16 June 2009


So, I broke rule 1. But it was sort of by accident. There is a book signing at my work this weekend for this amazing Basque small plates foodie book:

Pintxos, Gerald Hirigoyen.

Visually, it is stunning. You could flip through this and feel like you'd just eaten a delicious, fresh, savory meal ... then again you could also flip through this and be left craving everything in it. My point: spectacular food photography. The recipes also sound outrageously good, and the small plate is one of my favorite ways to eat. That image on the cover by the way: calf's liver and caramelized shallot brochettes. Yes, there is an entire section on innards (or Organos). A short section, but a section no less.

I can't gush as much as I would like to because I haven't cooked anything out of this book yet. Because it's a book about food and cooking, I didn't realize that it technically violates my rules until I thought about this blog later in the day ... and I still feel that it's in a different class. My ruling: not to chastise myself too much, and rather to eat some delicious small plates dripping with lemon juice and richness. In all likelihood, entries to follow on my other blog.

15 June 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl
Acquired: late 2008, Pendragon Books.

I opted for some lighter fare after finishing Alice Munro's Runaway. To be truthful, I had started another book, a Steampunk thriller that came highly recommended: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville. I read the three-page intro and wanted to vomit (sorry). I intend to come back to it but perhaps it was too much of an adjustment from the quietly moving Munro stories. I did a quick scan of the bookshelf, and intead Mr. Fox jumped out at me.

This is a short book of 90 large-print pages, with illustrations. You could read it on a lunch break. I might be one of Roald Dahl's biggest fans, then again that's a statement which I have really no way of ever quantifying so maybe I shouldn't make that claim ... but there it is. He has the rare talent of being a sucessful writer for both young and adult audiences, with a snarky creativity that pokes fun at the world in a jovial way. I really love reading his works.

Superficially, Mr. Fox the age-old story of farmer vs. chicken-eating natural "pest", a struggle which I imagine has been around as long as hunter-gatherers. More importantly though, it's a story of the wealthy minority (the 3 greedy farmers) oppressing and trying to deny the poor and hungry masses (foxes, badgers, voles, rabbits, weasels, etc). It reminds me of the Marxist struggle between proletariat and the bourgeoisie, although I suppose the foxes aren't actually in any proper employ of the farmers. Consider this passage from Chapter 14, Badger Has Doubts:

Suddenly Badger said, 'doesn't this worry you just a tiny bit, Foxy?'

'Worry me?' said Mr Fox. 'What?'

'All this ... this stealing.'

Mr Fox stopped digging and stared at Badger as though he had gone completely dotty. 'My dear old furry frump,' he said, 'do you know anyone in the whole world who wouldn't swipe a few chickens if his children were starving to death?'


'But we're not going to stoop to their level. We don't want to kill them.'


This fox raises an important issue: is theft justified to save a life? What about an entire community? In this case, the entire hillside of woodland critters faces starvation because of the farmers' greed and selfishness. The moral high ground is obvious here, but it certainly got me thinking about poverty in our own country and the choke-hold that authority uses to protect the already-wealthy from the starving masses.

Added bonus: Foxes like to burp. So do I! How did they know?

Exciting discovery: The book is being adapted into a film Wes Anderson for release in 2009, using stop-motion animation! It's 2009 now! It's supposed to come out in November! Holy holy!


Next up: My Ántonia, Willa Cather.

08 June 2009


Runaway, Alice Munro.
Acquired: used, probably late 2007 or early 2008, Bookshop Santa Cruz.*

*One of my favorite book stores, along with Diesel and Pegasus/Pendragon.

I was drawn to Alice Munro for a few reasons. She has the respect of a good friend and literophile (a word which many other people seem to have made up, like me, and which probably has a "real" word counterpart that this friend knows), whose opinion I take with all seriousness. I had also read one of her stories in a collection edited by David Sedaris: Half a Grapefruit was published in Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. It's a really nice collection of stories, and it includes many other very talented authors: Flannery O'Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sarah Vowell, others. Now that I think about it, and now that I'm thumbing through that book, I don't know if I ever finished it. I may have to add it to this project. One of the curses of short story collections is that they're easier to set aside than a book whose resolution hasn't come yet; collections have resolutions roughly every 50 pages.

Back to Runaway. I really, truly loved reading these stories. Munro brings forth all of my favorite qualities in a short story, over and over. She includes details that might be mundane, but which ground you in the character's perspective that much better. Her characters have flaws, not big Hollywood flaws but real flaws that real people have. I could see how a superficial reader, or someone looking for the next Da Vinci Code, would complain that nothing happens in her stories. And that is true, on some level. On another level, everything happens. So much happens that she can't put words to it all, there aren't words to describe it. There's a feeling that I can only describe as "life happening," which I've encountered in certain books or films, and more often in daily life when something painfully, awkwardly beautiful happens. That's the feeling I find in her stories. Something rich, magnetic, profound and rumbling deep beneath the actual words on the page -- she manages to evoke that. It gives me shivers just thinking about it.

I didn't realize before picking up this book that she's Canadian, too. The setting in her stories ranges from the 50's/60's to very contemporary. The way she writes about Canada is so similar, yet faintly different, from the US... and compound that with times that are so similar, yet just a little different, to our own time -- I feel like I'm watching a slightly ethereal parallel universe, or maybe watching scenes in our own dimension through a silk screen that's a little foggy, and which makes herringbone patterns sometimes appear where there are none.

Several of her stories are about the same woman, Juliet, and her life from striking out on her own, to starting her own family in the way that's right for her, to ending up estranged from many of the people and places that once defined her. This one woman reminds me of so many women that I've known - my mother, myself, my friends - and even where she succeeds she is also struck by loss and failure. I could read volumes about her.

I'm so excited about this book, I feel like I could write a novel about it. But I'm going to stop myself, for now. No promises that I won't come back later and add on some more thoughts...


Next up: undecided! Crap!