Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Book Update

I've been trying to write several book themed posts for over a week. I've been busy, lazy, not in the mood. Time just keeps dragging me forward so I'm going to try to write one long, catch-up post about them all and move on.

I'd mentioned ordering this first book, Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett. It's the third in a trilogy about apprentice witch Tiffany Aching. I loved the first two books and this one didn't let me down. It was just as wonderful. I was thrilled that Granny Weatherwax, one of my favorite characters, played a large role in this story, as did a few of the other Discworld witches. Pratchett also introduced a new witch character, 113 year old Miss Treason.

This next book, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, is the main reason it has taken me so long to write this post. It affected me so deeply, so profoundly, that I wanted what I said about it to be "just right." Since the right words never seemed to pop into my head except for in the middle of the night or when I'm driving along in the middle of nowhere, I give up. I'm just gonna muddle through and say this - Buy this book. Read it.
The book is about Oskar, a nine-year-old boy who's father dies in the collapse of the second tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. The story is written in three voices - the young boy, and his paternal grandparents, both survivors of the Dresden fire bombings. After his father's death Oskar finds a key hidden in his father's closet. The story is about Oskar's search, through the five boroughs of New York, for the lock that this key opens.

It's a very difficult book to read. Several times the tears fell so hard I had to stop until I could finally see to read the page again. But it's a story of survival, and family, and sacrifice and.........well, don't let the intensity scare you off. Just read it.

Although these two books are in most ways nothing alike, I found that in reading them back-to-back as I did, I was struck by one key commonality. Both books featured multiple, strong characters who, in the face of crises, did what had to be done. Not dramatic, heroic things, although they certainly were heroes. What I mean is they did the tasks that needed doing even when the world falls apart. They laid out the dead, they kept the floors swept, they took care to see that everyone got fed, and loved, educated, and accounted for even when what they wanted to do most, what they certainly had the right to do, was to curl up, run away, cry, or give up.

I know people in real life that are these kind of quiet heroes, both personally and in the news. They don't get a lot of acknowledgement for what they do. In fact, I've overheard this sort of person criticized for being unemotional, for not caring enough to fall apart. But I ask you, if everyone fell apart, if everyone went waily waily all the time, what would happen to the world? If everyone stopped doing their jobs in the face of grief, personal or global, who would stitch up the wounded? Who would write the stories? Who would make the chicken soup? Who would sweep up the aftermath? Who would plant the seeds come the next spring? In Pratchett's world, the people who fit this description of practical compassion are the witches. I think it's a pretty good definition of a witch in the real world as well. Sometimes a pointy hat is a huge responsibility, whether you can see it up there on someone's head or not.


And nowwwww, for something completely different!

I read two diet books lately. I didn't read them because they were diet books. In fact I didn't know they were diet books when I got them both from the library. Also, I don't diet. Nope. Never dieted. That probably puts me in the same kind of small, odd category as "babies who don't cry" or "cats that don't insist on sitting on the lap of the only person in the room that hates cats." Anyway..

Since I'm still enamoured of all things French, I noticed a book in Barnes & Noble a few months ago called French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Recipes, Secrets, and Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano. Alas, the family was already heading out the door and back to the car, which meant I had to chase after them and I didn't get a chance to peruse it. So I was excited when I saw this first book by the same author at our local library. (and if you knew how woefully inadequate and behind the times our library selection generally is, you'd be excited too!) It's called French Women Don't Get Fat. As I already pointed out, I wasn't interested in it as a diet book, although, for the record, the "dieting" advice pretty closely matched my own philosophy on the subject.

About now you're probably asking, if I wasn't looking for dieting advice, why did I read it? Well, because it was full of lots of great stories about the author's childhood memories of cooking and eating and travel stories of culinary experiences and the pleasures of good food. Too, the author splits her year between living in Paris and New York City and she writes like someone who can't quite remember which country she's in or which language she's using at any give time. She flips back and forth, inserting French words and phrases when, I suspect, you can't say the same thing quite so well in English. Sometimes I understood the parts in French. Sometimes I could figure it out in context. But even when I couldn't, I had fun trying.

I mentioned this book to a lot of local friends and was surprised that each and every one of them responded "Oh! I have that book!" Apparently I'm the last woman on the planet to find out about it? But I mention it here in case, y'know, like I'm really the second or third to last person and you still haven't discovered it.

I recently figured out why even though I loved and enjoyed many of the places we visited on our travels last year, the small time we spent in Paris has had the most lingering affect on me. I think it is because the life and culture we encountered there reminds me of my maternal grandmother. And surprise, suprise, surprise, something that never ocurred to me before - my maternal grandmother is..... are you sitting down?....... French.

I've never really thought about having French ancestory before. On my dad's side I'm 100% Lithuanian. On my mom's side, I've previously considered the most influential ethnic roots those from my full-blooded Irish grandfather. But when I started to think about it recently, I realized that my grandmother, who is French, Austrian, and a wee bit of Spanish, never acted Irish in any way. She is French on her mother's side. That's the point that makes the whole story suddenly make sense. She was raised by a French woman and she raised my mother and my mother (and to a certain degree my grandmother directly) raised me. Duh! No wonder the culture seemed so comfortable and familiar to me! Mystery solved.

The other diet book I ended up reading even after I found out it was a diet book was The Sonoma Diet by Connie Guttersen and Stephanie Karpinske. It caught my interest because I thought it was going to be a regional cookbook. And it is, to a certain degree. There's also another book actually called The Sonoma Diet Cookbook, which accompanies this first book.

I thought the book would have all sorts of stories about the Sonoma Valley regional cooking style. If you're unfamiliar with the area, Sonoma County is like a little part of the "old country", a slice of the Mediterranean, that was miraculously stolen away and hidden in the coastal foothills of northern California. I lived in Sonoma for over a decade and for many and mixed reasons, that time will probably always be my personal "good ol' days".

Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot in the book about the culinary culture of Sonoma. Welllll, yes and no. It was mainly about how to eat healthy and how, if you follow their advice, you can lose weight while you're at it. For me, it wasn't new advice or information. Yet I continued reading because it was a trip down memory lane for me. Even though they only briefly mention the availability of fresh-off-the-boat seafood, the little corner markets, the specialty cheesemakers, local wineries, year round gardens full of vegetables, or the best sourdough and bagels on the planet, I could see them all in my mind's eye as I turned every page.

If you've lived or visited Sonoma County, you too might be able to visualize all those wonderful culinary memories. If you haven't, and you're not someone who eats well, (or only thinks they do) I recommend the book for it's original purpose - a book about how to eat both for pleasure and health. It's amazing how many people don't understand that the two are not mutually exclusive.


Anonymous Terri said...

What's the NAME of the book about the boy whose dad dies in the 9/11 Twin Tower disaster? Would love to read.

11:25 PM  
Blogger kimy said...

thanks for the delights...I just discovered your blog as it was sited by jenclair recently. I'm fairly new to this wonderful and sometimes wacky world of blogging - but having a lot of fun. your recommendation of jonathan safran foer's latest book was just the inspiration I need to get it. I absolutely loved his first (?) book 'everything is illuminated' - it will be really interesting to see him bring his intelligence, characters, wit, and gifts to the 9/11 tragedy. I plan to make your blog a regular read! (love your photographic eye too!!!!)

3:39 PM  

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