Monday, August 27, 2007

The Lost: a search for six of six million

In the second chapter of The Lost Daniel Mendelson describes how his Grandfather tells a story:

he wouldn't do anything so obvious as to start at the beginning and end at the end; instead, he told it in vast circling loops, so that each incident, each character he mentioned as he sat there....had its own mini-history, a story within a story, a narrative inside a narrative, so that the story he told was dominoes, one thing happening just after the other, but instead like a set of Chinese boxes or Russian dolls, so that each event turned out to contain another, which contained another, and so forth.

It is in this way that Mendelsohn tells this story, the story of his Grandfather's brother, his wife, and his four daughters that were lost in the Holocaust. Mendelsohn grew up hearing bits about his Great Uncle Shmiel and as an adult decided to find out what had happened to them. This journey took him to Ukraine, Australia, Israel, Poland, the list goes on. Mendelsohn set out to find out what happened, how these relatives died and came to the realization that what he was finding, what was perhaps more important, was how they lived. What sort of people they were, what they looked like, who their friends and boyfriends were. And what of all the other 6 million, what about their stories of how they lived - would they ever be told?

In one passage, Mendelsohn writes about an elderly gentleman, who has written to the German government asking them to put up a memorial in a forest on the site of the murder of 1000 Jews. The German government has responded, that if the Jewish community of the town could raise a certain amount of money, they would match it. His response? Dear Sir, All the other members of the Styjer Jewish community are in the Holobutow forest.

I do not have the words to describe how stunning, how powerful, how beautifully written this book is. It certainly reminded me of all the information I had accessible to me, that has now been lost. Mendelsohn says it best:

you decide, suddenly, that it's important to let your children know where they came from - you need the information that people you once knew always had to give you, if only you'd asked. But by the time you think to ask, it's too late.

I think about those family gathering that he describes, the ones with somewhat frightening elderly people that seem not to like children and wonder, what could I have known?

Mendelsohn's journey seems epic, and there are often setbacks. Despite this, the book comes to a shocking and satisfying conclusion. This is one of the best books I've read this year, truly, in the past few years. Highly recommended.

I've also finished another book, The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark. This was fine - unfortunately for it, I was reading The Lost at the same time, and it paled in comparison.

I think posting in the next 2 weeks is going to be light, possibly nonexistent. Our schedules are full; we are trying to enjoy this last bit of summer, having a holiday weekend which I will be working all of, organizing the Fall extracurricular schedule, and having our first experience with public school involving many hours to be spent at 'orientation'. I will still be visiting all of you though, to relax and be inspired.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Free books!

Just a quick post to let you know about a book giveaway happening at The Book Depository. Go here to find out how to get your own - book are available to bloggers only this time around and there will be more giveaways in the future. Many thanks to Harriet Devine for pointing me in the right direction.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A bookish meme

It seems I've seen this meme just about everywhere and I think it's my turn.

What are you reading right now? The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn and The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark. The second has been getting pushed aside because the first is so compelling.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that? I'll definitely be reading Sister Carrie for my book club meeting in September. This will be a re-read for me - I am looking forward to it, but would have preferred reading An American Tragedy by Dreiser. Other than that, I have no idea. It depends how I'm feeling when I finish my current reads.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now? Vogue - I have a built-in vanity where I dry my hair and apply makeup and I get a few minutes of light reading in every morning.

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read? I remember hating Billy Budd in high school. There have been a few book club books that I greatly disliked - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is among them.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone? Middlesex - most people are generally skeptical. I also tend to recommend Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Margaret Atwood.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they? I don't think they know my name - but they definitely know me by sight. I'm usually there several times a week.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all? People are generally skeptical about reading a book about a Hermaphrodite - Middlesex.

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving? Definitely while I eat if I'm alone or at work - not while I bathe - sometimes during kids movies I'm 'watching' with my daughter - I browse magazines while I'm online and waiting for screens to come up - um, no - if I'm at a really long light I'll pick something up.

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits? I don't remember anyone doing so.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn't’t put it down? I'm too tired to stay up half the night, but I remember doing it in my younger days. One book I specifically remember is a book about Ted Bundy - which I finished and then couldn't get to sleep I was so frightened.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Care to snoop?

I love looking through bookshelves, either in person or in photographs and I thought I would show you some of mine. These photographs are of my new shelves which contain lots of favorites and many unread books. I have another bookcase filled with Viragos and other shelves all over the house.

The top left shelf contains all the grey books as well as my vintage books. It is difficult to read the titles but I have copies of Little Women, The Mill on the Floss, Maggie Now by Betty Smith, Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband (more on that book later), and The Shuttle.

The decending four shelves contain fictional books. This is a small part of my stash.

The top right shelf contains much of my English history and biography collection. The one beneath it is also nonfiction, some grouped by country, some miscellaneous.

Here are most of my cookbooks.

This bottom shelf has a bit of cookbook overflow and other nonfiction titles about food. There are also some children's books, including my 1937 collection of My Book House books. My daughter is enjoying these despite being continually told to "be careful!"

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Thoughts on a rainy Sunday afternoon

We are having unseasonably cool weather here in August with temperatures hovering around 60 degrees and the rain has been coming down for 2 days straight. We are having some leakage issues here....

I have been busy all weekend with company (the in-laws) and cooking almost 20 pounds of tomatoes. I bought an enormous box of Roma tomatoes yesterday at the farmer's market and most have been combined with heaps of carrots, onions, garlic, thyme, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted in the oven at 450 degrees. I then pureed them all into sauce. I still have my last batch to package for freezing, in all around 18-20 meals worth. I have also made ratatouille which will also be frozen. I still have a heap of tomatoes left over which will be turned into salsa and a wonderful Mexican rice dish later this week.

In bookish news, I have finished my second Adele Geras novel, Made in Heaven. I enjoyed this very much, though I think I enjoyed Facing the Light a bit more. Made in Heaven is the story of an engaged couple and the various situations that arise when the two families meet and begin planning the wedding. I did have my suspicions throughout the book about how it might end, and it turned out I was correct. I can only say how happy I am that I did not have such meddling families when I was planning my wedding. This is a big, cozy read and that was just what I was looking for when I picked it up.

Some bookish news in a different vein:

I went to see Becoming Jane last week with one of my coworkers, another Jane Austen fan. We did enjoy the film, an unpopular view, I know, she more than I. We went into the experience knowing that the movie does not have much to do with the real Jane Austen and found it entertaining, romantic, and bittersweet. There was quite a bit of dialogue and situations that came straight from Pride and Prejudice. I think it's actually pretty brave for movie makers to make a romantic film that does not end with the characters coming together in the end. There just cannot be a huge market for that sort of film.

In any case, I came home and picked up Claire Tomalin's Austen biography to read what she wrote about Thomas Lefroy. I really enjoyed this book some years ago - but if anyone knows of a more definitive or enjoyable biography of Austen I'd love to know about it. The film pushed me to finally order Jane Austen in Context which I've been reading about for weeks over at Of Books and Bicycles. Dorothy has written a few lovely posts about this book which have included all sorts of interesting tidbits from the book. I have also ordered Lesley Castle which Bookfool wrote such a lovely review of.

In other Austen news, apparently Masterpiece Theater will be having an Austen festival of sorts in 2008. I will be looking forward to that!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


My husband says that I read the same book over and over. I know he's right, though I don't really like to admit it. I recently finished Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. The premise of this book is very similar to Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but the approach was a bit different.

The couple who wrote Plenty live in Vancouver and are not trying to grow their own food (though they do have a small garden in the community plot) but figure out how to source their food within 100 miles of their home. Their project did not appear to involve years of planning and it seemed they figured things out as they went along. There were humorous moments when they seemed to be eating not much more than potatoes. I think the fact that this couple does not have children probably contributed to their occasional laziness at coming up with a varied diet. I enjoyed reading about their many visits to locals farms and their quests to try to satisfy their cravings, particularly for flour. The authors do a good job of balancing the scientific information with their personal story, even delving into their relationship with one another, to make this fast-paced story both educational and entertaining.

I found this book to be an important one on this subject because it shows that even if you live in an urban area and don't have a lot of land to farm, it is possible to eat locally at least part of the time. It seems this couple was blogging or at least writing about their experience while they were living it and became somewhat well-known. They do maintain a website which includes testimonials from others who have tried to live on the 100 Mile Diet.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What to do with your tomatoes, or why I plant cherry tomatoes

Pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh basil is one of my absolute favorite dishes to make and eat and I only prepare it in the summer. It takes so many tomatoes that I only make it once or twice a season, but I am not completely kidding when I say it is the reason I plant tomatoes at all. This dish comes from Seriously Simple by Diane Rossen Worthington which is one of my favorite cookbooks. I will admit there are a few recipes that have not turned out - and I don't think it was me - but overall I have probably cooked more from this than any other book I own. Simple, tasty food made with uncomplicated ingredients - I love that.

Cut cherry, grape, or pear tomatoes in half and place in baking dish. The yellow pear ones have not been my favorite to eat out of hand, but turned out really well in this dish. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds, but like everything else I don't bother with measurements.

Top with bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Drizzle olive oil over this.

While we're waiting for that to roast at 400F for 30-35 minutes, here is a look at my favorite cooking tools. My microplane grater, chef's knife, and Rosle garlic press are used almost daily.

When the mixture is bubbling, brown and slightly thickened, remove from oven and feel free to have a taste, as I did.

Combine with pasta and fresh basil. I like to use a pasta shape for this, preferably cavatappi. I love how the tomatoes cling to its curves.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

What to do when you visit The North Shore:

Go to Grand Marais and walk on the pebble beach.

Visit some waterfalls. If you're brave you might jump off this cliff. We saw some young men doing this.

Visit a lake along The Gunflint Trail.

Hike to The Devil's Kettle. Apparently, no one is certain where the water going into the crevice on the left goes.

Visit more waterfalls..

and some more. There is a spot here where you can see five different waterfalls at once.

Throw rocks into Lake Superior.

Don't miss the alpine slide at Lutsen mountain; I do not have any photographs of that sans faces.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Atonement by Ian McEwan is the sort of book that has pages of international praise inside the cover and sits on the bestseller shelves at Barnes and Noble for weeks at a time. The sort of book all the bookgroups are reading and the sort of book I generally avoid for a long time, but often wind up reading once the storm has died down. This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I'll be honest here and tell you that what finally pushed me to pick this up off of my shelf was the trailer for the film adaption coming out later this year. It looked like a film I would enjoy and I would rather have read the book first than the other way around.

Atonement is a book about misunderstandings and how people perceive things differently. In the book, a young girl, Briony misconstrued multiple situations which ultimately leads to tragedy for multiple families. Part of the misunderstanding involves a note. I am very aware of men writing about women and it struck me that the event that occurred after the intended (Cecilia) received the note would only happen in a book written by a man, sort of a male fantasy. As a woman, I find it hard to imagine most women having the same reaction Cecelia has.

I enjoyed this book and thought it very well written, but I didn't love it. I never felt emotionally connected to it except for feeling so much anger towards Briony. I was fortunate to have longer stretches of time to read this novel, and felt that was the best way to read it. I don't know if I would have gotten very far if I'd had to keep putting it down. The last section of the novel helps to explain the rest of the book and why the previous three sections are so different from one another. There is a sort of 'twist' in the ending which I have encountered in at least one other book. I did not appreciate it in that previous book (The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve in case you are wondering) however I thought it was better executed here, and I could appreciate it more.

I would still like to see the film version when it comes out and I am interested to see how it has been adapted, particularly in light of the ending.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Why I Blog and Recent Reads

Danielle tagged me for the Why I Blog meme and I have spent some time thinking about this. I have read some wonderful responses to this question and I think I will just ramble on a bit and hopefully some clear thoughts will emerge.

I think I discovered blogging rather late, but once I did I was hooked. I remember viewing Yarnstorm, Cornflower, Random Jottings, A Work in Progress and others (see all my great sidebar links) for the first time and being amazed that such a community existed, that such creativity existed, that people were sharing and conversing and being part of a community. That is why I began - I wanted to be part of the group. It took some courage, but I jumped in and wrote a few posts and starting actually commenting on other people's posts instead of just peering in, and to my great surprise, they responded. The main thing I do on my blog is write about books. I have been keeping a paper journal for a few years now, but blogging really helps me to articulate my thoughts about what I have read in a way that I hadn't done before. I love the community of people and conversation that goes on in the blogging world. I certainly know people in my daily life who read, but it is so amazing to find people who read as much as I do (in many cases, much more!), who have similar reading taste to mine, people who probably get asked as I do 'How much do you read?' , 'Do you always have a book with you?'. Here I am understood. Where else in my daily life could I have found so many people who have read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Adele Geras' books - and want to share their thoughts with me? I'm going to guess nowhere. I think having a blog is a good mental exercise as well. I am not a writer, would never claim to be one, and writing does not come easily to me. It is challenging sometimes to come up with things to write about, and to find the right words.

That's it, I suppose. I won't tag anyone, but if you'd like to answer this question please do. Thank you to all the wonderful bloggers out there who share their thoughts with me on their own blogs and my own. It all really means a lot.

Now on to some books. I did some 'light' reading last week, going into my vacation and during it and finished two books. The first was Markham Thorpe by Giles Waterfield. I first read about this novel on Cornflower.

Markham Thorpe is about a young woman, Ellen, who goes into service at the same place as her sister and elder cousin who is the housekeeper. There is great detail about daily life as a maid which sounds absolutely exhausting. I often think about the fact that my position in life would have probably led me to a life in service and I can only be grateful that I was born when I was. The housekeeper in this novel has evil schemes in mind, and uses Ellen, our heroine, to help her achieve her goals. I enjoyed this book, it was a light and easy read about a period of time I enjoy reading about.

The second book I finished was A Step in the Dark by Judith Lennox. I came across this on bookcloseouts. It is described as:

A breathtaking journey from Colonial India through wartime London to the remote wilds of Scotland, unforgettable story of love and loss, greed and desire, and the secrets that can bind a family - or ultimately destroy one...

This was again, another light and easy read, in the same genre I would say as Penny Vincenzi, though not quite as enjoyable as a Vincenzi. This book is full of drama, betrayals, complicated relationships, and some mystery as well. Overall, it fit the bill for a relaxing yet absorbing vacation read.

After all this light reading I decided I needed something a bit heavier, so I picked up Atonement by Ian McEwan. I finished this last night but am still thinking about it.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Too many tomatoes? Never.

My tomato plants are growing like weeds this year. The yellow pear is threatening to take over the entire garden. This is in stark contrast to last year, when things rotted before they ever ripened.

The tomatoes in the small bowl on the right are grape tomatoes. They are enormous -practically the size of plum tomatoes. I have not added anything to the soil except water and some leftover potting soil.

I sliced up a bunch of these, added these lovely balls of fresh mozzarella, a minced shallot, olive oil, a few drops of balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

I tossed in some basil right before the pasta finished cooking. This is my absolute favorite pasta, this organic egg pasta from Italy.

I grated Parmesan over this pile. I was unable to resist so did not photograph this final stage. Bliss.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Home Sweet Home

We've returned from our mini-vacation to the North Shore along Lake Superior. It is so gorgeous up there, just state park after state park and so many waterfalls I couldn't even tell you how many we saw. The photographs are all in my husband's camera so hopefully he'll load those online one of these days and I'll be able to share the amazing scenery.

We are not originally from Minnesota, we've lived here since 1999. There is a big tradition in Minnesota of vacationing 'up north' and of spending summer weekends 'at the cabin'. We had always wondered what all the fuss was about, so we traveled to Duluth and along the North Shore for the first time last summer and were pleasantly surprised enough to return this year and travel further north. I had particularly wanted to visit Grand Marais.

Grand Marais is a little village with a beautiful pebble beach and a well established artist's colony. We ate at a well-known restaurant there, The Angry Trout Cafe which is known for their local menu and the sustainable way they run their business. It is truly amazing to see how committed they are to this way of life and it shows in every aspect of the restaurant. Not only that, but the food is wonderful. I was tempted to buy their cookbook, but decided to see if I could borrow it from the library (I can!).

We visited a tiny bookstore in Grand Marais, Drury Lane Books. I was really impressed with their small but well chosen selection. In particular, I was happy to note that they actually had 2 Virago Modern Classics on their shelves including Elizabeth Taylor's Mrs Palfrey at the Clermont and another by Elizabeth Von Arnim. I own both already, but was very surprised to see these at a little shop in Northern Minnesota. The bookstore puts out a newsletter which included what books the local book groups are reading. I love that! Here are the books we purchased.

I was not planning on buying anything but could not resist My Lady Ludlow by Mrs Gaskell. I have never heard of this before, and again, what are the chances I would come across it in northern Minnesota. The preface states that it was published in installments from June to September 1858 in Dicken's Household Words. Has anyone read this one?

I have just been heartsick since learning of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis yesterday evening. This bridge is about 10 miles from my house and it is just devastating to see a disaster in your hometown. It really started to sink in when friends and family began calling and emailing us to make sure we were fine. Things like this tend to remind me how fragile everything is; cities, bridges, and life itself.

Booking Through Thursday

Have you ever written an author a fan letter?

Did you get an answer?

Did it spark a conversation? A meeting?

(And, sure, I suppose that e-mails DO count . . . but I’d say no to something like a message board on which the author happens to participate.)

When I read today's question I just had to answer in order to mention a book that perhaps didn't get the attention it deserved. I emailed Dara Horn in April of 2006 with a question about her book The World to Come. Horn wrote back and in a two page letter discussed the questions I presented to her, and her thought processes in writing the part of the book I was inquiring about. She also expressed her appreciation that I, a 'real reader' had corresponded with her. It was an amazing response, I never dreamed she would have taken so much time to explain everything the way she did.

Here is Amazon's description of this novel:

Following in the footsteps of her breakout debut In the Image, Dara Horn's second novel, The World to Come, is an intoxicating combination of mystery, spirituality, redemption, piety, and passion. Using a real-life art heist as her starting point, Horn traces the life and times of several characters, including Russian-born artist Marc Chagall, the New Jersey-based Ziskind family, and the "already-weres" and "not-yets" who roam an eternal world that exists outside the boundaries of life on earth.
At the center of the story is Benjamin Ziskind, a former child prodigy who now spends his days writing questions for a television trivia show. After Ben's twin sister Sara forces him to attend a singles cocktail party at a Jewish museum, Ben spots Over Vitebsk, a Chagall sketch that once hung in the twins' childhood home. Convinced the painting was wrongfully taken from his family, Ben steals the work of art and enlists his twin to create a forgery to replace the stolen Chagall. What follows is a series of interwoven stories that trace the life and times of the famous painting, and the fate of those who come into contact with it.

From a Jewish orphanage in 1920s Soviet Russia to a junior high school in Newark, New Jersey, with a stop in the jungles of Da Nang, Vietnam, Horn takes readers on an amazing journey through the sacred and the profane elements of the human condition. It is this expertly rendered juxtaposition of the spiritual with the secular that makes The World to Come so profound, and so compelling to readers. As we learn near the end of the beautiful tale, "The real world to come is down below--the world, in the future, as you create it." --Gisele Toueg

This was a truly unique book, I would recommend it.