Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Searching for Answers

This Young House, a home improvement blog I read when I am daydreaming that I may actually some day hang pictures and paint walls, recently did a post on funny search terms that brought people to their blog. Because I like to be just a little Big Brother and have Google Analytics tracking my traffic, I decided to look and see what keywords were bringing random people to A Wiseman Once Said. Obviously I got a few hits from people searching for Dev's on Bank Street, Thames River, Brie and Blue, and the Book Barn. However, I also had some more obscure searches...

Five Movie Men Worth Loving received several random hits from the search terms "attributes of rick blaine character"; "rick blaine attributes" and "rick blaine's personality."

No doubt mentions of my BFF Rose and her hometown of Ubly/Bad Axe delighted the person who searched for "thumb label polish records in bad axe". Rose, did you know there was a Polish record label in Bad Axe? It's probably owned by one of your relatives.

I sincerely hope that my Staying Classy post helped out the searcher looking for "tips for being classy." This post may have also helped the person who was searching for "cheeses that white people like."

And perhaps my personal favorite: somebody found my Raiders of the Lost Art mix tape post while googling "build me up buttercup ghetto mix." That's a song I'd like to hear.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Due South

Last night I was watching TrueBlood, the television offshoot of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels I have blogged about recently. TrueBlood is set in steamy Bon Temps, Louisiana. As I was watching a scene where the townspeople drink lemonade on a front lawn while watching the coroner carry a body out of a duplex, I started to wonder what makes the deep south such an appealing setting for legal thrillers, crime stories, and supernatural fiction.

I realized that many, many of the books I consider my "literary crack" (mostly paperback legal thrillers and the aforementioned vampire novels) are set in Mississippi, Alabama, or Louisiana. I have never visited any of these places. The closest I have been is Tennessee, and then I was in Nashville - great for music history but not exactly a hotbed of incestuous small-town criminal activity.

As an ode to the territory of the country I have oft read of but never visited, here are my top picks for literary crack deep south novels:

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
The sixth Sookie Stackhouse novel features an inbred community of werepanthers, a New Orleans party barn fit for a vampire queen, and an action-filled chase through a Bayou swamp. Now that's what I call atmosphere. Really, the whole series is worth the read, but four, five and six are my favorites so far...

The Firm
, The Pelican Brief, and The Client by John Grisham

I can not pick just one of John Grisham's novels from what I call his glory period (anything from A Time to Kill to The Rainmaker), but I can pick three. These are great books. Once again, skip the movies - although they are actually pretty well cast, the scripts are terrible. Every time I think The Firm is my favorite (love those Cayman Islands scenes where they drug Avery Tolar) I remember how cool Darby from The Pelican Brief is (holding hands with an internationally wanted assassin right before he is shot!) Just when I think PB is my favorite, I remember the digging-up-the-body-in-the-middle-of-suburbia scene from The Client. It is simply impossible for me to pick a favorite Grisham novel, or even narrow it down to two.

The Quiet Game and Turning Angel by Greg Isles
If Greg Isles would write more Penn Cage novels, we would have a John Grisham situation on our hands. Isles is sort of my new Grisham (since Grisham's gotten lame), except he's naturally a little darker and edgier. And Penn Cage makes my list of fictional characters that I'm sort of in love with - he's like a modern-day less goody-two-shoes Atticus Finch (not that I don't love Atticus.) Seriously, try these out if you're looking for a good legal thriller. Technically The Quiet Game comes first, but you don't need to read them in chronological order.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
This one technically shouldn't qualify for the list, as it is non-fiction and while as readable as the literary crack, is actually critically acclaimed with a journalistic bend. But it is one of my all-time favorite books and in a weird way, makes me like that fictional stuff even more because it sort of convinces me that the south actually is THAT weird.

What about you? What's your literary crack? And on the off chance that any of the eight people who regularly read this are from the south, do you ever read any books about us weirdos in the northeast or midwest?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Let me offer you a tip

Frank Bruni recently posted a piece in his New York Times dining blog about a letter he received from a waiter. The waiter complained about receiving low tips from foreign tourists who do not understand the American tipping system (read it here). Bruni asked the readers of the blog to weigh in on their feelings about the issue.

One point that came up repeatedly was that perhaps it is time for America to banish the antiquated tipping system. I could not agree with this sentiment more.

I worked in fine dining in Ann Arbor at various restaurants for over five years. Yes, part of the reason behind getting a job at one of these places was the expectation of high tips. However, as I became older and my expenses expanded, I realized the value in receiving a regular, steady paycheck and being able to count on a set amount of money each week. The occasional $200 or $300 dollar night were sandwiched between numerous $45 slow summer nights or getting stiffed on stupid parent's day tables (I will not turn this into a rant on the University of Michigan Parents Day - though it is tempting).

While the article focused mainly on European customers who are supposedly unaware of the American tipping system, I found as a waitress that there are many, many ambiguities with well-meaning Americans who should be completely familiar with tipping practices.

For instance, when I go out to eat, I tip on the whole bill. Period. I do not subtract the booze or even the tax (in my case, subtracting the tax would not make much of a difference on the majority of my restaurant bills). However, I have seen some people who do not tip on liquor, or bottles of wine, etc.

I tip on everything because it has been my experience as a server that the person who waits on your table will be tipping out (giving a percentage of their sales to) the person who made your drink or poured your wine. The Earle is a perfect case in point: say you ordered a $100 bottle of wine with your meal. I would not have poured it for you - our sommelier, Stevie G., would have come to your table, guided you through the list, made some recommendations, and ultimately opened and poured your wine. Why should you give me a tip? Because at the end of the night I have to run a report on the amount of bottled wine I sold and tip Stevie G. 6% of that total, that's why. By choosing not to tip on your wine or drinks, you are most likely taking money out of your server's pocket because they will still be expected to tip out their bartender and sommelier (not to mention the busboy).

Still, if you don't work in a restaurant, do you know that? Maybe not. To the non-restaurant employee, it seems like the server is being fairly tipped for the service provided.

That is why tipping needs to go. There are too many ambiguities. Tipping is a way for restaurant owners to keep expenses down by not paying a lot of money to employees. But it is confusing to the customer and not dependable for the server. American restaurants should go to a flat wage. Yes, prices would most likely go up slightly or many restaurant owners would possibly institute a "service fee" (many European restaurants do so) but the upside is you would know exactly what you were paying for ahead of time. The server gets a regular paycheck, which in this economy is not a thing to be discounted. Nobody makes any social faux pas. And if your server really is spectacular, you can always slip them a ten or a twenty, and they'll be appreicative rather than disdainful.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Help me make my house my home

Now that we've been here a year, it's finally time to start work on some of those room redecorating projects I've been thinking about.

We were lucky enough to move into a house formerly owned by young cool people. Matt and Kendra took care of a lot of updates, as well as putting in some really awesome light fixtures and appliances (and they picked some amazing paint colors, particularly in the kitchen and upstairs bathroom).

However, Matt and Kendra had one thing that we do not have, nor do I wish to have: a kid. And that kid had a pastel blue and pastel green bedroom with green and white checkered curtains.

This bedroom has since become my office, and quite frankly, I can't stand doing my work and extra-curricular internet usage in a room that looks like Babies R Us exploded in there. The curtains drove me so crazy that I removed those six months ago.

Anyway, now that gross, sticky, hot summer is over, I am finally ready to paint. I am putting my color choices below. Weigh in on your favorite color or offer suggestions. I want to start this in the next couple weeks, so don't hold back the ideas!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cool Stuff I did over the weekend

Found a delicious and soon to be unavailable wine
I discovered (OK, I didn't discover - Dave poured me a glass of) a fantastic and very affordable French red at the Thames River tasting on Friday night that, alas, I will be unable to continue buying because the distributor has decided not to import it any longer and Jim is down to the last twenty cases he will ever get. I have a feeling the two bottles I purchased will not last very long, so I am in the process of checking couch cushions and coat pockets to see if I can scrounge up enough money to go buy some more. In the meantime, if you get the chance to purchase some Chateau Villerambert Julien Minervois 2003, I highly suggest you do so.

Ate a gigantic cream puff
Noe and I went up to Mass to attend the Big E, which is basically a state fair for all the New England states put together. There were tons of animals, rides, displays...and food. This fair had more food vendors than I have ever seen in my life. In addition to the normal midway vendors, there were also regional vendors along the Avenue of States and, in one building, the famous Big E cream puff. I am talking about two bagel-sized mounds of flaky, melt-in-your-mouth pastry with a baseball-sized scoop of cool, refreshing cream sandwiched in between and dusted with a liberal amount of powdered sugar. Noe was all for splitting one until he saw them and decided he would rather have one all to himself, leaving me to polish mine off on my own. My only complaint was I was way full when I was done.

Collaborated on a home-cooked/home-grown meal
Katie, Amanda, and I are all into food, wine, and gardening. Katie's parents have a farm. So when Katie invited us girls over on Saturday night for some chicken, we knew that she didn't mean McNuggets. Katie roasted up a fresh chicken raised by her father's students, I provided picked-that-day veggies and herbs for appetizers and side dishes, and Amanda (the would-be pastry chef among our group) made us a delicious rum cake with espresso buttercream frosting for dessert. The dinner part would have made any slow-food advocate proud (and it tasted fantastic) and the cake was as good as any creation that my friend Richard ever served up at The Earle. (Of course, our real dessert was a trio of Cotes du Rhone...)

Played with sea lions
I've been a docent at the Mystic Aquarium and Insititute for Exploration since the beginning of the summer. I love it, but repeating the same information and safety announcements over and over (sometimes to people who have no intention of listening) can get a little old sometimes. So when a volunteer position opened up every other Saturday morning in the Marine Theater - which houses the aquarium's three California Sea Lions - I jumped on it.

It's mostly un-glamorous work - cutting up fish for the shows, keeping the prep area clean, etc - but the big payoff is seeing the trainers get to work new behaviors with the animals from the ground up, and...enrichment. I get to give them toys and Jell-o and any other things that the trainers come up with that is a safe change to their everyday environment. I get to be right by the edge of the pool and throw things in for them to chase. I have never been that close to an animal like that in my life. Let me tell you, if you got to stand right in front of Boomerang and throw him Jell-o cubes, you wouldn't mind cutting up a few fish, either.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Five Tings I Love This Week

5. Yul Brynner

I watched The King and I on TCM last night and was reminded of how much I adore Yul Brynner, although I really have only paid attention to two of his movies: the aforementioned Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (he originated the role of the King of Siam on Broadway as well) and The Ten Commandments, one of only two videos that my poor Catholic elementary school owned and therefore I watched at least twice a year between first and sixth grade.

Yul as either the Pharaoh or the king is a commanding presence. As the Pharaoh he is scary; as the King he is hilarious. I'm sorry Deborah Kerr, but I hardly pay attention to you when you're sharing songs and scenes with Yul (my favorite of which is the "Shall We Dance" scene - "We do it again!")

(Also, while we're talking about The King and I, can I just throw out there how much I love, love, love that Uncle Tom's Cabin dance sequence?)

4. Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Novels

As if Twilight wasn't bad enough, the Trifecta has become enamored with a new vampire series...well, actually it is an older vampire series. Charlaine Harris started writing her southern vampire detective series in 2001 and is currently on the eighth installment. We became aware of it when HBO developed it into a show staring Anna Paquin called TrueBlood. Naturally, we started reading the novels.

Well, now I am on the fourth book and let me tell you, these things are pretty damn addicting. This is not intellectual or thought-provoking reading. And these books definitely have more of an...um, adult bend than the Twilight books. But if you like mystery or suspense (or even trashy romance novels - heavier on the "trash" than the "romance") you might find these an enjoyable light read. Start with Dead Until Dark - it's the first one in the series. The show isn't half-bad, either.

One major complaint: Bill is a stupid name for a vampire.

3. CoffeeMate Italian Sweet Cream coffee creamer

Normally I am not one for flavored creamers. I am strictly a plain half-and-half kind of girl. If it's iced, most of the time I'll drink it black. But when Stop & Shop started carrying these new flavors of CoffeeMate, I could not resist picking up the Italian Sweet Cream flavor.

It is the most delicious substance I have ever put in a cup of coffee - including Bailey's.

Just a hint of sweetness and rich creaminess combine for the perfect antidote to a dreary cup of coffee. It even masks the slight bitterness of work coffee, a miracle in itself. It might be slightly overbearing if you make your coffee on the watery side. But as long as Stop & Shop keeps carrying it, I will never go back to regular half-and-half again.

2. The Wii Fit

Noe bought me the Wii Fit for my birthday. He tried to get it for me awhile ago but it was sold out, no doubt due to legions of overweight people hoping to transform their lives with a video game.

If that sounds too good to be true, well, that's because it is. The Wii Fit is not going to help anyone lose mass amounts of weight. What I wanted it for was the strength training and yoga programs. I never lift weights or do strength training at the gym because I feel stupid and I am impatient, and yoga classes are WAY expensive. So I asked Noe to get me the Wii Fit to sort of inspire myself to do this stuff at home.

This thing is seriously cool. The balance board and some data you input calculate your BMI and you can chart progress and set goals. Some of the exercises are really good, and I love the yoga segments. The aerobic segments, while not incredibly tough or calorie-burning, are definitely enough to get your heart rate going between strength or yoga segments. Plus, the hula hooping looks so stupid that you will burn extra calories watching yourself or someone else attempt it (go on YouTube and search it and you'll see what I mean).

1. Fall

I realize that I am probably in the minority here, but I do not love summer. As much as I do love things like flip flops and dry rose, which are definitely summer things, I'd take fall any day.

I like the crispness in the air, the cool nights, campfires, and wearing long sleeves. We've finally started to have some fall-like weather, which has made me extremely happy. You can still do a number of summer things - ride your bike, go on walks, have campfires and cookouts - in the fall, and I think those things are even better when it's not gross and humid and you're not covered in sweat. Plus, fall brings one of the most fun holidays - Halloween, for dressing up - and one of the best eating holidays - Thanksgiving (though granted, that comes so late it is more like winter). I even like cooking more in the fall. Although I love the grilled foods we eat all summer, soups, stews, chili, and hearty pastas are my favorite dishes to make. I can't wait to make a batch of hot cider and throw our pumpkin-carving party this year...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cat woman

In our quest to find something to do on a rainy Sunday morning, we decided to check out something we had sort of been making fun of whenever we saw the posters advertising it: the cat show.

Noe, Becky, and I piled in the car and drove over to Grasso Tech, a vocational school in Groton. The parking lot was filled with cars, vans and even an RV bearing vanity plates with witty phrases such as "CATLUVR"; "MECOON1"; and "KTTYGRL". Upon walking in, we saw a large woman wearing a black t-shirt with two green cat eyes staring out from under a leather vest. If anything, we knew the people watching would be spectacular.

Judgment day for this American Shorthair.

Show cats do not travel or sit around in regular cages or cat carriers like you use to take your kitty to the vet. These kitties luxuriate in fancy two-room tents with shade screens or fully carpeted and decorated cages with personalized cat beds. Luckily, most of these enclosures still allowed for plenty of good viewing.

This cat's owner told us that this is a Grand Champion

There were some really cool cats. We saw the Rex cats with huge ears and the Sphinx cats with no hair. We saw American Short Hairs with their beautiful coat patterns and gigantic Maine Coons. There were tons of smushy-faced Persians, some of whom appeared to be wearing little doilies around their necks.

Try putting a doily on this guy.

A lot of the owners and breeders were really chatty and informative, telling us all about the breeds and even letting us pet or play with the cats. Those Rex cats with the curly downy coats are much softer than you would think.

Pile o' kitties.

All in all, it was a kind of weird way to spend a morning, but Becky and Noe and I managed to enjoy ourselves...although I do not think I will be getting a vanity plate proclaiming my love for Ralph and Buns anytime soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Year in Review

That's right friends - I have now officially lived in CT for an entire year. A lot has changed since we pulled up in Mark Rauckhorst's driveway at 1:00 AM a year ago. For one thing, we were able to close on/move into our own house (luckily within about three days - I am not good at living in other people's houses and my kitties did not like living in the laundry room).

Some highlights of our year:

Finding/Moving In To Our House
We almost didn't get this house and if we hadn't, I honestly don't know that I could have moved here. We had a terrible experience with our realtor - she didn't want to show us anything in New London and we hated everything in our price range in Groton, Gales Ferry, Mystic, and all the other "desirable" places she showed us. I found our house online, had to fight with her to see it, had to fight with her more to get her to write up the offer, and then we almost lost it due to her stalling. A battle hard fought with a great reward.

Noe in front of our new house shortly after we closed

New York Trips
I'll never love NYC the way I love Chicago, but I'll also never complain about having it a (shorter) train ride away. The unexpected perk of moving out here was discovering that Noe's work badge got us into the major museums for free. So far we've hit the American Museum of Natural History (impressive but overwhelming), the Museum of Modern Art (adored it), and my personal favorite, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The great thing about getting in free and being so close is we can leave before we get burned out because we can always come back...although I can hardly imagine getting burned out on the Met.

Van Goh at the MOMA

Egyptian Awesomeness at the Met

Skiing in Vermont
Yes, we only went twice and yes, one of those days was completely warm and awful, but I can not possibly ignore the fact that in the same time it would take to drive to Boyne or Nub's Nob from Ypsi you can get to real mountains from New London. Noe and I were even able to take a bus from a local ski shop and get discounted tickets. Sure, it's no Colorado but I wouldn't know because I've never been out west anyway. Hopefully this year I can make Noe like skiing a little more and we can go more often.

I was trying to show Noe how to "snowplow."
He was more interested in taking pictures.

Making Awesome Friends
It was rough going here for a little while. Once the rush of moving and getting the unpacked was over, Noe and I suddenly found ourselves in a strange town with no friends, no hobbies, and it was more or less the dead of winter. Luckily, around this time we met and started hanging out with the people who would form our core group of friends here. Even better for me, my new friends got just as excited about wine, food, and books as I did. Now I had people to go to restaurants and wine tastings with and who told me where the fabulous Book Barn was located. The nights were suddenly filled with darts playing, rugby games and dinner/theme parties. Like getting the house, hooking up with this group was a real turning point.

Classing it up for the Gatsby Party (best party of the summer)

The Trifecta/Manfecta dinner party

Martha's Vineyard
This is pretty much directly related to the last item, because if we hadn't made friends with the awesome John and Katie, I am not sure that Noe and I ever would have made it out to Martha's Vineyard. But we jumped at the chance to go when Katie invited us (along with Amanda, Kevin, Mini, Doyle, Chad and Sarah) to spend a weekend at her family's house with her and John. I was absolutely enchanted by Martha's Vineyard and I only saw one small portion of it. I can't wait to go back. And although the setting (funky old house, beautiful beaches) was amazing, it was the company that really made the trip. It was our first vacation with our Connecticut friends and hopefully not the last.

The group at Katie's Vineyard house

Of course, there were many other good things about this year in addition to the ones above - great shows and movies at the Garde, for example; seeing concerts at the Dodge Music Center and the MGM Grand (yay Killers!); and volunteering at the aquarium. These are just some of the major highlights and the ones that stick out in my mind as definitive "maybe I don't hate it here" points. I'm still getting used to life on the East Coast, but I have to tell you that September 12, 2008 is gearing up to be a much better day than September 12, 2007.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Things I like that I used to dislike

Over the course of the past few years, I have changed my position from not favorable to favorable on a number of things, most notably:

I used to hate tomatoes. Not tomato-based products - I have always loved marinara, salsa and ketchup - but a slice of tomato on a burger was enough to make me gag. I think much of this has to with the fact that 1) I was very unadventurous when it came to food until I began working in restaurants (not that tomatoes are adventurous, but I wasn't eating any place that was serving fresh tomatoes) and 2) the few tomatoes I had been exposed to were disgusting, thick, light pink, not-in-season slices of nastiness.

My feelings toward tomatoes began to change when I quit eating Pace salsa (which I now think is gross, to be honest) and started eating chunkier salsas where you could actually see the vegetables. But it was my summer in the Upper Peninsula living with Aunt Missy (to whom I owe a great, GREAT deal of my food appreciation and current passion for cooking) that really changed my mind about tomatoes. Aunt Missy made the best BLTs. She made them with really good, thick-cut bacon, crisp iceberg lettuce (iceberg lettuce DOES have a place in the food community, and that place is on a sandwich), and deliciously fresh, juicy, in-season tomatoes. Because of Aunt Missy, the BLT is now my favorite sandwich, and I like tomatoes enough to grow them in my backyard (see the next thing I used to dislike, gardening, below). FYI - Aunt Missy is also the reason I started making my own pesto.

I thought gardening was a lame, old lady hobby. My gardening consisted of growing one pot of mint and that was only so I could make mojitos.

Once I got together with Noe, however, I started getting slightly more into it. Noe's mom was really into flowers and plants and Noe definitely picked that up from her. He had really cool houseplants, and he and I worked on the front flower beds and the big deck flower pots at the old house.

Then we moved to Connecticut and not only did I inherit an awesome front flower bed (complete with a Japanese Maple) but I inherited a back garden patch as well. Since I am in to food and fresh, local food has slowly but surely been becoming the "in" thing, I decided to give it a try.

Well, those of you who have read the blog know that this experiment ranks as a success. I have in the past week alone eaten cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, beans and countless herbs that I have grown myself. They are not as pretty as the vegetables in the store (some of my cucumbers look downright alien) but I think they taste better. The garden is here to stay.

Another thing that I thought was strictly for old ladies and people with too much time on their hands. Really, I thought pretty much all "crafty" hobbies were hopelessly lame. Even pictures of celebrities knitting on movie sets couldn't sway me.

When my mom starting knitting I was sort of horrified. Except that she turned out to be really good at it. Seriously, she graduated from fun-fur scarves to sweaters within like, months.

Mom tried to teach me several times, but I did not have the patience or the temperament for it. Plus, it took too long to make any noticeable progress.

One day though, I got really bored and started looking through Mom's copy of Stitch & Bitch (the cool knitter's bible) and found a pattern for a simple scarf knit on huge needles with chunky yarn. Apparently you could make this scarf in a time frame that could be measured in hours rather than days. My interest piqued, I bought some yarn and taught myself (from the pictures in the book) how to cast on and knit a basic garter stitch. Two hours later, I had my black and white scarf.

This scarf is by no means pretty, and if you look closely, the squares of black and white are totally different sizes because I was too lazy to really count rows. But it was a stepping stone on the way to much better scarves. As for other projects, well, I am still trying to build up enough patience for those. We'll see this winter.

Gwyneth Paltrow
For some inexplicable reason, I used to hate Gwyneth. The mere sight of her on a poster was enough to make me not want to see a movie. I didn't want to buy magazines with her on the cover. I have no idea why I was so anti-Gwyneth; perhaps because - even though I loved Shakespeare in Love - I thought she stole an Oscar that belonged to Cate Blanchett?

However, I have begun to warm to Gwyneth over the past two years or so. First of all, the woman can actually act. Second of all, she has AMAZING style. (Seriously, if I were tall and skinny and had legs that were 10 feet long, I would dress just like her.) Third, once I started watching all those Gwyneth movies I had been ignoring, I found that she has been in some great flicks - most notably Emma and Sliding Doors. (Honestly, I don't know why I waited so long to watch Sliding Doors. If you haven't seen it, rent it.) Now instead of studiously ignoring Gwyneth projects, I am counting down days to the premiere of her PBS series with Mario Batali where they eat their way through Spain. Yum.

John Steinbeck
I don't know what Steinbeck book you had to read in middle/high school, but if it was The Pearl then maybe you hated Steinbeck, too. My distaste for The Pearl was pretty much enough to convince me I wanted nothing to do with the rest of Steinbeck's literary repertoire (plus, I read the last few pages of Of Mice and Men and it sounded really sad).

Later on in high school and college, when forced to read Mice and The Grapes of Wrath, I started to grow lukewarm towards Steinbeck. He wasn't so bad. I'm not sure what convinced me to buy East of Eden. It could have been that I had just taken that bible as literature class (which was incredibly cool, by the way) and Eden is more or less a modern-ish retelling of the book of Genesis. Or...it could have been that I just liked the name. (Anyone ever notice how these guys - Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc - wrote the best titles?)

Anyway, Eden was a literary life-changing book for me. It immediately earned a place among my all-time favorites. I have re-read it twice and can pretty much open it to any page and start from there. I am not sure why I like it so much; it is certainly not a happy book, and it contains one of the most truly evil women ever to grace the pages of fiction. But it is storytelling at it's best and most epic. Plus, it made me like Steinbeck which in turn made me read Cannery Row, which is a delightful little book itself.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"Weaves a Sinuous Spell"

I have talked about books a fair amount, mostly in reference to my discovery of the Book Barn and the Twilight series. I have also taken the opportunity to sing the praises of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (if you haven't read it, will you please give it a try?)

However, as I was sitting down to write a blog that was originally going to be about my frustration with Cormac McCarthy (I LOVE the plot and story line of No Country for Old Men, but seriously, Cormac - can't you use quotation marks?) when I realized I have been completely neglecting one of my favorite contemporary authors - OK, probably my flat-out favorite contemporary author - Jeffrey Eugenides.

I admit, my relationship with Eugenides started out a bit dishonestly. I fell in love with The Virgin Suicides, but it was not the book I fell in love with - it was the movie. That's right, I said it. I'm very open about the fact that I was completely enraptured by Josh Hartnett's best performance ever as Trip Fontaine, the school heart throb. Yet more than Josh and his groovy seventies look, I was positively entranced by the whole feel of the film - which, upon reading the book three days later, I realized Sophia Coppola totally got.

See, The Virgin Suicides could be a hard book to get, at least on film. It is heavily atmospheric - the late seventies, suburban Detroit setting is almost a character in itself - plus it is all at once gothicly romantic, darkly comedic, and fantastically tragic. It is no way realistic , yet you don't entirely believe that the events couldn't happen. The collective and somewhat distant male narrative seals the deal for me - this book is something special.

(The movie is none too shabby either - check it out. It is so well done, in fact, that I may never dis Sophia Coppola for her awful performance in Godfather III again. I am also willing to overlook how over-rated Lost in Translation was on the basis of the fact that she did such a great job with this source material.)

Middlesex - Eugenides' Pulitzer-winner - is a totally different book, but similar in certain ways. Once again, it paints a picture of a Detroit from another era. Actually, it paints a picture of Detroit from several different eras, from the immigrant 1920's right up to the race riots of the '70's. The themes, however, are totally different, as is the narrative. Instead of this somewhat distant and removed third-party observer, we have a first-person narration begun before the first person even is a person. The themes of Middlesex are more complicated and less superficial than The Virgin Suicides, but it is just as juicy and satisfying a read.

(Personally, I prefer Suicides just a tiny bit over Middlesex, but that may be based solely on the fact that I read it first and it has a killer movie and soundtrack. Honestly, they are both amazing books.)

Now, you may think that I love these books because they are set in Michigan, where I am from. However, while they reference several points that I am geographically familiar with - the old Hudson's department store, Belle Isle, the Renaissance Center, Detroit Country Day, etc - these books are about a Detroit I never experienced. It is no different than reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and wanting to go to Savannah or Summer Sisters and wanting to go to Martha's Vineyard. I may know where Detroit is, yet I don't know this Detroit - but I wish I did.

Anyway, if you are looking for something to read, I hope you'll give Jeffrey a try. Trust me, he's less intimidating than other Pulitzer winners and ten times more readable. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

I had a great cookout with friends - and even some family - and I got to wear a pretty vintage dress. I would say it was a pretty good day. Thank you to everyone who came over and sent birthday wishes!

My cake with canned (Betty Crocker) frosting -
the only kind I like.

27 candles is kind of a lot.

Perhaps the jewel of my fledgling vintage dress collection.