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What I’ve been reading № 9: ReReading

14.January 2020


It’s no secret that, basically, I read for work. I read lots and lots of things for work, including excellent literature and theory and hundreds and hundreds of less excellent student essays. I also read a lot of my own writing over and over and over.

It’s also no secret that I had a baby two years (and change) ago.

That turns out to be a potent combination for sucking all the pleasure out of reading for pleasure.

The good news: Thanks to a break between semesters and a lot of free childcare while my parents were visiting I’ve *almost* rediscovered the gut read, the kind of reading where you lose track of time and keep turning pages and pages and pages and it takes ages to pull yourself back up and out into reality.

Last year I read four books. This is a PALTRY number, especially compared to the very impressive lineups shared by a number of my good buddies on Instagram at the end of December. I wish I had stacks and stacks and stacks of reading to show off, but here I am with my little pile of books, feeling pretty great about myself for having managed to finish even one novel last year. Needless to say, I’m aiming for more in 2020.

Thus, with no further ado, here’s what I’ve been reading:


Elena Ferrante: My Brilliant Friend

I’m late to the party on this one, but it was a great read. I have been reading about Ferrante fever for years and have meant to read these novels for ages, but I finally picked it up after I was prodded into actions by my dear friend Claire. She was right, it’s a fascinating book, compelling for its plot, certainly, but especially for its use of language and the play between dialect and formal language. It makes me desperately want to learn Italian. Go read it. Also, tell me if I should watch the show!


Kim Stanley Robinson: New York 2140

I’m a long-standing fan of Stan’s books (Especially 2312. It’s amazing. Go read it.) This novel imagines New York after the flood(s) that accompany radical sea level rise. The story isn’t one purely of climate apocalypse, but also involves a mystery, a classic treasure hunt, and a great deal of speculation about the effects of climate change reshaping the coast on the economy, real estate futures, and the whole political system. It reads (like many of Stan’s books) like four or five novels squished together, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s episodic, which makes it clip by, but it’s LONG, so it doesn’t clip by that quickly. Highly recommend, but settle in for a fairly long ride.


Amor Towles: Rules of Civility

One of my oldest friends, Carrie, gave me this book almost immediately after I had the aforementioned baby and it’s been sitting on my to-read shelf since then. Whereas the previous two books took me about eight months to read (see above: reading before bedtime when exhausted), I devoured this one in about three days just before Christmas. It clearly has pretensions of being the next Gatsby, but that didn’t bother me in the least. It also reminded me a bit of Herman Wouk, whose work I LOVED in middle school (come to think of it, I should reread Marjorie Morningstar if I ever have time to reread a book again). Anyway, this book is set in the 20s and 30s in New York and features sparkling social climbers and high society and a really great woman protagonist. I could not stop reading this (which is when I felt like I really remembered that I love reading) and I recommend you go and read it immediately.

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Philip Pullman: La Belle Sauvage

I’ve been a fan of Pullman’s since I first read The Golden Compass (a book that I reread with frequency – in fact, we read it aloud during the baby’s bedtime feedings during his first year with us) and so I was VERY excited that there are more books coming. I got this for Christmas in 2018 and it’s been gathering dust (ha) next to Towles’s book since then. I read it in just a few days and cannot wait to read the next one. This novel gives a lot of background about Lyra’s Oxford, but isn’t sprawling in the way you might expect. It focuses on a single adventure set against the whole political and religious backdrop of the Magisterium’s rise and Lyra’s arrival at Jordan College and introduces an intimate cast of extremely lovable characters. If you’re a fan of His Dark Materials and haven’t read this yet, do so as soon as possible.

* * * * *

That’s it for my 2019. What are you reading? What should I read next?


24.March 2018


I’ve been thinking about my fridge. Not an inspiring opening, I realize, but hear me out.

For the last year I’ve been preoccupied. Last April I got pregnant and spent the next ten months simultaneously increasingly uncomfortable and excited for the baby’s arrival. I was anxiously awaiting and also petrified about everything it entailed, from the birth itself to the rest of my life as a mother. All the while the realization hit me that everything I was feeling was absolutely unique and individual, but also part of an absolutely common experience among parents of all kinds.

I was caught off guard by the bodily experience of being pregnant, as silly as that sounds. As my belly stretched and grew, my back swayed, my hips screamed with pain, my shoulders ached under the weight of suddenly heavier breasts, I spent incalculable energy on the effort not to vomit. My body was still my body, but was suddenly also someone else’s and also completely changed. More disconcerting than the bodily changes themselves was the lack of control I suddenly felt over my body and, equally surprising, my relationship to food.

This happened in a lot of ways and in fits and starts. To begin, a large part of my food routine each summer is coaxing a few vegetables from my garden (with admittedly mixed results) and planning meals around what is ripe on any given day. When earth-shaking nausea took hold in April and didn’t depart until the end of June, I had spent much of the gardening season on the couch, trying not to gag. I didn’t really mind, because I also didn’t want to eat anything much at all.

When the nausea lifted, I only had a couple of weeks, which we spent traveling, before the shattering pelvis and hip pain began. That pain and pregnancy’s progressive exhaustion kept me from any fall gardening and off my feet for any length of time, including the time necessary to cook much more than a pot of pasta.

As soon as I began to come to terms with that pain and found some of the much-vaunted second trimester energy, I was (barely, and frustratingly inconclusively) diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which threw me into a tailspin. I was told to worry about my diet and try to control blood sugar numbers that actually weren’t really out of control by following dietary advice that was geared to food that came in packages with a nutrition label.

During all of this, my family came to visit several times and my mom took over the kitchen entirely, which was immensely helpful and welcome (especially, I suspect, to my long-suffering partner, whose diet is also swayed by my whims, gluts and cooking droughts). While she visited, our fridge and freezer brimmed over with delicious treats and frozen meals, most of which even met most of the requirements of my newly limited menu. My mother cooked her way through the anxiety of waiting for the baby to arrive and through the excess energy of new-grandparent-hood, entirely filling the kitchen with all kinds of delicious things. After my family left, our friends took over, delivering meals to us three times a week.

In short, I effectively stopped cooking for almost a year, until just recently.

At which point I realized I didn’t know my kitchen any more. I had no idea what supplies we had, what the state of the spice drawer was, where anything was. I forgot many of the quirks of our stove and oven and lost track of how to cook more than one thing at a time. Baking remains a foggy memory.

And yet, I’ve been talking for a year about how I was going to get my kitchen (and blogging!) mojo back during maternity leave, as if this semester away from teaching was simply going to stretch out, endless and glistening, time just waiting to be filled by creative pursuits and the remembrance of hobbies past. I had no idea that when you begin breastfeeding a baby, you also start the stopwatch that counts down to the next feeding, and that you might only end up with a half hour in between cycles of feeding, burping, changing diapers, playing, and rocking (begging) to sleep.

So much for day-long pastry projects and wide-ranging research into exotic cuisines that require extensive online spice shopping.

What does all of this have to do with my fridge? Between the alienation from food generally, the explosion of baby paraphernalia in the house, and the extreme disjointedness of time in my daily life at the moment, we’re living in a reign of chaos. Our house may not look overly chaotic (again, thank you, husband), but there is chaos at the heart of laundry, sleeping, leaving the house to do anything, the garden (help!), but, – for me, most of all – the kitchen. We aren’t planning meals in advance, groceries are going to waste, leftovers languish uneaten, and we even have a sizable pile of orphaned Blue Apron* ingredients from many times we haven’t even had the wherewithal to use those kits in time. And all of this makes me feel not like me.

Last night, I declared war on chaos and began breaking a trail back to my kitchen mojo through the thicket of rotting kale, rubber nipples, week-old takeout, and jars of unidentifiable jam.

Reader, I cleaned the fridge.

Not that I expect it will last and not that I even enjoy having such a sterile-looking, relatively empty refrigerator, but knowing that everything in there is edible and knowing roughly where things are makes the prospect of actually using that appliance, not to mention the others in my sad, neglected galley, much less daunting.

So, I’m coming back in some small way. Don’t expect long posts like this every day (or even month, realistically), but also don’t expect new-parent maniac recipes for SUPER TIMESAVING CHEETO CASSEROLE ALL YOUR KIDS WILL LOVE, because although I may have less time and attention than I used to have, what I’ve realized is that, at my core, I’m still me.

I’m still me, even if my entire world has shifted on its axle and even if my priorities aren’t the same and even if I’m going to have to put off mastering laminated pastry at least until my kid can hold up his own head.

With all that said, here’s an un-recipe presented in the grand tradition of my recent (ha!) tomato desperation post. The other night I caught myself off guard by feeling both inspired, physically able, and momentarily without childcare responsibilities and took to the kitchen! The result was this Bon Appetit recipe (with pork tenderloin instead of chicken thighs) and a Brussels sprout salad that will live in my memory until I have the chance to make it again.

Surprise Inspiration Warm Brussels Sprout Salad

(This is a blatant copycat of a dish I love at a restaurant I find deeply mediocre and so won’t name here.)

  • What I did was prep the Brussels sprouts (bought at Costco** for cheap, hurrah!) by cutting off the ends and then slicing them crosswise very thinly. I imagine a mandolin would make quick work of this, but I just used a knife.
  • Then I tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted them in an oven at 425 until they were caramelized and getting crispy. I think it was around 20 minutes, but don’t hold me to that. I also stirred them around every once in a while (maybe twice), to make sure they were cooking something like evenly.
  • Meanwhile I had my lovely husband-cum-sous-chef grate a bunch of (cheap, delicious Costco) Parmesan. Probably half a cup. I whisked half of that (so, a quarter-ish cup) together with olive oil and a bunch of black pepper until it looked fairly liquidy and emulsified to make a dressing.
  • Now, the bacon. I chopped up four slices of bacon and cooked it until crispy (but not burned for once in my life!) and drained it on a paper towel. I put a tiny bit of the bacon fat in the Parmesan dressing and whisked it again.
  • When the Brussels sprouts were done and crispy, I took them out of the oven and let them cool for a minute, then tossed them with the parmesan dressing and bacon and a pretty generous drizzle of really thick balsamic vinegar. The taste you’re going for is simultaneously sprout, salty, sweet and acidic. I found it needed a bunch of pepper and more vinegar than I expected to balance out the salt and fat of the parmesan and bacon together.
  • Finally, I put it all in a pretty bowl I bought on vacation in Ireland, topped it with the remaining parmesan and forgot to take a picture for you all. (It wasn’t that pretty anyway.)


*Look forward to a blog post later about my tortured relationship with Blue Apron.

**Look forward to a blog post later about my tortured relationship with Costco.

Oscars 2017! Liveblog!

26.February 2017

It’s been a couple years, but I thought it was time again! Here we go!

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  • 9:35 Okay. Time to remember how to blink. That was a SHOCKING ending to an otherwise relatively unremarkable Oscars. See you again next year, assuming they can recover from this fiasco. Toodles, Oscar fans! Image result for shocked reaction gif
  • 9:24 I would usually totally already have turned off the TV, but this is DIFFERENT.
  • 9:23 Says Dan: “OSCARS SCREWUP TOTALLY A METAPHOR. White guys playing jazz almost got away with illegitimately stealing award from black actors, directors and producers.”
  • 9:11 HOLY SHIT. La La Land DIDN’T WIN. It’s Moonlight! This is the strangest and most painful thing, but I’m actually really really happy!
  • Best Picture. It’s for real now. La La Land. Somehow not surprising.
  • 9:02 Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway! She looks great!
  • 8:52 Best Actress! Emma Stone?!
  • 8:51 Frontrunners for Best Picture after all the rest: Moonlight, La La Land, and Manchester by the Sea.
  • 8:47 Best Actor. Here we go. Casey Affleck or Denzel Washington?
  • 8:43 How do you even *get* to direct a move at 32?!
  • 8:41 Director! I do not want Mel Gibson to win.
  • 8:35 Moonlight! It’s #1 on my wish list for post-Oscar viewing of movies I should already have seen.
  • 8:33 Ouch, five-time nominee Amy Adams. I’d like her to win someday.
  • 8:31 Manchester By the Sea wins Best Original Screenplay. That ratchets up its chances of winning Best Picture
  • 8:29 Original Screenplay. Always an interesting category. Did *anyone* see The Lobster?
  • 8:24 I am so not over Carrie Fischer or Mary Tyler Moore. Also, Sara Bareilles did that song justice. And that was a tall order, it being a Joni Mitchell song.
  • 8:20 Jennifer Aniston is basically naked, but somberly so.
  • 8:16 I love Scarlett Johansson’s eyeshadow.
  • 8:15 Justin Hurwitz, born 1985, won an Oscar TWO OSCARS at age 32 (or is he still 31?). What have you done with YOUR life?
  • 8:13 Are Samuel L and The Rock wearing the same suit?
  • 8:06 So, John Legend can sing!
  • 8:02 I’m okay with Jimmy Kimmel because he gave us Mean Tweets.
  • 8:01 So, odds on La La Land winning everything?
  • I want to go to the Sci-Tech awards.
  • The Documentary Shorts always look so heartbreaking.
  • Bright?! Netflix original movie starring Will Smith?! This sounds weird: “Bright is an upcoming American science fiction fantasy film directed by David Ayer and written by Ayer and Max Landis. The film stars Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, and Lucy Fry.” (Thanks Wikipedia.)
  • That kid from Lion is TOO CUTE.
  • I love the technical categories. I’m not one of these fake Oscar fans who only watches for Viola Davis.
  • Michael J. Fox! He *is* an inspiration. And there’s a DeLorean!
  • Dr. Strange HAS to Win Visual Effects, right? Or maybe not? The Jungle Book?!
  • I LOVE this film in all the different languages.
  • 7:25 That Dev PatelAndrew Garfield bro-down was amazing.
  • 7:20 This tour bus thing is dragging on too long, but I gotta say, I’m mostly just jealous.
  • 7:14 Production Design. This category is dead to me after they didn’t even nominate Crimson Peak. DEAD.
  • 7:13 Jamie Dornan. I do *not* need to see the movie he’s promoting by presenting with Dakota Johnson, but I *do* need to see him on a regular basis.
  • 7:11 I’m *still* surprised by the success of Zootopia. It was fine, but was it better than everything else? Really?
  • 7:10 I, too am against any kind of wall separating me from Gael Garcia Bernal.
  • 7:08 I *detest* Hailee Steinfeld‘s dress, although usually I’m on her side. Gael Garcia Bernal, however, is lovely.
  • 7:04 Since when does the New York Times advertise on TV? I’m into it.
  • 6:58 The Salesman wins for Foreign Film. It’s a shame the director couldn’t come to the US. It’s all terrible.
  • 6:53 “Viola Davis just got nominated for an Emmy for that speech on the Oscars.”
  • 6:39 Supporting Actress! I am very happy for Viola Davis.What a beautiful speech.
  • 6:39 Jackie Chan is so classy.
  • 6:34 I am SO excited for Beauty and the Beast. Not ashamed.
  • 6:30 Supporting Actress coming up. I’m rooting for Viola Davis. 
  • 6:27 Sound Editing. Who even knows.
  • 6:22 I have decided that I love Leslie Mann’s dress. You can’t go wrong with chartreuse at the Oscars. (Right, Nicole?)
  • 6:19 These Wal-Mart movies are weird and dumb. Do not approve.
  • 6:17 Auli’i Cravalho is WAY too composed for a 16-year-old.
  • 6:12 Scarlett Johansson. I just don’t know. Her head is every 90’s German supermodel. Her dress is … I don’t know. Barbie-esque? But. It’s an Alaia!
  • 6:11 Documentary time. 13th had BETTER win. Okay. Or not.
  • 6:08 Damn. Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer walking out from backstage. That moment was everything.
  • 6:06 For those who are counting – Rosalind Ross is 25 years old. Mel Gibson is 61. AND YES, I AM JUDGY.
  • 6:04 Brie Larson looks great, but she only got to wear that dress because Angelina Jolie isn’t there this year.
  • 6:00 Costumes! Fantastic Beasts! I’m down with that. I want to own many of the garments in that movie. “Sting told me I was going to win tonight and I didn’t believe him.” *love*
  • 5:57 Actually Makeup (AND HAIRSTYLING – when did that happen?) I mean, that guy should win for hairstyling just for how he looks tonight. Not since Roberto Benigni has an Italian been that excited.
  • 5:57 Kate McKinnon is awesome.
  • 5:56 Next up: Costume Design, about which I always have OPINIONS. I’ve just decided to root for either Fantastic Beasts or Florence Foster Jenkins.
  • 5:53 In case you were wondering, here’s the order of ceremonies tonight.
  • 5:51 Treat yourself to this during the next commercial break.
  • 5:47 Supporting Actor! It always starts so suddenly! Mahershala Ali wins!
  • 5:42 Two questions: What Is Captain Fantastic? and When did Viggo Mortensen become Clint Eastwood?
  • 5:39 Amazon got an Oscar nod? For Manchester By the Sea? Weird.
  • 5:37 Is Jimmy Kimmel a Republican?
  • 5:35 Jamie said it best: “Remind me why JT isn’t hosting and Jimmy Kimmel is.”
  • 5:33 I’m guessing Meryl skipped the red carpet (screw you, Lagerfeld), but having just glimpsed her in the front row, I am ready to say she looks sensational. Killer color. It looks like she *thinks* she *might* win. You can always tell when she knows she’s not going to.
  • 5:31 JT is charming. The set for this year is kind of cute, but also dated.
  • 5:28 It’s almost time! Movies I’m rooting for or against (despite not having seen them): Fences, Hidden Figures, Arrival. If Denzel Washington loses to Casey Affleck I am going to scream. I want Meryl Streep to win just to screw with Karl Lagerfeld.
  • 5:27 Kris Jenner actually makes me speechless with rage.
  • 5:24 The anecdote about Emma Stone’s “Project Hollywood” PowerPoint is in danger of Hathawaying her in the future.
  • 5:23 Naomie Harris looks sensational.
  • 5:22 Mel Gibson is that old dude who hangs out at the coffee shop complaining about the kids.
  • 5:18 Octavia Spencer DOES look wonderful, but I just don’t love those feathers on anyone. Except Brenda Dickson.
  • 5:15 Emma Roberts looks sensational. The beading on the skirt is TO DIE. Dan remarks: “She’s the off-brand Jessica Chastain.”
  • 4:52 Ryan Seacrest has made a HUGE MISTAKE with his ruffly shirt.
  • 4:42 Emma Stone has dressed planning to win. LOTS of fringe and I totally approve. In Givenchy. Of Course.
  • 4:39 Kris Jenner. We need to talk. Nicole Kidman does not “always wear such bold bright colors.” She INVENTED the nude trend. I also just opted for a commercial on ABC rather than listening to Kris Jenner for one more minute.
  • 4:38: Giuliana (I think) on Alicia Vikander, age 28: “It’s so nice to see someone who can stay so young in fashion.” Really.
  • 4:36 Casey Affleck is in costume as Joaquin Phoenix in that one year.
  • 4:35 Kris Jenner: “It looks like … velvet … right?” Thank you for that incisive comment.
  • 4:34 Taraji P. Henson looks amazing generally. Not just the necklace. Her Feretti is unbelievable.
  • 4:32 Now Jessica Biel is looking at Justin Timberlake like she doesn’t *quite* understand anything he’s saying.
  • 4:31 Charlize Theron looks good, but does she just have her hair in a ponytail?
  • 4:29 Halle Berry! That is a LOT of hair and not a lot of makeup! I’m into it! Also cool Verace.
  • 4:27 I also find it cruel that they had to cast HIDDLES in King Kong. Why do I have to be excited for King Kong? Ugh.
  • 4:26 Here’s something fun. Imagine any of the talking heads interviewing Isabelle Huppert speaking French even halfway as eloquently as she speaks English. Ha!
  • 4:23 Dakota Johnson came in costume as Marion Cotillard, apparently. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • 4:22 Just caught a glimpse of Nicole Kidman! 9/10. Dinging her for the (lack of) color.
  • 4:21 DUDE. Janelle Monae!
  • 4:20 I am NOT excited about Jimmy Kimmel hosting.
  • 4:16 NINA GARCIA is on ABC! I love her Valentino. And I’m with her. Isabelle Huppert looks great in her disco-y Armani. Dan notes that she is wearing a Bajoran earring.
  • 4:15 Although, Lucas Hedges is pretty sweet and he was AMAZING in that movie.
  • 4:13 UGH you guys. I can’t even THINK about Manchester By the Sea without wanting to cry and I can’t even THIINK about Casey Affleck without feeling creeped out.
  • 4:12 Robin Roberts looks GREAT.
  • 4:11 Dev Patel is yummy. That is all.
  • 4:08 I’m just now getting a good look at Giuliana Rancic. I hate everything about her look (except her earrings and bracelet). Did she take a HIGHLIGHTER to her hair? How do you even GET that tan? What are the weird pleats on her hip? UGH.
  • 4:07 MICHAEL J. FOX! So happy to see him looking so well!
  • 4:06 I’m already courting controversy with one of my best  girls, but I’m not convinced about Felicity Jones’s Degas thing. Does it FIT her properly? Why is it so droopy and colorless?
  • 4:03 I don’t know who Blanca Blanco is, but GOD BLESS HER FOR THIS CRAZINESS.
  • 4:02 Jessica Biel’s dress looks fabulous. And her necklace is bonkers (in a good way), but together? I’m not positive.
  • 4:00 I LOVE hearing all the talk about women of color (and women generally) in Hidden Figures. 
  • 3:55 I HATE Hailee Steinfeld’s dress, even if it photographs okay.
  • 3:51 “Coming up: Vince Vaughan.” Not exciting.
  • 3:50 I am NOT the first to note this, but Karlie Kloss stole Gwyneth’s very best look ever.
  • 3:48 Dan and I are skeptical about Sting’s hair. Both color and length.
  • 3:47 Taraji P. Henson wins for best necklace.
  • 3:46 Ryan Seacrest: “They’re some rockets for the little babies.” (I had forgotten how ridiculous E! is.)
  • 3:45 Love the blue ribbons for the ACLU. I’m in favor.
  • 3:43 PM (Pacific!) Kirsten Dunst! So classic. Very Givenchy circa 1957. LOVE.

What I’ve been reading № 8

25.February 2016

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Reading.

Bowie died. Here at Darby O’Shea HQ (and Dr. Hurley HQ and [untitled] HQ) this is cause for protracted mourning and that’s what we’re doing. Here are a few things to read/watch/think about:

Darby O’Shea HQ, by the way, has temporarily relocated to Germany, where we’re eating all the bread we can get our hands on, frequently substituting cake for lunch, and imbibing the occasional big beer. It’s lovely and a wonderful change of pace, even if it is snowing today. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the last couple months, in no particular order.

Cocks & Morgan: The Royal We

I am a long (and I mean long) time fan of Go Fug Yourself (a.k.a. one of the very finest sites on the whole of the internet). When the Fug Girls announced they were writing a novel about the (*ahem* fictional *ahem*) royal family, I was sold. Sold, but also a bit embarassed to buy it for myself. But, luckily, I have a sister who thinks more or less precisely the same way I do, who bought it for me for Christmas, not knowing I had also bought her a copy. (This happens almost every year with us, it seems.)

Anyway, I devoured the book in about forty-eight hours after opening it (in between eating Christmas leftovers, playing with puppies, and watching a lot of TV). I did have to stay up until about two in the morning to finish it because I couldn’t put it off for another day, although now I wish I had waited, so that it wouldn’t be over so quickly.

Whatever you think about the royal family (and I don’t really care WHAT you think about the royal family), this book is totally riveting. Yes, it’s basically a romantic dramedy (and yes, it will make a sensational movie), and yes, it’s basically 100% escapist, but when you spend a lot of your time thinking about climate change and most of the rest of the time thinking about modern German history, escapism is NOT A BAD THING.

In short: Pick it up because you’re a fan of the Fug Girls, read it because I told you to, weep a little in appropriate places, and finish it because it’s impossible not to. It’s fantastic.

Carpenter: Farm City

I don’t remember where I picked up this recommendation, but I intended to hate-read it. And in fact, I did hate-read it in parts. But by the end, Novella Carpenter won me over and convinced me it would be a good idea to raise pigs in my back yard. (NOT ACTUALLY, but I’m glad someone is doing it.)

This is a great story of a hippie/yuppie gardener getting serious, lamenting gentrification while participating in it (admittedly not un-self consciously), and coming to terms with where her food comes from. It’s generally a pretty winning description of the difficulty of being serious about producing food without having serious resources and about the realities of producing said food and the effect doing so can have on a community. It’s both revealing of some problems with the whole locavore and urban food movement, but somehow not off-putting. Generally very readable.

Gardener (but really Hiddleston): The Red Necklace

Y’all already know about how Tom Hiddleston has been somewhat of a *distraction* lately. Well. I had to pack up my office before leaving the country and I find it exceptionally difficult to do tedious jobs like that without some degree of distraction. So first I listened to Hiddles reading a bunch of poetry and then I discovered he also records the occasional audio book. My rationale was that listening to Hiddles would be less distracting than watching Hiddles (not true, as it turns out). Anyway, I discovered a free version (which I won’t link to) of this silly little YA novel that Hiddles recorded a few years ago (presumably before he was Loki, because otherwise it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever). BTW: this version is only available in the UK.

I’m not going to lie. This is NOT great literature. I’m not even sure I would have been convinced of it when I was thirteen (actually, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been). But, then there’s the Hiddles factor. He reads it really well, does all the voices, and is generally pretty charming. Somehow he got me invested in this (very silly) story such that I just sat down and listened to the last hour or so, rather than continuing to pack my office like a responsible person.

The moral of this story: Don’t read this for it’s literary value. Listen to it for Hiddleston. You’ll enjoy it.

Ballard: High Rise (Audiobook read by our buddy Hiddles)

This is related to the above, but also has the benefit of actually being a really interesting book. I’ve written about J. G. Ballard before and this one is no less weird than The Drowned World. I’ll admit I only became interested in High Rise specifically because of the film that Hiddleston starred in (genius casting, if you ask me), which is being released in the U.S. on May 13. But I wanted to read more Ballard anyway, so this was a good excuse. The other thing that motivated me is that (in part to promote the movie, I’m sure) Hiddles recorded an audiobook of High Rise as well. I just happened to be about to get on a trans-Atlantic flight and thought it would be a perfect way to pass the time. Alas, I didn’t get any sleep at all on the plane, between being riveted by the very strange and violent story as well as by Hiddleston’s excellent reading and realizing that I was flying over the Arctic at night in winter and MAYBE I COULD SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS (no, I didn’t).

Anyway, like the other books I know by Ballard, this one explores the breakdown of humanity under extreme circumstances, except that the circumstances here seem less extreme than elsewhere in his works. It’s an excellent (though disturbing) book and will make an excellent (and, I assume, disturbing) movie. The absolutely spellbinding trailer is here, by the way.

French: Faithful Place

I’ve gotten fairly obsessed with Tana French. She writes mystery novels, but the settings (the political and economic upheavals of Ireland in the late twentieth century) are exceptionally well realized and her characters are exceptionally distinct and relatable if not always likeable. This one was no disappointment, although The Likeness remains my favorite so far. I’m rationing these books. I think two to go? You see: they’re that good. I don’t want to devour them all at once. Go read them. You’ll thank me.

Trojanow: EisTau (English coming May 2016)

This one was for work, but was also very pleasurable. It’s the absurd story of Zeno, a glaciologist whose glacier melts and who then goes to work on a cruise ship sailing to the Antarctic. It’s funny, but never pokes fun at Zeno’s dispair, sad without being utterly depressing, and really, really sharply critical of eco-tourism. If you’re at all interested in any of those things, please go read it, but you might want to bone up on your Coleridge beforehand.

Gerard: Binary Star

I’m fairly sure that this book came up on NPR’s excellent book concierge and that’s how it ended up on my wish list. I don’t know what to think about this book. It’s slim – less than two hundred pages – but heavy – it took me about six weeks to read it. I think it is a really well-observed narrative of mental illness and eating disorders and I did really love the astronomical metaphors. BUT. It was colossally depressing and although I’ve never suffered an eating disorder, it read almost like a manual for developing one. I tread lightly on the subject of the much-discussed trigger warning (which I decline to discuss here), but I think that this book could seriously touch off some serious issues for many readers. And even without those tendencies, it’s rough reading. I don’t un-recommend it, but I also am not sure I recommend it, just for how upsetting it was.

What I’ve been reading, № 7

14.December 2015

To be honest, I’ve been too busy reading, grading, eating tacos, and obsessing over Tom Hiddleston (specifically in Crimson Peak) to do much of anything for fun, much less do anything around here in blog-land. I HAVE been cooking enchiladas and freezing tomato sauce and making pies, but haven’t been writing about it. The other thing I HAVE been doing is reading. As you know, more than half of my reading is for work and that’s largely been a repeat of this post this semester. But here are a few new additions and a few fun reading suggestions. Also, here’s my Amazon wish list if you’re curious about what’s coming and what I want (Christmas is coming, after all.)

Süskind: Das Parfum (also in English)

This book is the height of creepy, but is also so beautifully written that you get hooked on the words and just want more and more and more. For German readers, this is an excellent time to brush up on some fairly arcane vocabulary. For English readers, ditto. I love the catalogue of strange olfactory words and the idea that a whole book is devoted to the sense most frequently neglected by literature makes me really happy. Go and read it, but don’t rush it. This one should be savored.

Robinson: Shaman

An early human thriller. Robinson takes us out of the future we’ve come to expect from him and plunges us deep into the past to explore the meaning of humanity, our relationships with our environment, and the other-than-human inhabitants of it, love, sex, and family. It’s a beautiful read, but more meditative than some of his other books. It’s tied to the seasons and feels as if you experience each day of the years in the book, in both a really really good way and a less good one. Not a page turner throughout, but really, really powerful.

Abbey: The Monkey Wrench Gang

Similar in pace to Shaman. I loved this book, but I think it could have been shorter. It’s an excellent way into the mindset of radical environmental activism, without painting it too positively. It’s very possible to simultaneously hate and root for crazy, mad Hayduke and all of the others. (Also, I challenge you not to picture him as a young Hunter S. Thompson, possibly played by Johnny Depp – or as Zeke Brenner.) Also a lovely ode to the canyonlands of the American Southwest and strangely reminiscent of a picaresque novel.

Peters: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Light, fluffy, and thoroughly enjoyable. For fans of Agatha Christie who always wished Miss Marple were as cool as Miss Fisher.

Schlink: Liebesfluchten (also in English)

Not light or fluffy, but strangely satisfying. This isn’t the first time I’ve read it. Rather I revisited it while teaching “Das Mädchen mit der Eidechse” in a class this semester. I didn’t love Der Vorleser (The Reader) in the way that many others did, but I think that Schlink writes a mean short story. These grapple with German history and its effect on contemporary life and love, sometimes in really ponderous intimate portraits of (generally pretty dysfunctional) relationships and sometimes with the feel of a Krimi.

Wolf: Was bleibt (also in English)

All about paranoia and the surveillance culture in East Germany. This is a first-person stream of consciousness narrative that makes you feel like you’re being watched and like you want to watch back. Not the easiest read, but well worth the effort.

Mann: Mario und der Zauberer (also in English)

Your standard fascist parable. This time we have a magician (instead of Mussolini) terrorizing a beach town, all told by a German fish out of water. Gripping, upsetting, and beautifully written.



What I’ve been reading, № 6

15.September 2015

Danticat: Brother, I’m Dying

This book is a really moving account of political upheaval in Haiti, unjust immigration systems in the U.S. and a family’s history caught between the two. Danticat writes beautifully and compellingly. It’s hard to read, but also hard to put down. I recently had the chance to chat with Edwidge in person and she is also completely lovely. I’d recommend reading everything she’s ever written, post-haste.


Bacigalupi: The Water Knife

If you’re a fan of science fiction, post-apocalyptic narratives, water politics, dangerous journalism, intrigue, and survival stories, this book is for you. It’s a super-fast read and utterly addictive. That being said, it’s also reasonably gory and very upsetting. I’d recommend reading it after a brief review of the geography of the Colorado River, reading some news articles about water in California, and maybe watching Mad Max (again). I look forward to and dread in equal parts the inevitable film version.

Bacigalupi: Pump Six and Other Stories

Some fantastic short stories, in case The Water Knife didn’t make you worry enough about the future. The title story is fantastic, with shades of Wells’s Eloi frolicking in New York and the fight for humanity’s survival happening in the sewers. It’s unsettling and exceptionally readable. I’ll be teaching “The Tamarisk Hunter” in one of my courses later this semester.

Mitchell: The Bone Clocks

I have a lot to day about this. I read Cloud Atlas a while ago and LOVED it. The history there is that Cloud Atlas came out while I was living in Germany after college. I read the first few pages and flipped through it a few times in a few countries and was thoroughly irritated by what seemed to be a huge artifice and just general literary faffing about without a whole lot of heft behind it. It seemed like the kind of book that has fantastic design (which it did!) to cover up a lack of content within (FALSE). Anyway, long story short, I was enchanted by the links between the sections. While they didn’t appear connected in the beginning, the network of meaning developed throughout and was really intricate by the end. It didn’t wrap anything up into especially neat packages, but was immensely satisfying.

So, of course I picked up The Bone Clocks as soon as it came out in paperback. It started a little slow (not unlike Cloud Atlas in that way, but more upsetting right off the bat), but picked up pretty quickly. It had the same beautiful arc through the sections that I grew to love before, but it has a much more unified plot that made it both more riveting and less satisfying. Generally it felt like a much more exciting book than Cloud Atlas, but considerably less virtuosic. All that means that I’ll recommend it with much LESS reserve and to a wider audience than I did that other book. It’s wonderful.

(Also, maybe you’ve heard – David Mitchell keeps recycling characters and referring to himself and his work in his books. I haven’t decided whether this is really cool or too hipstery to bear. Or maybe he’s weaving a whole universe of characters and stories and it’s going to continue to be AMAZING! I look forward to finding out.)

Remarque: Im Westen nichts Neues / All Quiet on the Western Front

I recently read this for the first time (prepping for a class) and was utterly blown away by the force and the style of the narrative. It’s dark, no doubt, but as a document of the horrors of war it’s indispensable. What’s really remarkable is that it works really beautifully as a piece of literature and not just as reportage. One particular moment conflates gorgeous classic Romantic imagery with the sights and sounds of the front. The smoke rising from the enemy’s guns turn into the meandering clouds floating across an innocent blue sky. Go read it and tell me it doesn’t make you a hardcore pacifist.

And now for something completely different:

Danticat: “A Year and a Day”

This isn’t a book, but rather an essay Danticat wrote a year after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. It’s really important to know that Haiti is still recovering from this disaster and to remember all that goes into making a disaster like this as destructive as it was (both physical and economic casualties and in cost to human life).

Spence, et al: Responses to Iben Browning’s prediction of a 1990 New Madrid, Missouri, Earthquake

And here’s the limit of my nerdy suggestions. None of you are going to follow this recommendation, probably, but it’s pretty fascinating. In the late 80s, Iben Browning predicted a massive earthquake for the New Madrid Fault in Missourri to happen in December of 1990 (ruining my birthday party that year). What ensued was major hysteria, earthquake drills, canceled school, classic doomsday preparations (bottled water, milk, bread, etc.) and a lot of media coverage. Oh, and also Uncle Tupelo wrote a song about it. (You’ll know Uncle Tupelo as a band that featured Jeff Tweedy pre-Wilco.)

ANYWAY. This USGS Circular (available as a free pdf or on paper for, like, $5 shipping and handling) assembles all the documents – Browning’s speeches and writings around the prediction, the media’s frenzy, various scientists’ responses debunking Browning, and some fantastic documents of earthquake sales, etc. It’s a fascinating slice of history. Go and read about it.

Keeping up with the Tomato Bounty Pasta

15.September 2015

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If you’re like me, you’ve got tomatoes coming in like crazy from the ever-so-slightly-too-many tomato plants you set out in spring, imagining that tomato time would never come. And maybe you, like I, have friends who share their bounty with you as well, resulting in a cascade of tomatoes of all shapes, sizes, hues, and tastes. And maybe you want to eat them all, but you’ve – SHOCK HORROR – grown somewhat blasé about caprese sprinkled with finely chopped basil and maybe a few crystals of fleur de sel. And maybe you simply don’t have time to can at the moment, winter’s lack of tomatoes be damned. (The despair and regret will come later, I promise.) And maybe you don’t have the wherewithal right now to cook a whole meal from beginning to end in one day after work.

Well, friends. I have a solution. This isn’t a recipe per se, but rather an accounting of a pasta so delicious, so delightful, so easy that you’ll want to eat it again and again and again. Do the following:

Lazy Tomato Bounty Pasta

Take a pile of cherry tomatoes (we all have too many of those right now, and put them in a casserole. Don’t slice them, don’t do anything to them except remove the stems and throw them in there. Chop some garlic (or, you know, smash it or throw it in whole – I don’t care) and add it. Strip the leaves from a good-sized spring of rosemary and toss them in for good measure. If you’re feeling REALLY fancy, you can chop the rosemary, but don’t you have better things to do? (Netflix, hot baths, reading for fun, staring blankly at a wall because you’re too tired to cope…) It’s probably a good idea to add some salt and pepper. Do add a few good glugs of olive oil and sort of slosh it all around until, you know, everything’s oily and the ingredients aren’t all in one spot. Stick in in the oven set at 400 for a while. Don’t even preheat it. Don’t set a timer. Just keep your nose turned on and check it in maybe a half hour or so. When the tomatoes are sort of falling apart and maybe starting to turn a little black on top (or, you know, earlier), pull out the dish and dump the tomatoes in a container or something until you have energy to use them. Resume your regularly scheduled activities (Netflix, etc. …).

Next day, come home from work with a bit of a chip on your shoulder that it’s already evening and you have to start the whole thing over again in the morning. Flop on the couch and start to ask your long-suffering partner what on earth you’re going to eat for dinner, then REMEMBER YOUR GORGEOUS ROASTED TOMATOES. While you’re putting on pajamas, have your long-suffering spouse (or dog or whatever) put on a pot of water. Ideally, you’ll also have a good friend who brought way too much fancy prosciutto to a party and left you with the leftovers (precioussssss…). If you do, congratulations: you’re living your very best life. Take a few slices of that prosciutto, slice it up really thin and throw it in a pan. Let it get all melty, then all crispy – DON’T LET IT BURN. PROSCIUTTO IS PRECIOUS. Dump it out on a plate and throw some white wine (preferably cheap, refrigerator stale, and already open) in the pan with the gorgeous roasted tomatoes and let it come up to a nice bubbly temperature. Then curse yourself for not having already put the pasta in. Put the pasta in the water, salt the living daylights out of the water and wait for the noodles to be done. (I used penne. Anything would work.) When they are, save some of that lovely salty water before you drain the pasta. Throw the tomato “sauce” in with the pasta, stir it all up, add a splash or two of the pasta water to bring it all together, then throw in a bunch of grated parmesan and DON’T FORGET THE PROSCIUTTO.

Stir it all up and eat. You’ll thank me.

There won’t be leftovers. Don’t be silly.

**P.S. I was too lazy even to take a mediocre picture of this pasta. Deal with the above glamour shot of a Cherokee Purple tomato from my garden.**