Monthly Archives: January 2010

Other Trees

Today I received an e-mail with the subject line, “We’ve found your relatives in other trees.” I saw that it was from a genealogy service, so I figured out pretty quickly that it meant family trees and not, hey, please come get your cousin out of our sugar maple, his yelling is really disturbing the birds.

After this stellar beginning, the e-mail then went on to inform me that “[My father’s name], your father, appears in 1 other tree” and also, “[My father’s name], your aunt/uncle, appears in 1 other tree.” Puzzling, since we’re not from West Virginia, and even if we were…you know what, no, not going there. Suffice to say I won’t be climbing any trees anytime soon.

We’re a little short on trees around here anyway, with the Discarded Christmas Tree being one of the most common types. And they’re more fun for jumping over than for climbing.

What I’ve been reading: Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann; Cyanide & Happiness, Kris, Rob, Matt, & Dave
What I’ve been listening to: Chopin; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; Dashboard Confessional, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most; Joshua Radin; Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castles

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The beauty, the splendor, the wonder

Last Friday I got to see Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical on Broadway. Somehow I’d made it 24 years (almost 25!) without hearing any of the music, so it was all new.

And now I have had, alternately over the past four days, “Hair,” “Let The Sun Shine In,” and “Manchester England” stuck in my head. (And now “Suffer Little Children” by the Smiths because of the Manchester mention.)

For others who haven’t seen it either, it won’t be giving anything away to say it’s about a bunch of hippie flower children in the ’70s, most of whom burn their draft cards, one of whom does not. That’s pretty much it as far as plot goes; it’s mostly a singing and dancing spectacle. The cast runs through the audience a lot, and they handed out flowers.

Real flowers! Which I put in this nice bud vase (or triple shot glass, take your pick) when I got home. You may, if you look closely, notice there’s an odd reflection – not in the window, but in front of the windowsill. That is because, after repeatedly asking the landlord to do something about the obvious gaps around the window, which were leading to frozen drafts of icy tundra air and rendering my tiny radiator ineffective, a couple of practical-minded friends came over and sealed the windows up with plastic. Problem solved!

Funny thing I noticed when buying a couple of tracks from Hair off iTunes: the first review began “Even though I disagreed with practically every second of the show…” (doesn’t THAT sound like a fun person to hang out with!), and the second review was titled “Gavin Creel is a God.” (Creel is the actor who plays Claude, and he was in fact fantastic.)

[photo stolen from internet via google image search]

What I’ve been reading: Beatrice & Virgil, Yann Martel; Let The Great World Spin, Colum McCann

What I’ve been listening to: Hair, Wilco, the Weakerthans

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The Time Warner Saga Concludes

Yes, the Time Warner Saga has, at long last, concluded. More or less. I hope. (If you missed the first, let’s see, SIX installments, dating back as early as September 2009, you can find them here, here, and here.) Over the past couple weeks, I (a) obtained a faxed estimate from my dentist as to the cost of a replacement retainer; (b) faxed this, in turn, to the TWC representative who came to inspect and photograph the damaged item and to take down my account of events; (c) received a call from TWC informing me that they would pay for 71% of the cost of replacing the retainer (“We can offer you X amount.” “Despite the fact that it will cost Y amount to replace?” “Yes, well… [muttering about how I can’t PROVE it was their technician who broke it. I guess they are 71% sure it was him though]”); (d) received another call to schedule tonight’s appointment for the rep to come give me a check and have me sign papers; (e) met with the rep, who was only 45 minutes late and who kindly called ahead to let me know that he would be late; (f) accepted the check and read over the statement I was to sign; (g) suppressed a massive coronary attack at the multiple, blatant, glaring, egregious spelling and grammatical errors on the one-paragraph document; (h) photographed the document, signed, and saw the rep on his merry way.

I’ve spent a few days at work recently going over a contract, so I am not unfamiliar with legal language. This has got to be, hands-down, one of the most garbled and senseless paragraphs I have ever seen in my life, and I HAVE READ JAMES JOYCE. (Sections of Ulysses, anyway, and they were easier to follow than this.) Sentence structure aside – it’s clearly a mess – the “UNERSIGNED”? “…and forever discharge IT’S parent…”? It’s the misplaced apostrophe there that nearly killed me. Out, out, damn spot! Begone with ye.

Apparently my explication on the correct placement of the apostrophe in the word “y’all” earlier today was just a warmup. (For those who weren’t in on that: “y’all” is a contraction made up of the words “you” and “all.” The apostrophe takes the place of the “ou” in “you” and therefore the correct spelling/punctuation is “y’all.”) (For the record, this explanation earned me the “most hilarious e-mail in the ‘sort of a dick move’ category” award.)

What I’ve been reading: The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson
What I’ve been listening to: Songs Without Words, Mendelssohn; Clarity and Stay On My Side Tonight, Jimmy Eat World; Hard Candy, Counting Crows; Gordon, Barenaked Ladies; songs from Parachute, Lost and Gone Forever, and Goldfly, Guster

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Sanity Prevails

For once. I got ready to go play frisbee, resolutely ignoring the 38-degrees-and-raining conditions, and even left the house, and got half a block before I had an epiphany: THIS IS MENTAL. TURN AROUND AND GO HOME. So I did. Not my most hard-core moment, but it does mean I have a few hours to fill and can share more of yesterday’s cooking exploits.

Yesterday was 45 degrees and exuberantly sunny, and even though I’ve already shared the Israeli salad recipe, I couldn’t resist taking more pictures when I made it again. The tomatoes almost look like they’re glowing.

‘Cause glowing tomatoes, that’s not scary at all.

And this red onion – it’s enough to make you cry. (Ha, get it? Because when you cut an onion…oh, never mind.)

Salad.

Cast of characters: feta cheese, hummus, salad, pita. A.K.A. lunch!

But it wouldn’t have been a very productive day if all I did was go grocery shopping, loiter in coffeeshops with friends, and made a salad I’ve made before, no. I had to make a quiche also. (By definition, any day you make a quiche is a productive day. According to the rule that I have just made up.)

This quiche is really easy – and it’s even easier if you use a pre-made crust, which I would have, except that I thought I had one in the freezer and that turned out to be untrue. That’s okay though, because it gave me a chance to use my new food processor! (Marathon Girl, see those spinning blades? Back away slowly…)

Ingredients

For the crust
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter
6 Tbsp ice water

For the filling
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used cheddar, but you can also use gruyere or pretty much any cheese you can grate, or a mixture of cheeses)
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp powdered mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne (or less, take it easy if you don’t like it too spicy)
cooked veggies (I used broccoli, tomatoes, and also some Morningstar fake bacon, which I do realize is not a vegetable, thank you. Well actually it’s probably TVP – textured vegetable protein – so there. Vegetable.)

If you don’t have a pre-made crust, make the crust first, as the dough will need to chill in the fridge for an hour. Combine the dry ingredients, then cut in the cold butter. If you don’t have a food processor, use a pastry cutter, two knives, or your hands (but NOT one knife and one hand) to work the butter into the dry ingredients. Then sprinkle the ice water over the dough and use a spatula to make it into a ball; add more ice water if necessary. Wrap the dough in wax paper and stick it in the fridge to chill.

While the dough is in the fridge, grate the cheese and set aside. Chop and cook your chosen vegetables (and TVP strips) so they are ready to add. Preheat the oven to 375. Press the chilled dough into a pie pan (you could roll it out with a rolling pin, but I was lazy and neglected to do so, and it turned out fine anyway).

Sprinkle the grated cheese onto the pie crust. Place the cooked veggies on top of the cheese, evenly distributed. Beat the remaining ingredients together (eggs, milk and cream, spices) and pour carefully over the veggies and cheese; the liquid may come right up to the brim. Slide the quiche into the oven and cook for 45 minutes, checking and rotating halfway through. Mine never cook this quickly, so add time as necessary in 10-minute increments. The quiche should be relatively firm and not too jiggly.

Also it should be delicious.

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Smells Like Heaven

For this recipe, all we have to do is combine Nirvana (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) with The Cure (“Just Like Heaven”) to end up with Beer Bread (“Smells Like Heaven”). Beer Bread is, in fact, a bread, and not a band, but if it WAS a band, it would probably go with Nirvana’s flannel-shirt-and-torn-jeans look and eschew The Cure’s weird eye makeup.

Sorry. I had to go with a complicated lead-in, because this just might be The Simplest Recipe In The World. I found it on Epicurious, but here it is, reproduced so you don’t even have to go to a different web page. How much easier could it possibly be?

Ingredients
3 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 bottle (12 oz.) beer, room temp
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (1/2 stick)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the beer. Stir just enough to combine – don’t overmix. Batter will be lumpy.

Plop batter in a greased 9x5x3″ loaf pan and spread out evenly; brush the melted butter over the top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a skewer (or knife, if you don’t have such fancy things as skewers lying about) comes out clean. Remove from pan and allow to cool. Eat!

What I’ve been reading: Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks

What I’ve been listening to: Matt Pond PA, Emblems; the Beatles, Revolver; Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Outer South; Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 5 in D Minor; Elliott Smith, Either/Or; Jimmy Eat World, Clarity; The Weepies, Say I Am You; Rancid, And Out Come the Wolves

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With Apologies to Orwell

All morning are equal, but some mornings are more equal than others. And on the less equal mornings, it is handy to have made an apple-and-berry crisp the previous evening.

And it is even handier to have vanilla ice cream in the freezer.

Haphazard Fruit Crisp

(much like Apple Crisp, but with fewer apples and more frozen berries)

Ingredients:

1 apple
the remainders of two packages of frozen berries (about 1 1/2 cups?)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2+ cup sugar
3/4 cups flour
6 Tbsp butter
cinnamon, nutmeg, salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toss the berries into a bread pan (if they are frozen together in intractable clumps and bashing them against the counter doesn’t work, zap them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds). Chop up the apple (leave the skin on, it’s OK!) and toss it in with the berries; pour on the lemon juice and some sugar and toss/stir to coat.

Then assemble the topping; cut the butter into the dry ingredients in a bowl. Use a pastry cutter or your fingers to mix, then sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Pop it in the oven for 40 minutes or so. Allow to cool (just enough so you don’t burn your mouth) and eat warm (with ice cream, of course).

What I’ve Been Reading: Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, Nick Hornby; The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris; Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don’t Float, Sarah Schmelling; Making Toast, Roger Rosenblatt
What I’ve Been Listening to: Once: Music From the Motion Picture; Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys; Bach Cello Suites, Yo-Yo Ma; And Out Come the Wolves, Rancid; Reconstruction Site, the Weakerthans

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Primary Colors Soup

I’ve been doing a lot of baking recently (mostly repeat recipes like chocolate chip cookies, biscuits, and oatmeal cookies), but today those leftover potatoes’ number was up: soup! When it’s twenty-three degrees out, soup is pretty much the perfect food to make.

I didn’t plan ahead, so I just used the ingredients I had around, which happened to be:

2 smallish-medium potatoes (yukon gold I think)
1/2 white onion (yellow would work fine)
4 cups broth
1 carrot
1 chicken breast
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups frozen corn
2 Tbsp cream (you could easily leave this out)
salt, pepper, butter

Wash, peel, and cut up potatoes. Put them in a medium saucepan, cover with water, add a dash of salt, cover and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer until potatoes are soft but not falling apart; drain and remove potatoes to a bowl. Add a little butter (and/or olive oil if you like), some salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, melt about 2 Tbsp butter. Chop the onion finely and add it to the pot. Rinse and cut up the chicken breast – I cut mine very small, because chicken is actually not my favorite part of chicken soup, so I like to minimize its presence. Or something. When the onions have turned translucent (about 5 minutes), add the chicken to the pot, stirring occasionally.

In the now-empty potato pot, heat 4 cups broth. Again, I used a bouillon cube; the directions say 1 cube per 2 cups of water, but I used 1 cube for 4 cups. When the broth is warm, add half (2 cups) to the saucepan with the onions and chicken. Now would be a good time to wash, peel, chop, and add the carrot, too – I forgot and added it toward the end.

Add the potatoes, which have been waiting patiently in their bowl, back into their original pot with the remaining 2 cups of broth. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender (or however you like). I wanted a creamy base for the soup; if you prefer a clearer broth, just make sure the potatoes are cut into bite-size pieces and skip the blending. I poured some of the broth from the chicken-and-onion pot back into the potato pot to be blended in, then added the cream.

Combine the contents of both pots and add in the frozen peas and corn. Stir together, add salt and pepper to taste. Heat through, and enjoy!

What I’m reading: The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris; Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, Nick Hornby
What I’m listening to: Road to Ruin, the Ramones; The Best of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

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Interior Design

Went to Roots Cafe on New Year’s Day. In addition to great coffee and a welcoming atmosphere, they are continuously playing around with the decor and there is always something new to look at.

A dinosaur on a tricycle, for example.

Martha Stewart’s got nothing on these folks.

What I’m reading: Joshua Ferris, The Unnamed; Nick Hornby, Songbook
What I’m listening to: The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour; Alkaline Trio, Agony & Irony; Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out; Rancid, And Out Come the Wolves; The Ramones, Road to Ruin

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A Novel Idea

Last book post for a little while! If reading was the Winter Olympics, novels would be figure skating (i.e., the main event. Possibly other people think that slalom or “curling” is the main event…in which case, fine, novels are pushing a hockey puck with a broom. But if that is your favorite winter sport to watch, you’re weird).

Without further ado…here are the novels I’ve read over the past year that have stuck with me, for one reason or another.

Novels
Goldengrove, Francine Prose – Francine Prose (what an apt last name) is an amazing writer. I read another novel of hers, Blue Angel, and a collection of her short stories, Women and Children First, but Goldengrove was, as Robert Mapplethorpe would say, the one with the magic. The main character’s older sister dies right at the beginning (so I’m not giving anything away by telling you), and the rest of the book consists of how the family – the parents and remaining daughter – deal with the fallout. The relationship between the younger sister and the older sister’s boyfriend is also an element, which Prose handles beautifully.

Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson – I very much wanted to talk to someone about this book as soon as I’d finished it; I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d understood what happened. It’s a coming-of-age book, I guess you could say, set in Norway (it was translated from the Norwegian) during the war. The book actually opens with the narrator as an old man, though it is the story of the summer he was fifteen. The writing, the sense of the time and place, the characters…all painful and poignant.

You or Someone Like You, Chandler Burr – This was one of our book club books, and an excellent selection; there is so much to talk about. It’s literary in the extreme – the main character, Anne, has a PhD in literature, and begins to lead a book group for her husband’s Hollywood colleagues. Literary analysis, religious crisis, the inner workings of family, living far from home (Anne is originally English)…YoSLY is rich with discussion material.

The Good People of New York, Thisbe Nissen – First off, brilliant cover art. This novel covers several years, beginning with the main character Miranda’s mother as a young woman, and continuing through Miranda’s childhood and young adulthood, skipping chunks of time here and there. In a way, it’s like flipping through a family photo album, stopping to examine a few pages in detail, then skimming again. Nissen portrays the mother-daughter relationship in a truly realistic way that will, I think, be familiar to many mothers and daughters.

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon – A fantastic mystery set in postwar Barcelona. There’s an element of magical realism, just a hint really (this isn’t Marquez or Borges or even Esquivel), but it’s wonderful and compelling and addictive and haunting – you won’t want to put it down once you’ve started. I liked The Angel’s Game too, but this was better.

The Whole World Over, Julia Glass – Of the three Glass books I read this year (the others were Three Junes and I See You Everywhere), this was the first, and my favorite. Glass has a talent for writing about ordinary people and their everyday lives in such a way that they seem tremendously real and important. She writes grown-up stories about grown-ups; nothing flashy, nothing fancy, but her characters are simply perfect, flawed and human.

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger – I believe I’ve written enough about this book in previous posts. Niffenegger trends toward the gothic here with appropriately spooky results. Don’t expect another Time Traveler’s Wife – this is another kind of book altogether.

A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick – The details of this one are already fading a little in my mind, but the writing is beautiful, the character development is masterful, and the author conveys a great sense of history and place. There is one simple, elegant plot twist; the characters carry the story.

Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby – Hornby’s best since High Fidelity [cue About A Boy fans to come out of the woodwork with tar and feathers, but I don’t care]. In fiction at least, Hornby seems to be at his best when writing about music. He’s switched things up this time and has a female main character, and he pulls it off really well. Read it!

March, Geraldine Brooks – This had been on my list for ages and I finally got it from the library. It’s the story of Mr. March, the father of Alcott’s Little Women. I’m often wary of authors borrowing from other authors like this, but a) I don’t have any special attachment to Little Women, and b) Geraldine Brooks is a genius and it’s no wonder she won the Pulitzer for this book. This is an absolute must for anyone who likes Civil War history, or brilliant storytelling. (I’d also highly recommend People of the Book, which is fantastic in a completely different way.)

Yes, 2009 was a great year in reading, and 2010 is looking good too. Here are some that I’m looking forward to reading this year:

To Read in 2010
Fiction

Hunger Games #3, Suzanne Collins
-it comes out in August!

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
-loved her collection Birds of America.

The Children’s Book, A.S. Byatt
-Byatt wrote Possession, and this has gotten good reviews.

Drood, Dan Simmons
-I read Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood in preparation for this many-hundred-pages monster.

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor
-my friend from Alabama lent this to me months ago.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
-all right, let’s see what the fuss is about.

The Story Sisters, Alice Hoffman
-looks good, and has been sitting on my desk since before it was actually published.

Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks
-I loved her other two so much it only makes sense to read this one as well.

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Richard Yates
-Great title, and Yates wrote Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade, both of which were great.

Angels of Destruction, Keith Donohue
-very much liked his previous novel, The Stolen Child.

The Gift of Rain, Tan Twan Eng
-looks like something I would like (WWII era) and has also been sitting around for well over a year.

Nonfiction
Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt
Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
-These four have been on the list since before it was actually a list – it’s time.

Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace
-Been meaning to read these essays since a friend gave me a copy of the book – before DFW died.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, Tom Vanderbilt
-I’m curious.

Happy: A Memoir, Alex Lemon
-This book’s editor spoke so passionately about this at BEA (BookExpo America) this past spring that I feel like I have to read it.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic, Steven Johnson
-Looks intriguing, has gotten good reviews, and I got a free copy!

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim
-I’ve seen this referenced enough that I’m curious about the original. Also, fairy tales!

What I’m reading: The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris; Songbook, Nick Hornby; Ophelia Joined The Group Maidens Who Don’t Float, Sarah Schmelling

What I’m listening to: The Sight of Any Bird, The Poem Adept; Little Plastic Castles and Not a Pretty Girl, Ani DiFranco

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What You Read When You Don’t Have To

Up until about two years ago, I would have said I didn’t much like short stories in general, with the exception of Jhumpa Lahiri (Interpreter of Maladies, and, more recently, Unaccustomed Earth). This year, I’ve read several collections that have changed my mind about short stories. Here are the top four:

Favorite Short Story Collections Read in 2009
Delicate Edible Birds, Lauren Groff – I read and enjoyed Lauren Groff’s first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, and was delighted to get a copy of Delicate Edible Birds when it was published. These stories are longer, so for those whose problem with short stories is that by the time they become invested in the character(s), the story is over, dip a toe in the water with this bunch. Nearly all of Groff’s main characters are female – I remember thinking “strong women characters” but not in a militant feminist way. The title story is especially good.

Love Begins in Winter, Simon Van Booy – Simply cannot say enough good things about this book. There are only five stories (again, good for story-shy novel-lovers), and the first one was so heart-stoppingly good that I read it again before going on to the other four. He’s a poetic, lyrical writer, but the stories and characters are there too. The title story also gave me the nudge I needed to get Bach’s Cello Suites, which I’ve been enjoying ever since.

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, Kevin Wilson – These stories are a bit shorter but I was blown away by the inventiveness and energy of them. If Simon Rich (Ant Farm; Free Range Chickens) and Simon Van Booy met in the middle, the result might be something like this.

Birds of America, Lorrie Moore – All of these were good, but the one that lingered was “People Like That Are The Only People Here,” the story of a Mother, her Husband, and their Baby in a pediatric oncology ward. I’m looking forward to reading Moore’s new novel, A Gate at the Stairs, this year.

Classics

I know; I know. There is no way to read them all. Still, I’m chasing down the ones I wasn’t required to read in high school or college. One by one…here are my three favorites that I read in 2009:

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov – I’m far from the first to proclaim the utter brilliance of this book. What makes it even more unbelievable is that English is his third language; most people don’t write that well in their first. Extremely high-quality prose and a much more engaging read than I was expecting.

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins – A few years ago I read The Moonstone (because it was mentioned in The Time Traveler’s Wife) and enjoyed it; The Woman In White was even better. If you don’t think a Victorian novel can be un-put-down-able, think again.

The Annotated Alice, Lewis Carroll – Another one I read because of The Time Traveler’s Wife; I found a 1973 paperback edition for a dollar at Housing Works. It had been ages since I’d read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, and all the notes were fascinating. Carroll (Dodgson) had a delightfully absurd sense of humor and is playful with language throughout – the literary pyrotechnics are not to be found only in “The Jabberwock”. (And I finally discovered the answer(s) to the riddle “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”)

Re-reads

I know some people who refuse to re-read a book on principle: there are just too many books out there, so how can you justify reading one twice (or, say, eighteen times) when others are going unread? Maybe I can’t really justify it, but hey – love doesn’t make sense. Here are six old favorites I re-read in 2009:

Call Me By Your Name, Andre Aciman – I’ve read this three or four times, actually. The language is beautiful, there’s a convincing sense of place (most of the story takes place one summer in Italy), and it brought back what it was like to be sixteen in full force.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger – If you know me, you know: I’ve read this one far more times than I’m capable of counting. It has sent me off to discover many other works of art – mostly other books, but music too – but I always come back to it. It seems reductive and incomplete to describe it this way, but it is a love story.

All My Friends Are Superheroes, Andrew Kaufman – I’ve talked about this one before, and I recommend it for EVERYONE. It’s short – it’ll take an hour to read, tops, and then another hour after that, because you’ll want to re-read it immediately. Sweet, simple, and creative.

Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky – This WWII story set in France was originally conceived as a five-volume work; Suite Francaise is the first two volumes, because Nemirovsky was hauled off by the Nazis and killed in Auschwitz before she could finish the third, fourth, and fifth volumes of the book (in case you needed another reason to hate the Nazis). The incredible thing about Suite Francaise – aside from the writing itself – is the way it captures the mood, the atmosphere, of the time and place. Whereas most WWII fiction is written after the fact, Nemirovsky was writing history as it was happening.

Possession, A.S. Byatt – Yet another one I read due to The Time Traveler’s Wife. I remember enjoying it more the first time around – like Dickens (and please don’t stone me for saying this), it’s a bit of a slog, but it picks up and pays off in the end. And it’s a lovely story.

Griffin & Sabine/Sabine’s Notebook/The Golden Mean, Nick Bantock – This is actually three books but I am counting them as one. Griffin & Sabine is completely and utterly magical. It takes the epistolary novel to the extreme: the whole book is on postcards or letters you take out of their envelopes. There’s no way you could put this on a Kindle.

I did not realize (but should have) how long this would become. Should be able to wrap up novels in Part Three, as well as the books I am most looking forward to in 2010. Meanwhile, a quote from the irrepressible Oscar Wilde:

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

What I’m reading: Tell No One, Harlan Coben; The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris
What I’m listening to: How to Save a Life, The Fray; And Out Come the Wolves, Rancid; Songs for the Long Lonely Drive, The Poem Adept

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