Monday, December 31, 2012

My Berlin Kitchen

I love me a good book on cooking/baking. My Berlin Kitchen is a new memoir by the blogger behind the Wednesday Chef. Luisa chronicles her post college years of trying to figure her life, career, and relationships with her parents and her boyfriends. All while also trying to discover where exactly in the world she belongs (having grown up between America and Germany).

Each chapter is a really easy read, very much the style I have come to expect by lady food bloggers who have cranked out memoirs. There is a certain recipe to these books I think. 

1 girl who doesn't quite fit in anywhere but the kitchen
1/4 of a life crisis
2.5 trips to Paris
-1 job
2 or more relationships going wrong
3 cookie recipes

Mix the above. Blog until frothy. Garnish with wedding. 

And as one who stress-bakes cookies like a bandit, I can relate to them easily, even if my family cooking/baking traditions rely heavily on gravy/Crisco. At the end of almost every chapter there is a recipe or two that had been featured. I dutifully copied several into my kitchen binder and even managed to make one of the easier ones, Omelette Confiture. Whisked egg cooked and rolled up like a crepe with tart jam and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. It was such a big hit between Geoff and I that I think it might be the only way I want eggs from now on. I am excited to try a few other recipes. 

Weiss' life is spent in many parts of the world, and the book makes me long to see more of Europe. Europeans clearly still have a much better sense of community than most of America, Weiss talks about how neighbors would have large parties for each other and the delight in cooking and eating with her different family members. It being the holidays now, I found myself drawn to her descriptions of varied holiday traditions she has experienced. I'm really planning on recreating the German Doughnut one where a plate full of jam-filled doughnuts is served and everyone bites to discover who got the doughnut full of mustard. 

This isn't a very heavy book (despite all of the German cooking) but rather a nice read that goes where you expect it will. I do want to state that while I understand the publishing appeal for these lady blogging books to end almost immediately after the woman gets married, it really gets my goat. Sometimes it's best to make substitutions.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

the slang of poets

In my quest to read all of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (yes even my nemesis Coetzee) there are a lot of large books that I'm not necessarily chomping at the bit to read. Middlemarch, inexplicably, was one of them.

Even English majors miss things sometimes and I have to admit that for most of my life I thought George Eliot was a man. I knew nothing about her and only new passingly that Middlemarch was in fact, a book. But after finding out that Eliot was in face a woman, and hearing that Middlemarch was like Tolstoy writing with Austen themes, I went out and grabbed it.

"The fact is unalterable, that a fellow-mortal with those nature you are acquainted solely through the brief entrances and exits of a few imaginative weeks called courtship, may, when seen in the continuity of married companionship  be disclosed as something better or worse than what you have preconceived, but will certainly not appear altogether the same."

Middlemarch is set in 1830-1832 and deals with the people of this provincial town. Primarily on three(ish) couples and how they navigate issues of status, religion, education, reform, and finical woes to name a few.
Dorothea is a upper class lady who marries an old cranky man in a misplaced idea that marrying him would give her more opportunity to do good deeds. She, surprise, does not get fulfillment out of this relationship but keeps up her duty because hello, it is her duty. But then there is her husband's dashing, penniless cousin,Will Ladislaw, running around...

"There is hardly any contract more depressing to a young ardent creature than that of a mind in which years full of knowledge seem to have issued in a blank absence of interest or sympathy. "

A new idealist Doctor comes to Middlemarch and sweeps the most beautiful girl in town off her feet, despite his determination not to marry until he makes a world-wide breakthrough in medical reform. But Rosamond is the most spoiled pretty thing that she cries and gets her way. Good luck curing typhoid fever when your wife thinks doctors are icky and neither of you can stop spending money.And she has been seeing a lot of that Will Ladislaw lately...

"And Rosamond could say the right thing; for she was clever with that sort of cleverness which catches every tone except the humorous. Happily she never attempted to joke, and this perhaps was the most decisive mark of her cleverness."

Mary I-Don't-Want-No-Scrubs Garth has the short straw in status and wealth compared to the other two gals, but she knows exactly what she wants in a man and is not going to settle. Rosamond's brother Fred has been in love with Mary since they were children, but his family would not want him to marry so beneath them and Mary doesn't want to marry some idle guy who she cannot respect. Apparently she doesn't have time for Ladislaw.

"Our passions do not live apart in locked chambers, but, dressed in their small wardrobe of notions, bring their provisions to a common table and mess together, feeding out of the common store according to their appetite."

There is so much more to this book (murder? blackmail! bankruptcy!), but I love the three relationships. I guess there is a fourth since Dorothea's sister Ceclia also gets married and quickly turns into the 1800's version of a facebook mom. I'm not too up the history of the British political system so that wasn't really the big draw for me. But Eliot addresses so many things with this book without really going off on a tyrade at any point. It felt at times very similar to reading Austin, but broader. Austin only really ever gives us the women's side of things, but Eliot shows scenes of men without any women around and captures them very well. Austen might work on her two inches of ivory but Eliot uses the whole china cupboard.

All in all, worth being on all of the best book lists that it is on.

Friday, December 28, 2012

We need distance, it is essential

Tove Jansson was a Finish artist best known for her Moomin cartoons. They are adorable little hippo-like creatures that I am fascinated with. Jansson also wrote fiction both for children and adults. Not all of her works are available in English (yet I hope) but I have read The Summer Book before. I always check for her at the used bookstores and was thrilled to find Fair Play while holiday shopping.

Fair Play is a collection of stories about two women who live in connected apartments and work on their own artistic projects. It explores how their lives intersect, how their relationship nurtures each other's creativity, and how they spend their lives together while maintaining their own solitude.

"There are empty spaces that must be respected - those often long periods when a person can't see the pictures or find the words and needs to be left alone."

Not much happens in the way of action, different characters come to visit and the two do take a trip to Arizona, but the beauty of Jansson's writing is just in the detailed picture of place and characters she paints. The way the two women talk to each other is captured so well, you can feel the tension when things are not right with only a few sparse sentences.

"'This happens all the time,' said Jonna. 'Again and again. Now, once and for all, try to write down the meaning of life and then take a photocopy so you can use it again next time.'"

Fair Play has interesting pieces on how difficult it can be for two artists to function together. They each so desperately need space to create on their own but love each other very much. "The Letter", the final story is so perfect to me. They know each other so well that tiny shifts in behavior are noticed quickly and agonized over. Their distance is necessary but also difficult to handle at times. But the women love each other enough that they can respect the need to not always be together physically, without the worry that the other will drift away emotionally.

"She began to anticipate a solitude of her own, peaceful and full of possibility. She felt something close to exhilaration, of a kind that people can permit themselves when they are blessed with love." 

I'm not certain that I can describe this book well enough to do it justice, but let me just say that I want to curl up and live inside Jansson's writing. Highly recommend.

Friday, November 30, 2012

My beloved and I went on a delicious walk...

I'm on a major Colette kick this year (see my previous post on the Innocent Libertine). The latest in my readings was The Pure and the Impure, which Colette herself thought of as her greatest work.

"They allow us to be their master in the sex act, but never their equal. That is why I cannot forgive them."

This novel is a difficult one to follow at times as the plot is fairly non-existent as far as I could tell. We follow a woman who relates the many different ways that couples search for love and the difficulties they have at being fulfilled. The biography of Colette that I just finished, Secrets of the Flesh, has a pretty great sum up of this book, "the loves in the Pure and the Impure, who give pleasure but can't receive it, or take it but can't give it, who are mismatched in age, appetite, egoism, and experience - who all feel obscurely cheated."

There are some very memorable characters in this novel that stood out to me. In this book she writes one of the first modern pieces on anorexia with the character Renee Vivien who would walk for miles for days only drinking tea to keep herself thin. There is also a really beautiful tale of two Ladies of Llangollen, young women from the 18th century who fell in love and ran off to live together. I could read a novel about those two.

"In short, what did they want? Almost nothing. Everything."

There is something so alluring to Colette. She talks about love of all kinds with equal seriousness, examines lesbianism, homosexuality, and heterosexuality, along with the relationships we have that are platonic. Even if I am not sure what Colette is trying to tell me at times, I could listen to her go on forever.

"Some people become transformed by riches, others acquire a real life only by impoverishment, their very destitution giving them life."

The characters are even more intriguing after reading a biography of Colette because so many of them are based on very fascinating people that she knew and walked around in the real world. I think I might have to give this one a reread after finishing the biography to try to pick this work apart more.

Side note, I have bought most of my Colette books at Frugal Muse, a little book store in Madison, and they are always surprised that anyone reads Colette anymore. Am I the only one out there?

Monday, November 26, 2012


I came to Too Good To Be True from a review in a magazine. I can't remember which magazine, but I adore the cover art of this book and it is about a writer's journey after success has failed so I jumped on it. Benjamin Anastas had some literary success at the end of the 90's and then is attempting to claw his way back despite his second novel's luke-warm reception.

I had several issues with this short memoir.

One seems to be common in the men's writer memoir book that I have read a bit of this year: the writer does not find the need to have a day job for their creative endeavors, despite having a child. If they were single and child-free, then I could smile at your plight to keep your New York City apartment and have no job security. If you are in your late twenties then to me it is a bummer but an acceptable act to carry your change to the coinstar machine in order to pay for gas. Not so much when you have a kid. Now I am not suggesting that it isn't ok to be poor and be a parent, or if someone is unable to work enough to feed their kid. But I will not and cannot feel bad for Anastas when he, an able-body adult, does not get any job he can get so he can buy the food his kid wants.

The apparent reason that Anastas does not get a day job is the other big problem that I have with this memoir. He wants to be a literary success but does not seem to need to be a writer. He talks about writing as if it has always been something he forces himself to do because he wants the perks of writing a well beloved book. But, I feel no love of writing from him. For some reason he wants that career so badly but he doesn't communicate the way that writing moves him. Without great love or obsession, the sympathetic struggling artist is a hard sell. Which is a shame, because I can glean from this book that Anastas does have skill with writing.

I'm not even going to touch the relationship issues this guy has - ok no, I lie, he tells his ex-wife (pregnant by him) that if she goes away on vacation with another man that she is KIDNAPPING HIS UNBORN BABY.

In other news, my lack of laptop has been solved by Black Friday madness so now back to my regular postings!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Empress Frederick

I am usually not much of a history buff. But I have a huge thing for the podcast, the History Chicks, which discusses women in history. Their podcasts are always interesting and cover a wide range of women, both real and fictional, throughout history. That being said, they have not covered the Empress Frederick. At least not yet. They do however, have two on Queen Victoria which talk a bit about her oldest daughter, the subject of An Uncommon Woman, the Empress Frederick.

To say this is a biography is putting it mildly. This is a hefty book that covers the span of Victoria, daughter of Victoria and Albert and wife to Fritz, the prince of Prussia. Not really knowing much about pre-WWI European history, I learned a lot. Before reading this, all I could tell you about the Kaiser was that I thought he liked parades and that Otto von Bismark had in fact been a real person. In fact I thought that there was only ONE Kaiser. But this book gave such an expansive picture that I now know that both of those two should have been smacked silly. Constantly.

"Bismark has made us great and powerful, but he has robbed us of our friends, they sympathies of the world, and - our conscience."

"For Bismark that was neither good nor evil, only allegiance to the Fatherland."

Victoria has a hard time. She is raised from birth to do great things for her father's homeland of Prussia, to bring them into a new age of liberalism and unification to Germany. She married not only for the greatness of the political match, but for love as well. She grew up with very involved parents who she admired until her death. They both had very high hopes for their eldest child to do great things for Prussia and Germany.

However, Fritz's father, Kaiser Wilhelm I, hung on to life like the current Queen of England and did not see eye to eye with his son and daughter-in-law. His Chancellor, Bismark, ran the show, waged war, encouraged racism and censorship, created treaties, and spread rumor about Vicky and Fritz to the public. Her son, Willy, grew up to be the biggest snot I have ever read about and he wanted to take over after his grandfather's death instead of letting his father rule.

"Certainly, no royal woman of her day had been more meticulously prepared for a throne - or more quickly deprived of it."

I'm not going to go into too much more depth than that because I have about 20 pages of notes from this book and I think that Pakula does such a great job as it is. Victoria is a truly interesting woman who was born to do so much and never really given the opportunity to share her intellect with the world.

As I said, I have not been much of a history buff, but I tore through this book. The little details of history are just as interesting as you would find in a novel. For example, the "Weisse Dame" is the ghost of a white lady that would appear to male members of the Hollenzollerns before they would die. One of them died a few days after his wife ran into his room in her underwear and he believed she was the Weisse Dame.

I have another big history book on my table, Russia and the Russians: A History, which I am now very excited to read. Any other history books that are worth checking out?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sacred mysteries

Colette is a fascinating woman and I am very excited to read a biography of hers that I am waiting to come in through library loan. She performed at Moulin Rouge, wrote erotic literature in the early 1900's, had an affair with her stepson, and hid some of her Jewish friends in her attic during World War II.

The Innocent Libertine is really two short novels, Minne and Les Egarements de Minne,  that Colette combined after they had been published separately. They go together beautifully into one long arc for Minne.

In Minne, she starts as a young women who lives a very rich inner life. She lives with her mother in Paris and becomes obsessed with a gang of street thugs. Their leader, Curly, is the main object of her affection and she creates a great love between them in her mind without ever speaking to him. Every action she takes has such importance in to her every noise outside is just one step closer to bringing her and Curly together. When he disappears, she becomes ill and they go to the country with her uncle and cousin.

"She felt herself on the threshold of another life, on the verge of initiation into sacred mysteries."

There she spends her time lying fantastically and her cousin, Antoine, grows to desire her immensely. She dismisses him because to her she is already engaged to Curly (a man she had never spoken to). When she returns home, she leaves her house during the night to chase after Curly and gets a very harsh dose of reality. The Paris streets are not the place for a young girl.

In Les Egarements de Minnne, or Part Two, Minne is grown up some and married. Yet she is having a string of affairs in search of achieving an orgasm. Jealous of the sexual joy the men she sleeps with have, she believes that if she just finds the right man she will be able to feel the same. Her husband grows jealous and attempts to recreate her as the innocent girl he is in love with.

"After all, that boy is as nice as anything! He was dying of pleasure in my arms and there was I waiting and saying to myself: 'Obviously, it's not unpleasant... but show me something better!"

Colette is sexy and exciting without being smutty, even if there is a naked lady lounging on the cover. Minne's tale really is lovely and came to a very stratifying ending, if you catch my drift.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Recent Buys

Not too much book shopping going along this week but I did pick up a few new things.

I always manage to find a few things. I love Colette and try to grab her books when I see them. I got The Pure and the Impure and The Innocent Libertine from her. I'm about halfway through The Innocent Libertine and really enjoying it. Her stuff is pretty sexy, but without the shame of reading 50 Shades of Grey. I'll review it in a few days probably.

Michael Chabon's Maps & Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands for the man and I will probably end up reading it too. I really enjoyed The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and have just picked up any of his books I find for cheap since.

The final book in the pile is Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu. I'll do a short review of it here since I powered through it hours after buying it. Clarke wrote Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell which I have not read, but now want to.

From the back cover, this book is reviewed by Spectator as so: "These tales read as if Jane Austen had rewritten the Brothers Grimm ... wonderful!" I think this sums up the book very well. There are eight beautiful little stories that mix the romanticism of Austen with the the magic of Grimm. The land of Faerie is someplace you can cross over to on your way to tea with the King and end up stuck for months until your love frees you by smashing a hornet's nest.

Clarke has a real flair for writing dialogue and sucked me in. She also has that way of describing a character to you totally with just a phrase or two.

"The governess was not much liked in the village. She was too tall, too fond of books, too grave, and, a curious thing, never smiled unless there was something to smile at."

If you are a fellow fan of Austen, but like a little more darkness, this is book is for you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I saw this book or a profile of Teju Cole on someone's tumblr and was already adding books to my online library account so I threw this one on there too. Just listen to Cole's author bio from the book:

"Teju Cole was raised in Nigeria and came to the United States in 1992. He is a writer, photographer and professional historian of early Netherlandish art. Open City is his first novel. He lives in New York City."

Sounds like a super, super interesting dude. Which I am sure he is. Because if reading part of this book taught me anything it is that this guy thinks a lot more than I do.

The novel follows a young man, Julius, who takes long walks in NYC to clear his mind from work as a physiologist and his recent break up.

I made it to about page 45 before I threw it down and just could not pick it back up. I wanted to like this book so badly, but it is just not meant to be. The main character is so, so smart and came off way too pretentious for me. Every where he went made him think of an aria from some obscure opera and the architecture of Atlantis from a woodcut in a rare volume of a book in Hindi that you, dear reader, are not smart enough to understand. Couldn't he just walk into a room and say to himself, "oh man I'm really glad they have salt and pepper kettle chips. Those are my fav."

Plus he referenced one of my literary nemeses,  J. M. Coetzee. So odd were not in Cole's favor. Please note that I cannot stand Coetzee due to the fact that I once had to read and write a paper on The Life and Times Of Micheal K. which I hated.

So, alas, I will not be finishing this one. But don't take my word for it, this book got a lot of good reviews on Goodreads and frankly you might be smarter than me. By the way, here is my goodreads page if you just can't wait to see what I am reading.

Is it hard for anyone else to give up on a book once you have started? I usually can't put something down when I reach a quarter of the way through. But there are some notable exceptions, mainly Moby Dick, which I had one freaking chapter left and just did not read it out of spite. How far would you read before you have to finish?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

pro big pants

I'm not really sure how I heard about Caitlin Moran, probably in a review of How to Be a Woman from Bitch magazine (which you really, really should check out) and I found it in the new section of my library. I have not enjoyed a book so much in a long time.

"What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are."

Moran chronicles growing up in a poor family in England and how she comes to be a strident feminist. And covers why you should be one too. I have no problems calling myself a feminist and still found Moran making me think deeper about certain issues. For example, why the hell do I keep trying to wear heels when I stand on the sides of my feet making anything but flats impossible. Or, why isn't there porn out there where people actually desire and enjoy each other? Is that too much to ask for? Apparently yes, which is why there is fanficiton I guess.

"When a woman says, 'I have nothing to wear!', what she really means is, 'There's nothing here for who I'm supposed to be today."

I read a lot of this book at my mother's house, with her and I sitting on a giant bean-bag chair passing the book back and forth laughing so hard I thought I would pee. Moran has a great way of dealing with serious issues of sexism, growing up poor, bad relationships, and abortion all with humor. Also she offers up a ton of new names for certain parts of the female anatomy.

My husband really enjoyed the bits that I read out loud to him and after I finished he picked it up and started. So not just for women this one! I highly, highly suggest this book to everyone.

Moran's website:

Friday, October 19, 2012

endeavor to be what he was made

I'm fairly partial to books that deal with going green and trying to live a more eco-friendly life and the one I have been reading lately (My Green Manifesto by David Gessner) mentioned Thoreau a lot. Now I am fairly sure that I had to read "Civil Disobedience" for at least one class in high school but all I could remember was that he had a pretty fine time when he was in jail for not paying taxes. Clearly time to revisit.

Walden chronicles Thoreau's time spent living out in the woods at Walden Pond, in a very simple house with very little modern comforts. Thoreau strives to be self-reliant and grows his own food and builds his own chimney. He details his spending and income, the reactions from town members to his behavior, and the ever changing and beautiful nature he is immersed in.

"We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and not spend our time in atoning fro the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in the winter while it is already spring."

I had a strange time with this book. I enjoyed a lot of it, but at times my mind tended to wander and it felt more like I was reading it because I had to. The parts that I enjoyed though, I really enjoyed. I often had to pause and think about how Thoreau would hate, hate today's America and wonder how he would feel about certain men running for president..

"Most think that they are above being supported by the town, but it oftener happens that they are not above supporting themselves by dishonest means, which should be more disreputable."

"Civil Disobiedence" was much easier for me to clip through. I love Thoreau's activism and his determination not to be part of the Mexican War or part of slavery by withholding his taxes. I wish I had a voice like his to read about today's politics.

"Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn."

This really spoke to me. I try to live my life by certain principals that often get teased or questioned by certain family members of mine. For example, I think factory farming is gross and harmful to both the people who work there and the animals that are mistreated and so I pay more to get my meat from local farmers who are scratching out a living practicing real animal husbandry. I'm currently trying to get my workplace to take me seriously about getting the maintenance staff to stop putting blank pieces of paper at the bottom of every cubicle garbage can at work after they empty them and promote recycling more. Every day I am trying more and more to walk the walk and while I cannot change the world, or my family, or my workplace, in one day, that is no excuse to stop trying or just stop caring.

If you don't have time for the whole book, at least give "Civil Disobedience" a read. I think this work is important, and deserves serious consideration.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"involuntary excretion in my trousers"

I spotted this book at a used book store not too long ago and thought it looked weird and interesting and  then I promptly put it down and forgot about it for awhile. Last week I stumbled across it in the library and decided to give it a shot. I'm perpetually drawn to anything with a Russian or Eastern European slant so I thought it would be a winner.

Long story short - it wasn't. But maybe it is just me, since the book had been shorlisted for the Orange prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. But the whole thing just felt sloppy to me. The story revolves around a family of two estranged sisters and one elderly father who is getting married to a woman from Ukraine (where he is from). The action is set in England and the characters have had to deal with the affects of the revolution in Ukraine and now the gold digger, Valentina, who seems to love showing everyone her augmented boobs while she demands more and more money from her new husband. The sisters want Valentina out and reconnect over their mutual disgust at the relationship their father has with this woman.

The book is told in choppy segments, mostly from the point of view of the younger sister. I have hardly any real sense of what she is like, and yet manage not to like her. She has a closer relationship with her father (supposedly) but seems to switch from really caring to not caring at all and from oh-I-hate-her to walking down the street arm-in-arm with no explanation. Also WHO THE HELL PICKS UP A USED CONDOM OF THEIR FATHER'S? EW. This was not in any sexual scene at all so it wasn't as gross as you might think but it was pretty big on the ick-factor, which is rampant in this book. The elderly father is naked a whole lot and it was just too much.

I finished this book because I have a hard time not finishing a book. I could have pushed this up from a two-star to three-star had there not been the last chapter on their. The one prior was the most interesting part of the book to me, a simple sum up of the two sisters lives. And then just puff and more naked old guy. I feel that this story had so much potential but the book doesn't do it any justice.

In a nutshell: meh.

Hello there!

I'm off to a fresh start here and want to welcome you to my blog where I will put up book reviews, literary links, and other book related things that catch my eye. I hope you enjoy!