Friday, July 29, 2005

Tracy Kidder has a new book coming in the next month or so, just in time for the birthday of one of his fans. I'm always perplexed when it comes time for Ken's birthday. As he puts it, "I have everything that I want that's under $3000." Ken is not usually a fan of nonfiction, but he's been a devote of Kidder from the time he read his first book. Kidder's newest, My Detachment: A Memoir, should be available before we leave for the Adirondacks in September. It's the story of Kidder's experiences as an army lieutenant in Vietnam. Based on the buzz I've heard, it will make a big splash.

My triumph of the day is that I managed singlehandedly to do everything necessary to download the podcasts of several programs into my Zen Micro mp3 player. Considering that I am usually a klutz at all things technical and the fact that this was not a simple process, I am astonished. Now I can listen to NPR's Science Friday and several other shows while walking the Sophabug. For those who have been tempted to dabble in podcasts, I used the free Ipodder software that's currently available. It interfaced with the Zen Micro software just fine. There's a podcasting explosion right now and it's fun to be in on it.

Tomorrow we have lots of fun stuff lined up, partly to distract me from the minor surgery I have coming on Monday. I am so not looking forward. For day surgery, it's going to be a lengthy procedure--well over an hour. Of course, I'll be totally out of it. And, yes, of course, I have a bunch of books lined up for the recovery!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Last evening I enjoyed delving into Dorothy Gaiter's and John Brecher's Wine for Every Day and Every Occasion; Red, White, and Bubbly to Celebrate the Joy of Living. Gaiter and Brecher write the Wall Street Journal's "Tastings" column. The book is kind of a hoot for me because 1) I know nothing but the absolute basics about wine and 2)I don't have the budget to learn by experimentation. That said, I'm expanding my horizons anyway, and found their description of how to give a wine tasting party amusing. Other than the fact that you need big bucks and you need to live in a place where everyone can get home by taxicab, it was educational. Gaiter and Brecher are very keen on Beaujolais, which I've tasted only a couple of times. They discuss everything there is to know about purchasing Beaujolais, which leads me to think that the reason why I may not have been impressed with it is because I tasted a bottle that was too old. Beaujolais is best when it is young, just a couple of years old.

My other find at the library was The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler. Ken and I have been in nirvana over the blackraspberry-raspberry sauce I made. We've been eating it over Brigham's Vanilla. Incroyable! I shared our batch with Lek and Tom, who lent me the sieve, so we only had two servings each. This means I'll be off to Ward's Berry Farm on Thursday morning (early) to pick raspberries before work. I'll buy some blueberries while I'm at it and for the first time in years, make blueberry muffins. I don't know where this cooking binge is coming from, but it's a fun change of pace.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

After rollicking our way through Sideways this week (I confess I watched it twice), Ken and I decided to take a mini-road trip to the Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, Massachusetts. The weather was so spectacular today; granted, it was in the low eighties, but the air was so dry. The improvement in my mood has been amazing to experience!

Although the tour of the winery was bland (they need to educate the guides), the tasting was lots of fun. As soon as the vintner realized we actually intended to make a purchase, she let us try whatever we wanted. The dry wines were mostly apple and pear wines, and, to my taste, lacked character. The semi-sweets, however, were incredibly good (so complex!), and I can see why so many of them have won awards year after year. Our favorites were the Semi-Sweet Blueberry, the Cherry, and the After Dinner Peach.

Because their purple raspberries were ripe, I picked a pint to bring home. Now I need to find a raspberry sauce recipe. And, come to think of it, I don't own a strainer that will help me separate the seeds. Time to go calling friends in the neighborhood, I guess.

The setting was bucolic, and I enjoyed walking through their peach and apple orchards. What a relief to have a day when it's enjoyable to be outdoors.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My mother has a theory that when the weather is oppressively humid, as it is today, the brain swells, which causes difficulty with thought processes. I can assure you that her theory is not based on any science that I know of, but I've always found it a helpful metaphor to describe what goes wrong in my head when we're drowning in humid air.

As far as reading goes, when I have a few moments, I can't keep away from Paul Auster's Collected Prose , which I blogged about a week or so ago. I'm fascinated by his autobiographical essay and all of his "True Stories."

In my work life, I've been reading from The Habit of Being, a collection of letters by Flannery O'Connor, and No Gifts from Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton by Shari Benstock--all of this for a project I'm hoping to do.

I'm so sorry I'm too exhausted to pull together any links. The heat index today was 104 degrees F, so I'm not myself. Poor Sophie. We have AC, but the girl is suffering, especially since we've been having brownouts all afternoon.

I picked up Sideways at the video store, so Ken and I will have a treat tonight. Yeah, but isn't wine supposed to make you hotter?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What's the matter with me? It doesn't seem as if it's been three days since I last posted. I'll blame it on the neighborhood swimming pool. Five to six o'clock, a time when I'm often pulling together an entry, finds me doing laps and then sitting with the hood's mothers. I'm not a mother myself, but I enjoy exchanging tips about the best brand of taco shells and I raise my eyebrows at their stories about the "best values" that can be had at New England casinos. Today as I left they were a mellow group, nursing their vodka lemonades.

I was stunned to read a Publisher's Weekly headline that Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian was a "sleeper" that has become this summer's "blockbuster." Sara Nelson's really off her rocker this time. Sleeper indeed! Little Brown has spent millions on this book, and a bundle promoting it to booksellers in the pages of Publishers Weekly! The hype has been nauseating--newspapers, magazines, television, radio.

All I can think about is how the bundle LB has spent on publicity for The Historian could have been used to publish and promote dozens of other novels of extraordinary quality. But no, put all the bucks on one book and see if it turns out to be another Da Vinci's Code. It's so disheartening for the state of literature in the U.S. I weep.

Now, that said, I'm more than willing to give The Historian the nod. I haven't read it, but I'd be willing to go so far as to say I'm sure it's a worthy book, perhaps even a brilliant book. But where are we going funding only the books that the publishers decide should be the blockbusters?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Imagine living as the sole inhabitant of a small island off the coast of Maine. Then picture a big, furry dog washing ashore to disturb your peace. This is the predicament facing Hannah, an artist who has settled on Ten Acre No Nine Island because it's a place where she can fully focus on her art without the endless praise and criticism of the people drawn to her work. Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer was published by Graywolf Press as recently as June, yet I've had a difficult time finding reviews of it. No doubt the lack of attention is at least partly because Graywolf is a small press. It is a Booksense selection, however, and Coomer's previous novels have all been acclaimed. Check out Graywolf Press for a long list of books that haven't been hyped to the hilt.

Friday, July 08, 2005

July is a hell of a time to be getting rain from tropical storms and hurricanes. And after Cindy or whatever her name is, I suppose Dennis will be next. I thought not even an essential trip to the library could brighten my mood, but when the librarian said, "That Paul Auster book you've been waiting for came in," my heart soared.

Collected Prose is now in paperback and includes autobiographical writings, his "true stories," some reviews and essays, and other goodies. This afternoon I was hypnotized by his recounting of his childhood and adolescence. Everything he writes grips me and won't let me go. His account of his solitude while trekking all through Europe on his own at age eighteen, his description of the battle between his spendthrift mother and penny-pinching father, his recollection of his time at Columbia--all of it makes me ask: Is he capable of writing a bad sentence? Has he ever had a trite moment in his life? God! I think I'm in love.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I'm enamored of Poets & Writers magazine these days. I rediscovered it last year, and was happy to see that its prior, overriding emphasis on poetry has subsided. By far, it's the most intelligent publication about creative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that's available today, and it's the only magazine that I enjoy from cover to cover. I'm stunned that so few libraries subscribe. Instead they have the insipid Writer's Digest, or the slightly more practical The Writer. The Writer occasionally has a worthwhile piece focusing on the business of writing, but a lot of the magazine, like Writer's Digest, is strictly geared toward wannabe novelists who will never make it because they're spending time reading quasi-technical articles instead of studying the work of great novelists and overcoming the obstacles of writing a novel themselves.

Harsh words? Well, as is often the case, I'm speaking from my own experience. What bona fide assistance is there for budding novelists? More on that soon...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A short blog entry here: I'm pooped after walking nearly four miles in the early morning, working out ninety minutes at the gym, and swimming in the neighborhood pool this afternoon. An entire day devoted to exercise is not necessarily my idea of perfection, but it's a welcome change of pace. I enjoyed reading the first chapter of Assassination Vacation while on the elliptical.(If you travel the link, scroll down to Vowell.) My initial impression of Sarah Vowell's writing was that she was trying too hard to be too cute, but when she admitted that the only way she can tolerate referring to our president is by calling him "the current president" and never by his name, I immediately identified. History buff that I am, I'm entranced by the idea of a vacation devoted to exploring everything there is to know about presidential assassinations. Of course, the FBI will be reading this entry, and I welcome you and hope you'll return again and again for news about books and literary doings, because that's all you're going to read about here. Oh! And occasional posts about Sophie, who is now looking at me with the most mournful expression because I'm typing furiously and not patting her.