30 April 2011

Four Things Meme Hijacked

I love this four things meme that has been flying around lately. I couldn't resist making some changes which you will notice in red.
From the film Babette's Feast

Four Jobs I Did to Help Pay for College I Have Had in My Life:
  1. Dormitory janitor 
  2. Potato sorter/packager
  3. Parking lot attendant (aka getting paid to read) 
  4. Scooped ice cream at Haagen-Dazs (good thing I was 19 and had a monster metabolism because I ate a lot of ice cream)
Four Books Movies I Would Read Have Seen Over and Over Again:
  1. A Room with a View (Merchant-Ivory version of course)
  2. Six Degrees of Separation
  3. Babette's Feast
  4. 84, Charing Cross Road 
Four Places (other than DC) I Have Lived:
  1. London
  2. Honolulu
  3. Minneapolis
  4. Ithaca (NY)
Four Books from the Modern Library Top 100 List that you probably haven't considered reading that I Would Recommend:
  1. Deliverance by James Dickey
  2. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  3. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Four (I can't believe I got to go there) Places I Have Been:
  1. Masai Mara, Kenya 
  2. Lizard Island, Australia (Great Barrier Reef)
  3. Siem Reap, Cambodia
  4. Amalfi Coast, Italy 
Four of My Favorite (aka Carb City) Foods:
  1. Perfectly cooked and sauced pasta 
  2. Squishy white dinner rolls 
  3. Hamburger on a charcoal grill (with a squishy bun of course) 
  4. Pad Thai 
Four of My Favorite Drinks (that make it look like I have the palate of a 10-year old):
  1. Sparkling lemonade made from fresh lemons at Pizzeria Paradiso in DC
  2. Williams Sonoma hot cocoa with "hand crafted" marshmallows 
  3. Orange Fanta (The European kind, not the kind in the US, but I think even the European stuff is starting to taste like the Ameican kind.)
  4. Root Beer Float (What? It counts.)
Four Places I Would Rather Be With a Book When the Weather is Perfect Right Now:
  1. Sissinghurst (on a bench near the moat looking out at the pasture land)
  2. Monhegan Island, Maine (in a hammock)
  3. On the veranda of my cabin on the Celebrity Eclipse
  4. Sonoma, California
Four Things That Are Very Special in My Life:
  1. John 
  2. Lucy 
  3. My family
  4. My friends
Monhegan Island, Maine

28 April 2011

Book Review: The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns

The room had the sickly smell of caged birds and spiteful women...
This is the first novel I have read by Barbara Comyns. I probably would have picked it up just because it was a Virago with a cool cover, but I had also been seeing her name around the blogosphere quite a bit. I thought the title The Skin Chairs sounded creepy but thought that it couldn't really mean what it sounded like. But indeed it did. Comyns actually wrote about chairs covered in human skin. Granted they don't play a huge role in the book, but it is creepy nonetheless. Add in animal and child abuse/neglect and the creepy factor really goes up. From the vantage point of 2011 (or 2001, or 1991, or 1981...) much of the abuse and neglect would have been remedied with the appropriate government social services. But in the early 20th century people kind of turned a blind eye. Oddly enough even with the creepiness and sadness The Skin Chairs is mostly a cheerful book about the adult world seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Frances.

Pretty typical English domestic tale. The kind of book Persephone might publish. Recently widowed mother, snooty relatives, reduced circumstances, eccentric neighbors, and with more than a few humorous moments. I quite enjoyed it but I am not sure if this review will benefit from further description. I feel like any plot points I may describe would be too spoilery. The writing is good and there are many likable characters. Even the villains have a heart--with the possible exception of Vanda. She just seems good for nothing and bad for everything.

Read it.

26 April 2011

Book Review: The Whole World Over by Julia Glass

Julia Glass won the National Book Award for her novel Three Junes. I enjoyed reading Three Junes but I am not sure why it won an award. It is an easy-to-read tale of contemporary Manhattan, but there was something about it that I felt was kind of amateurish. Likewise with The Whole World Over. I enjoyed it, at no point did I want to set it aside, but it isn't really a good book. There are likable characters and interesting enough plot lines, but I always felt a little too aware of the author. Especially since there were so many little details that kind of annoyed me, either because they weren't accurate or because they didn't seem all that plausible.

Things that annoyed me:
  • While visiting New York, the governor of New Mexico tastes Greenie's desserts at a restaurant and decides that he wants her as his chef. Why would he assume that she could cook anything other dessert? Good pastry chef doesn't equal chef and vice versa.
  • To audition for the chef job Greenie cooks a meal in the kitchen of the governor's hotel room. I suppose a really high end hotel suite may have a real kitchen rather than a poky little kitchenette, but then the governor's aide provides special equipment that Greenie requested. Really? The aide goes out and buys or otherwise procures special kitchen equipment for one meal rather than Greenie bringing her own. Doubt it.
  • Greenie is a trained chef and we are told she is a lover of wine, but she confesses that she doesn't know anything about wine. And in another scene she keeps an open bottle of red wine on a window sill, in sunny Santa Fe no less. What chef with any sense would expose wine or any ingredient to sunlight?
  • And speaking of wine, the Republican governor character likes to portray liberals as wine drinkers. Fine. But raise your hand if you equate Ralph Nader with fine wine (as the author does)? Nancy Pelosi and her husband's well-heeled millions? Yes, I am sure she is no stranger to fine wine. But Ralph, rumpled suit, bad hair cut Nader? Not exactly a poster child for limousine liberalism.
  • The governor of New Mexico is portrayed as a kind of glamorously slick, sophisticated character, a real power player who gets everything he wants. I don't doubt that this could be the case, but it felt like a New Yorker trying to imagine what the governor of a western state would be like. Plus for all his sophistication he treats his cook (Greenie) like she is one of the family. I am not saying that such a character would be incapable of treating his employees well or even being familiar with their personal lives, but his involvement in Greenie's affairs seems to be a little too much especially given there is no romantic interest. I think the governor of even a small state has enough on his plate personally and professionally that he doesn't have all that much time to hobnob in the kitchen.
  • Greenie's parents go over a cliff in their car in Scotland where there are no guardrails. Greenie thinks that in the US there would be concrete barriers that would protect cars but mess with the view. This may be true in some areas, and there are certainly guardrails (wood post with metal rails) in many scenic spots, but concrete barriers are by no means ubiquitous. Apparently Greenie has never driven the Highway 1 in Northern California, or gone up into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, or any other of the thousands of miles of scenic roads that don't have concrete barriers lining them.
  • Beverly Sills' nickname was "Bubbles" not "Bev".
  • The EPA does not administer the Endangered Species list. The governor of New Mexico would know better. (It's actually the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.)
  • It's Corey Flintoff of NPR, not Cory Flintoff.
  • What in the world could this mean: "...a gaudy medallion that looked like Prince Charles had worn at his Duke of Earl coronation..." Prince Charles has many titles but Duke of Earl is not one of them. And Dukes don't have coronations.
  • Greenie's boyfriend is a water conservation advocate so she is careful when she fills a pitcher "...not turning on the tap until it was right above the mouth of the pitcher." Really Greenie? Wouldn't someone do that just to keep the outside of the pitcher from getting wet? Or does the author think that people just turn on the water and then hope against hope that the stream of water and the mouth of the pitcher will find each other?
  • When was the last time you heard a teenage boy on a skateboard call out "Cute baby, man!"?
  • And then there is 9/11. Why do so many authors feel the need to sneak 9/11 into the story? I am not opposed to 9/11 narratives, but I hate it when they try and be all clever and slip it in as if they were trying to recreate the same surprise as the attacks themselves. Guess what, we are not surprised. If your New York novel was published after 2002 we are pretty much just waiting for the 9/11 reference. There really isn't much that is clever about it. (In Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children (another disappointing book) she at least comes up with a clever 9/11 effect. A philandering husband (or was it wife?) was supposedly out of town when in reality he was with his lover in lower Manhattan. Then after the planes hit he can't plausibly keep up the charade that he was out of town. Now that is a twist.)
You might still want to read this book. But you might want to suspend your disbelief more than I did.

23 April 2011

Laying Low and Loving Lucy

This is the first weekend in about six weeks that we haven't either had guests or been preparing for guests. It has been a lot of fun having good friends and family staying with us but it is also nice to have nothing to do this weekend. And on top of it our TV is inoperable until at least Wednesday, so lots of time to read and blog. (The TiVo went belly up which means we can't watch anything. I sure hope the new box arrives by Thursday or I won't be able to watch the Royal Wedding early Friday morning!)

So I have posted lots of pictures of some of the sightseeing I have done recently with our guests. But to kick everything off, here is Lucy keeping the guest bed warm until my parents come for their visit in two weeks.

Playing Tourist: The Folger Shakespeare Library

I have lived in DC for a decade and have never visited the Folger Shakespeare Library. So when my friend Ron, an English teacher, visited it was time to go have a look. Happily it was the same day as their Shakespeare Birthday Open House so we got to see the reading room which is usually only open to scholars.

The Reading Room

The Theatre


A nearby alley.

Would you belive that this picturesque alley is only 3 blocks from the capitol building?

Playing Tourist: Colonial Williamsburg

Once the seat of the Virginia colony, Colonial Williamsburg is now the site of an open air colonial village restored and recreated by the Rockefellers in the 1930s.

Playing Tourist: Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum

When you visit DC many who have visited the city before will tell you to go to the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, especially if you have kids. Well, the original Air and Space Museum on the Mall is not a very dynamic place these days. It really needs a makeover. Instead you need to go out the the Air and Space Museum "annex" out near Dulles Airport. Much more interesting. In addition to tons of planes and space craft (I only show one section of the hanger here) they have an Imax theater and an obvervation tower that overlooks the two runways at Dulles.

Playing Tourist: Monticello

Thomas Jefferson's home and plantation. Although the house is very interesting. The vegtable garden is always my favorite thing at Monticello. Even in early April one can see what a deliciouis patch of veggies this is.