Reading Week: Secret Histories

I’ve been ambivalent about writing about what I read here because a part of me feels like there isn’t a huge audience who wants to read about what I read, while another part of me feels like there isn’t a huge audience who wants to hear about what I read IRL (so why not just write about it and find some other people to talk about it with IRL?). But, after reading this piece by Adam Gopnik, Why Teach English?”, about why we have and need to have English majors, I realized I’m writing about (and should write about) what I read because I like it and want to share it. SO, here’s a little more of me sharing what I’ve been reading…

200 pages into The Secret History and I am now a convert to “The Cult of Donna Tartt”. I started it on Sunday and since then, I’ve wondered how I’ve never read this book before probably 100 times. Obviously, it has all of the things I would ever want in a novel, including a college campus setting, a murder mystery, and lots of Classical Studies discussions. I’m not nearly finished yet, so we’ll see if this lives up to my expectations. I’ve been enjoying this reading experience a lot more than my experience reading Seraphina, which I finished over the weekend. For a young adult fantasy novel that heavily features dragons, I was not as engaged as I thought I would be. However, by the end I was a little attached to the main character so I wouldn’t rule out reading the sequel when it’s published.

In terms of nonfiction, I read a lot of profiles this week. Here they are, in the order I read them, I guess:

– There was the New York Times profile of Mandy Patinkin from last week’s magazine. Thankfully, it included my favorite Mandy Patinkin story. (“During a Broadway concert, to highlight the troubles in the Middle East, he ended the show by propping Israeli and Palestinian flags on a table and singing the Israeli national anthem in Hebrew, followed by an angry version of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific.” Then the flags were knocked on their sides while the pianist slammed the keys to sound like an explosion. Patinkin followed that with “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods.”)

– Then I reread the New Yorker profile of Dr. Oz after that horrific accident on 6th Avenue. (In case you didn’t hear about it, he helped the victim of the accident.) I had forgotten how much he and his wife discuss reiki in this piece.

– I also read the New York Times profile of Li Na from the magazine this weekend because I was way excited about the start of the US Open and I was halfheartedly doing work at a coffee shop and needed a big distraction.

– And this wasn’t really a profile, but it kind of was, but there was an interesting piece called “Cooking with Daniel” in the New Yorker a few weeks ago that I just got around to reading. Bill Buford cooked three “classic” French dishes with Daniel Boulud. Boulud’s personal history, the history behind the dishes and the writing are all fantastic.

I also have been working my way through Stereogum’s ranking of every single Neil Young album. There are a lot of them and, yeah, some of them are shit. But I definitely identify with the author when he says, “I am, and shall always be, a Neil Young apologist.”

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Town & Country Ten: September 2013

Hello, old fellows. I’m back again with your Town & Country recap. This month we have two well-bred beauties on the cover and plenty of nonsense inside,  including a back-to-the-Ivy-League packing list that includes an Hermes backpack and $1,000 Gucci loafers. I will say that since I started reading this magazine on the regular again, I’ve become rather – to use a total T&C word – fond of the essays and journalism they print. But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about, so let’s get to my ten favoritest, most Town & Country-est moments from this month’s issue.

 

town and country 913

 

 

1. From a little piece on new American country inns: “‘Our father is French,” Briar says, “so farm-to-table is nothing new here; we’ve always sourced local.'” Oh, okay. But farm-to-table is nothing new here (America) either. I get it, though. I would probably say the same thing to a T&C journalist as I’m sure every question they ask is specifically about “tradition”.

2. Things that unite the rich and the regular folks: L.L. Bean totes, jury duty, Patagonia jackets, DMV trips and pigs in a blanket. As a regular person who is afraid of jury duty and DMV trips, owns an L.L. Bean tote and a Patagonia jacket, and LOVES pigs in a blanket, I am inclined to agree with them.

3. Some of the questions Town & Country hopes that the documentary Salinger will answer:

– “How many prep school boys have ordered a scotch and soda (the drink Holden requests at the Lavender Room) since 1951’s publication of The Catcher in the Rye?”

– “Holden’s red hunting cap in The Catcher in the Rye – fashion statement or object of highbrow literary symbolism?”

– “For purposes of self-diagnosis, what are the telltale symptoms of banana fever?”

4. Brief excerpts from the Style Spy’s Jewelry coverage:

– “The wheeled plow changed everything for farmers during the Middle Ages. So it is with smartphones and the makers of stackable rings.”

– “If only Queen Victoria were alive today and living in Los Angeles.”

– “As the class admired the Mysterious Parrot brooch…”

5. There are two pages devoted to William and Kate’s new apartment in Kensington Palace which, coincidentally, Ralph Lauren has named his new home line after. Well, not quite two pages. They printed Wallis Simpson’s recipe for “Maryland Fried Chicken” on one-third of one page. (Anyone know where I can get a copy of her cookbook, Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor?)

6. In for Fall: full brows, FLAWLESS SKIN, neutral lips.

7. Jack McCain’s wedding reception was held in the California Academy of Sciences’ African Hall because of his “fondness for Africa”.

8. I couldn’t even read the cover story, “Earth Angels”, about Claire Courtin-Clarins and Lauren Bush Lauren’s “charitable alliance” because I was so distracted by the repetition of “Lauren Bush Lauren” and also, in reference to her, “Bush Lauren”. Couldn’t she have just…not taken her husband’s last name? I know I’m not the first person who’s asked this question but C’MON.

(Also, I did actually skim the story and luckily caught the part where Claire Courtin-Clarins calls Rosa Parks her “new crush”.)

9. There’s an entire piece about ordering the cheapest things on the menu at power lunch spots in different cities, ostensibly “to judge how their kitchens deliver value to the high, to the mighty, and to everyone else.”

10. Max Irons gave basically the same interview to the New Yorker a few weeks ago about the monarchy and his new show, but I’m not gonna complain about the photos of him clad in cashmere and tweed. 

BONUS: There is an actually great personal essay on boarding school by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

Recipe Test: Zucchini Brownies

Another thing I’m trying out. Weekly recipe tests! I’m not such an accomplished cook that I can make up my own recipes quite yet. (Though I think I’m getting there.) But I do try new recipes all the time so I thought it’d be worth sharing them here.

This week’s test: these Zucchini-Almond Butter-Dark Chocolate Brownies. They’re really good! And they were super easy to make.

 

zucchini brownies

 

After we saw The World’s End yesterday, a bunch of my friends came over to hang out until Breaking Bad. Vincent and I went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of appetizers (Bagel Bites, sweet potato fries, cheese and crackers) as well as the necessary ingredients for these brownies. Believe it or not, I don’t keep almond butter or dark chocolate chips in my cupboard.

While some of our apps were cooking in the oven, Vincent and I mixed up the brownies. Well, Vincent did most of the mixing and I did the zucchini shredding/grating. Pretty much you just throw all of the ingredients in a bowl (leave out the zucchini and the chocolate chips), mix them up, and then fold in the zucchini and the chocolate chips. The product tastes a lot like a chocolatey, gooey zucchini bread than a traditional brownie but I promise it’s just as delicious.

Rating (1 star = garbage, 5 stars = this is the only thing I want to eat for the rest of my life): 4 stars

Here’s the recipe (via The Hairpin):

Ingredients

1 cups almond butter (or whatever nut butter you prefer)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/3 cup agave or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 ½ -2 cups shredded zucchini (Note: I used 2 cups.)

1 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9×9” brownie pan with parchment paper and lightly spray the paper with olive oil.

2. Shred the zucchini using a shredding attachment on your food processor, or by hand using a grater. Or just chop it up. (Note: I grated by hand. It didn’t take too long.)

3. Mix together everything else! Fold in the zucchini pieces and dark chocolate chips, mixing just until combined, and pour it all into your prepared pan.

4. Bake for ~40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. I like these warm and still-gooey, preferably eaten on the porch, listening to the cicadas after the kids have gone to bed. (Note: I have no idea how long I baked these for. I never really time anything. I generally like to check on things until they look done and then stick a knife or a toothpick or a piece of uncooked spaghetti in the middle to see if it comes out clean.)

Reading Week: Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Here’s a new thing that I’m going to start doing: posting more things regularly. A while back, I had been writing about what I had been reading during the week on Fridays. And then I stopped. Fridays tend to be not-the-best posting days for me since Thursday nights are not-the-best writing nights for me. So, now I’m trying Wednesdays. Let’s see if this works.

I’ve lately been on a real tear when it comes to reading books. Last week, I was in such desperate need of a new non-fiction book that I went to the Barnes & Noble by my office. I don’t generally shop at Barnes & Noble because I prefer to give my money to independent bookstores, like Word, but I was leaving on a mini-trip the next day and wouldn’t have time to get there. I picked up The Psychopath Test and Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.

I read The Psychopath Test first. And very quickly. It took me like 24 hours. Because it’s very good! I have friends who’d read it and raved about it when it came out two years ago and I’d been meaning to borrow it and then I never did. And I hate borrowing books anyway because I’m such a…psycho, I guess, about taking care of my own books that it’s too painful for me to carry around someone else’s book knowing that I could potentially maim or ruin it. Anyway, I read The Psychopath Test while at my friend Gerilyn’s house in Quogue with 24 other people. Reading a book that makes you think about whether everyone is a psycho is an interesting experience while you’re around a ton of people you don’t know on an overnight trip. Also, I had to explain what the book is about approximately 89 times because everyone kept asking me. I tried not to get frustrated though, because none of them knew that that’s one of my pet peeves. (The book is about…ugh. Just read the synopsis on Amazon. It’s by Jon Ronson so you already know it’s good.)

I started Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down immediately after I finished The Psychopath Test on the LIRR. I had read parts of this book on The Awl a while back and was immediately drawn in by Rosecrans Baldwin’s account of his year and a half in Paris as an American Francophile. I found that I could relate to a lot of it. I spent almost four months in Paris during the same period (September-December 2007). I remember well what it was like to be excited almost every day just because I was walking around Paris. I also remember well what it was like to be completely unable to shake the feeling of being foreign and doing everything wrong, even when I thought I was blending in or doing things right. Reading a book that allowed me to experience those emotions again was kind of exhilarating. I was sad when I finished it. I wish Baldwin and his wife had stayed in Paris a little bit longer. I wish I had stayed in Paris a little bit longer.

I’ve now moved on to Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. It’s a young adult fantasy novel that heavily features dragons. I’ll let you know how I like it when I’ve finished.

In terms of reading things around the internet, there have been only a few things I’ve really liked (or had time to read in full) in the past week or so. “Murder By Craiglist” by Hanna Rosin (in The Atlantic this month but available online) really stands out. She investigates the Ohio murders of several middle-aged white men by another middle-aged white man, who had found his victims by posting an ad on Craigslist for a farm caretaker. Her motivation for writing this story is really interesting and I won’t spoil it by explaining it here.

And I hope that maybe one of these other things will strike your fancy:

Funny: I Want to Make Love to You Like in the Movies by Josh Gondelman (McSweeney’s Internet Tendency)

Beautiful Essay About Family History: Knight of the Swan by Molly Minturn (The Toast)

A Celebration of T.I.: The Making of T.I.’s “Trap Muzik” by Insanul Ahmed (Complex)

An Introduction to a Feud Between Famous British Literary Sisters: “A Narrative of Jealousy and Bafflement and Resentment” by Katy Waldman (Slate)

My Queue Is A Curious Thing

Currently, there are 71 items in my Netflix queue. Though my queue was a very important part of my Netflix experience back when I had DVD service, I find that I use it less and less now that I’m only a simple streaming customer. Actually, I almost never use it unless I am very bored and not interested in whatever Netflix suggests to me on the main page. Yet I still add things to my queue occasionally. I took a look at it recently and decided to categorize what I want to watch, much like Netflix categorizes the things that I might like to watch.

netflix

 

 

Films That Everyone Has Seen That Have Been Lingering on My Queue For At Least Two Years, Which Means I Will Probably Never Watch Them in My Lifetime

Being John Malkovich
The Hours
Midnight Cowboy

Recent (Well, Let’s Say Post-1995) French Films

Blame It on Fidel
Goodbye, First Love
Happily Ever After
The Hedgehog
The Intouchables
The Kid With a Bike*
Monsieur Lazhar
The Piano Teacher
Romantics Anonymous
Water Lilies

Recent Non-French Foreign Films

Bread and Tulips
Gomorrah
Kadosh
Lore
Oslo, August 31st

Classic, Mostly Foreign, Films

8 1/2
A Woman Is a Woman
The Bicycle Thief
His Girl Friday

British Miniseries Based On Classic Novels

The Buccaneers**
Great Expectations
Mansfield Park
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

British Films Based On Classic Novels

Cold Comfort Farm
Enchanted April

Mostly British Films or Miniseries About Detectives and/or Murder

George Gently
Ripper Street
The Snowtown Murders
Vera

British Films to Watch When I Run Out of Other British Films and Television

Nowhere Boy
Submarine
Topsy-Turvy
Weekend

Irish Stuff That I Almost Lumped in With the British Stuff (Before I Thought Better of It)

Albert Nobbs
My Left Foot
The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Films Starring Ryan Gosling

All Good Things
Blue Valentine
Lars and the Real Girl

Confused Young-ish Women

Dirty Girl
Kissing Jessica Stein
Sleeping Beauty
Slums of Beverly Hills
Starlet
Valley of the Dolls
Young Adult

Indie Dramas (Plus One Comedy and One Sci-Fi Film) That I Can’t Seem to Specifically Categorize

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Helena From the Wedding
Me and You and Everyone We Know
The Messenger
Upstream Color

My Friend Told Me to Watch This

Goon
Holy Motors
Let the Right One In (Swedish)

The Only Music Documentaries I Didn’t Watch During My Very Intense ‘Music Doc’ Phase

Classic Albums: Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Who Is Harry Nilsson
You’re Gonna Miss Me

General Documentaries That I Have Never Been/Will Never Be in the Mood to Watch

The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie
Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement
How to Survive a Plague
Last Train Home
Religulous
Stephen Fry in America

Ken Burns Joints

Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl
Ken Burns: Prohibition

Um

A Late Quartet
White Chicks

***

I still have some desire to watch all of these…I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. (Well, I actually have gotten around to some of them. I realized that I’ve seen a few of these already.) Also, I’d like to point out the reason that there are so many foreign films on this list: I actually have to concentrate for a decent period of time while watching them, because I need to read the subtitles. Even the French ones. (My French abilities are abysmal these days.)

Does anybody still use their queue on a regular basis? I’m afraid it’s just become a place I send films/shows to linger until they’re almost expired, when I feel bad and watch them in a rush like I did with Broadway Danny Rose last weekend.

*Actually, this is Belgian but…it’s in French.
**Based on an American novel but produced by the BBC and also similar to most non-detective BBC/Masterpiece miniseries.