Jumping ship (again)

I've been threatening to do this for a while, but now it's done: Wordpress came out with their New Blogger import, so I packed the whole show up and moved over to Wordpress. Why? Well, their layouts are a lot cooler, that's for sure, and they've got a bunch of fun other functions that I won't go into, because I'm not really trying to win you over to Wordpress. I just like it better, that's all.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the new blog. Please update your links accordingly.


CLOSE RANGE, by Annie Proulx

Well, that's it. CLOSE RANGE firmly establishes Annie Proulx as one of my favorite authors. Why did this take three books to confirm? Because I mostly liked The Shipping News and I really liked Accordian Crimes, and I wasn't sure how all that averaged out, even when one figured in how much I liked "Brokeback Mountain" (a lot--"Brokeback Mountain" is one of the short stories included in CLOSE RANGE. I read "Brokeback" last summer, and only just now sat down to the rest of the stories). CLOSE RANGE brings it all together, and yes, ranks Proulx high on my scale of favorites.

The short stories in CLOSE RANGE all focus on the state of Wyoming, and are told with a sense of eerie, dark humor that is fascinating--without being perverse or excessive. Her writing is beautiful, seemingly effortless, and some of her simplest sentences stunned me into reading them aloud, including this one, from "The Bunchgrass Edge of the World":
Old Red in his pantry wished for deafness when the bedsprings sang above.
It's a beautiful sentence, even out of context. Some of my favorite stories include both "Brokeback" and "Bunchgrass," but also "The Blood Bay" (which made me laugh, and read the whole thing aloud to Mitch) and "Pair a Spurs."

There's something of Flannery O'Connor in the way Proulx tells a story--though the West is to Proulx what the South is to O'Connor--as well as something fluid and seemless in the way she writes. Proulx is brilliant, quite brilliant, and I can't wait to read another of her novels.


Redefining the grading "curve"

My dad sent this to me and it made me laugh. I thought it might make you laugh, too:

At last, an objective grading system!


Book Review: JACK MAGGS, by Peter Carey

JACK MAGGS is the sort of book that gives me goosebumps. Something about the characters, about the depth to which Carey tests them, just gets to me, particularly as Carey exposes all their vulnerabilities but also, exposes their strengths. The characters of JACK MAGGS (most notably the title character) are shown to an eerie depth, and it is this that lends the book its drive--it plows onward, relentlessly, and I do mean this in a good way.

A brief summary: Jack Maggs is an escaped convict in the 1830s. He has been exiled to Australia but has, for reasons unknown to everyone but himself, he returns to London with a specific design. As he pursues this, several other characters are drawn in, and the plot, as they say, thickens.



Book Review: THE AUTOGRAPH MAN, by Zadie Smith

To me, it seems like every vaguely successful author is hailed, at some point in their career, as the "voice of a generation"--for an author under thirty, this cliche may be altered to "voice of the next generation."

What that means, I have no idea.

Or, I had no idea until I came across Zadie Smith's THE AUTOGRAPH MAN, which seems to encompass--without being melodramatic, dull or self-indulgent--the very essence, somehow, of the issues my generation deals with. Somehow, Smith does seem to be the "voice of a (next) generation."

I'm really not sure how to flesh that out, but I know I mean it, and in one last attempt to back it up, I'll say this: without referencing iPods and other embarrassingly "relevant" things, Smith burrows right into the weird uncertainty an entire generation can feel when their sole purpose seems to be purchasing and admiring objects, whether these objects be gadgets, lifestyles or (as in the case of celebrities) people.



My new favorite cookies

I know they sound weird and gross, but trust me: they're amazing. (I wish I could say that I don't say that lightly, but I do: I say that all the time. Recently, I've said this about avgolemeno soup, that song by 16 Horsepower--the one with the concertina, concertinas in general, the Temple Bar's house wine, and Jonathan Safran Foer.)

But, without further ado, I give you:


In a food processor (or mixer) combine:
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 T light brown sugar
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • a scant 1/4 t kosher salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 4 t finely ground Earl Grey tea (cut open 4 tea bags and extract tea; or use loose tea; grind it to a powder in a blender or clean coffee grinder)
Process to a light fluffy paste, 20-30 seconds. Remove the lid and add:
  • 3/4 c. plus 2 T flour
  • 3 T cornstarch
Pulse until the dough begins to clump together and the mixture is fairly uniform, 8 to 10 times. Gather the dough together into a rough ball, kneading a few times if necessary.

Shape the dough as desired into rounds (sliced from a chilled log) or press into a pan; chill. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven until the edges are barely colored.

(I stole this recipe from Sally Schneider's The Improvisational Cook. This book is also amazing.)


Book Review: THE IDIOT, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

How does one review THE IDIOT? I have no idea. I can tell you that I enjoyed it, very much, and I can tell you roughly why, but when I put the book down--after enjoying it, very much, for quite a long time--I was baffled to realize that I have only the slightest of ideas as to what THE IDIOT is actually about.

Prince Myshkin, our hero, was a wonderful character, surrounded by several other fascinating and complex characters, all of whom were prone to lengthy conversations on various subjects in various sitting rooms, most of which I was able to follow well enough. I think where I fell off was in the subtle, devious relationships between the characters--who seemed constantly to be thinking one thing and saying another, with all sorts of strange motives that I never was able to unravel.

This left me feeling a bit like the Prince must have felt in attempting to have any sort of interaction with the other characters, particularly when one factors in the irony that the Prince, though viewed as an idiot by nearly everyone at one time or another, is easily the cleverest and most good-hearted man of any to make an appearance in the book--he seems at times to suffer only from his own niavete.

Even with all the intrigue and (on my part) confusion, I loved THE IDIOT for these two reasons:

1) The Prince. The back of the book makes the bold assertion that Myshkin is "Christ-like," and I enjoyed teasing out the metaphor as I read--I think it holds, loosely, but I won't go into it much. I'm sure there have been all manner of dissertations and literary articles written on the subject, and I'm just not equal to that, so I'll sum it up with "I think it holds, loosely." On top of that, I liked the Prince an awful lot for who he was and how he responded to various pressures (for the most part). Also, his inclination to suddenly say something brilliant was quite endearing, as was his unpredictability in speech and action.

2) The stories within the story. I loved this about The Brothers Karamazov as well (most notably "The Grand Inquisitor"): Dostoevsky has a way of imbedding fascinating short stories within the novels, and it's those that were easily my favorite parts of the book. Think Ippolit's dream (within the story of his "explanation"), or Myshkin's tale of the beheading toward the start of the book--these helped to break up the dialogue, while somehow moving the plot along to a different level altogether.

While I loved THE IDIOT, I think The Brothers Karamazov safely remains my favorite of Dostoevsky's novels. Dostoevsky has the uncanny ability to set some of the kindest, most good-hearted characters alongside some of the most devious and down-right evil, and it's this tension that carries THE IDIOT along as such a brilliant speed.