Monday, May 13, 2013
The Book Blurb:
At once a deft parody of the American fame factory and a piercing portrait of young and old desire, this novel introduces two unforgettable characters: Grady Tripp, a former publishing prodigy now lost in a fog of pot and passion and stalled in the midst of his endless second book, and Grady's student, James Leer, a budding writer obsessed with Hollywood self-destruction and struggling with his own searching heart.
What Hooked Me:
An unfinished book, titled Wonder Boys, seven years in the making. A tuba. A blind dog named Doctor Dee. A boa named Grossman. A collectible Marilyn Monroe jacket. A car named Galaxie. Who would have thought all these quirky things can all add up to a very entertaining novel, perfect after a long hiatus of not finding any interesting read? I really enjoyed the author's use of witty and original descriptions, his use of Grady, Crabtree and James as his trio of uniquely imperfect characters. I even liked the funny yet sometimes too wacky turn of events, all occurring over two days during a writer's workshop. It has definitely made me want to see the movie adaptation!
'The first real writer I ever knew was a man who did all of his work under the name of August Van Zorn. He lived at the McClelland Hotel, which my grandmother owned, in the uppermost room of its turret, and taught English literature at Coxley, a small college on the other side of the minor Pennsylvania river that split our town in two.'(Opening lines)
'It was this man's class that I first began to wonder if people who wrote fiction were not suffering from some kind of disorder -- from what I've since come to think of, remembering the wild nocturnal rocking of Albert Vetch, as the midnight disease. The midnight disease is a kind of emotional insomnia; at every conscious moment its victim -- even if he or she writes at dawn, or in the middle of the afternoon -- feels like a person lying in a sweltering bedroom, with the window thrown open, looking up at a sky filled with stars and airplanes, listening to the narrative of a rattling blind, an ambulance, a fly trapped in a Coke bottle, while all around him the neighbors soundly sleep. This is in my opinion why writers -- like insomniacs -- are so accident-prone, so obsessed with the calculus of bad luck and missed opportunities, so liable to rumination and a concomitant inability to let go of a subject, even when urged repeatedly to do so.'(p.19-20)
'I'd spent my whole life waiting to awake on an ordinary morning in the town that was destined to be my home, in the arms of the woman I was destined to love, knowing the people and doing the work that would make up the changing but essentially invariable landscape of my particular destiny. Instead here I was, forty-one years old, having left behind dozens of houses, spent a lot of money on vanished possessions and momentary entertainments, fallen desperately in and abruptly out of love with at least seventeen women, lost my mother in infancy and my father to suicide, and everything was about to change once more, with unforeseeable result. And yet for all that I still had never gotten used to the breathtaking impermanence of things. The only part of my world that carried on, inalterable and permanent, was Wonder Boys.'(p.45)
'He pulled his sleeves undershirt up over his belly and head, tugged his boxer shorts down to his ankles, and sat down on the bed again to unbuckle the strange contraption he owned instead of a foot. Then there was nothing left of him to remove. I was at once fascinated and horrified by the act of diminishment he had just performed; it was as though I were being permitted to see the crippled, balding, adipose gnome who dwelt within the brazen simulacrum, the lumbering golem I had learned to call my father.'(p.91)
'It was the half-regretful term -- borrowed from the headstone of John Keats -- that Crabtree used to describe his own and others' failure to express a literary gift through any actual writing on paper. Some of them, he said, just told lies; others wove plots out of the gnarls and elf knots of their lives and then followed them through to resolution. That had always been Crabtree's chosen genre -- thinking his way out, leaving no record and nothing to show for his efforts but a reckless reputation and a small dossier in the files of the Berkeley and New York City police departments.'(p.93)
'This was something I'd been trying to do for a long time -- not intentionally, I swear, nor with any feeling of satisfaction, but in the automatic, methodical manner of a boy working on a loose tooth. Without reference to dopplegangers and the symptoms of the midnight disease it's hard to say why, exactly; but certainly a native genius for externalizing self-hatred may have had something to do with it. Not only would I never want to belong to any club that would have me for a member-- if elected I would wear street shoes onto the squash court and set fire to the ballroom curtains.'(p.128)
'I cupped her chin in my hand, and stroked her cool hair, and admired for the one thousandth time the surprising planes of her downturned face. Emily was a thoughtful, intense and complicated woman with an ear for dialogue, a nice sense of the absurd, and a loyal heart, but I may well have had no better reason for falling in love with her than her face. And I don't care what you will say about me, either. People get married for worse reasons than that. But like all beautiful faces Emily's made you believe that its possessor was a better person than she was.'(p.223)
'He had the face of one of the Seitz company hat-forms. Nose like a shark fin. Lips as red as a stop sign. Black eyes long-lashed and glassy like the eyes in the head of a deer on a wall. Nothing about his face lingered in the memory of people who saw it. Only a vague impression of handsomeness. In photographs it always looked like his head moved at the instant the picture was snapped.'(p.247)
'The best liars keep on lying successfully long after they've been discovered.'(p. 251)
'All male friendships are quixotic: they last only so long as each man is willing to polish the shaving-bowl helmet, climb on his donkey, and ride off after the other in pursuit of illusive glory and questionable adventure.'(p.326)
'It struck me that the chief obstacle to marital contentment was this perpetual gulf between the well-founded, commendable pessimism of women and the sheer dumb animal optimism of men, the latter a force more than any other responsible for the lamentable state of the world.'(p. 332)
'I felt suddenly bereft not only of Crabtree and his love but of my earliest bright image of myself, of my trajectory across the world. It's not fashionable, I know, in this unromantic age, for a reasonably straight man to think of finding his destiny in the love of another man, but that was how I'd always thought of Crabtree.'(p.338)
a 2008 Random House Trade Paperback Edition
Book borrowed from the library
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Friday, January 25, 2013
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Marriage can be a real killer.
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.
What Hooked Me:
I really like the way the author embedded the romantic yet twisted treasure hunt in the middle of the story of Nick and Amy, the highly imagined but defective husband and wife who are about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Partly because of these clever clues, the author quickly changed the story from simple to complicated, the characters from sweet to utterly bizarre, and the ending from the expected to controversial. This is a very disturbing but entertaining novel.
'When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil.'(opening lines)
'What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?'(p.12)
'Downstairs, I could hear the return of a long-lost sound: Amy making breakfast. Banging wooden cupboards (rump-thump!), rattling containers of tin and glass (ding-ring!), shuffling and sorting a collection of metal pots and iron pans (ruzz-shuzz!). A culinary orchestra tuning up, clattering vigorously toward the finale, a cake pan drumrolling along the floor, hitting the wall with a cymballic crash. Something impressive was being created, probably a crepe, because crepes are special, and today Amy would want to cook something special.'(p.16)
'There's a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.'(p.34)
'Soul mates. They really call themselves that, which makes sense, because I guess they are. I can vouch for it, having studied them, little lonely only child, for many years. They have no harsh edges with each other, no spiny conflicts, they ride through life like conjoined jellyfish-- expanding and contracting instinctively, filling each other's spaces liquidly. Making it look easy, the soul-mate thing. People say children from broken homes have it hard, but the children of charmed marriages have their own particular challenges.'(p.41)
'I didn't say this out loud, though; I often don't say things out loud, even when I should. I contain and compartmentalize to a disturbing degree: In my belly-basement are hundreds of bottles of rage, despair, fear, but you'd never guess from looking at me.'(p. 52)
'I am fat with love! Husky with ardor! Morbidly obese with devotion! A happy, busy bumblebee of marital enthusiasm. I positively hum around him, fussing and fixing. I have become a strange thing. I have become a wife. I find myself steering the ship of conversations -- bulkily, unnaturally -- just so I can say his name aloud. I have become a wife, I have become a bore, I have been asked to forfeit my Independent Young Feminist card. I don't care.'(p. 53)
'This was my eleventh lie. The Amy of today was abrasive enough to want to hurt, sometimes. I speak specifically of Amy of today, who was only remotely like the woman I fell in love with. It had been an awful transformation. Over just a few years, the old Amy, the girl of the big laugh and the easy ways, literally shed herself, a pile of skin and soul on the floor, and out stepped this new, brittle, bitter Amy. My wife was no longer my wife but a razor-wire knot daring me to unloop her, and I was not up to the job with my thick, numb, nervous fingers. Country fingers. Flyover fingers untrained in the intricate, dangerous work of solving Amy.'(p.65)
'Nick and I, we sometimes laugh, laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love. The pointless tasks, the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders. We call them the dancing monkeys.'(71)
'I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.
It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.'(p.92)
'People want to believe they know other people. Parents want to believe they know their kids. Wives want to believe they know their husbands.'(p.112)
'He promised to take care of me, and yet I feel afraid. I feel like something is going wrong, very wrong, and that it will get even worse. I don't feel like Nick's wife. I don't feel like a person at all: I am something to be loaded and unloaded, like a sofa or a cuckoo clock. I am something to be tossed into a junkyard, thrown into the river, if necessary. I don't feel real anymore. I feel like I could disappear.'(p. 124)
'My mother had always told her kids: If you're about to do something, and you want to know if it's a bad idea, imagine seeing it printed in the paper for all the world to see.'(p.170)
'What a strange time this is. I have to think that way, try to examine it from a distance: Ha-ha, what an odd period this will be to look back on, won't I be amused when I'm, eighty, dressed in faded lavender, a wise, amused figure swilling martinis, and won't this make a story? A strange, awful story of something I survived.
Because something is horribly wrong with my husband, of that I am sure now. Yes, he's mourning his mother, but this is something more. It feels directed at me, not a sadness but... I can feel him watching me sometimes, and I look up and see his face twisted in disgust, like he's walked in on me doing something awful, instead of just eating cereal in the morning or combing my hair at night.'(p.224)
'Amy made me believe I was exceptional, that I was up to her level of play. That was both our making and undoing. Because I couldn't handle the demands of greatness. I began craving ease and average-ness, and I hated myself for it, and ultimately, I realized, I punished her for it. I turned her into the brittle, prickly thing she became. I had pretended to be one of a kind man and revealed myself to be quite another. Worse, I convinced myself our tragedy was entirely her making. I spent years working myself into the very thing I swore she was: a righteous ball of hate.'(p.247)
'There is an unfair responsibility that comes with being an only child -- you grow up knowing you aren't allowed to disappoint, you're not even allowed to die. There isn't a replacement toddling around; you're it. It makes you desperate to be flawless, and it also makes you drunk with the power.'(p.293)
'My thank-yous always come out rather labored. I often don't give them at all. People do what they're supposed to do then wait for you to pile on the appreciation -- they're like frozen-yogurt employees who put out cups for tips.'(p. 378)
'Nick and I fit together. I am a little too much, and he is a little too little. I am a thornbush, bristling from the overattention of my parents, and he is a man of a million little fatherly stab wounds, and my thorns fit perfectly into them.'(p.394)
'To know exactly what I wanted to hear in those notes, ... the woman knew me cold. Better than anyone in the world, she knew me. All this time I'd thought we were strangers, and it turned out we knew each other intuitively, in our bones, in our blood. It was kind of romantic. Catastrophically romantic.'(p.431)
'Isn't that what every marriage is, anyway? Just a lengthy game of he-said, she-said?'(p. 454)
Crown publishing group edition
Nook book owned
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Erik Larson 1994
Book Overview from Barnes and Noble:
This devastating book begins with an account of a crime that is by now almost commonplace: on December 16, 1988, sixteen-year-old Nicholas Elliot walked into his Virginia high school with a Cobray M-11/9 and several hundred rounds of ammunition tucked in his backpack. By day's end, he had killed one teacher and severely wounded another.
In Lethal Passage Erik Larson shows us how a disturbed teenager was able to buy a weapon advertised as "the gun that made the eighties roar." In so doing, he not only illuminates America's gun culture — its manufacturers, dealers, buffs, and propagandists — but also offers concrete solutions to our national epidemic of death by firearm. The result is a book that can — and should — save lives, and that has already become an essential text in the gun-control debate.
In this compelling book, centered around a devastating act of violence perpetrated by a 16-years-old boy with a machine gun, Larson not only illuminates America's gun culture — its manufacturers, dealers, buffs, and propagandists — but offers concrete solutions to our national epidemic of death by firearms.
What Hooked Me:
How sickening that not much has really changed since this book was written twenty years ago and that the quote from p. 211 had to come true because of our inaction? The quote from p. 213 is particularly disturbing and I pray that we have indeed reached our watershed and that a third and comprehensive federal gun legislation will happen soon.
'On a bitter, cold December morning, a sixteen-year old boy walked into the Atlantic Shores Christian School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with a semi-automatic handgun and several hundreds of ammunition tucked into his backpack.'(opening line)
'Guns are a subject that too often divides America into warring camps, even though the beliefs of the great, moderate mass of Americans, whom we too readily classify in combat taxonomy as pro-gun and anti-gun, gun nut and gun hater, simply aren't that deeply opposed. Somewhere along the line, extremists on both sides succeeded in shaping the debate so that no one has a choice but to leap into a trench and start firing away with whatever ammunition has been piled near at hand, be it distorted statistics or empty slogans, (My favorite: "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.") The two camps have more in common than not: they both want to make sure that guns only wind up in the hands of stalwart, responsible citizens.'(p.12)
'The Consumer Product Safety Commission can order the recall of toy guns, just not real ones.'(p.13)
'One evening I found myself a guest at a dinner in Smyrna, Georgia, thrown by the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, where the door prizes were ammo boxes full of .38 Special ammunition and the raffle prizes were guns.'(p. 14)
'Before advancing any further, I should first make my bias clear, for bias more than any other force shapes debate about guns in this country. I am not opposed to guns, not even handguns, provided the owners acknowledge the monumental responsibility conferred by ownership; provided too that they invest the time necessary to become safe, proficient users and to store those guns in a cabinet strong enough to hold burglars and toddlers at bay. ... I now ask the parents of my daughter's playmates if they own guns and, if so, how they store them. If they store them loaded, even in a locked cabinet, my children do not play at their homes. Period.'(p.24)
'I cross the friend-foe line too in my belief that America is currently in the midst of a gun crisis that can no longer be considered just a manifestation of that good old frontier spirit but instead has become a costly global embarrassment.
That a handgun crisis does exist should be well beyond dispute by now, given the bleak slag heap of statistics on gunshot death and injury now casting its shadow over our society. These statistics could kindle outrage in a stone but have failed, somehow, to shake any tears from America's gun industry and the gun culture that supports it.' (p.25)
'The ease of making this challenge and the impossibility of ever fully defending against it have allowed the gun camp to obscure the debate over firearms distribution, when in fact there is an abundance of credible evidence that where there are more guns, there are more deaths from guns. The NRA's sloganeering notwithstanding, the evidence suggest that guns do indeed kill people.
A landmark study in King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, found that a gun kept at home was forty-three times more likely to be used to kill its owner, a family member, or a friend than an intruder.'(p.29)
'Buffalo Bill and his contemporaries the dime novelists, pulp writers, and overly enthusiastic reporters also assisted in myth manufacturing in a more indirect, but possibly more significant way. They provided the plots that Hollywood would soon use to reinforce the distortions of myth, among them the notion that when all else fails, a gun can save us.'(p.53)
'Gun manufacturers have little interest in saving lives, although they struggle to convey the image that they are the last defenders of hearth and home, that their guns will stand by you long after marauding gangs force the police into retreat.'(p.57)
'In 1991, New York City police were astonished to find that the sniper who had just barely missed hitting a clerical worker in a Bronx office building was a nine-year-old boy wielding a Cobray. Asked how he learned to operate the gun, the boy answered, "I watch a lot of TV."'(p.67)
'One must be a cool customer to stay in business knowing that the products one sells are likely to be used to kill adults and children or to serve as terrorist tool in countless other robberies, rapes, and violent assaults. Yet gun dealers sell guns in America the way Rite-Aid sells toothpaste, denying at every step of the way the true nature of the products they sell and absolving themselves of any and all responsibility for their role in the resulting mayhem.'(p.89)
'Clearly, the role of movies and television in stimulating violence can never be quantified. Their impact, however, seems obvious. Consider how the phrase "Make my day" migrated from the movie Dirty Harry to car bumpers from coast to coast, even to a presidential speech, and, in slightly altered form, to the dialogue in a Disney "Duck Tales" cartoon. Recall too how sales of the Ingram sub-machine guns boomed after McQ, how Dirty Harry jolted sales of the Smith & Wesson Model 29. Add to this the American Psychological Association's estimate that by the time a child finishes elementary school he will have watched eight thousand murders on television.'(p.186)
'Today when we send our kids off to school, we experience a brand-new anxiety, the fear not that some bully will rough them up and steal their lunch money, but that they will be shot dead.'(201)
'In 1975, a congressional subcommittee asked the NRA's Harlon Carter if he felt it was preferable to allow felons, drug addicts, and the mentally ill to acquire guns, rather than to establish a means of checking the backgrounds of all buyers. Yes, Carter responded, it was "a price we pay for freedom."'(p. 201)
'In discussing this book with my editor and her marketing associates, we all came to the same conclusion. This book would never lack for a promotional tie to a national news event because a new massacre was bound to occur within the viable lifetime of the book, and this massacre would be more horrifying than the last.'(p.211)
'The place to start is with guns themselves, and the time is now. There will be no better time. There will be far worse times.
Unfortunately, as the history of federal gun legislation so clearly demonstrates, a dramatic worsening may be necessary. The tommy-gun massacres brought the first federal controls; the riots and assassinations of the sixties brought the second. What will bring the third, in a country so stunned by violence that we now expect and accept armed rampages as if they were natural phenomena like hurricanes and tornadoes? "Maybe that's the answer," said David Troy, the special agent responsible for ATF law-enforcement in Virginia. "Right now you have people who are involved in violent crime and firearms violence who were never touched by it before. Maybe there is a watershed coming in the United States. We haven't gotten there yet."'(p.213)
First Vintage Books Edition
Nook Copy owned
Friday, October 12, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.
The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.
Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness
What Hooked Me:
I have not really heard nor read anything about the language of flowers, so its incorporation into a story of love and redemption makes this book highly unique and remarkable. As a passionate lover of fresh flowers, the quote on page 55 is what hooked me - I wish I could see the arrangement in person!! The main character, Victoria Jones is indeed fascinating, and although the story was somewhat too melancholy at times, and the middle part a bit slower than what I would like, the book succeeded in its promise to mesmerize me. I also very much appreciate that the author included Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers at the end of the book. On a lighter note, the quote on page 152 is included because it best describes ME!!
'For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Carolina and Indian jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.'(opening lines)
'As a young child I'd soaked up her chatty optimism, sitting on the edge of a bed while she brushed and braided my thin brown hair, tying it up with a ribbon before presenting me like a gift to a new mother, a new father. But as the years passed, and family after family gave me back, Meredith's hopefulness chilled. The once-gentle hairbrush pulled, stopping and starting with the rhythm of her lecturing. The description of how I should act lengthened with each placement change, and became more and more different from the child I knew myself to be. Meredith kept a running list of my deficiencies in her appointment book and read them to the judge like criminal convictions. Detached. Quick-tempered. Tight-lipped. Unrepentant. I remembered every word she said.'(19)
'I would look for a job; I knew I needed to. But for the first time in my life I had my own bedroom with a locking door, and no one telling me where to be or what to do. Before I started searching for work, I'd decided, I would grow a garden.
By the end of my first week I had created fourteen flowerpots and surveyed a sixteen-block radius for my options. Focusing on fall-blooming flowers, I uprooted whole plants from front yards, community gardens, and playgrounds.'(22)
'"I'm talking about the language of flowers," Elizabeth said. "It's from the Victorian era, like your name. If a man gave a young lady a bouquet of flowers, she would race home and try to decode it like a secret message. Red roses mean love; yellow roses infidelity. So a man would have to choose his flowers carefully."'(36)
'Arranging the flowers and wrapping them in brown paper as I had seen Renata do, I felt a buoyancy similar to what I'd felt slipping the dahlias under the bedroom doors of my housemates the morning I turned eighteen. It was a strange feeling -- the excitement of a secret combined with the satisfaction of being useful. It was so foreign - and decidedly pleasant -- that I had a sudden urge to tell him about the flowers, to explain the hidden meanings.
"You know," I said, attempting a casual, friendly tone, but feeling the words catch in my throat with emotion, "some believe lily of the valley brings a return of happiness."'(51)
'I pinched tendrils of periwinkle at the roots until they hung in long, limp strands, and grabbed a dozen bright white spider mums. I wrapped the periwinkle tightly around the base of the mums like a ribbon and used florist's wire to create loose curlicues of the leafy ground cover around a multi layered explosion of mums. The effect was like fireworks, dizzying and grand.'(55)
'I acknowledged his presence only by reaching out to grasp what he had brought me, keeping my eyes on the ground. When I was safely around a corner, out of view, I looked into my hand.
Oval, gray-green leaves grew from a tangle of lime-colored twigs, translucent balls clinging to the branches like drops of rain. The clipping fit exactly in the palm of my hand, and the soft leaves stung where they touched.
I surmount all obstacles.'(58)
'I scanned a half-dozen more books, my anxiety growing with each volume, I was afraid to know the stranger's response but even more afraid that I wouldn't find the definition and would never know what he was trying to say. After twenty minutes of searching, I finally found what I was looking for, a single line between plum and poppy. Poplar, white. Time. I exhaled, relieved but also confused.'(77)
'It wasn't as if the flowers themselves held within them the ability to bring abstract definition into physical reality. Instead, it seemed that Earl, and then Bethany, walked home with a bouquet of flowers expecting change, and the very belief in the possibility instigated a transformation.'(114)
'Next Saturday. As if we had a standing date. I watched Grant drive, his profile hard and unsmiling. I would check on them next Saturday. It was a simple statement but one that changed everything as completely as the discovery of the yellow rose.
Jealousy, infidelity. Solitude, friendship.'(119)
'For years it was the way we communicated. I sent poems and stories by connecting dried flowers on strings, intertwined with typed words on little slips of paper: and, the, if, it. My sister continued to send drawings, sometimes whole landscapes, with dozens of floral varieties, all labeled and numbered, so I would know which flower to read first to decode the sequence of events and emotions in her life. I lived for those letters, checked the mailbox dozens of times a day.'(147)\
'"Primrose," she said, twirling the pinwheel-shaped flower between her thumb and index finger before placing it, face up, on her smooth white palm. "Childhood."
I leaned over her hand, my nose only inches from the petals. The primrose had a sharp scent, sugared alcohol and someone's mother's perfume.'(148)
'Mother Ruby guided me into the kitchen, where she sat me at a table with two heaping plates of food. The first held a large baked fish, whole, with spices and some kind of root vegetables. The second held beans, peas, and potatoes with parsley. She handed me a fork and spoon, and a bowl of mushroom soup. "We ate hours ago," she said, "but I saved you food. Renata told me you'd be hungry -- which pleased me greatly. I love nothing more than feeding family."'(152)
'"I respect my mother," Renata said, pausing. "We're just different. Everyone assumes there's some kind of biological consistency between mothers and their children, but that's not always the case.'(153)
'Maybe the essence of each flower's meaning really was contained somewhere within its sturdy stem, its soft gathering of petals.'(156)
'If the trajectory continued, I realized, Message would alter the quantities of anger, grief, and mistrust growing in the earth on a massive scale. Farmers would uproot fields of foxglove to plant yarrow, the soft clusters of pink, yellow, and cream the cure to a broken heart. The prices of sage, ranunculus, and stock would steadily increase. Plum trees would be planted for the sole purpose of harvesting their delicate, clustered blossoms, and sunflowers would fall permanently out of fashion, disappearing from flower stands, craft stores, and country kitchens. Thistle would be cleared compulsively from empty lots and overgrown gardens.'(261)
'When you work with flowers, everything about you changes. The set of your jaw loosens. Your eyes glaze with focus. Your fingers manipulate the flowers with a gentle respect that makes it impossible to believe you are capable of violence. I'll never forget the first day I saw it. Watching you arranging sunflowers at the back table, I felt like I was looking at a completely different girl.'(270)
"You know that old question, if you could eat only five foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?" I nodded, even though no one ever asked me that question. "Well, I keep thinking about that. Choosing flowers for a wedding is like picking the five qualities you want in a relationship for the rest of your life. How can you possibly choose?'(276)
'Moss grows without roots. His words took my breath away. Throughout a lifetime studying the biology of plants, this simple fact had eluded me, and it seemed now to be the one fact I needed, desperately, to have known.'(282)
Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers (a small sampling from p. 299-305)
Acacia (Acacia) ... Secret love
Azalea (Rhododendron) ... Fragile and ephemeral passion
Begonia (Begonia) ... Caution
Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) ... Magnificence
Cactus (Opuntia) ... Ardent love
Carnation, red (Dianthus caryophyllus) ... My heart breaks
Daisy, Gerber (Gerbera) ...Cheerfulness
Dogwood (Cornus) ... Love undiminished by adversity
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus) ... Protection
Fern (Polypodiophyta) ... Sincerity
Geranium, scarlet (Pelargonium) ... Stupidity
Gladiolus (Gladiolus) ... You pierce my heart
Hibiscus (Hibiscus) ... Delicate beauty
Hyacinth, purple (hyacinthus orientalis) ... Please forgive me
Hydrangea (Hydrangea) ... Dispassion
Iris (Iris) ... Message
Jasmine, white (Jasminum officinale) ... Amiability
Lavender (Levandula) ... Mistrust
Lilac (Syringa) ... First emotions of love
Moss (Bryopsida) ... Maternal love
Narcissus (Narcissus) ... Self-love
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) ... Joy
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) ... Festivity
Peony (Paeonia) ... Anger
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) ... Remembrance
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) ... Presumption
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) False riches
Tulip (Tulipa) ... Declaration of love
Verbena (Verbena) ... Pray for me
Wisteria (Wisteria) ... Welcome
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) ... Cure for a broken heart
Zinnia (Zinnia) ... I mourn your absence
a Ballantine Book - Nook edition
Thursday, September 20, 2012
The Book Blurb:
Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.
She has seen both these dreams come true.
At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful day as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her near fatal honeymoon -- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.
Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.
(Includes Special, Never-Before-Solicited Opinions on Breast-Feeding, Princesses, Photoshop, the Electoral Process, and Italian Rum Cake!)
What Hooked Me:
It's crazy to realize that it has been four years since most of us were laughing at a Tina Fey SNL sketch almost once a week. Somehow this election year seems to be the most appropriate time to read this book, particularly since the audio version does include the original (political) SNL sketch that launched Tina Fey to fame. I particularly enjoyed the little bits of personal stories she shared about her family. Like Tina Fey, I absolutely adore my Dad, so her chapter on her father Don Fey is especially endearing to me. And I found it so hilarious that the quote on page 252 reminds me of my daughter, someone who goes with me to Red Lobster just for the biscuits!
'My brother is eight years older than I am. I was a big surprise. A wonderful surprise, my mom would be quick to tell you. Although having a baby at forty is a commonplace fool's errand these days, back in 1970 it was pretty unheard-of.'(opening lines)
'I've always been able to tell a lot about people by whether they ask me about my scar. Most people never ask, but if it comes up naturally somehow and I offer up the story, they are quite interested. Some people are just dumb: "Did a cat scratch you?" God bless. Those sweet dumdums I never mind. Sometimes it is a fun sociology litmus test, like my friend Ricky asked me, "Did they ever catch the black guy that did that to you?" Hmmm. It was not a black guy, Ricky, and I never said it was.'(8)
'What should have shut me down and made me feel "less than" ended up giving me an inflated sense of self. It wasn't until years later, maybe not until I was writing this book, that I realized people weren't making a fuss over me because I was some incredible beauty or genius; they were making a fuss over me to compensate for my being slashed.
I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I really were extraordinary. I guess what I'm saying is, this has all been a wonderful misunderstanding. And I shall keep these Golden Globes, every last one!'(9)
'Now every girl is expected to have:
-Caucasian blue eyes
-full Spanish lips
-a classic button nose
-hairless Asian skin with a California tan
-a Jamaican dance hall ass
-long Swedish legs
-small Japanese feet
-the abs of a lesbian gym owner
-the hips of a nine-year-old boy
- the arms of Michelle Obama
-and doll tits
The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes. Everyone else is struggling.'(23)
'"Defective" was a big word in our house. Many things were labeled "defective" only to miraculously turn functional once the directions had been read more thoroughly. If I had to name the two words I most associate with my dad between 1970 and 1990, they would be "defective" and "inexcusable." Leaving your baseball glove in a neighbor's car? Inexcusable. Not knowing that "a lot" was two words? Inexcusable. The seltzer machine that we were going to use to make homemade soda? Defective. The misspelled sign at the Beach Boys Fourth of July concert that read "From Sea to Shinning Sea"? Inexcusable. Richie Ashburn not being in the baseball hall of fame yet? Bullshit. (Don Fey had a large rubber stamp that said "Bullshit," which was and is awesome.'(51)
'I only hope that one day I can frighten my daughter this much. Right now, she's not scared of my husband or me at all. I think it's a problem. I was a freshman home from college the first time my dad said, "You're going out at ten P.M.? I don't think so," and I just laughed and said, "It's fine." I feel like my daughter will be doing that to me by age six.
How can I give her what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety. The fear of getting in trouble. The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law.'(53)
'Bossypants Lesson #183: You Can't Boss People Around If They Don't Really Care'(86)
|(photo from google image search)|
'If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important Rule of Beauty, "Who Cares?"'(114)
'We should leave people alone about their weight. Being skinny for a while (provided you actually eat food and don't take pills or smoke to get there) is a perfectly fine pastime. Everyone should try it once, like a supershort haircut or dating a white guy.'(116)
'We should leave people alone about their weight. Being chubby for a while (provided you don't give yourself diabetes) is a natural phase of life and nothing to be ashamed of. Like puberty or slowly turning into a Republican.'(118)
'People sometimes ask me, "What's it like to do photo shoots for magazines?" "Do you enjoy that kind of thing?" Let me be honest here. Publicity and press junkets are just part of the job. Your work is what you really care about because your work is your craft and your craft is your art and photo shoots are THE FUNNEST!'(147)
'Know your weaknesses. For example, I have what can be described as "dead shark eyes." But if I try too hard to look alert, I look batshit crazy, like the runaway bride. If a bout of "creepy face" sets in, the trick is to look away when necessary. This also limits how much of your soul the camera can steal.'(153)
'Anything I learned about Real Acting I learned from watching Alex Baldwin. By Real Acting I mean "an imitation of human behavior that is both emotionally or natural and mechanically precise enough as to elicit tears or laughter from humans." Alec is a master of both Film Acting and Real Acting. He can play the emotion at the core of a scene - he is falling in love, his mother is torturing him, his mentor has been reincarnated as a peacock -- while reciting long speeches word for word and hitting all the jokes with the right rhythm. You would be surprised how many major Oscar-winning movie stars cannot do this. There are only about nine people in the world who can do this; maybe three more that we don't know about in North Korea.'(188)
'There is no one of-woman-born who does not like Red Lobster cheddar biscuits. Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar and a Socialist.'(252)
'The Mother's Prayer for It's Daughter
First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged...
When the Crystal Meth is offered,
May she remember the parents who cut the grapes in half
And stick with Beer.
Guide her, protect her
When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called "Hell Drop," "Tower of Torture," or "The Death Spiral Rock 'N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith," and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere at any age.
Lead her all the way from Acting but not all the way to Finance. ...
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister,
Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends,
For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it. ... (261-263)
a Reagan Arthur Book
Book borrowed from the library
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Set in Victorian London, this is a tale of a spirited young innocent's unwilling but inevitable recruitment into a scabrous gang of thieves. Masterminded by the loathsome Fagin, the underworld crew features some of Dickens' most memorable characters, including the vicious Bill Sikes, gentle Nancy, and the juvenile pickpocket known as the Artful Dodger.
What Hooked Me:
The dramatic unraveling of the triumph of good (Oliver) over evil (Fagin and his cronies) in this timeless classic written with perfect prose and complicated plot is truly remarkable. However, as I often do, sometimes with great delight, but most often with great discomfort, I found some of the themes still so aptly relevant to our present lives. It is so sad that the passage from page 130 still rings true today!! It reminded me of my deep abhorrence for some people who use their religion as an excuse for their abominable treatment of anyone different from themselves.
'Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.'(Opening paragraph)
'I wish some well-fed philosopher, whose meat and drink turn to gall within him; whose blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have seen Oliver Twist clutching at the dainty viands that the dog had neglected. I wish he could have witnessed the horrible avidity with which Oliver tore the bits asunder with all the ferocity of famine. There is only one thing I should like better; and that would be to see the Philosopher making the same sort of meal himself, with the same relish.'(28)
'This affords charming food for contemplation. It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature may be made to be; and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy.'(32)
'There is a drowsy state, between sleeping and waking, when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes half open, and yourself half conscious of everything that is passing around you, than you would in five nights with your eyes fast closed, and your senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness. At such times, a mortal knows just enough of what his mind is doing, to form some glimmering conception of its mighty powers, its bounding from earth and spurning time and space, when freed from the restraint of its corporeal associate.'(58-59)
'"Stop thief! Stop thief!" There is a magic in the sound. The tradesman leaves his counter, and the carman his wagon; the batcher throws down his tray; the baker his basket; the milkman his pain; the errand-boy his parcels; the school-boy his marble; the paviour his pickaxe; the child his battledore. Away they run, pell-mell, helter-skelter, slap-dash; tearing, yelling, screaming, knocking down the passengers as they turn the corners, rousing up the dogs, and astonishing the fowls: and streets, squares, and courts, re-echo with the sound.'(67)
'Although I do not mean to assert that it is usually the practice of renowned and learned sages, to shorten the road to any great conclusion (their course indeed being rather to lengthen the distance, by various circumlocutions and discursive staggerings, like unto those in which drunken men under the pressure of a too mighty flow of ideas, are prone to indulge): still, I do mean to say, and do say distinctly that it is the invariable practice of many mighty philosophers, in carrying out their theories, to evince great wisdom and foresight in providing against every possible contingency which can be supposed at all likely to affect themselves. Thus, to do a great right, you may do a little wrong; and you may take any means which the end to be attained, will justify; the amount of the right, or the amount of the wrong, or indeed the distinction between the two, being left entirely to the philosopher concerned, to be settled and determined by his clear, comprehensive, and impartial view of his own particular case.'(83)
'There is something about a roused woman: especially if she add to all her other strong passions, the fierce impulses of recklessness and despair; which few men like to provoke.'(115-116)
'He's a rum dog. Don't he look fierce at any strange cove that laughs or sings when he's in company!" pursued the Dodger. "Won't he growl at all, when he hears a fiddle playing! And don't he hate other dogs as ain't of his breed! Oh, no!"
"He's an out-and-out Christian," said Charley.
This was merely intended as a tribute to the animal's abilities, but it was an appropriate remark in another sense, if Master Bates had only known it; for there are a good many ladies and gentlemen, claiming to be out-and-out Christians, between whom, and Mr. Sikes' dog, there exist strong and singular points of resemblance.'(130)
'Alas! How few of Nature's faces are left alone to gladden us with their beauty! The cares, and sorrows, and hungerings, of the world, change them as they change hearts; and it is only when those passions sleep, and have lost their hold forever, that the troubled clouds pass off, and leave Heaven's surface clear. It is a common thing for the countenances of the dead, even in that fixed and rigid state, to subside into the long-forgotten expression of sleeping infancy, and settle into the very look of early life; so calm, so peaceful, do they grow again, that those who knew them in their happy childhood, kneel by the coffin's side in awe, and see the the Angel even upon earth.'(171)
'The boy stirred, and smiled in his sleep, as though these marks of pity and compassion had awakened some pleasant dream of a love and affection he had never known. Thus, a strain of gentle music, or the rippling of water in a silent place, or the odour of a flower, or the mention of a familiar word, will sometimes call up sudden dim remembrances of scenes that never were, in this life; which vanish like a breath; which some brief memory of a happier existence, long gone by, would seem to have awakened; which no voluntary exertion of the mind can ever recall.'(214-215)
'The conference was a long one. Oliver told them all his simple history, and was often compelled to stop, by pain and want of strength. It was a solemn thing, to hear, in the darkened room, the feeble voice of the sick child counting a weary catalogue of evils and calamities which hard men had brought upon him. Oh! if when we oppress and grind our fellow-creatures, we bestowed but one thought on the dark evidences of human error, which, like dense and heavy clouds, are rising, slowly it is true, but not less surely, to Heaven, to pour their after-vengeance on our heads; if we heard but one instant, in imagination, the deep testimony of dead men's voices, which no power can stifle, and no pride shut out; where would be the injury and injustice, the suffering, misery, cruelty, and wrong, that each day's life brings with it!'(217)
'The memories which peaceful country scenes call up, are not of this world, nor if its thoughts and hopes. Their gentle influence may teach us how to weave fresh garlands for the graves of those we loved; may purify our thoughts, and bear down before it old enmity and hatred; but beneath all this, there lingers, in the least reflective mind, a vague and half-formed consciousness of having held such feelings long before, in some remote and distant time, which calls up solemn thoughts of distant times to come and bends down pride and worldliness beneath it.'(236)
'We need be careful how we deal with those about us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors, thoughts of so much omitted, and so little done -- of so many things forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired! There is no remorse so deep as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.'(245)
'Men who look on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is dark and gloomy, are in the right; but the somber colours are reflections from their own jaundiced eyes and hearts. The real hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.'(253)
'There are some promotions in life, which, independent of the more substantial rewards may offer, acquire peculiar value and dignity from the coats and waistcoats connected with them. A field-marshal has his uniform; a bishop his silk apron; a counsellor his silk gown; a beadle his cocked hat. Strip the bishop of his apron, or the beadle of his hat and lace, what are they? Men. Mere men. Dignity, and even hellness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and wasitcoat than some people imagine.'(266)
'Mortification at the overthrow of his notable scheme; hatred of the girl who had dared to palter with strangers; an utter distrust of the sincerity of her refusal to yield him up; bitter disappointment at the loss of his revenge on Sikes; the fear of detection and ruin, and death; and a fierce and deadly rage kindled by all; these were the passionate considerations which, following close upon each other with rapid and ceaseless whirl, shot through the brain of Fagin, as every evil thought and blackest purpose lay working at his heart.'(353)
a Rinehart Paperback Edition
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Bobby's a classic urban teenager. He's restless. He's impulsive. But the thing that makes him different is this: He's going to be a father. His girlfriend, Nia, is pregnant, and their lives are about to change forever. Instead of spending time with friends, they'll be spending time with doctors, and next, diapers. They have options: keeping the baby, adoption. They want to do the right thing.
If only it was clear what the right thing was.
What Hooked Me:
As much as I talk about, worry about and preach against teenage pregnancy almost everyday as part of counselling teenagers during their annual physicals, I think this is the first book that I have read that actually brings the crisis to life from the teenage boy/father's point of view. I saw the other side I seldom think about. This short novel reads real, the writing infused with enough tenderness to soften the helplessness of the situation. I will definitely be recommending it from now on.
'My mom says that I didn't sleep through the night until I was eight years old. It didn't make any difference to her 'cause she was up too, listening to the city. She says she used to come into my room, sit cross-legged on the floor by my bed, and play with my Game Boy in the dark.'(opening lines)
'I've been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks up at me, I already know there's change. But I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They'd be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end.'(6)
'This little thing with the perfect face and hands doing nothing but counting on me. And me wanting nothing else but to run crying into my own mom's room and have her do the whole thing.'(12)
'But then I realize. I've done it. I know something. I know something about this little thing that is my baby. I know that she needs me. I know what she does when she just needs me.
No big screaming thing.
Just a whimper, then she only wants me.'(13)
'I want to say to this woman who'd always been nice to me and listened when I complained that damn it, I didn't feel good, I was tired, I didn't know where I was going to lay down in a few hours, and by the way could she just write me a note and get me out of this?
It didn't have to be a long note.
It didn't have to tell anything about a medical condition.
It just had to get me out of staying awake at night, changing diapers every hour, and doing nothing except think of the yawning little thing in the white booties, whose baby carrier was all I wanted to be in.
I just want a note to get me out of it.
Just one note.'(19)
'My stomach is hurting by the time that question is out of his mouth and into the air. I don't say; it's not up to me. I don't say; whatever I want, I can't say. My dad already told me now was the time to shut my mouth. What Nia wants is what it's all about.
'As long as my mouth is moving, she's happy. As long as sound is coming out of it, the whole world is just fine for my caramel, sweet-faced, big-eyed baby; who's killing me, and keeping me so tired I can't keep my eyes open.'(30)
'Her eyes are the clearest eyes I've ever seen.
Sometimes she looks at me like she knows me. Like she's known me forever, and everything I ever thought, too. It's scary how she looks at me.
And she's so new Been on the the planet for only a few months. I been thinking about it a whole lot lately. I feel old.
I feel old when I wake up at three thirty in the morning and change her diaper, then change it again when she pees right after I put her sleeper back on. ...
I really feel old when I'm holding her on the subway and some lady tells me what a good brother I am and how I'm so good with her. I feel stooped over then. You'd think I'd feel young.'(52)
'Afterward I always kiss her, my baby, and look into her clear eyes that know everything about me, and want me to be her daddy anyway.'(53)
'I can tell you how it feels sitting in the window with Feather pointing out the creek that rolls past our backyard. I can tell you how it is to feel as brand new as my daughter even though I don't know what comes next in this place called Heaven.'(82)
a Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers Nook Edition
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
In her satisfying, sensual third novel, Nicole Mones takes readers inside the hidden world of elite cuisine in modern China through the story of an American food writer in Beijing. When recently widowed Maggie McElroy is called to China to settle a claim against her late husband’s estate, she is blindsided by the discovery that he may have led a double life. Since work is all that will keep her sane, her magazine editor assigns her to profile Sam, a half-Chinese American who is the last in a line of gifted chefs tracing back to the imperial palace. As she watches Sam gear up for China’s Olympic culinary competition by planning the banquet of a lifetime, she begins to see past the cuisine’s artistry to glimpse its coherent expression of Chinese civilization. It is here, amid lessons of tradition, obligation, and human connection that she finds the secret ingredient that may yet heal her heart
What Hooked Me:
I am sure having just gone back from China is the major reason I really enjoyed this book. Or maybe the writing caught my mood for a simple, straight-forward book. It is probably also because each chapter's epigraph from the fictional book, the Last Chinese Chef, that supposedly inspired this novel are so memorable I almost wanted to include all of them on this post. Or perhaps I just love to eat, read and talk about food. Whatever it may be, I so welcomed reminiscing the delicious, albeit sometimes weird and strange (fried sparrows or duck feet) Chinese cuisine we experienced during our trip.
'Apprentices have asked me, what is the most exalted peak of cuisine? Is it the freshest ingredients, the most complex flavors? Is it the rustic, or the rare? It is none of these. The peak is neither eating or cooking, but the giving and sharing of food. Great food should never be taken alone. What pleasure can a man take in fine cuisine unless he invites cherished friends, counts the days until the banquet, and composes an anticipatory poem for his letter of invitation? (opening epigraph)
'Three qualities of China made it a place where there grew a great cuisine. First, its land has everything under heaven: mountains, deserts, plains, and fertile crescents; great oceans, mighty rivers. Second, the mass of Chinese are numerous but poor. They have always had to extract every possible bit of goodness and nutrition from every scrap of land and fuel, economizing everywhere except with human labor and ingenuity, of which there is a surfeit. Third, there is China's elite. From this world of discriminating taste the gourmet was born. Food became not only a complex tool for ritual and the attainment of prestige, but an art form, pursued by men of passion.'(11, epigraph for Chapter 2)
'The perfect meal is balanced, not ornate.'(23)
'Yuan Mei, one of the China's great gourmets, once asked his cook why, since he was so gifted and could produce great delicacies from even the most common ingredients, he chose to stay in their relatively modest household. The cook said, "To find an employer who appreciates one is not easy. But to find one who understands anything about cookery is harder still. So much imagination and hard thinking go into the making of every dish that one may well say I serve up along with it my whole mind and heart:"'(31, epigraph for Chapter 3)
'Food should be more than food; it should tease and provoke the mind.'(34)
'He put him under one of the greatest cooks of the palace, Zhang Yongxiang, Zhang knew no limits. His most famous dish involved hollowing out fat mung bean sprouts with wire, then stuffing them with minced seasoned pork and steaming them to delicate perfection.'(40)
'He often said that the best food was simple and honest; it reminded us of when we were lit up with believing in something.'(42)
'One of the most important peaks of flavor is xian. Xian means the sweet, natural flavor - like butter, fresh fish, luscious clear chicken broth. Then we have xiang, the fragrant flavor - think frying onions, roasted meat. Nong is the concentrated flavor, the deep, complex taste you get from meat stews or dark sauces or fermented things. Then there is the rich flavor, the flavor of fat. This is called you er bu ni, which means to taste of fat without being oily. We love this one. Fat is very important to us. Fat is not something undesirable to be removed and thrown away, not in China. We have a lot of dishes that actually focus on fat and make it delectable. Bring pork belly to the table, when it's done right, and Chinese diners will groan with happiness.'(49)
'Once you understand the ideal flavors and textures, the idea is to mix and match them. That's art in itself, called tiaowei. Then we match the dishes in their cycles. Then there is the meal as a whole - the menu - which is a sort of narrative of rhythms and meanings and moods.'(50)
'For instance -- what about tofu in the shape of a lute, stuffed with minced pork, flash-fried? And a chicken's skin removed whole, intact, then stuffed with minced ham and vegetables and slivered chicken meat and roasted at high heat until fragrant -'(58)
'The classics tell us that the mysterious powers of fall create dryness in heaven and metal on the earth. Of the flavors they create the pungent. Among the emotions they create grief. Grief can neither be walled away nor be held close too long. Either will lead to obsession. For someone grieving, cook with chives, ginger, coriander, and rosemary. Theirs is the pungent flavor, which draws grief up and out of the body and releases it into the air.'(68, epigraph for Chapter 5)
'There is always a tension between imagination and reality, between what we wish for and what it is the Gods have granted us...'(94, epigraph for Chapter 7)
'The major cuisines of China were brought into being for different purposes, and for different kinds of diners. Beijing food was the cuisine of officials and rulers, up to the Emperor. Shanghai food was created for the wealthy traders and merchants. From Sichuan came the food of the common people, for, as we all know, some of the best-known Sichuan dishes originated in street stalls. Then there is Hangzhou, whence came the cuisine of the literati. This is the food that takes poetry as its principal inspiration. From commemorating great poems of the past to dining on candlelit barges afloat upon West Lake where wine is drunk and new poems are created, Hangzhou cuisine strives always to delight men of letters. The aesthetic symmetry between food and literature is a pattern without end.'(108, epigraph for Chapter 8)
'This is what you must understand if you are to be a true Chinese chef. Eating is only the beginning of cuisine! Only the start! Listen. Flavor and texture and aroma and all the pleasure - this is no more than the portal. Really great cooking goes beyond this to engage the mind and the spirit - to reflect n art, on nature, on philosophy. To sustain the mind and elevate the spirit of the meishijia. Never cook food just to be eaten...'(116)
'Did you ever want something so deeply you were scared to let yourself have it? ...
Like a desire so great you know you will never forgive yourself i you fail. So you hang back. ...
And then you wake up one day and you realize if you don't do it now, it will move out of reach forever?'(133)
'From the family on out, food was at the heart of China's human relationships. It was the basic fulcrum of interaction. All meals were shared. Nothing was ever plated for the individual. She realized this was exactly the opposite from the direction in which Eurocentric cuisine seemed to be moving - toward the small, the stacked, the precious, above all the individual presentation. The very concept of individual presentation was alien here. And that made everything about eating different.'(145)
a Mariner book Nook edition
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves--fingersmiths--for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives--Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of--passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...
But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
What Hooked Me:
This enjoyable book delivered what it promised: an intricate plot that offers surprising multilayer unravelings with an unexpected and equally important emotional involvement to boot!! This convoluted plot is also the main reason that a lot of 'spoiler passages' from the last 150 pages of the book have been omitted from this post.
'My name in those days, was Susan Trinder. People called me Sue. I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date, and took my birthday at Christmas. I believe I am an orphan. My mother I know is dead. But I never saw her, she was nothing to me.'(opening lines)
'He never took chances: that's what made him so good. Everything that came into our kitchen looking like one sort of thing, was made to leave it again looking quite another. And though it had come in the front way -- the shop way, the Lant Street way -- it left by another way, too. It left by the back.'(13)
'In short, there was not much that was brought to our house that was not moved out of it again, rather sharpish. There was only one thing, in fact, that had come and got stuck -- one thing that had somehow withstood the tremendous pull of that passage of poke -- one thing that Mr Ibbs and Mrs Sucksby seemed never to think to put a price to.
I mean of course, Me.'(14)
'Dark nights are good to thieves and fencing-men; dark nights in winter are the best nights of all, for then regular people keep close to their homes, and the swells all keep to the country, and the grand houses of London are shut up and empty and pleading to be cracked. We got lots of stuff on nights like these, and Mr Ibbs's profits were higher than ever. The cold makes thieves come to a bargain very quick.'(17)
'We need a name that will hide you, not bring you to everyone's notice. We need a name' -- he thought it over -- 'an untraceable name, yet one we shall remember ... Brown? To match your dress? Or -- yes, why not? Let's make it, Smith. Susan Smith.' He smiled. 'You are to be a sort of smith, after all. This sort, I mean.'
He let his hand drop, and turned it, and crooked his middle finger; and the sign, and the word he meant -- fingersmith -- being Borough code for thief, we laughed again.'(37)
'She was certainly, then, what you would call original. But was she mad, or even half-way simple, as Gentleman said at Lant Street? I did not think so, then. I thought her only pretty lonely, and pretty bookish and bored -- as who wouldn't be, in a house like that?'(69)
'When Gentleman came, the show gave a kind of jog. There was a growling of the levers, people quivering for a second upon their sticks, the carving of one or two new grooves; and then it all went on, smooth as before, but with scenes in a different order.'(93)
'We were thinking of secrets. Real secrets, and snide. Too many to count. When I try now to sort out who knew what and who knew nothing, who knew everything and who was a fraud, I have to stop and give it up, it makes my head spin.'(95)
'She sleep at once, and heavily, as housemaids do. She smells of a violet facecream. Her gown has ribbons upon it, at the breast, and I find them out with my gloved hands and hold them while I wait for sleep to come -- as if I am tumbling into perfect darkness and they are the ropes that will save me.
I am telling you this so that you might appreciate the forces that work upon me, making me what I am.'(158)
'Perhaps children are like horses after all, and may be broken. My uncle returns to his mess of papers, dismissing us; and I go docilely back to my sewing. It is not the prospect of a whipping that makes me meek. It is what I know of the cruelty of patience. There is no patience so terrible as that of the deranged. I have seen lunatics labour at endless tasks -- conveying sand from one leaking cup into another; counting the stitches in a fraying gown, or the motes in a sunbeam; filling invisible ledgers with the resulting sums. Had they been gentlemen, and rich -- instead of women -- then perhaps they would have passed as scholars and commanded staffs. -- I cannot say.'(160)
'The world calls it pleasure. My uncle collects it -- keeps it ordered, on guarded shelves; but keeps it strangely -- not for its own sake, no, never for that; rather, as it provides fuel for the satisfying of a curious lust.
I mean, the lust of the bookman.'(165)
'On the contrary. How could it be a misfortune to be wise? I can never be deceived, for instance, in the matter of a gentleman's attentions. I am a connoisseur of all the varieties of methods by which a gentleman might seek to compliment a lady.'(177)
'The rareness of the article is relative to the desire of the heart that seeks it.'(179)
'We are not meant for common usage, my fellow books and I. My uncle keeps us separate from the world. He will call us poisons; he says we will hurt unguarded eyes. Then again, he names us his children, hid foundlings, that have come to him, from every corner of the world -- some rich and handsomely provided for, some shabby, some injured, some broken about the spine, some gaudy, some gross. For all that he speaks against them, I believe he likes the gross ones best; for they are the ones that other parents -- other bookmen and collectors, I mean -- cast out. I was like them, and had a home, and lost it --'(181)
'She will be distracted by the plot into which I shall draw her. She will be like everyone, putting on the things she sees the constructions she expects to find there.'(188)
'Don't misunderstand me. Don't think me more scrupulous than I am. It's true I shudder in fear -- fear of his plot -- fear of its success, as well as of its failure. But I tremble, too, at the boldness of him -- or rather, his boldness sets me quivering, as they say a vibrating string will find out unsuspected sympathies in the fibres of idle bodies. I saw in ten minutes what your life has made of you, he said to me, that first night. And then: I think you are half a villain already. He was right. If I never knew that villainy before -- or if, knowing it, I never named it -- I know it, name it, now.'(195)
'But I am not sorry, I am only amazed. Not to read! It seems to me a kind of fabulous insufficiency -- like the absence, in a martyr or a saint, of the capacity for pain.'(203)
'She lets one fall, and has not seen it: the two of hearts. I place my heel upon it, imagining on of the painted red hearts my own; and I grind it into the carpet.'(214)
'I wake to moan and long for slumber -- for always, at the last, comes the remembrance, sharp and fearful, of where I truly lie, how I arrived there, who and what I am.'(289)
'A tumbling stream of things -- not like the books that came to Briar, that came as if sinking to rest on the bed of a viscid sea, through dim and silent fathoms; nor like the things the books described, the things of convenience and purpose -- the chairs, the pillows, the beds, the curtains, the ropes, the rods...
There are no books, here. There is only life in all its awful chaos. And the only purpose the things are made to serve, is the making of money.'(301)
a Riverhead Book Nook edition
Monday, May 28, 2012
The Book Blurb:
Each working day from January 29 to November 1, 1951, John Steinbeck warmed up the work of writing East of Eden with a letter to the late Pascal Covici, his friend and editor of The Viking Press. It was his way, he said, of "getting my mental arm in shape to pitch a good game."
Steinbeck's letters were written on the left-hand pages of a notebook in which the facing pages would be filled with the rest of East of Eden. They touched on many subjects -- story arguments, trial flights of workmanship, concern for his sons.
Part autobiography, part writer's workshop, these letters offer an illuminating perspective on Steinbeck's creative process, and a fascinating glimpse of Steinbeck, the private man.
What Hooked Me:
I have no idea if one is meant to read the novel East of Eden first to thoroughly enjoy this book like I did. A great part of me however, wishes that I read this book first. East of Eden would have resonated with me on a much more personal level, and I wouldn't have this strong desire to reread it again. As this book was never meant to be published, John Steinbeck wrote about his innermost feelings about a myriad of things: from his choice of pencils, his concern for his two sons and new wife Elaine, his bouts of weariness and his passion for writing East of Eden. It is undeniably why this book is exceptional. It offers an emotional (his thoughts on p.89 is really sad) and highly personal window into the mind of a great (maybe the best) American writer.
'January 29, 1951 (Monday)
Dear Pat: How did the time pass and how did it grow so late. Have we learned anything from the passage of time? Are we more mature, wiser, more perspective, kinder? We have known each other now for centuries and still I remember the first time and the last time.'(opening lines)
'This book will be most difficult of all I have ever attempted. Whether I am good enough or gifted enough remains to be seen. I do have a good background. I have love and I have had pain. I still have anger but I can find no bitterness in myself. There maybe some bitterness but if there is I don't know where it can be. I do not seem to have the kind of selfness any more that nourishes it.'(4-5)
'It is always amazing to me how we forget our failures. I guess if we didn't, we could not survive. But perhaps it is no bad thing to take a little time to go back over failures, not to glory in them but just to remind ourselves. In the forgetting it is not vainglory that bothers me but simply that things neglected as not done well slip away as though they never happened.'(22)
'This book is very important to me. I am going to do no going back until the whole is completed but then it is going to be overhauled very very deeply. I shall insist on that. This is my big book. And it has to be a big book, and because it is new in form although old in pace it has to be excellent in every detail. And I don't care how long it takes to make it that way and I mean this. You can't train for something all your life and then have it fall short because you are hurrying to get it finished. So there.'(33)
'You know I am really stupid. For years I have looked for the perfect pencil. I have found very good ones but never the perfect one. And all the time it was not the pencils but me. A pencil that is all right some days is no good another day. ... I have fine prejudices, lazy ones and enjoyable ones. It occurs to me that everyone likes or wants to be eccentric and this is my eccentricity, my pencil trifling.'(35-36)
'It is amazing how many things there are to do in a house, new house or old house. And for some reason I love to make the little repairs and improvements myself. A curious penuriousness comes out in me about paying a man twenty-five dollars for doing badly what I can do just as badly in less time. Besides I can improvise and most people can't. Give me a box of odds and ends of metal and wood and I can build dam near anything. But it isn't only penuriousness either. I love to do it. It gives me some kind of satisfaction.'(42)
'I believe you can only be unafraid if you find out what it is you fear and conquer it. All the pretense in the world won't help you otherwise.'(44)
'They say, and I expect truly, that if a man could see his whole life, he would never live it. He would kill himself instantly. Something like this happens on the week-end days when I do not work. I lift my eyes out of the details of the little day's work and a panic crashed on me. The size and difficulty rise up and smack me. And yet it is necessary to look at the whole thing now and then. It's like swimming with your head down or up. It cuts your speed to raise your head but at least you know where you are going.'(65)
'Now -- we must think of a book as a wedge driven into a man's personal life. A short book would be in and out quickly. And it is possible for such a wedge to open the minds and do its work before it is withdrawn leaving quivering nerves and cut tissue. A long book, on the other hand, drives in very slowly and if only in point of time remains for a while. Instead of cutting and leaving it, it allows the mind to rearrange itself to fit around the wedge. Let's carry the analogy a little farther. When the quick wedge is withdrawn, the tendency of the mind is quickly to heal itself exactly as it was before the attack. With the long book perhaps the healing has been warped around the shape of the wedge so that when the wedge is finally withdrawn and the book set down, the mind cannot ever be quite what it was before. This is my theory and it may explain the greater importance of a long book. Living with it longer has given it greater force. If this is true, a long book, even not so good, is more effective than an excellent short book.'(66-67)
'Plans are real things and not experience. A rich life is rich in plans. If they don't come off, they are still a little bit realized. If they do, they may be disappointing. That's why a trip described becomes better the greater the time between the trip and the telling. I believe too that if you can know a man's plans, you know more about him than you can in any other way. Plans are daydreaming and this is an absolute measure of a man.'(74)
'There is one field of feeling , however, in which either I am different from most people or they do not tell the truth -- perhaps not knowing it or not daring to face it or perhaps feeling that it is a monstrous thing which should not be brought into the light. I don't know that this is so, I simply offer these as reasons why people do not seem to feel the way I do. I refer to the will to live. I have very little of it. This must not be confused with a death wish. I have no will to die but I can remember no time from earliest childhood until this morning when I would not have preferred never to have existed.'(89)
'Not that it is necessary to be remembered but there is one purpose in writing that I can see, beyond simply doing it interestingly. It is the duty of the writer to lift up, to extend, to encourage. If the written word has contributed anything at all to our developing species and our half developed culture, is it this: Great writing has been a staff to lean on, a mother to consult, a wisdom to pick up stumbling folly, a strength in weakness and a courage to support sick cowardice.'(115-116)
'July 2, Monday
Now, how did it get to be this time of the year. The last time I looked up it was March. And in other ways I seem to have been writing on this book forever. I guess the last is true. I have been writing on this book all my life. And throughout, you will find things that remind you of earlier work. That earlier work was practice for this, I am sure. And that is why I want this book to be good, because it is the first book. The rest was practice. I want it to be all forms, all methods, all approaches.'(117)
'Refrain is one of the most valuable of all form methods. Refrain is a return to the known before one flies again upwards. It is a consolation to the reader, a reassurance that the book has not left his understanding.'(124)
'How the mind rebels against work, but once working, it rebels just as harshly against stopping. I don't know why this should be. It's a dumb brute, the human mind. And it has really brutish tendencies.'(147)
'And from this meeting a new character has emerged. He is called the Reader.
He is so stupid you can't trust him with an idea.
He is so clever he will catch you in the least error.
He will not buy short books.
He will not buy long books.
He is part moron, part genius, part ogre.
There is some doubt as to whether he can read.'Well, by God, Pat, he's just like me, no stranger at all. He'll take from my book what he can bring to it. The dull witted will get dullness and the brilliant may find things in my book I didn't know were there.'(182, from the original draft for the Dedication of East of Eden)
a Penguin book
Book borrowed from the library
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Our China trip was fabulous.
So much to see (and eat) and explore in such a beautiful and interesting country.
The trip in a nutshell...
So much to see (and eat) and explore in such a beautiful and interesting country.
The trip in a nutshell...
We landed in Beijing and soon visited the Forbidden City:
Followed the next day by a challenging walk on the Badaling portion of the Great wall:
Followed the next day by a challenging walk on the Badaling portion of the Great wall:
We flew to Xian to see the Terracotta warriors:
The next flight was to Chongqing where we visited the Pandas Yaya and her baby Mang zhei:
We then boarded a small ship for a three-day cruise on the Yangtze River:
Another flight to see the city of Shanghai:
Next flight was to Guilin and the highlight of the trip for me, cruising the mesmerizing Li River:
and our final flight is to the dazzling city of Hongkong:
Happy to be back home!!
P.S. If you have come to this part of the post, you are one of a few handful of my true followers and it is to you that I extend my apology for what I have decided while I was away. There has been a drastic change at work that requires more time commitment from me, so although I will continue to occasionally read and post quotes on this blog, I will be totally out of circulation from networking and commenting for the next 3-5 years, at which time I hope I would have retired and will have all the time I will need to truly blog. And because lately, it also seems that I spend more time deleting nasty and spam comments (seriously, so disappointing,) I have also decided to temporarily stop the comment section on my future posts. Thanks for your understanding and take care!!