Beautiful presentation featuring simple, classic recipes that are authentic, yet don't require exotic ingredients. Because of their simplicity, the re...moreBeautiful presentation featuring simple, classic recipes that are authentic, yet don't require exotic ingredients. Because of their simplicity, the recipes require the freshest of ingredients. They are inherently healthy and balanced. In the two days I've had the cookbook, I've made three recipes. Each beautiful! I can easily envision cooking my way through the entire book. Wonderful introductions to each recipe, describing its origins and/or significance to Wells. Fantastic wine recommendations. So, true confession: The Provençal Cookbook features recipes from my most cherished spot on the planet; I'm predisposed to love anything Provençal. But Wells has captured its magic without playing on cliches or trivializing traditions.(less)
Only for the utter viticultural and oenological geek. I haven't exactly "finished" reading this- it's a source/reference to which I will return when n...moreOnly for the utter viticultural and oenological geek. I haven't exactly "finished" reading this- it's a source/reference to which I will return when need be or to sit and read whilst eating my morning oatmeal. It's not enough to sniff and taste- I love knowing the processes that go into this amazing craft of agriculture. (less)
On this final day of 2011, I share a transcendent poem:
From March '79
Being tired of people who come with words, but no speech, I made my way to the s...moreOn this final day of 2011, I share a transcendent poem:
From March '79
Being tired of people who come with words, but no speech, I made my way to the snow-covered island. The wild does not have words. The pages free of handwriting stretched out on all sides! I came upon the tracks of reindeer in the snow. Speech but no words.
As we look back on a year of increased political polarization and as we anticipate the propagandizing and muck-racking misery of Campaign 2012 to come, Tomas Tranströmer's beautiful imagery has particular resonance. To escape from the miserable nothingness of punditry to the exquisite fullness of nature. To seek out silence, away from our Tower of Babel. What a dream. What a goal.
And another that struck deep, as I accept growing older and giving up on hopes and dreams because it is, it just is, too late.
The calendar all booked up, the future unknown. The cable silently hums some folk song but lacks a country. Snow falls in the gray area. Shadows fight out on the dock.
Halfway through your life, death turns up and takes your pertinent measurements. We forget the visit. Life goes on. But someone is sewing the suit in silence.
What a powerful, chilling image. To acknowledge that somewhere, someone is quietly sewing your death suit. Not in malice, not for revenge, but because it is the way of mortality.
This slim volume, subtitled 'The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer' is extraordinary. I am grateful to the Nobel Committee for awarding Tranströmer its 2011 Prize in Literature. I'm a poetry ignoramus and would never have discovered Tranströmer but for the award.
The poems are short and the language simple, but therein lies the power. The stanzas are crystalline, they shimmer with light, they reflect with brilliant clarity, but quietly, sparely, like winter, like an icicle, like a lake. This is beautiful stuff.
And to end the year on a note of life and hope, from Vermeer
...Passing through walls hurts human beings, they get sick from it, but we have no choice. It's all one world. Now to the walls. The walls are a part of you. One either knows that, or one doesn't; but it's the same for everyone except for small children. There aren't any walls for them.
The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall. It is like a prayer to what is empty. And what is empty turns its face to us and whispers: "I am not empty, I am open."
This was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker. I'm certain it will be among my top five reads of 2008.
It's the story of a young Irish soldier caught b...moreThis was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker. I'm certain it will be among my top five reads of 2008.
It's the story of a young Irish soldier caught between the warfields of Belgium and the battle raging at home between the royalists and the nationalists. It's the most graphic and revealing treatment of WWI I've encountered- particularly of trench warfare and the horrors of mustard gas. It amazes me that anyone survived and sickens me how hundreds of thousands of young men were simply led to slaughter by colluding governments.
Despite the grim brutality of the subject, the writing is so lyrical and beautiful, the characters so full of hope and spirit. Portions of it read almost like poetry, yet the language is simple and earthy.
I was frustrated by the glimpses of the 1916 Easter Uprising and the conflict that set Irish against Irish- as if the reader already had a tacit understanding of that history and its nuances. I was confused as to who was on which side (in Ireland)- but then again, that was/is the tragedy of the conflict in Ireland- the division of a country was really the division of villages, friends and families.
But bottom line- it's an incredible book, devastating and beautiful. I cried at the end, even though I knew what was coming. And I cried for the lives that were lost, and for those who continue to be sacrificed in the name of power, greed and moral certainty. War is inexcusable.
A lush, epic drama set in 19th century Ireland (roughly during the potato famine). It follows the trials and tribulations of 4 brothers and their fath...moreA lush, epic drama set in 19th century Ireland (roughly during the potato famine). It follows the trials and tribulations of 4 brothers and their father as they leave their Tipperary home and set out to find a better life. They become separated, have some terrible, some amazing experience. It's almost mythic in quality- melodramatic- but very sensual. He uses language so beautifully, but you have to be patient and savor the story without rushing. It's like eating really expensive dark chocolate- just on the edge of being too bitter, eating more than a piece would leave you feeling oversated, but that one piece is so rich, so complex, so full of nuance that it's a pleasure to let it melt slowly in your mouth. (less)
The Wild, Wild West, a frontier filled with dreamers, convicts, schemers and entrepreneurs. Some hope to make that lucky strike, others attach themsel...moreThe Wild, Wild West, a frontier filled with dreamers, convicts, schemers and entrepreneurs. Some hope to make that lucky strike, others attach themselves like parasites to stars on the rise and the canniest let the eager do the dirty work while they provide the booze, drugs and women for which all men—regardless of their luck—will lay down cash money. This is the Gold Rush, the West Coast, the late 1860’s—but we’re not in California, Toto. This is the South Island of New Zealand, circa 1866, in the wet, green folds of the Southern Alps where they tumble into the Tasman Sea.
Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is also the frontier of storytelling—a no-holds-barred, raucous flight of imagination that I devoured with Epicurean pleasure. Jumping into its alphabet-soup cast of characters with chewy names like Emery Staines (an angelic young man, popular, rich and missing), Cowell Devlin (a man of God), George Shepard (whose flocks are housed in the town jail) and Anna Wetherell (a prostitute~ingenue who weathers all kinds of storms) is like tumbling in a dryer with towels and tennis shoes. You never know when you’ll get smacked upside the head with a plot twist.
This is a Gold Rush-era version of The Usual Suspects: Everyone’s got a story and no one is telling the truth. In this case, a hermitic prospector is dead, the town’s richest man is missing, a prostitute is senseless and wearing a dress lined with gold, a politician is being blackmailed, a body rises from its makeshift coffin in a doomed ship’s cargo hold and a beautiful redhead has just sashayed into town, claiming to be a widow and seeking what remains of her husband’s estate. Spinning all around this stage are twelve Luminaries: a constellation of men whose points of view we dip into throughout the novel, trying to unravel a mystery that is woven more tightly with each page.
Much has been made of Catton’s clever structure: The Luminaries is a set piece held aloft by an astrological chart that divides each part into smaller and smaller sections (Part One is 358 pages long; Part Twelve, two), according to celestial logic. But don’t be deterred by this ornamentation. I didn’t pay a whit of attention to the charts that precede each section—I couldn’t be distracted from carrying on with the story. Yet, there is something to be said for Catton’s conceit. The novel begins with a crowded, opulent jumble of characters and detail, like a sky full of dazzling stars. As its 832 pages turn, black space is allowed in, the focus narrows and individual details begin to sharpen.
The tale is told first from outside-in, then inside-out, from high to low, back-to-front, by the dead and the living, in court, in bed and in confession. Mystery is added to adventure and star-crossed love eventually conquers all.
I can’t remember when I’ve taken such delight in reading, when I felt the author’s sheer joy in writing. I've seen a handful of gripes that Catton’s story and style lack warmth and her characters are shallow. I dunno. I didn’t get a sense that she intended to write epic historical fiction in which the characters’ characters rise and fall and rise again and we feel morally lifted from the lessons learned. Sometimes it’s perfectly all right for the reading experience to be sheer pleasure. When it’s not only pleasurable, but intellectually stimulating, laugh-out-loud surprising and historically illuminating, you’ve got a five-star read.
Eleanor Catton has crafted a rollicking, unexpected and deeply satisfying carnival ride that ends all too soon. I doff my top hat and bow. Brava. (less)
Reading Waugh is like being air-kissed by a socialite who clutches your shoulder in mock affection with one hand while raising an ice-pick behind your...moreReading Waugh is like being air-kissed by a socialite who clutches your shoulder in mock affection with one hand while raising an ice-pick behind your back with the other. You know you should be on guard for certain disaster, but charisma sweeps you away in an intoxicating wave of champagne and caviar.
Waugh wrote with scathing irony of the plight of English gentry between the two world wars. Sinking into debt and irrelevancy in the wake of the Depression, these bored and bigoted hyphenated lords and ladies flit from ballroom to bedroom, trading partners and gossip as they scheme for invites to the best parties and positions in the right clubs.
The soullessness of these lives would be near impossible to bear if it weren't for Waugh's rapier language and his inclusion of the reader in the Grand Guignol. His satire is deadly (quite literally, in the context of the story, but I shan't spoil the surprises) and oftentimes laugh-out-loud hilarious. David Sedaris and David Mamet owe heaps of inspiration to Waugh's deadpan comedy and rapid-fire dialogue.
"Well, well, well," said Dan, "what next." "Do I get a drink?" said Dan's girl. "Baby, you do, if I have to get it myself. Won't you two join us, or are we de trop?" They went together into the glittering lounge. "I'm cold like hell," said Baby. Dan had taken off his greatcoat and revealed a suit of smooth, purplish plus fours, and a silk shirt of a pattern Tony might have chosen for pyjamas. "We'll soon warm you up," he said "This place stinks of yids, " said Baby. "I always think that's the sign of good hotel, don't you?" said Tony. "Like hell," said Baby.
These people are so awful you can't look away. And Waugh is so brilliant you can't stop reading. (less)
Tim Winton is a most spiritual writer. It's shameful in a world of bloated, overachieving prose that screams to the top of best-selling lists that som...moreTim Winton is a most spiritual writer. It's shameful in a world of bloated, overachieving prose that screams to the top of best-selling lists that someone as connected to the forces of nature and the foibles of man should be so little known.
Cloudstreet chronicles the aching, bitter, crude, and sweet fortunes of two Australian families, the Lambs and the Pickles, from 1944-64. Brought together by need, greed, tragedy and a mysterious Other, the families' stories collide and spring away over the years. They live in the same rotting mansion, separated by thin walls and different ambitions. The families' regard for each other alternates between disgust and wonder, passion and forgiveness as their children and their backwater state of Western Australia grow up and away.
Winton tells the classic tale of messy, intolerable families- how each is a unique disaster and a treasure. But this is no ordinary familial saga. Winton's writing is in a class of its own. He is fearless -- calmly and confidently taking the reader from literal, linear storytelling to a subtle state of magical realism.
This is an unforgettable book, both for its content and its style. I was struck by the universality of his themes and the recognizable nature of his characters. These working class families would be at home in Appalachia, the timber forests of Oregon, the fishing villages of the north Atlantic Coast. Mr. Winton must be a national treasure in Australia. We'd do well to show him a larger welcome mat here in North America. (less)
At long last I read, nay-devoured- this gorgeous meal of a novel. (I highly recommend beginning it during a 2:00 a.m. bout of jet-lag insomnia, whilst...moreAt long last I read, nay-devoured- this gorgeous meal of a novel. (I highly recommend beginning it during a 2:00 a.m. bout of jet-lag insomnia, whilst the Mistral is crashing into your little cottage at the foot of the Provencal Alpilles. And if possible, finish it as you are being whisked through the French countryside on a train- the romance is irresistible...). It's everything my fellow readers here had promised- so rich with imagery, characters, legends- all that a great novel should be. You are quickly lost in a time and a place that hover just outside our world- like a dream that contains all the components of reality, but with threads of the bizarre, the glorious, the delightful, the terrifying- that you know you are visiting a strange and wonderful beyond.
It was one that brought tears to my eyes as I turned the final page. Not because of a sad ending, but because there had to be an ending at all... (less)
This collection of seventeen stories, set in the fictional Western Australia whaling town of Angelus, shows ordinary people searching for redemption i...moreThis collection of seventeen stories, set in the fictional Western Australia whaling town of Angelus, shows ordinary people searching for redemption in their broken, mismatched, violent, tedious lives. Tim Winton, with raw and beautiful prose, asks you not to flinch or to forgive but to witness these characters, their choices, and the circumstances, and to draw your own conclusions about the future of their souls.
Nine of these stories focus on the Lang family. In no chronological order, we see the turmoil that besets the Langs, mostly through the eyes of Vic, as an adolescent, a young man, a father and husband. By shifting chronology, narrative voice, and character perspective, Winton gives us a 360 view of a community, a family, and a man.
Other stories intertwine, as well. The gut-twisting The Turning show us characters as adults- the broken bully Max Leaper and his wife, Raelene, who is searching for a way out of herself. We then encounter Max and his brother as boys in Sand, and again as adults in Family, where redemption arrives in a flash of copper hide and gnashing teeth.
It's difficult to recommend individual stories, particularly when so much is to be gained from reading the sum. I was moved by each, though the longer stories, such as Boner McPharlin's Moll; Small Mercies; Long, Clear View and Commission resonated more deeply because of greater character development.
Tim Winton, in novel and in short story, writes about families. He is interested neither in politics nor in history lessons. He is concerned with showing the extraordinary within the most ordinary. He has a particular brilliance with the perspectives of children, capturing their wisdom and sensitivity and showing them at play and in pain, with tenderness and clarity.
The writing in this collection is more personal than Cloudstreet, his epic family tale, and is completely absent of the mysticism that shimmers at the edges of The Riders and Cloudstreet. It is natural, flowing, and flawless.