page 236)

I won't go into the plot (this is one to experience for yourself) but The New Yorker called it "A well-written study of a footloose family.. Stands out beautifully and unforgettably."

Stegner won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for Angle of ReposeCrossing to Safety, his final novel written in 1987, may just be my all-time favorite book. The Big Rock Candy Mountain, in addition to being an excellent novel,  provides valuable insight into the writer's life.

My rating:

Notes on the audio production:  It took a few moments to remember why Mark Bramhall's voice sounded so familiar. Finally, I recognized him as the narrator of Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Again, it took some time to get used to his voice, but Bramhall is an excellent reader. My only complaint (the same one I had with Revolutionary Road) is that I found his 'female voice' annoyingly sappy. It seemed to impart a 'spineless doormat' feeling to the character, but, in all fairness, there were times when this characterization was right on the mark.

Bottom line: If you are ready to make the time commitment, Stegner's most autobiographical novel will not disappoint. It is beautiful, haunting and insightful.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Midweek Audiobook Meme

Here’s something quick and easy for the middle of the week, just a short meme.

Current/most recent audiobook: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Impressions: Intense! War books are never my first choice, but I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying this book club selection.

Current favorite audiobook: The Help by Kathryn Stockett  - fabulous story and excellent multiple-narrator production combine for a phenomenal audio experience

One narrator who always makes you choose audio over print: David Sedaris - I will never read one of his books again!

Genre you most often choose to listen to: I listen to everything - fiction, nonfiction, classics, mystery, humor. Listening helps me get through some nonfiction or classics that may be challenging in print.

If given the choice, you will always choose audio when: a humorous book is read by the author... think David Sedaris or Nora Ephron.

If given the choice, you will always choose print when: a book has many visual aspects. For example, I'm not sure how The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time would work on audio. When listening to non-fiction or memoir, I will often check a book out of the library if there are pictures or charts (The House at Sugar Beach, My Life in France, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).

Audiobook Week is hosted by Jen at Devourer of Books. See how other audio lovers answered the questions here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Audiobook Week: Multiple Narrators

It's day two of Audiobook Week and Jen's topic for today is sound effects. Since all I have to say is "I hate them", I'll share some thoughts on the alternate prompt, single vs. multiple narrators, instead.

Let me say right up front, I adore audiobooks with multiple narrators. Books that lend themselves to this format usually make for an outstanding listening experience. Novels told from multiple points-of-view and some epistolary novels just beg for multiple narrators.

The first book I ever listened to featured two narrators and totally hooked me on the audio format. I loved everything about Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright, an epistolary novel that won the Giller Prize in 2001, but it doesn't seem to be very well-known. I'm not good at summarizing, so here's a little blurb from the publisher:

Two sisters, small-town Ontario, 1934. Canadian author Richard Wright tells their story, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, with an eye for the commonplace and poignant sense of the larger undercurrents that change people's lives.
Letters and journal entries form a portal into the desires and passions of two very different women, underscoring the larger tableau of an era stirring with great events (the Depression, rumblings of another world war, and the infancy of radio and show business entertainment). Love and betrayal, friendship and family, hope and deception are the forces that temper the lives of Clara, the spinster schoolteacher, and her sister Nora, "whose entire life is a performance."
Wright, a master of revealing the drama of seemingly unremarkable lives, constructs a powerful, mesmerizing narrative. Clara Callan is a deeply moving portrait of two women and of an age heralding seismic changes that will alter the fabric of their inner lives and the world as they once knew it.
Clara Callan may have predisposed me to love multiple narrators but, looking back over the years, many of my most memorable listening experiences have involved more than one reader. Listen to a sample of Clara Callan at audible.com.

Other Memorable Multiple-Narrator Audiobooks:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

All titles are linked to audible.com. Click over and listen to a sample.
Visit Devourer of Books for more posts on this topic.

Author Birthday: Louise Erdrich

From today's Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of novelist Louise Erdrich (books by this author), born in Little Falls, Minnesota (1954). She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Her mother was French-Ojibwe, and her father was German; she and her six brothers and sisters were raised in a close, loving family. Instead of watching TV—they didn't own one—the children were encouraged to write and to memorize poems.

She went off to Dartmouth in 1972, the same year the university started admitting women and the first year of its new Native American Studies program. The program's director was Michael Dorris. Years after she graduated, Erdrich was invited back to Dartmouth to read some of her poetry, and she became re-acquainted with Dorris, and they ended up getting married.

She started off as a poet. Her first book was Jacklight (1984), a book of poems based on the thesis she wrote for her master's degree in 1979. She said, "I began to tell stories in the poems and then realized that there was not enough room." So she moved on to fiction. She published her first short story, "The Red Convertible," in 1981, and "Scales" in 1982. Later that year, Dorris convinced her to enter a new fiction writing contest, so in the space of two weeks she wrote "The World's Greatest Fisherman," and she won the $5,000 prize. Two years later, she published Love Medicine (1984),a novel made up of 14 interrelated stories.

Love Medicine is populated with characters who live in the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota, or its nearby reservation. There is Marie Lazarre, who starts out life convinced she wants to be a nun—"I was that girl who thought the black hem of her garment would help me rise. Veils of love which was only hate petrified by longing—that was me." And her rival Lulu Lamartine—"Lulu Lamartine was usually controlled as a cat, and got her way through coaxing, cajoling, rubbing against your leg. An old woman who remained infuriatingly pretty, she bent others to her will before they knew what was happening." And Nector Kashpaw, the man who loved Lulu but married Marie anyway: "Here is what I do not understand: how instantly the course of your life can be changed. I only know that I went up the convent hill intending to sell geese and came down the hill with the geese still on my arm. Beside me walked a young girl with a mouth on her like a flophouse, although she was innocent. She grudged me to hold her hand. And yet I would not drop the hand and let her walk alone. Her taste was bitter. I craved the difference after all those years of easy sweetness." After Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich wrote many novels set in the same fictional universe, and Marie, Lulu, and Nector all reappeared, along with others connected to them. Her novels include Tracks (1988), The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001), The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003), The Plague of Doves (2008), and Shadow Tag (2010).

She said, "We have a lot of books in our house. They are our primary decorative motif—books in piles on the coffee table, framed book covers, books sorted into stacks on every available surface, and of course books on shelves along most walls. Besides the visible books, there are the boxes waiting in the wings, the basement books, the garage books, the storage locker books. They are a sort of insulation, soundproofing some walls. They function as furniture, they prop up sagging fixtures and disguised by quilts function as tables. The quantities and types of books are fluid, arriving like hysterical cousins in overnight shipping envelopes only to languish near the overflowing mail bench. Advance Reading Copies collect at beside, to be dutifully examined—to ignore them and read Henry James or Barbara Pym instead becomes a guilty pleasure. I can't imagine home without an overflow of books. The point of books is to have way too many but to always feel you never have enough, or the right one at the right moment, but then sometimes to find you'd longed to fall asleep reading The Aspern Papers, and there it is."

She said, "By having children, I've both sabotaged and saved myself as a writer. [...] With a child you certainly can't be a Bruce Chatwin or a Hemingway, living the adventurer-writer life. No running with the bulls at Pamplona. If you value your relationships with your children, you can't write about them. You have to make up other, less convincing children. There is also one's inclination to be charming instead of presenting a grittier truth about the world. But then, having children has also made me this particular writer. Without my children, I'd have written with less fervor; I wouldn't understand life in the same way. I'd write fewer comic scenes, which are the most challenging. I'd probably have become obsessively self-absorbed, or slacked off. Maybe I'd have become an alcoholic. Many of the writers I love most were alcoholics. I've made my choice, I sometimes think: Wonderful children instead of hard liquor."

*photo credit

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's Audiobook Week!

Welcome to Audiobook Week. This event, hosted by Jen at Devourer of Books, is designed to celebrate and share our love of audiobooks.  In addition to reviews, there is an audio-related daily topic. To get things rolling, today's prompt is "My Year in Audiobooks".

My love of audiobooks began in September 2002. That was the year a family room addition and kitchen/bath remodel turned up numerous structural problems that resulted in the unexpected rebuilding of our house. For 11 months, I (along with my husband, 3 kids, and the dog) moved in with Mom and Dad while our house was painstakingly dismantled and reconstructed. My parents live nearly 30 minutes away and I logged countless hours on the road driving kids to and from school, lessons, sports practices/games, and shopping for cabinets, fixtures, etc.  On a whim, I checked an audiobook out of the library. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the past year, I've noticed a few new trends in my listening habits:

- Most of my car audiobooks are very long and can take nearly a month to finish (I only listen when I'm alone in the car).

- I listen to shorter books on my ipod while cooking, cleaning, or walking the dog. Lately I've given up listening while dog-walking. I own a retired greyhound and people often stop to ask questions or talk about the breed.

- Classics make for great listening! I enjoyed all  26 discs of Bleak House and may never 'read' Dickens again. The Color Purple actually gave me goosebumps.

My favorite audiobooks of the past year include:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck

More posts on this topic can be found here .

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Weekend Cooking at Lakeside Kitchen

Did you know yesterday was National Doughnut Day? Margaret's Weekend Cooking post at Lakeside Kitchen celebrates her love for the tasty treat.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

Shadow Tag 
by Louise Erdrich
Harper Perennial paperback, 2011
253 pages

Publisher's Summary:

When Irene America discovers that her artist husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, she begins a secret Blue Notebook, stashed securely in a safe-deposit box. There she records the truth about her life and marriage, while turning her Red Diary—hidden where Gil will find it—into a manipulative charade. As Irene and Gil fight to keep up appearances for their three children, their home becomes a place of increasing violence and secrecy. And Irene drifts into alcoholism, moving ever closer to the ultimate destruction of a relationship filled with shadowy need and strange ironies.

Alternating between Irene's twin journals and an unflinching third-person narrative, Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and the anatomy of one family's struggle for survival and redemption.

In a nutshell:
Shadow Tag is an intense story of deception and the destructive power of love.

My thoughts:
The stories in The Red Convertible introduced me to Louise Erdrich's fabulous writing, but it's taken another two years to finally read one of her novels. I won a copy of her latest (thanks Wendy!) and it arrived, perfectly timed, just before vacation. Shadow Tag was a positively riveting tale of a marriage gone horribly bad. I devoured the novel in just two sittings - a rare occurrence for me.

Along with the beautiful writing, the backdrop of Native American culture makes this much more than just another novel of domestic woe.  Irene America has been the subject of countless paintings produced by her artist husband. Ojibwe teachings provide important implications.
A soul could be captured through a shadow. It was in the Ojibwe language. Waabaamoojichaagwaan - the word for mirror can also refer to shadow and to the soul: your soul is visible and can be seen. Gil had placed his foot on Irene's shadow when he painted her. And though she tried to pull away, it was impossible to tug that skein of darkness from under his heel. (p. 40)
 I also loved that one character had a rescued greyhound.  Erdrich clearly has some understanding of the breed and challenges involved in living with a retired racer. I though I was going to be disappointed by the ending, but an added revelation about the narrative voice was perfect.

There is no doubt I'll be reading more of Louise Erdrich. The Plague of Doves is on my shelf, but I've also heard Love Medicine is excellent. Have you read any of her novels? Which is your favorite?

My rating:

Last word: If you haven't read Louise Erdrich yet, you really should.


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