11.30.10: the dirty dozen {contents of my purse}

01 nine napkins from gracie mansion*
02 small blue "it's a boy!" lollipop
03 studded black leather gloves
04 carpenter's tape measure
05 STM l'occasionelle card
06 post-it with cho dang gol's address
07 manhattan cocktail classic matches
08 a discovery of witches (deborah harkness)
09 studded white leather sneakers
10 can of spray adhesive
11 bag of sour patch kids
12 justice

*not to be confused with gracie's mansion

11.28.10: on poetry

bklyn flea, 11/28

11.23.10: the dirty dozen, part II {i recall central park in fall}

sheep meadow

blackbirds

bench

at bethesda terrace

five on the lake

stairs to bethesda terrace

under bethesda terrace

elms revisited

{05 sheep meadow, 06 blackbirds, 07 bench, 08 bethesda terrace, 09 five on the lake, 10 stairs, 11 arcade ceiling, 12 elms revisited}

11.22.10: the dirty dozen, part I {conspicuous consumption}

hipster baking

01 say, have you heard of orphan thanksgiving? it's not actually especially orphan-related, though i'm working on that: it's an "i made this" flickr group in which photos of tasty thanksgiving dishes from around the world rub elbows on the internet. it's a tapestry of calorie-dense magic, if you will. college friends and i started it a few years ago, and it remains surprisingly satisfying to stop by and check out each other's potatoes. come on in!

02 speaking of potatoes, emily gould has intrigued me:
[C]eleriac may look weird, but it is a great addition to mashed potatoes. Make sure you peel off all the hairy parts, then slice it into chunks and boil it with five or six potatoes. When the potatoes and celeriac chunks are all fork-pierceable, mash them with some cream cheese, milk, garlic butter and scallions. People will be amazed by the potatoes and won’t know why.

The farmer’s market shopper seemed skeptical but I think that was because of my evangelical zeal and the fact that she hadn’t initiated an interaction with me. “That was really something to share with the Internet, not a specific human,” I remember thinking as I walked away.

03 i'm not in charge of potatoes this year; i'll be defrosting the cheese pumpkin i squirreled away a few months ago to make throwdown pumpkin pie (i'm already excited about making the bourbon-maple whipped cream, which is the sort of topping which could trick one into eating one's own hand) and summoning either dark salty caramels or homemade twix bars (or both?) from the sugary ether. my relationship with caramel remains problematic, but tomorrow is another day - and even inchoate candy is better than no candy at all.

04 takae mizutani's my egg & soldiers. more breakfast-related castles, please.


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 where will you spend this thanksgiving? are you in charge of any of the cooking?

02 have you any experience with this celeriac-in-mashed-potatoes business?

03 do you think national opt-out day will really happen on wednesday? are you concerned about travel?

04 what did you have for breakfast?

11.19.10



my swiss guard of kazoo-playing boys notwithstanding, we had no music at our wedding ceremony. had we scared up a suitable english boom box, we'd have had this.

11.17.10

THUNDERTOME: ROUND 29

SURVIVOR:
black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: freedom (jonathan franzen)

if you're wavering between a hot date with jonathan franzen's new joint and some other noble pursuit - walking across the williamsburg bridge for a quesadilla at taco chulo,** for example, or joining the GRAVITY'S RAINBeh pynchon reading group i keep talking up without formally establishing - let me save you a bit of time by saying that freedom itself isn't nearly as exciting as the drama that has surrounded it. i mean, obama got an early copy and kicked off a publishing panic! franzen made the internet barf all over the place! he could be time's person of the year! he was all snubbed for a national book award, but he and oprah kissed and made up! it's hard to live up to shenanigans like that when you're a book, even if your dust jacket looks like twin peaks' opening credits.

freedom entered my life at the jetblue terminal about an hour before i got on a plane to california; i'd been more immediately interested in buying the hunger games, but the airport was fresh out of suzanne collins.*** it's low-impact plane reading, particularly for new yorker subscribers, as the first chapter was excerpted there last summer.**** (if you want to give freedom a try before plunking down $30 or getting in a year-long queue at your local library, that's a serviceable test drive.) in short: walter and patty berglund are an earnest young couple in ramsey hill, a developing minnesota neighborhood, who annoy their fellow gentrifiers by seeming inoffensive and happy, until they don't. patty has no contact with her family back in new york; what's that about? patty and walter's teenage son, joey, moves in with the horrible, conservative neighbors; again, the community eyebrows waggle. patty brings us up to speed in the next portion of the book, a memoir ("mistakes were made") she has penned at her therapist's suggestion. we get a more substantive look at how patty became a brittle hausfrau, but there's no net gain here: while franzen tells a convincing story of a somewhat aimless jock who goes to college with interesting people, falls for a rake and marries his best friend, and develops a personality a few decades too late, we're supposed to be hearing it in patty's voice, and...we don't. i'd love to believe that the university of minnesota is turning out accidental wordsmiths (patty's never identified, by herself or anyone else, as a distinguished writer), but the truth is p-bergz sounds just like j-franz. franzen is widely (and rightly) applauded for his hypermeticulous, old-dutch-master-laying-down-twelve-layers-of-paint approach to building characters; why can't he cough up a plausible narrative tone for his number one girl? his number two girl - walter's lovely indian assistant, lalitha - is also problematic; she works as an old-fashioned foil for patty (she's foreign, nubile, committed to philanthropy, hopelessly in love with walter, and completely uninterested in having children), but she actually is rather two-dimensional and shiny; while understanding her effect on walter is more important than believing in her as a character, the latter is still important.

then there's young joey. i toyed with abandoning the book when he became its focus for a time. his scenes with his long-suffering girlfriend give franzen a distinct shot at replacing john updike as the laureate of bad sex; his ridiculous career as a boy subcontractor to the u.s. military in iraq (michiko kakutani applauded his "david foster wallace-esque ability to capture the absurdities of contemporary life;" no, no!) nearly derails the novel's a-plot, and the scene (also kakutani-approved!) in which he retrieves his wedding ring from his own stool...look. many parts of freedom are very, very good; some sentences are in fact "so well-written you want to pluck them out, stab them with little corn holders, and eat them," as sam anderson put it. others make me feel as franzen, an avid birder, must have felt when his hosts in cyprus confronted him with a plate of ambelopoulia. (he had two.)


VICTOR: mitchell. franzen has a masterpiece in him, but i'm not convinced that this is that. see also: franzen ate songbirds.


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 freedom-readers, should franzen have been nominated for a national book award? would you want to see his mug on the cover of time?

02 how would you feel about an oprah's book club sticker on the front of your novel?

03 how is the hunger games, anyway?

04 what would your baleen filter?

05 would you eat a songbird? what if it was served to you by a gracious host in a foreign country?

06 if you've read both the corrections and freedom, which did you prefer?


*previous battle here.

**you won't be sorry - they make the greatest quesadilla of all time.

***that's as it should be; one should buy hardcovers at full price every now and again instead of impulse-buying young adult novels and/or filtering abandoned advance reader copies from the office like a baleen whale.

****a second excerpt ran this may.

11.09.10

THUNDERTOME: ROUND 28

SURVIVOR:
black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: zeitoun (dave eggers)

my edition of zeitoun has a clipped cover. its unbound edge ends half an inch early to reveal a deep maroon subcover with a full-page quote from timothy egan's times review:
Imagine Charles Dickens, his sentimentality in check but his journalistic eyes wide open, roaming New Orleans after it was buried by Hurricane Katrina...Eggers' tone is pitch-perfect--suspense blended with just enough information to stoke reader outrage and what is likely to be a typical response: How could this happen in America?...It's the stuff of great narrative nonfiction...Fifty years from now, when people want to know what happened to this once-great city during a shameful episode of our history, they will still be talking about a family named Zeitoun.
then eight more pages of review excerpts, then eggers' biography and five URLs relating to his causes and projects. (then his autograph on a second title page; my sis got the book signed for me as an early birthday present.) fifteen pages, all told, before the story begins. hang on to your lemon zinger, it says. you're in for industrial-strength edification.

what zeitoun delivers is...exactly that, really. dave eggers' fiction has never really blown my hair back (his first novel, you shall know our velocity, tripped over its own feet;** the talking dog story in how we are hungry left me cold, and if there is a natural audience for talking dog stories, i am its rapporteur), but his nonfiction has an elegant vivacity i quite like: he curates a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, the story of how he raised his eight-year-old brother after their parents died, with a lot of charisma.*** the charisma's here as he presents the zeitoun family and hurricane katrina as well, but it's gotten sneakier: the exposed seams he flaunted in a heartbreaking work (so late 90's) now shape the tale invisibly. eggers uses a gorgeous syrian night fishing scene to introduce us to zeitoun (and how community and the sea are bound up for him), and he makes call after excellent call as he takes us through the family's flight to arizona, zeitoun's experience in the storm, and what happens after new orleans is overwhelmed. many reviewers speak of eggers' restraint, but that's not quite it: he does let the events speak for themselves, but it's his angles of approach (and the scenes he chooses) that really wallop. i kept whacking joe in the arm as we lay in our hotel room in montreal: "and now he's back at the house where he was feeding the starving dogs, and he looks under the window and - " "why do you tell me these things?!"****

long story short: eggers personalizes katrina and the war on terror with a lot of skill and a lot of heart. he will probably always make my snark glands go haywire, but that says more about my heart of tar than it does about him. zeitoun is wonderful.


VICTOR: black swan green. eggers out-directs mitchell (here, at least - i have a feeling cloud atlas would have a thing or two to say to him), and his raw material is lethal - but mitchell, free to eschew realism, is still fantastic. and then there's my heart of tar.


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what's your take on dave eggers? how much slack should one cut him in promoting zeitoun, given that it benefits noble causes? if you've read it, what did you think?

02 is away we go (the john krasinski / maya rudolph movie eggers wrote with his wife) worth seeing? i'll give it a chance if i must, but my instincts tell me to run.

03 have you ever heard of a "curate's egg"? (the term bobbed to the internet's surface as i was assembling this post; i think it's marvelous, and plan to use it all the time. note that zeitoun is not a curate's egg.)

04 what's your heart made of?


*previous battle here.

**see 10.14.03.

***amusingly, the reviewer in that times piece i linked writes that "Eggers has spent perhaps one too many semesters at the David Foster Wallace school of creative writing," then goes on to assure us that eggers's gimmicks are actually far less annoying than DFW's.

****zeitoun is second only to in-cold-blood-while-we-were-scouting-oxford-for-our-wedding as awkward vacation reading.

11.07.10

woolgathering & miscellany hosted a giveaway a few weeks ago, and because halloween really is the best day of my year, gracie informed me then that i won. huzzah!

i picked out a pair of mackage studded gloves, for i am thinking about freelancing as a strangler, and having ice-cold hands is considerably less enjoyable than having an ice-cold heart, even for stranglers. i suspected said gloves should be styled with fur, and lo:

steve, the gloves

watch your ass, kate lanphear - and thanks again, gracie!

11.04.10: canada, part III {consumption}

while joe and i have a fairly jules-in-pulp-fiction, walk-the-earth approach to vacationing in new cities - we try to do one culturiffic thing a day, and to eat at least one significant meal, and otherwise we trail like ivy - i research ahead of time, a bit. for montreal i printed out two new york times "36 hours in..." articles, a guide to local brewpubs, and the design*sponge city guide, and i dug around the apartment until i turned up the little michelin guide i bought back in 2006. (you've been a long time coming, montreal.) all of that went into a big folder we named christina, which must have been confusing to any nefarious qu├ębecois operatives rolling with us. "where is dieu du ciel again?" "i don't know, check with christina!" "oh, fine!" [subject rummages in bag.]


poutine rachel

poutine (shocker) was our first priority, and la banquise had vegetarian gravy; alors. (full disclosure: we went back for seconds a few days later when schwartz's deli was slammed like katz's here in new york. it was even better revisited.)


barmacie coaster

we wandered from la banquise to baldwin barmacie, a cocktail place which also serves grilled cheese sandwiches. something about our off-menu request for dark and stormies with cuban rum* must have pleased our server, for he materialized with three shots of tequila as we were leaving. we said the right thing at that point as well, i suppose, as he then ran away and came back with...three more? montreal: friendly like chicago. the only irritable person we encountered up there, in fact, was the poor guy at the other end of the number my out-of-date michelin guide told me to call to buy tickets for a show.

1: hello, do you still have tickets for the monster spectacular at the stade olympique tonight?
2: non!
1: you mean you had them and now they're sold out?
2: non!

we were watching canadian tv before bed on friday night, you see, and were informed that crushstation, the lobster monster truck, would be in montreal the following night. i didn't think much of it at the time, but i woke up on saturday morning convinced that fate was guiding us to a monster truck show in canada. i mean, i'd brought my grave digger shirt and everything. samedi, samedi, samedi! nous pouvons vous vendre toute la chaise, mais vous ayez besoin seulement du bord!**


crushstation

brutus and the avenger

monster truck enthusiast

i mean, people brought vuvuzelas. it was amazing.


the pumpkins of atwater market

table-gherkins, l'express

l'express, filmy

we spent our last afternoon buying provisions for the train at atwater market, where i had the french conversation my high school language teacher always hoped i would have ("which maple syrup is your favorite?" "it depends: are you traveling by plane or by train?" "by train! how much is this pretty one on the left?"), and we had our last dinner at l'express, where they give each table a huge jar of cornichons just because they can. i didn't even mind that the blue moon caused a bridge fire at spuyten duyvil, a tunnel fire near penn station, and a derailment, all of which meant that we had to take a bus home in place of our lovely wine train. we mightn't be back to montreal for a while - we've got a lot of places to visit for the first time - but we'll be back.

{additional excellent places: mckiernan for lunch (note the bowie bathroom), dieu du ciel for beer and, yes, nachos, boris bistro for an unrushed, seasonal dinner, hotel st. paul for lovely rooms and a superlative lobby-lounge (and ginger chocolates on our pillow each night with a handwritten card predicting the next day's weather), the mmfa for maybe-preferable-to-moma contemporary art.}

{full set here.}


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you ever had poutine? would you have it again?

02 does telling your spouse they can't buy a vuvuzela mean you don't really love them?

03 would you have gone to the monster spectacular?

04 how's your french?

05 have you ever been to montreal? what did you do there?


*i made an effort to find a smugglable bottle of havana club for the train ride home, but alas. they were all gigantic.

**my french has deteriorated since college. hush.

11.02.10

THUNDERTOME: ROUND 27

SURVIVOR: black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: although of course you end up becoming yourself (david lipsky)

in the interest of brevity, let's give this one a few preambulatory clauses, UN-security-council-resolution-style.

the blogger,

bearing in mind that david foster wallace is my favorite author and that my feelings about him and his work mean that the emotional bioavailability of any and all DFW-related prose is in my system pretty much absolute,

fully aware that although of course you end up becoming yourself, being an annotated, five-day, rolling-stone-commissioned interview with DFW, is perhaps even more awkward in THUNDERTOME (an arena, i'm realizing, for more traditional fiction and nonfiction) than elizabeth edwards's first memoir was,**

taking note of, as david lipsky puts it,
[W]hat I like best about [the five days recorded in the book] is that it sounds like David's writing. He was such a natural writer that he could talk in prose; for me, this has the magic of watching a guy in a business suit, big headphones, step into a gym and sink fifty foul shots in a row. This is what David was like at thirty-four--what he calls "all the French curls and crazy circles"--at one of the moments when the world opens up to you.
1. calls upon the reader to get on this book. for newcomers, as its newsweek blurb promises, it's a "conversational entry point into david foster wallace's thought process;" for devotees like me (and lipsky, and some of you), it's the next best thing to being in his company (which, by all accounts, was singular and wonderful). lipsky was just thirty in march of 1996, when he flew out to illinois for the last leg of DFW's infinite jest book tour; i don't know much about being a young fiction author (he follows other authors' careers with the zeal i associate with friends who play fantasy sports), but i've been a young magazine type for a few years, and it's weirdly easy to imagine myself in his place - though if lipsky's take on the mid-'90s literary community is correct, i'd have been in the kitchen.
"All the girls are like, 'David Foster Wallace, he's really cool.' So the guys are like, 'I hate David Foster Wallace.'"

[...]

In fact, a personal hardship, my own girlfriend had been reading only him, steadily, languorously. One afternoon, she took a cigarette into the kitchen to cool off, and I found this e-mail on her computer. She'd sent questions to an editor friend, who'd written back:

Mr. Wallace is cool-looking. A big hulking guy with long stringy hair. Looks sort of like a rock star. Perspires freely. Wears a do-rag, and participates in the urban American experience thusly. Is unmarried, I believe. What were your other questions?
in related news, i googled tim lincecum after the giants won the world series last night and the text field helpfully added girlfriend.***

lipsky's sympathetic, observant, and funny: seeing wallace after his second reading in new york city (at an earlier point in the book tour), he notes that he looks "abashed and excited and comfortable, like someone on a personal water slide." he's quick to attempt to identify patterns in the way his subject presents himself, and can be rather cynical about the interviewer/ee relationship (DFW calls him a "tough room"). he acquits himself well in fast-paced cultural rallies (his knowledge of other authors' stats comes in handy there, as does his father's work as an ad man). his asides about the sort of bookstore culture which still existed fourteen years ago (so many of the stops on the book tour are now gone!) are intensely depressing - did that really happen that fast? - and well-considered, given how DFW talks about writing and reading. (if it's to make us, as he and franzen put it, "become less alone inside,"**** is it any wonder that the modern reader's literal isolation feels kind of horrible? maybe it's just me.) lipsky's take on DFW's feelings about fame could be problematic, but his intentions are good, and although of course you end up becoming yourself is intensely moving - both as a snapshot of a young genius and as "that kind of stomach magic of, 'God damn, it's fun to read. I'd rather read right now than eat.'" meet dave, again.


VICTOR: black swan green - because lipsky was the entrant, not DFW. you got lucky, mitchell.


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 would you want to interview someone you idolize?

02 given the opportunity to spend time with david foster wallace, how would you want to spend it?

03 do you think the publication of lipsky's book was inappropriately opportunistic? (aside: rolling stone spiked the piece lipsky had been commissioned to write back in 1996.)

04 do books need buildings? do we need books? (do you own or want a kindle?)

05 when was the last time you skipped a meal for a book?

06 have you read the boy, an unpublished story of DFW's (transcribed from a reading in 2000) which materialized on a tumblr account last week? what did you think?


*previous battle here.

**though i would certainly THUNDERTOME the five nights jack kerouac spent with neal cassady in the third, transcript section of kerouac's visions of cody, a book i disliked so intensely that i avoided kerouac altogether for a decade. (this book amplifies your life force as forcefully as visions of cody diminishes it.)

***i have no stake in whether or not tim lincecum has a girlfriend. just so we're clear.

****"The old tricks have been exploded, and I think the language needs to find new ways to pull the reader. And my personal belief is a lot of it has to do with voice, and a feeling of intimacy between the writer and the reader. That sorta, given the atomization and loneliness of contemporary life--that's our opening, and that's our gift."