Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Not again (warning: major whine ahead)

Ugh. I hate posting things like this. I'm sick again. I was better for one week and another nasty virus set in. It feels like there's an elephant sitting on my face, my sinuses are throbbing and it was all I could do yesterday to make it through the day at work. My one squirt of afrin that I allow myself every 24 hours (so as not to get rebound congestion) is going to wear off in the next 30 minutes and I'll spend the next 12 hours dreaming about my next one.

I've finished 3 books but I just don't have it in me to write about them right now. All were good but I can't find a single thing to say about any of them at this moment. I'm also trying to get laundry done and the house in order since two of us are going out of town next week.

Truly, I am not looking for sympathy, but wanted to check in and say that I'm still around and am hoping to post something more thoughtful later this week or at least before we leave.

The end.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Divine Miss P

Miss Pettigrew, that is. I avoided Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson for a long time. I knew that it was Persephone's top seller and I generally avoid books on bestseller lists, or that everyone likes on principle alone. Over time, I have found that this policy doesn't really serve me, as I've come to learn after reading these sorts of books after they've fallen off the radar. In any case, I saw the preview of Miss Pettigrew - the movie - a few months ago and thought I'd better read the book before I saw the film.

I finished the book earlier this week and found it utterly delightful. I'm sure most know the plot but for those who don't, Miss Pettigrew is a down on her luck governess who ends up at the apartment of the lovely Miss LaFosse about a job and they spend a whirlwind of a day together, the best day of Miss Pettigrew's life. This book was originally published in 1938 and it seems to me it would have been quite risque for that time, in the most wonderful way. While many of the situations and misunderstandings that occur seem....highly unlikely...this delightfully funny book made me smile and cheer for its heroines. Has anyone read anything else by Watson? She had 5 other books published and now I am curious about them.

Having finished the book in good time, I had tentative plans to see the film last night with a girlfriend. The date having fell through, my husband who cleared his calendar for the event sent me on my way. Lest you think this was particularly generous of him, keep in mind that he is planning on watching basketball with his friends non-stop for the next 2 days.....tournament time, you know. I took myself to a new theater with plush seats and lots of leg room and after watching about 10 previews immersed myself in Miss Pettigrew's world yet again. I think because I saw the preview before I read the book, I had the actresses images in my mind for these characters so that wasn't a big stretch. The film was very entertaining, 'not as good as the book' as we like to say. The bones of the story are there and almost all of the characters. Many of the situations and lines come straight from the novel. There are changes in the story, for dramatic effect I am certain, and some of the more unrealistic aspects are adapted, or addressed earlier on. It was a fun film experience and especially nice to see on the big screen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

1940s House

A huge thank you to whoever suggested I watch this wonderful program. The only other program in the 'House' series I'd previously seen was 1900s House, and though I liked it very much, my main recollection of it is of the mother of the family whining quite a bit about housework. I wasn't sure I wanted to see the 1940s version of this, but I'm so glad I did. I've written previously about wanting to really know about the effects of WW2 on Britain and how the war affected it's people - 1940s House is exactly what I was looking for.

In the 1940s house, the present day family arrives and gets to know their surroundings and how to cope with old ways of doing things. Soon, they are plunged headfirst into war life. I loved listening to the narrator speak about facts and statistics - one that has stuck with me was learning how many pets were put down in the first days of the war due to noise and expected food shortages. I loved watching the historians and experts meet in the Cabinet War Rooms and discuss the effect the war had on families, the expectations of families, and how the family would next be tested. I loved hearing the original BBC broadcasts of the news and the newspapers.

I feel as though I now understand the story behind the story of so many books I have read, and so many that I will read in the future. I have a better understanding of this period of time and of what people really dealt with. I enjoyed the journey of this family as well. They especially struggle with rationing and hunger. It is fascinating to see the women go out and 'do their part' for the war. At times, they were discouraged and seemed to have taken on too much, but time and time again, they rose to the challenge as people really would have done. I enjoyed seeing the footage of the lives 6 months after the project ended. Not to give anything away, but I loved when one of the children said something to the effect of "Granny used to be a cool Granny - now she's gone bonkers." Not only does the program have great entertainment value, I think it would be a useful teaching tool for young people. Some many of us don't understand what went on and why people are the way they are after what they went through. My only complaint is that I wished the program were longer than 3 hours. I could have watched at least a couple more.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Mistry

I enjoyed reading A Fine Balance so much that I wanted to read more of Rohinton Mistry's work right away. In an interview I read online, it was mentioned that Mistry's book of short stories Swimming Lessons and Other Stories from Firozsha Baag was his most autobiographical work so I decided to start with that. The only problem I had with this book is the same problem I always have with short story collections - they make me anxious. I can't just pick it up and start reading. I have to make sure I have enough time (usually before bed) to read the story. I experience those general feelings of starting a new book - am I going to like it? Who are the characters? What is important here? So, this was a bit of a challenge for me and I'm happy to say I finished this.

The stories are all set in Firozsha Baag, an apartment complex in Bombay inhabited by Parsi Indians (correct my nomenclature if necessary). They are very domestic stories, about men and women, middle class and poor, old and young. One thing that makes this book different than other short story collections is that these stories are related. Not only are they set within the same apartment complex, the characters appear again and again. For this reason, this book is best read front to back. Each story certainly can stand on its own, but the relationships between the stories are particularly interesting. For example, we see a man befriend a young boy and learn of their passion for stamp collecting. Later on, we see this same boy as a young man and learn not only about his current life, but what he remembers of those days. One story that stood out in particular was called Exercisers, the story of a 19 year old young man whose mother is not thrilled with his choice of female friend. There was certainly a different parent/child relationship than I have been accustomed to (as there was in many of these stories) and different expectations for one's offspring. Can you imagine having an 8pm curfew at age 19? Exactly. The final story in this collection, Swimming Lessons, is the most autobiographical of all and I think we get a real sense of where Rohinton Mistry has come from. I enjoyed these stories and plan to read Mistry's other novels.

I've also finished She's Come Undone By Wally Lamb. This was a reread for me and will be discussed with my bookclub next week. I first read this novel around 10 years ago when Oprah recommended it through her book club. I didn't have much recollection of the story, only that I thought it was a good read.

This is the story of Dolores Price, beginning at age 4 until she is grown, around age 40. This story is full of dysfunction. Dolores suffers though one thing after another, until finally she is an obese and angry and sick young woman. Almost every character in the book share some level of this dysfunction. Only in the last 100 or so pages does Dolores really find her way and some healthy relationships develop in her life. While this is a very readable book, and Lamb has done an outstanding job of giving this female character a voice, I found that this time around there was just too much dysfunction. I still would consider it a good read, but there was something that was not there for me this time around. I don't know if it's because of all the other things I've been reading and watching lately, of real suffering and devastation that this just felt like overindulgence on the part of Dolores.

What books have you reread and found that they just don't live up to either your memory or your current expectations?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My favorite salad dressing (or how to get kids to eat salad)

I haven't felt much like cooking lately. The stuffy nose and cough thing doesn't exactly bring thoughts of gourmet cooking to mind. But this past Monday, after 2 weeks of feeling blah, the cooking bug came back. I wanted to get back to my 'eat vegetarian more often' phase, so I prepared some Cheese and Caramelized Onion Enchiladas, a new-to-me recipe that I've had my eye on.

I made a salad to go with the enchiladas and was reminded that I wanted to write about my latest salad dressing creation. It goes especially well with Mexican dishes and for whatever reason, every kid I've fed it to loves it. I've had a two-year old say over and over "more lettuce. more lettuce."

Here goes- I'll apologize in advance for the fact that I don't measure anything.

Honey-Lime-Cilantro Dressing

Begin with lime juice - half a lime is generally enough for the 3 of us, use a whole lime for more people. You can get a lot of juice out if you warm the lime and roll it on the counter. Add honey - I'm not sure how much, start with a dollop and see how you like it. Add salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Add olive oil and continue to whisk. The nice thing about this dressing - in my opinion- is that you don't need a lot of oil as you do with a vinaigrette. I add it a bit at a time and check the taste. Finally I throw in a bunch of chopped cilantro - that's coriander for some of you. We all love cilantro around here - I even throw some cilantro leaves into the salad if I have enough. That's it! If you're planning on making this ahead, I wouldn't add the cilantro until just before serving.

If you decide to make the enchiladas, I would be careful when seasoning the sauce. I didn't have enough chili powder and I wound up having to dilute the sauce to ensure my 6 year would eat it. I also used less of the chipotle then called for. It still had a kick, but I knew if it was too spicy for her she wouldn't be able to eat any of it. Turns out, she loved them.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I couldn't help myself.......

I finally had to read Coraline. After reading 3 blog reviews of it in the past couple of weeks and seeing the trailer, I knew I had to just do it. I don't know what I was waiting for! Coraline was a fantastic, frightening, escapist read and I think it took me less that 2 hours to finish it. Coraline is a young girl who moves into a flat with her parents and discovers a parallel but creepy world on the other side of a mysterious door. There are parents that look like hers, but have buttons for eyes. They want to keep Coraline with them and when she doesn't want to stay they try everything in their power to make her. Coraline is amazingly brave. Naturally she is terrified, but she is able to keep her mind clear and focus on the task at hand - saving her family and some other unfortunate souls. This is obviously a very dark book, but there is plenty of humor, too. Musical mice, theater-loving dogs, and a very special talking cat . This book is meant for children, obviously older ones as this would be much too frightening for the younger set.

I watched a pretty amazing film last week called Water. Water is set in India in 1938 and tells the story of a young girl who has been married off, widowed, and sent to live out the rest of her life in a widow's ashram at age 8. She becomes close to another widow, a young woman forced into prostitution and the film shows what happens when this woman attempts to escape from her fate. The film is beautifully shot and though the subject matter is grim, the music and the setting are a joy. It took the writer of Water many years to have this film made because there was so much protest in India. She persevered and we have her to thank for providing us a chance to see this other way of life. Unfortunately, these practices go on, there are still widow's ashrams and child brides. As a mother, watching this film brought up many emotions in me about my own child. I am reminded of the scenes in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan when the young girl's feet are bound. I am reminded of the interview of an African woman planning to have her daughter circumcised because that is simply what is done. She knew it was against the law, but was ambivalent about the medical complications that could occur and stated that she believed it didn't hurt much. I come back to this story, when a mother and father send their child away to a life of sorrow. It all makes me want to give my daughter the education, knowledge and drive to fly away and succeed in this life on her own terms, to be everything she can be. I cannot imagine living in a culture that would force me to mutilate her body or send her to a hopeless life far away. I thank God I don't have to.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A little light reading

I have three books on my nightstand that I've been actively reading, but none of them is quite hitting the spot. They are all good books in their own right, but I've just not been satisfied by them. Maybe it's the cold weather, maybe it's worrying and trying to figure out why my child has her fourth ear infection in 2 months. Who knows. But, this tasty Decaf Tazo Chai tea is helping a bit, and so are the following comfort/fun reads.

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear is the third book in the Maisie Dobbs series (Thanks Mel!). I'm not a frequent mystery reader but I really enjoy these books, particularly for the setting and the heroine. Maisie uses unique methods to solve her crimes and I found that this book helped me understand why and how she is able to do this. Maisie finds herself in danger in this episode which added to the pace of this novel. All in all, a solid addition to the Maisie Dobbs series which left me wanting more - fortunately I have the next two installments waiting. I do wonder how long Winspear will continue this series. Has anyone read anything in an interview?

The second book I've finished is a bit embarrassing to admit, but here it is: Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella. I can never stop myself from putting myself on the library list for Kinsella's books. She's definitely doing something right. Her heroines are flawed but likable, she is able to create enough suspense to keep you turning the pages, and her books are full of humor. This latest release is the story of Lexi, a young woman who wakes up in the hospital one day to find she's lost the last three years of her life due to amnesia as a result of a car accident. What is so surprising for Lexi, is that she looks like a brand-new woman, has a gorgeous successful husband, and a high-powered position herself. All this is in stark contrast to what Lexi remembers from three years ago. Remember Me? follows Lexi as she navigates her new/old world and tries to figure out where she fits into it. I was a little bit surprised by the ending of this book. It felt somewhat abrupt and one thing I thought would happen, didn't. This was a quick and fun read. Books like this are a little bit like candy - good in small doses.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The book gods have been good to me lately. Very, very good.

This isn't even all of them. I'm frankly too lazy to go hunt down the rest.

I didn't purchase all these. Six of them came from paperbackswap. A few are gifts. A few are prizes - thanks Iliana and LibraryThing!

I did not arrange them into any sort of order here. Let's see...we have 13 fiction books, 6 nonfiction, 2 Viragos, 4 about India, many that would not be there if it were not for all of your recommendations.

I promised myself I wouldn't write about this publisher again after what Elaine has so aptly named Yammergate. I figured I'd still buy from them but not advertise anymore. But I have to show you this book. It's available from US Amazon. It only cost around $10. And it's really, really lovely. The same size as the others, it is beautifully published with a gorgeous cover and luxurious paper inside. It does look a little more bookstore-friendly than their other editions. I hope there will be more to come. That I don't already own.

Here is the inside cover. I love the flap.