Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Tap, tap, tap: is this thing on?

It's been some months, blahdeblah, and I'm not really hanging around this time either. No, it's just a quick link to a short clip of a bee in the lavender to establish my ongoing existence.

Fingers crossed this works.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

2019 Reading List, Part II

Having just finished Unsheltered and wanting a break before I start something new, I return to finish up the recap of last year's reading. I'm at the tail end (I hope) of the flu and oddly depressed by the results of the Nevada caucus and so, I tell myself, not at my most scintillating here.

Disquieting but unputdownable is Ms. Morrison's bestseller. I'm not sure if one was supposed to not know who the strange visitor was from the outset; it seemed pretty obvious. Regardless, a fine if not particularly happy read.

The Fourth Bear
From Jasper Fforde's "Nursery Crime" series. I can't remember why I was moved to re-read this, but it involves the Three Bears and a missing journalist with yellow hair.

The mega-best-selling Michelle Obama autobiography. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and how much I liked Ms. Obama.

The Intuitionist
Sometimes I'm particularly slow on the uptake so I read a lot of this earlier work of Colson Whitehead believing there really was a city department of elevator inspectors. And I  continue to have a sort of warm feeling about elevators. Weird but quite fine.

Invisible Man
Another classic you'd think I'd have read earlier. Mostly what I remember about this one is how the narrator gets kicked out of school so unfairly. But that's really just the start of how unfair his life is.

Convenience Store Woman
I read a review of this, and I liked its wacky cover art. I was never entirely clear just how crazy I was supposed to find the main character, but she's a young woman who finds she fits in best working at a convenience store so, really, I'm okay thinking "pretty crazy."

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
So many people love this book. Scott did not care for it. I figured I should read it for myself to see. Now, so many months later, I dimly recall that I fell somewhere between the two extremes. There's a lot of creeping in and out of apartments or houses via the back alley.

Owl at Home
Now here is a fine book! Owl makes tear water tea, is alarmed by the strange bumps in his bed, and enjoys the company of his good round friend, the moon. 

The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison again--perhaps my first? And dark dark dark it was, too, which is maybe why it is perhaps my favorite.

The City & the City
I dimly recall that there are two cities that coexist in the same space and that a criminal from one sneaks into the other, causing difficulties for the detectives. Maybe.

Antosha in Prague 
Surely this was a reread. Short stories featuring a character who bears striking similarities to Anton Chekhov. You'd think it would find a publisher.

Maus, Part I
Mein Gott, another classic that I waited a few decades to read. The rise of Nazi Germany featuring some quite charming mice. I should really see about getting Part II to see how it turns out. 

The Virgin in the Garden
A reread of classic A.S. Byatt. I can't remember how it held up, truth to tell.

The New Yorker Album 1925 - 1950
Honestly, I could just read nothing but cartoons and kids' books. This collection of old New Yorker cartoons includes "I say it's spinach and I say to hell with it," and "You've got to put your back in to it."

The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat
Sometimes I just don't remember how books came into my possession; I think I bought this at a garage sale years ago and it just waited until I got around to it. The narrator and hero is a cat. It worked for me.

Our Uninvited Guests
A book by Julie Summers about houses in England that, either voluntarily or not, were used by the British government during the second world war. Fascinating stories of spy-training as well as refugees and schools. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

More snippets, this time from "Pasta for Nightingales"

"Pasta for Nightingales" was the mystery book found beneath the Christmas tree this year, it being one I'd never heard of and that Scott ordered based on a description that caught his fancy. I had my doubts, but it turns out to be excellent. It's a 17th century bird guide, original title (translated from the Italian): The Aviary: Discourse on the Nature and Distinctive Characteristics of Diverse Birds, and in particular of those which sing, together with the way of catching them, raising them and maintaining them.

 I look at that title and think a) Jen better never complain about the length of another subtitle at work; b) Giovanni Pietro Olina (the author) doesn't use the serial comma; but mostly c) what about all the stuff about which ones are good to eat and which are prone to melancholy and which cure colic? Because this book is nothing if not encyclopedic.

But this post's title promises snippets. Such as:

From p. 12, the chapter "Of the Robin Redbreast":
It brooks no COMPANION, striving with every exertion to chase away any that would disturb its possession, from when is born the proverb, Unicum Arbustum non alit duos Erithacos ('A Single Bush does not feed two robins.') It is a friend of the BLACKBIRD, in whose company it is most often found, and on the contrary it is a great enemy of the Little Owl. 

From p. 56, the chapter "Of the Hawfinch":
. . . and they are good to eat but do not do well in Aviaries if they are very small, because in that case they annoy the other Birds. It is not held in esteem as a SINGER . . . "

From p. 88, the chapter "Of the Thrush ":
The thrush being good for singing, and for SERVING at Table, merits mention even though quite well known . . . 

And from p. 106,  the chapter "Of Our Native Sparrow":
They are most sagacious and shrewd, so much that they know the nets and BIRDLIME and Crossbows better than any other birds. They dearly love their own kind, so that when one has found enough to peck, it sings at once to call its companions thither, just as in the story told of PHILOSTRATE.

Truly, the whole book is charming and endlessly quotable. That means that my Christmas books, aka my first three books of 2020, are all fabulous. What are the odds?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Snippet from "As Always, Julia"

I've just finished this collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto and, gee whizz, but it was a great read! It's possible my own writing style will never recover. There are so many excellent aspects to the book but tonight I share Julia's response (dated April 24, 1961) to getting the first set of galley proofs for the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking:

I have now received two batches which takes us to the last page of the sauces. But I am presumably to wait for the illustrations to be sent so they can be keyed into the galleys before I send things back to Knopf. They were supposed to have been sent on the 18th, and in the mean time J. Jones says everything must be hurried as they are behind schedule, etc. etc. But the instructions are really not quite adequate so I know what I am supposed to do, but I have done what I decided to do, which is to answer every query no matter whom it seems to be addressed to, and some seem to be addressed to the printer. Ah well. I didn't know I was also supposed to be a typographer, but it says in the instructions "Answer every query." However I have decided I have to participate in the typography because there is a passel of illogic in headings. It all  looks splendid indeed when you look at it casually, but then when your nose is in you find that headings are not consistent, pages farther on has another, etc. etc. ETC. ETC. J. Jones says I must be warned that I am fully responsible for proof reading--does that also mean type? I must assume so. At least, if I do not point out errors, they may well be missed. But I cannot believe any serious publisher would leave all that kind of stuff to an amateur! So going over the setting copy, I have made a long list of all the type faces and symbols, etc. etc. and have just marked up the galleys the way I think they should be done.
 It would be much easier for authors if fuller instructions were sent, and if a type guide were also included. Certainly I know how I will do my next book . . . 

-from page 383 of the exquisite As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Book Report, 2019 edition (Part I)

 Sure, it's January 9th but I say it's never too late to post the end-of-year books read update, right? I'm currently deep in As Always, Julia, and I finished my first book of 2020 (Three Things About Elsie) on New Years day so 2019 already feels a long time in the past. I confess there are some (many, maybe) titles listed here that I don't remember at all; thank goodness I linked to reviews, etc. when I saved them earlier.

 The numbers: 
 74 books read, ostensibly for pleasure
 13 re-reads
  8 nonfiction
  7 children's (some overlaps with "re-reads," I think)

The titles, in reverse order, with comments where any occur to me. (Disclosure: I ran out of enthusiasm for this project and there is no commentary for the final 14 titles. Maybe later.)

Is He Popenjoy? 
Oh Trollope, how I love you. Some used bookstore (Mercer Street Books, maybe) had a shelf of very small trim-size, early 20th century editions of Trollope a while back. I wisely snapped up all those I didn't already have and have been rationing them out to myself because when I'm particularly suicidal, there is nothing better than Anthony Trollope to restore my equilibrium. These copies are particular excellent as they come with pencilled notes on the flyleaf from a previous owner. Popenjoy's final note: "Re-read Jan 29 - Feb 3 2007, lots of fun!"

The Mapping of Love and Death
I bought this one at Paper Boat Booksellers because it had a really cool cover. Don't judge a book by its cover, kids! The mystery itself was pretty blah. And yet Patience can't find a publisher.

Girl, Woman, Other

Also picked up at Paper Boat Booksellers (Seattle's newest excellent bookstore, located in West Seattle; it's well worth a visit!), this one won the Booker (is it still the Man Booker?) in 2019. Did it have the amazing way with words that classic Bookers have had? Maybe not, but it was a damned good book and did the best job of explaining to a 50-something like me the concept of ungendered/multigendered etc. Recommended!


This purchase dates back to Bookstore Day, 2019; I picked it up on the Children's shelf at Open Books: A Poem Emporium, probably thinking it would help me fill the poetry square for book bingo. It turned out to be less obviously poem and more novel that plays with form and has fun with words. Maybe that's poetry; I donno. But it sat here until early December when I wanted something easy. A charming story about a city girl who learns about cows and life in rural Maine. 
Their Eyes Were Watching God
One of those books I always felt maybe I should read; I think that someone, whose name I should remember but don't, read a bit from it at the Book Speakeasy event at the Smith Tower. That reading was the kick I needed to pick up a copy (probably from Paper Boat!) and finally read it. You don't need me to tell you it was excellent.

The Cockroach
Ach! I saw this unknown-to-me slim new volume by Ian McEwan at Paper Boat Booksellers and snatched it up though some of his late works have been distinctly meh. (Do the kids still use "meh"? Probably not.) When I brought it home, Scott was a little disappointed. It seems he had ordered a surprise copy of the book for me from the UK, not realizing it was available in the US. If anyone wants a copy, I have one to spare! It was a fine bit of satire on the current state of UK politics, though if you've seen the Dr Who episode where aliens take over Downing Street, you sort of already know how it's going to go.

The Cruelest Month

In the Gamache series. Need one say more? As with Trollope, I limit my intake of these so I don't run out.

Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead
The forgotten book (see The True Deceiver below) that I had to track down using [[SPOILER ALERT!]] "translated book old woman who murders her neighbor in winter" as my search terms. It's the sort of book that is more than it first appears and, in my case, sort of insidiously sticks with you, even as you seem to forget it.

Pomfret Towers
One of the re-reads, this is an Angela Thirkell I hadn't read in quite some time because I loaned my copy out and never got it back. It's a particular favorite as it was my very first Thirkell. Very fluffy and makes me long to have someone bring me a nice breakfast in bed featuring three kinds of jam and warm rolls and breads.

The Woman Who Died A Lot
Here things will start to get repetitive. I decided I should reread all the Thursday Next books, in order, one after another to see how the series holds together. The answer is "pretty damned well." This one is the most recent (though Mr Fforde claims to be writing another) and it features old creaky Thursday. 

One of Our Thursdays is Missing

See above; this one has a lot of the two fictional Thursdays fighting it out. Some nice alternative universe, but not exactly stuff, sort of.
First Among Sequels

Okay, I admit I don't remember the plot of this one. 

Something Rotten

The one with Hamlet and Lady Hamilton. Perhaps also Neanderthals. Or are they more prevalent in First Among Sequels?

Well of Lost Plots
When I first read this one I thought it was pretty bad, but it was much better on this particular reread, as part of a series.

Lost in a Good Book
Thursday's first significant adventures in the Book World.

Hey! This isn't a Thursday Next! It's not even fiction. I put my name down for this at the library months earlier and when my turn came around I figured I should jump on it. Mountaineers had a bias-training day with a really good presenter and he quoted from this book more than once so I thought I'd give it a read. It was enlightening and less depressing than it might have been. 

The Eyre Affair 
The first of the Thursday Next series. I admit I was sort of shocked when my coworkers had never heard of it; it was big noise when it came out and for good reason.

The Great Fire
It's been a while since I panned a book on this list but that break is over. Someone recommended Shirley Hazzard to me shortly before Bookstore Day and when I saw this (at a steal of a price) at Arundel Books that day I snapped it up--and promptly set it aside. The day came around that I needed something to read and . . . really distinctly blah.

The Nickel Boys
You know how sometimes you are so prepared for something to be truly wrenching that it turns out to be sort of a relief that the events depicted weren't worse? That was the experience of this book for me. It's based on a true story and a truly awful true story, but I wasn't as shredded as I should have been. Maybe that says something bad about me. Still, Mr Whitehead can certainly write.

How to Be an Antiracist
I was quoting bits of this all over the place as I was reading it, and I'd like to think I've internalized some of it, but I don't swear that I have. Stronger in the first chapters than the final couple but still a pretty damned fine book.

A Gentleman in Moscow
A bestseller I'd resisted for a long time. A friend said she'd read it and it wasn't amazing but it was fine enough and that turned out to be an accurate assessment. I enjoyed it while reading it but don't think it left any lasting mark on me.

Death Wins A Goldfish
Now this is one of my favorites for the year--and sadly I don't own my own copy. I need to see to that because Death's enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life is a treat to behold.

A Fatal Grace
Another Gamache msytery.

 My memory of this one is vague, but I know it was disappointing. I'd read a great review for it, and I think it was one of my first purchases at Paper Boat Booksellers so it will always be special for that reason, but the book itself was underwhelming.

The Bell Jar
A reread, naturally. It mostly holds up, though I might think Antonia White does a better job of portraying the Madness of the Young Woman.

There, There
"Recommended by a young person." This could have been on my bingo card except that I wanted something lighter at the time so while I bought this at Cloud & Leaf Bookstore while on vacation in Manzanita, I didn't read it until some months later. Another one of those "how did I know nothing about this world" books.

The House at the End of Hope Street
The antithesis of The Mapping of Love and Murder, as I bought this one largely based on its charming cover and the story within was also quite charming.

How the Light Gets In
And again with Gamache. Mostly I am amazed by how often I see this phrase (apparently from a Leonard Cohen song?) being used these days. It's the cracks, see?

This one filled a square for book bingo and it's something Scott read, but didn't think much of, ages ago. It seemed fine to me. A lot about clocks, oddly.


Sometimes you just hold your nose for book bingo. This classic by Ayn Rand had the advantage of being short. But is she ever a stinko writer. Seriously.

The Overstory

The anti-Anthem. In Anthem, trees are in the way, impeding progress toward the bright shining future of the Uberman while, of course, trees are the hero in The Overstory. This was a book for Mountaineers Books' book club I'd not otherwise have picked up just because it did get so much hype. Turns out it was deserved; one of the best books I've read in a long time.


 I had to look at the link to see what this was. It's Penelope Fitzgerald is what it was. An odd little book is what it was and somehow I've blurred it with Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote the Italian film Happy as Lazzaro in my head. They have a similar feel. I'm not saying that's a bad thing.

Carbonel & Calidor
A children's book involving magic and cats. I'm sold.

 The Man Who Would be King 
I'd seen the movie ages ago, but the book seemed quite different. And better, really.

Mozart's Journey to Prague
Filling a square with a book that we had, I thought this was fine. Do I remember much about it? Not so much.

The Albertine Workout
I felt--and still feel--this might have been cheating for my "poetry" square in Book Bingo, but it was a fun and quick recap of Proust. If I have time, I'm going to reread In Search of Lost Time one volume after another.

Binky the Space Cat
I believe I read this one as an ebook from the Library to fill the "graphic novel" square for book bingo. Binky is a cat who wants to be a space cat. Hijinks ensue. Binky orders all sorts of spacecraft equipment and secretly builds his space ship, possibly within the confines of his litterbox.There are far worse things done in litterboxes.

Hollow Kingdom
 The zombie apocalypse in Seattle and featuring a lot of animals that are enmeshed in it. The smart-alecky crow figure is apparently a big selling point, but after a while he was just annoying. Not the best book I read last year.

The Mueller Report

While it looked intimidating, this was not so challenging to read; it's actually a bit of a page turner. But you start off sort of chuckling at the absurdity and stupidity of the Trump crowd and then you just start feeling more and more sick to your stomach. Things have gone so very wrong.

Mr. Fox
Another recommended by a young person book that didn't go in that square. Mr Fox is an odd little book and I'm not sure I ever quite got it straight in my head. But thanks to the cartoon (unrelated, I think), I see Mr Fox as George Clooney.

Blood Rites
The young person recommendation that did go on that square. It's part of a series featuring a magician noir detective. With vampire sidekicks, naturally. And about what you'd expect given that premise.

Dreyer's English
Amusing and informative and just a bit longer than one might have wanted.

God Save the Child
How is it that I only started reading Toni Morrison this year? Such a good writer and so bleak and dark.

Octopus Escapes!
A picture book featuring an octopus that breaks out of its tank at the aquarium. And stuff.

How to Cook a Wolf
Scott bought this on Bookstore day (at Book Larder, predictably), but I don't think he's read it yet. It's a classic I'd never heard of but just my sort of thing: a blend of cooking and second world war life.

The Summer Before the War
Another book that was recommended--this time by a couple of people. It starts quite slight and then becomes a bit more serious in tone towards the end. I remember that sense of it, and it featuring the usual sweet young things, but I've retained no details.

The Disappearing Spoon
I may have bought this one on 2018's Bookstore Day. Written for teens, I think, it contains fascinating stories about the elements of the periodic table. Did you know that there were actually several versions of the periodic table at one time? Who knew? It's like putting the alphabet song in a different order--heresy.

Not a book I loved; in this version, Death comes to Earth but doesn't win a goldfish and it makes him grumpy.

Grasshopper on the Road
Most people think of Arnold Lobel as the author of the "Frog and Toad" books but for me, he's the author of Owl at Home. As it happens, he also wrote about a Grasshopper who decides to see the world. As usual, ants turn out to be no fun.

Peculiar Ground
A book that thought more of itself than I did, this novel is well-reviewed but left me pretty cold. Lots of moments where one was supposed to be stunned but wasn't.

The Slaves of Solitude
A novel of depressed people sharing a rooming house in wartime England. It should have been just my thing but it wasn't.

The True Deceiver
By Tove Jansson of the Moomin books (which I've never read), an odd and fairly inexplicable book that reminds me of something else I read more recently that strikes me as being missing from this list. That's going to bug and distract me now. [I've since added Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead to my list; what else did I forget to list?]

Still Life 
Gamache again.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles
Another favorite of the year, this one--translated from Japanese--features a young man who is looking for a new home for his cat, which leads him to visit a series of old friends. It's a well done device and the story and characters are all charming as well. The sort of book that restores my faith in fiction.

News of the World
And also a fine book which, it now strikes me, also features a couple of individuals traveling the countryside, with the intention of finding a new home for one of them. Nicely written with echoes of True Grit.

Shell Games
Another work-place book club read, this time about high crime in the shell fish industry. Others loved it; I found it poorly written and tedious to read. But hey; geoducks can be contraband. 

Never Let Me Go
A re-read of an Ishiguro. Still good.

The Brandons
A re-read of a Thirkell; still easy.

--Definitely losing steam here; there may be a Part II to this ever-so-fascinating revisitation of last year's books or, well, there may not be. 


The Fourth Bear


The Intuitionist

Invisible Man

Convenience Store Woman

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Owl at Home

The Bluest Eye

The City & the City

Antosha in Prague

Maus, Part I

The Virgin in the Garden

The New Yorker Album 1925 - 1950

The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat

Our Uninvited Guests

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Tiramisu, first attempt / Welcome 2020

The finished product
A coworker made tiramisu for the Mountaineers' Christmas party this year, and it was the best I'd had since my very first tiramisu which was a few decades back at an Italian restaurant in Germany during the Frankfurt Book Fair. Since that first heavenly experience I've ordered it repeatedly and been been disappointed time and again as I've been served dry nasty concoction after dry nasty concoction. The coworker gave me her recipe which she got from the woman with whom she lived while studying in Italy some years ago. The secret, she said, was to include no whipping cream.

Shortly before Christmas I bought all the ingredients, thinking I'd make tiramisu for one of the holiday dinners we'd be going to, but instead I chickened out. (Oh, I still tried a new recipe for one meal and it was fabulous, despite a few hitches like pulling it out of the oven before it had baked all the way through, causing the center to collapse a little. Another ten minutes in the oven dealt with the still goopy issue. A few mint leaves and some geranium petals covered up the crater nicely. Alas, no photos. I swear it was both delicious and beautiful. Certainly it was all eaten up.)

The mascarpone wasn't going to last forever, however, so today I did a test run on the recipe, this time excessively documented in photos.

Step one: soak your Italian lady fingers in espresso. I used one cup of instant espresso for six fingers; I was amazed at how the cookies soaked up the liquid like they were little sponges. The recipe called for four fingers for every egg used and I used two eggs so I should have used two more fingers, but my pan wouldn't hold that many. In hindsight, it was a mistake to mess with the 4 fingers to 1 egg proportions. When I make this again, I'll correct that.

Little sponge lady fingers have soaked up all the espresso.

 Step two: Divide your eggs. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Beat the egg yolks with sugar (I used about a tablespoon total which seemed about right. The recipe said to add a little sugar and taste; "it should taste a little sweeter than you think it should.") Add 2 ounces of mascarpone to the egg yolk mixture, blending well. (Next time I might go a little heavier on the mascarpone.) Stir in a bit of brandy; as with the sugar, add a little more than you think you might want. (Is cognac the same as brandy? That's what I used, and it seemed to work quite well. I used very little--maybe a teaspoon?)

Egg yolks and sugar, whipped egg whites, fun-size cognac, and mascarpone. The recipe suggested beating the mascarpone a bit if it seemed too cold or hard to avoid lumps. I'm not sure this mascarpone required the extra attention but it did no harm.
Step three: Fold the egg whites into the yolk/mascarpone mixture. At this stage I felt like maybe I should have whipped the egg whites a little longer--or maybe added a bit of sugar to them as well as to the yolks; they seemed to be reverting to liquid a bit at the bottom of the bowl.

Step four: Pull the lady fingers out of the refrigerator (where I put them at the end of step one; I sort of got distracted there and can't find an elegant way to incorporate this detail into what I've already written above). Pour the mixture on top of the lady fingers. (I felt I had far too much topping relative to fingers at this stage and didn't use all of it.) Sprinkle generously with cocoa and serve as much as you can convince someone to eat. This (2 egg-version) is probably 4 to 6 servings. We had it with tea and grappa. Scott noted that it paired far better with the grappa than with the tea.

A new New Years' Day tradition? Probably not but happy new years!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Last day of November

Somehow it seems wrong to have totally abandoned blahdeblahblah in the way I seemingly have (though I have been updating my books read list) so I toss up this photo of a faux African savanna at sunset. Because, in these troublous times, it's this sort of nonsense that amuses me:

 The books-read list reveals that I've been a bit escapist for the last several months. It was fascinating and helpful to read all seven of the extant "Thursday Next" books essentially one after another. My obsession with the Gamache mysteries continues, though I worry they're becoming less about the amazing food and more about dark machinations--and I'm also trying to pace myself so I don't run out of them too soon.