Because my “to read” list is so unbelievably and cumbersomely long, I never have been able to truly commit to which book I will read next. Not only do my shelves contain a multitude of books that I have purchased and not gotten around to reading, but I have multiple lists – digital, handwritten, or quiet promises to myself of books that I want to read… someday. I never have and never will compile these titles into one list, but if I were to do so it would be hundreds and hundreds of lines long. How could somebody possibly decide which one to pick up next? I have resorted to letting fate sort it out for me.
A couple months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that One Hundred Years of Solitude was his favorite book and even claimed it was probably the best book ever written. Shortly after that, I stumbled upon this article on Lit Hub that discusses the experience of time in Gabriel García Márquez’s writing. My friend’s mention dragged One Hundred Years of Solitude out of the depths of my half-remembered lists and positioned it in a place of importance, and the chance find of the article was the “sign” I needed to decide that it would be the next book for me to read.
I was not immediately sure that I liked the book. In fact, I finished the entire novel and still wasn’t entirely certain. Although I could liken Márquez’s writing to falling into a trance – as though I was being rocked gently in a hammock on a summer day – halfway through the novel I felt very lost. It wasn’t the multiple characters who have the same name that confused me (despite the fact that there are no fewer than 22 people named Aureliano!) and it wasn’t the way the plot twisted through the years like a vine turning one way and then looping back on itself and then curling another direction… the only thing that confused me was that I had no idea what it was about. Why had he written it? I couldn’t find a driving force in the book and I was frustrated without knowing what I should latch onto. In fact, this is the first book in years for which I decided to read the sparknotes page in order to have some theme to follow or symbol to light upon. Eventually, I found my stride with reading it, and I am very glad to have done so because it is a masterpiece that happily lived up to the hype it received. Continue reading
A couple weeks ago, Joe made a very large pot of minestrone, for which he bought a full pound of green beans, using only a handful (“They were only a dollar!”) After the soup was made and we were looking at a large amount of beans in peril of going bad if we did not do something with them, we decided the best way to use them up would be to pickle them. Joe and I love pickles. Although Joe detested them until his mid-20s, now anything pickled he sees in the store he will pick up to try. (“Look! Pickled green tomatoes!” “What do you think pickled lemons are for?”) I was eager to try our hands at beginning to pickle things in our own kitchen. We made a batch of dilly beans and ate them so quickly, the next weekend we bought another pound just to pickle those, too. Continue reading
When I was in college, I decided to join my favorite dive bar’s chili cook off. I pulled up my mom’s recipe for chili and several online recipes and began intensely annotating ingredients and amounts until I had developed my own recipe – a Franken-chili that I eagerly assembled and took to the bar that weekend. We set up our crockpots on the covered pool table and went around tasting the many different submissions. Later in the afternoon when they announced the winners, I was pleased and excited to win first place (and a $100 bar tab, which I used a few weeks later to throw a party for some friends.)
The problem I discovered later, was that I could not really decipher my notes to remember what I had actually used in the chili. Was that one can of beer added on the the bottom of the ingredient list? Or was it in the upper right hand corner, underlined, no beer? Every subsequent batch was lack luster or even bad. Finally, a couple weeks ago I hit the sweet spot. I put it in the crockpot in the morning, cleaned the house, (sneaked a small bowl of chili ahead of time), went to the bars with our friends, then came home and had our fill of chili and played board games. It was a success – and this time I made sure to write it down. Although I was hesitant to add sugar, it’s importance is in keeping the acidity down for a deeper, roastier flavor. Next time, I may experiment with using a small amount of maple syrup instead. Continue reading
H is for Hawk is a bit of a departure from my normal reading habits since it is a memoir rather than a novel. I had heard high praise of the book and of Helen Macdonald’s writing, which grabbed my attention when it was released in 2014, although I never happened to pick it up. About a year ago I was with a patient of mine in her home and saw H is for Hawk sitting on an end table. “Oh, I’ve heard of this book!” I said. My patient told me she loved it and that she was reading through it for the third time. I was surprised by her enthusiasm and knew this book must be special to her. A couple weeks later, when I said goodbye for the final visit, she gave me the book. “Just promise you won’t let it sit on your shelf – if you don’t read it, pass it on to someone else,” she said. I promised. For a year, I looked at the cover of the book and said to myself that it was on my short list. When the New Year rolled around, I knew its time had come – I either had to read it or give it away. Continue reading
After breakfast and elevensies, which were both sweet, it is time to turn to the savory for luncheon, afternoon tea, and dinner. Time management has never been my strong suit, but in order to make cooking 6 courses for 16 people work, it is absolutely key! So for lunch, I chose a soup I could start the night before and stick in the refrigerator, then heat up add the final touches in a short time in between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. I thought of Sam making stewed rabbit in Ithilien when he wishes for po-tay-toes; “The Gaffer’s delight and rare good ballast for an empty belly,” as he educates Sméagol. Continue reading
River of Stars is the third book I’ve read by Guy Gavriel Kay. I first saw this book on a store shelf in 2013 when it was released and I was enchanted by the beautiful cover, but passed it by and did not think of it again for several years. I later heard of Guy Gavriel Kay in connection with his work with Christopher Tolkien on The Silmarillion. (The Silmarillion is JRR Tolkien’s unfinished masterpiece; his son and Kay compiled a narrative from the professor’s notes and drafts and published it posthumously in 1977.) After learning this, I felt compelled to pick up some of Kay’s original work and see how I felt he compared to my favorite author. I first read The Lions of Al-Rassan. What struck me about the book was how the characters grew on me so slowly I hardly realized that I cared for them – until I found myself gripping the corners of the book in anticipation and crying at the heartbreaking finale.
In many of his books, Guy Gavriel Kay takes a significant historical event and recasts it in a fictional world to explore those characters and events with the freedom of fantasy. In River of Stars, he uses Song dynasty China, as seen through his fictional nation of Kitai. This is actually the second book Kay wrote that takes place in Kitai, although the first book, Under Heaven, occurs approximately 500 years prior to the events of this one. Initially, I felt River of Stars didn’t focus enough on consistently developing a main character and instead spent too much time on details of culture and history in a way that felt dull, but ultimately Kay swept me away with his ability to richly present deep, powerful emotion and human doubt better than any other writer I know. Continue reading
It is no secret to anyone who knows me even a little that I am a huge Tolkien fan. My love started with the animated Rankin-Bass Hobbit and Return of the King when I was very young and with my dad, sitting on the couch with my sister and me on either side as he read The Hobbit aloud to us. I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was 11 (which took me the better part of a year, at that time!) and The Silmarillion at 12 (I didn’t understand it much then, but I have re-read it a handful of times since, and each time I love it more.)
I’m enough of a nerd (yes *that* kind) that if you get me started, I’ll tell you, in detail, all the things Peter Jackson’s movies did wrong and how he should have corrected them. However, I still enjoy the movies from time to time. Twice I have hosted a party for my friends to come and watch all three extended edition films and provided six Hobbit meals throughout the day. It is a lot of fun – even if it is a lot of work for me! Continue reading