August 30, 2010

Big books

They spent hours each morning reading aloud. “We would take on a big book,” Hazzard says, “Proust, or some nineteenth-century novel, or War and Peace, which is inexhaustively marvelous. We used to say to each other, if all copies of this book disappeared, we could re-create it—we would be able to remember.”
--Shirley Hazzard, in an interview with Narrative
Shirley Hazzard and husband sound like they were such a sweet old married couple. It's been a long time since I read a long, intensely satisfying book — and by book, I mean what Hazzard calls a "big book" (none of that novella nonsense), or at least a mini-tome. And big not just in size, but also in ideas. It's gotten so bad that I even re-read Mrs. Dalloway last week because I knew that, at least, wouldn't be a disappointment. It's not a "big book," but it does lay claim to one of my favorite first lines..."Mrs. Dalloway said that she would buy the flowers herself." Don't ask me why I like it.
It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. It was unsatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people.
--Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

August 25, 2010

aimless, not talentless

"A smell of fine white linen, homemade raisin cookies (from a secret recipe), and hot crackling pine resin, all mixed together ... my kindhearted Aunt Zdeni assures me that everything beautiful she brooded about back then must be safe in the threads of the white fabric she keeps stored all year long, untouched, in the dull mahogany wardrobe; since it was not to be found in her own long life, it must have stayed in the tablecloths, she says."
--"Interiors," Rainer Maria Rilke
Ooh, homemade, top-secret raisin cookies (no oats...?). Though it was never published in his lifetime, Rilke's "Interiors" is comprised of snippets that hold wisdom beyond his 22 years, as he explores the intangible transition of "little girls" into women ("it is no slow timid development, but something strangely sudden," he wrote).
"But my girls stride straight down the middle of the street, wherever they can feel the most sky above them, and they walk through the whole town on little white clouds. With no whence behind them, so without any whither. Just walking. Maybe so they won't hear the tides of their blood surge so loud. Walking in the tentative rhythm of this secret inner beat of the surf. They are the silent shore of their restless infinity." --"Interiors"
Some of Rilke's theories about young women reminded me of the prelude to George Eliot's Middlemarch, written about 20 years prior to "Interiors." It's a little amusing that Rilke's name sounds feminine, while George Eliot is female. The name Evelyn Waugh has confused me in the past, too...but that's another story. Anyway, Eliot's prelude ruminates on the idea that even the greatest, strongest women often languish in a society that lacks the outlets to give shape to their talents and unique qualities:
"Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of cent'ring in some long-recognizable deed."
I think Rilke and Eliot would have gotten along quite well if they'd met. In fact, I have a hunch they would've swapped their secret raisin cookie recipes, translator at the ready.

August 23, 2010

On the subway once, I saw a black woman open and eat part of a cellophane-wrapped cake or doughnut with powdered sugar on it, then wrap the bite or two that remained back in the cellophane and put it back into her winter coat pocket, and the woman with her told her that that was ghetto.
--Mark Dow, "Dome Light"
One person's ghetto is another person's scrap treasure...after all, I've done that before. Why not save those last cake scraps for when you really want them?

I always forget that memoirs don't have to be full-length books; they can be short-story length, too -- or essays, I suppose. I wouldn't have been able to detect whether "Dome Light" was a non-fictional piece or a short story, if it hadn't been classified under "memoir" in the table of contents. That, in my mind, is the mark of a nicely written memoir. Although I'm a fiction hound through and through, there's definitely something alluring about reading the passage below, and knowing that the author actually felt and did those things (assuming he is telling the truth, of course).
Once I lay imagining her thinking of me. I was inside of what felt like a steel concavity. The world had become much too large and I too present on the edge of my bed somewhere inside it. I tried to stop myself, behind the steel where I couldn’t breathe, from saying her name, because I knew she wouldn’t hear it or come to me if she did. But I had to say it, because I couldn’t let myself, without falling further back into a seemingly unsupportable present, not believe that I could change what she wanted by knowing it so hard that she’d arrive again and make what had led to this point a dream, or done, it’s nothing, baby, you’re OK. So say her name.

August 12, 2010

@MarthaStewart: Thanks.

When, before turning to leave the church, I made a genuflection before the altar, I felt suddenly, as I rose again, a bitter-sweet fragrance of almonds steal towards me from the hawthorn-blossom, and I then noticed that on the flowers themselves were little spots of a creamier colour, in which I imagined that this fragrance must lie concealed, as the taste of an almond cake lay in the burned parts, or the sweetness of Mile. Vinteuil's cheeks beneath their freckles.
--Swann's Way, Marcel Proust
If I were forced to choose between hazelnut and almond, I suppose almond (i.e. macarons, almond cake, almond croissants) would win — oui! (By a wee bit.) However, if the dessert contains chocolate, then hazelnuts gain a considerable appeal...which is why I really, really enjoy Nutella, even though I don't have it very often.

In fact, sometimes I catch myself taking on the unsolicited role of a Nutella spokesperson.

Mmm, this gelato tastes like Nutella...

Hmm, you know what you should try? Mixing Nutella in your oatmeal. [This is actually REALLY tasty...]

Tonight, the obsession continued: blondie edition.

It all began with Twitter. I created a Twitter account solely to follow NY food trucks and one very important person: Martha Stewart. I was catching up on Ms. Stewart's tweets when I remembered that superb hazelnut blondie recipe of hers, which my sister made a few months ago. "It's a good thing" I had butter in the fridge.

Note: The batter will seem alarmingly dry and pasty (even compared to normal blondie batter), but don't worry — they'll be fine. And if you do happen to mess them up (or even if you don't), you can just slather more hazelnut spread on top...

This recipe is really good too, if oats float your boat.

August 8, 2010

Draw your chair up close

"On that happy day when the rain was lashing and you played so unexpectedly well came the resolution of the nebulous something that had imperceptibly arisen between us after our first weeks of love. I realized that you had no power over me, that it was not you alone who were my lover but the entire earth. It was as if my soul had extended countless sensitive feelers, and I lived within everything, perceiving simultaneously Niagara Falls thundering far beyond the ocean and the long golden drops rustling and pattering in the lane."
--"Sounds," Vladimir Nabokov
This really-old-but-fantastic article calls Nabokov a linguistic acrobat. Can't help but agree. He also ate butterflies (another brilliant article).

Great nugget of information from the Richard Yates article: "The epigraph [of Yates' A Good School] is from the author’s favorite writer, Fitzgerald, his famous 'Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story.'" Hooray for epigraphs.

Currently halfway through Yates's Easter Parade, hoping I don't end up anything like the main character, whose first name I happen to share. Whee! Reading is fun.

August 3, 2010

Moldy MoMAs

 "I slept until noon, then woke and made a sad little breakfast of poor man's baklava: a large biscuit of shredded wheat with honey poured over and chopped peanuts sprinkled on top. The kitchen was still in its state of neglect. More strawberries in the refrigerator, which it seemed I had only just bought, had once again withered, turned this time the turquoise-gray of a copper roof. The bread, too, had a powdery blue mold that would have made a lovely eyeshadow for a showgirl--perhaps one who also needed the penicillin. The heel end of another loaf, weeks old, was sitting on the counter in a plastic bag with what looked like a snake inside: a coil of mold with orange and black markings. It was the Frugal Girls' Museum of Modern Art."
--A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
Always alarming to find mold plastered across one's food — but it can be pretty funny, too, especially if you have someone there to share in that mixture of disgust and fascination. Pictured above is my old roommate's moldy tomato. The mold was the wispy kind that looked a little like cotton candy...

p.s. happy national watermelon day, all. may your melons remain mold-free.


August 2, 2010

A damper on damp cake

"The afternoon was like the center of the cake that Berenice had baked last Monday, a cake which failed. The old Frankie had been glad the cake had failed, not out of spite, but because she loved these fallen cakes the best. She enjoyed the damp, gummy richness near the center, and did not understand why grown people thought such cakes a failure. It was a loaf cake, that last Monday, with the edges risen light and high and the middle moist and altogether fallen — after the bright, high morning the afternoon was dense and solid as the center of that cake."
--The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers

Oh yes. Damp, gummy cake is surely delicious (re: Starbucks' reduced-fat cinnamon swirl coffee cake...sticky and finger lickin' good). Unfortunately, Frankie's so-called aberrant taste in cake is just another (albeit small) example of her inability to fit in. And yet, is it so very wrong to desire something that others are inclined to declare a failure? Not when it comes to cake, but if referring to relationships, maybe so.