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52 Books: An Update from 3 Months In

5 Apr

Okay, I will admit it: this sh*t is hard, yo! Turns out that reading a book a week can be tougher than I imagined, what with trying to maintain a 40+ hour a week job, commuting to said job, spending the odd moment with my husband, family and friends so that they don’t thing I’ve become a total book hermit, sleeping, eating, shopping for “fat” pants and all the other things that cut into my reading time.

(P.S. I think there is a definite correlation between increased reading time and my increased waistband. Enough said.)

Here’s where I stand on this day, Saturday, April 5, 2014:

my april book tally

my april book tally

It’s actually not too bad: only 2 books behind (which I still can’t believe – really?? I’m behind 2 books?? How the hell did this happen??), and I’ve read some really amazing stuff.  Continue reading


52 Books: Poor Man’s Feast by Elissa Altman

4 Jan

Book #1 from my 2014 goal to read 52 Books in 52 Weeks:

i love a good cover

i love a good cover

Another wonderful recommendation from the good folks at Book Larder in Seattle WA (which you should definitely check out next time you’re in the Pacific North West – if only for their amazing and affordable lunchtime cooking classes – genius idea!).

Anyway, back to Poor Man’s Feast by Elissa Altman: if you are a foodie and/or a writer and/or a person who loves good writing and good eating, you will love this book. As her longer title explains, this is a “love story of comfort, desire, and the art of simple cooking.” Altman, a self-professed fancifier of food – the more complicatedly prepared and precariously perched on the plate, the better – falls in love with a fellow foodie and “simple is better” cook who shows her the beauty of uncomplicated food to be shared simply with loved ones.

She mixes in reminiscences of her family and their relationship to eating and cooking, as well as the often fraught dance between two people who have lived long and separately who then want to create a life together. Set mainly in NYC and rural Connecticut, it talks lovingly about the Manhattan food scene as well as the process of acclimating to a less urban hometown, where fresh baked bagels, authentic Chinese food and not-immediately-frozen fish can be hard to come by.

There are recipes as well, very delicious looking ones that I have yet to try, but these two looked the most immediately accessible and delicious to me: “Yellow Split Pea Soup with Ham” and “Braised Lamb Shanks in Red Wine.”

A great first read for 2014, and an exciting start to my 2014 goal of reading 52 books in 52 weeks.

Happy Reading!

Making Room for a(n online) Poetry Box

1 Nov

Twitter has brought so many amazing things to my attention with a simple scroll through my daily feed, things like Casey N. Cep’s essay about the online Emily Dickinson archives and this piece by Maud Newton on meeting the writer Donna Tartt (with bonus Instagram photo of Ms. Tartt’s inscription in Maud’s copy of The Goldfinch). For all its haters, there really is nothing like Twitter for getting you up close on all the action, whether that action is from the literary world, the art world, the sports world, or the Kardashian world (I know, I cringed as I typed that – does that make it any better that I’m referencing THEM? Probably not.).

So today’s tweeted nugget of super loveliness came via Ms. Dorianne Laux, another writer who I drop-dead love.

I saw her and her husband read many years ago in LA and it was a thrill beyond compare, for both the astounding beauty of her poems and her forthright approachability. She is the first poet I think of when recommending poetry to my non-poetry reading friends. She is that good.  Continue reading

Endorsement Monday: Slate’s Culture Gabfest & Linebreak

5 Nov

I’ve recently become obsessed with the Slate Culture Gabfest podcast, which I stream from Stitcher during my interminable car rides to and from work. I’ve become so dependent on this trio of snappy commentators to make my work commute bearable that I become quite surly when I realize that I’ve already listened to this week’s episode.

It’s not just that they talk about things that I’m interested in (recent movies, Internet happenings, cool art, etc). They’ve also thought about what they have to say and found a way to say it that is thoughtful, witty and funny. Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens and Julia Turner are just good eggs who could probably dissect any subject and find something worthwhile to consider about it. And they have the best audio in the podcast business (don’t get me started on the terrible sound of most podcasts – do these people not have friends who can tell them they sound like crap?). Continue reading

Look what the mailman brought me!

27 Jan



My next batch of reading materials:

John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead

Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia

Aracelis Girmay’s Teeth

Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son

A couple of these (Stone Arabia and Pulphead) are nominated for this year’s National Book Critics Circle Award. The reading is this March, to which I will happily drag CityBoy and afterwards enjoy a delicious dinner at Da Andrea (if I get my druthers).

Aracelis Girmay’s second book, Kingdom Animalia, is also nominated, and it turns out she’s a Santa Ana girl, just like me, which makes me positively proud and green with envy. If this first book is as good as I’ve heard, she can count on another purchase at the awards reading.

And who doesn’t want to read more about wacky North Korea? Since I can’t stand non-fiction or the news (most of the time), I get all my historical information from novels. I know, not always the most accurate, but infinitely more interesting. So I’m counting on Adam Johnson to enlighten me.

To the page, people!

Book Culture: Where to Find It in NYC

18 Jan

I’m routinely asked how I like living in New York City. If it’s by a New Yorker, this is usually phrased as “Don’t you love it here? I mean, I love it. I could never live anywhere else. Could you imagine? God!” or something to that effect. I think this billboard sums up this attitude best:


And while I have loved parts of the city, especially the (often) perfect months of May and October, those parts haven’t added up to enough to allow me to respond with a resounding “Yeah, I love it. It’s amazing.”

My commute crosstown to work each morning  is enough to make any sane non-New Yorker break out in a machine-gun-toting killing spree. Especially in the winter, when it’s 20 degrees out (okay, quiet already, you Midwesterners, I know it could be colder but you have to remember I grew up in Southern California and my peoples are a tropical peoples), and the wind makes that feel like 12 degrees, and you’ve taken great care in dressing so as to not allow one chink in your cold-fighting layers only to have something ride up or ride down, usually where you just can’t reach, and winter’s icy fingers jab you right in the back or hairline or across your presumably boot-bundled toes.

Sorry, I digress. But one of the main things that always, always delights me about New York is the plethora of art/culture offerings, especially for someone like me who is obsessed with the written word. There are book readings, discussions, panels, festivals, award ceremonies, performances – all highlighting that great and magical thing.

Continue reading

Literary Happenings: Colson Whitehead at McNally Jackson 10/20/2011

24 Oct

I love attending a reading at McNally Jackson in SoHo. It’s clean and bright and staffed by loads of smart young things, and they make a mean currant scone (although this time I had to branch out and try a cheddar cheese and chive scone, since they were all out of my fave – hallelujah! new fave!). I always overspend when I’m there, since I feel like my hard-earned dollars are going to a good cause (and I get a bright, shiny book or two or three out of the bargain).

McJ's gorgeous storefront

I’m not sure how they do it, something to do with Sarah McNally  having worked in publishing and it being the It Bookstore of NYC that is not a Barnes and Noble, but they always have the top writers reading from the top books the Internet is all aTwitter over. Continue reading