Archive for August, 2010

30th August
written by Steph

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is one of those books that I guess you could say is on my bucket list; last year when the Infinite Summer readalong was taking place, I was sorely tempted to give it a try, but I know that massively long doorstop books are just not my style. And yes, I was woefully intimidated. While I wanted to read Wallace, I wondered if Infinite Jest was really the best place for me to start... I decided it wasn’t and instead decided I’d try Wallace’s first, and much shorter, novel, The Broom of the System, on for size and see how it fit. Rather than cannonballing (or bellyflopping, let’s be honest) into the deep end, I figured I’d spend some time wading about in the paddling pool instead. If Infinite Jest is a full marathon, I’d say Broom is a half-marathon. It may look considerably slimmer than its successor, but you’d be foolish to consider this a trifling 5K. It starts off simply enough, with a fun chapter involving college party shenanigans, and while the novel certainly has a healthy dose of the absurd coursing through it, this is not a light or flippant novel. (more…)
28th August
written by Steph

With the completion of Agnes Grey I can now say that I have read a novel apiece by each of the Bronte sisters. Hurrah! I didn’t really know what to expect going into an Anne Bronte novel, though this Hark! A Vagrant Cartoon that I was directed to by Jenny of Shelf Love during my read through of Jane Eyre last year caused me to suspect she might be my favorite sister of the three.  I mean, I like neither assholes nor alcoholic dickbags for my male heroes in fiction… What can I say? I’ve never been one of those girls who goes for the brooding, badboy. It’s just never been my shtick. Turns out, it’s not Anne Bronte’s thing either. If there’s such a thing as a proper romance (or a romance of manners), then that’s exactly what Agnes Grey is. In many ways it was like Jane Eyre, but it was far less epic and not at all gothic. Essentially, if you were one of those people who when reading Sense and Sensibility just wanted more of Elinor and Edward and swooned at their polite and reserved interactions that masked their deeper passions, then Agnes Grey is the novel for you. (more…)
25th August
written by Steph
Yesterday, I finally decided to treat myself to something nice, and signed up for an on-going subscription to Powell's Indiespensible club. The Indiespensible program is one I've been familiar with for a while, but hadn't joined, due to its rather sizable subscription fee of $39.95 per mailing. That's a lot for one book, even if it is a signed hardcover that comes with its own commemorative box. However, a few things tipped me over the edge: 1) Did you know that along with your book (and box) every six weeks, you also get sent other surprise gifts? I love a surprise (well, most of the time), and I love getting more than just a book for $40! Previous gifts have included baked goods (really!), paperback novels by other authors they feel complement the current mailer, totebags, notebooks, shot glasses, and so much more... I love it!

There's a bird on the box!

2) The real impetus: the next installment (#21) is Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. By now you're probably sick of hearing about a book that hasn't even been released (I know Jennifer Weiner is...), but I'm super excited for it, and the prospect of a signed first-edition was more than I could pass up. I was doing some internet browsing to see if I wanted to pre-order the book from an online retailer, but it seems only Amazon is currently offering it at $15. Now, $15 is a price I'd be more than happy to pay for a hardcover (whereas in-store prices of $30, are a bit much), however I really didn't want to order through Amazon if I didn't have to. On a whim, I checked out Powell's, and saw that Freedom was their next Indiespensible pick, and while $39.95 is far more than I thought I might pay, I realized that I would actually appreciate all the bells and whistles for this particular book. It's something I know I'll treasure, and I'm also looking forward to receiving the first part of Paul Murray's Skippy Dies (amongst other heretofore unrevealed surprises).  I definitely feel this is an instance where by spending more, I'm getting way more bang for my buck. So tell me, are there any other Indiespensible members out there? If so, what's been your favorite installment thus far? If not, are you at all tempted to join? What's held you back?
24th August
written by Steph

One of the places I’d really like to travel one day (and trust me, there are so many) is Thailand. I’m intrigued by the food, the people, the culture, and of course the geography. From the jungles, to the cities, to the beaches, Thailand is a place I can imagine spending a lot of time exploring. If plane tickets over to Asia weren’t so prohibitively expensive from the East coast of North America, you can bet that I’d have already been there by now. Alas, ticket prices being what they are, for now I’ll have to slake my desire for Thailand through fiction. Of course, one of thing I’ve found is that it’s not all that easy to find fiction set in Thailand, and certainly not fiction written by native Thais (at least that’s been translated into English). Mostly I’ve resorted to picking up books by farangs (Westerners) set in Thailand when they’ve appealed, which is perhaps less than ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers, after all. A few years ago I read Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski, which took me into the wilds of Thai hillside tribes. Recently on a whim, I picked up Alex Garland’s The Beach, which took me to the Southern reaches of Thailand, allowing me to vicariously visit its lush, tropical beaches. (more…)
20th August
written by Steph

Pineapple Chicken Curry

For those of us who love curries, the extensive range of premade jarred sauces and pastes makes cooking up flavorful, international dishes a breeze. When I first began cooking for myself in earnest about five years ago (note that this time coincides entirely with me moving to a different country from my mother, who I fully admit spoiled me with her cooking up until the age of 23…), I certainly relied extensively on these convenient sauces to provide my home cooked meals with authentic rich flavors that I craved but wasn’t confident or knowledgeable enough to achieve on my own. Lately, however, I’ve really been trying to up the ante when it comes to curries and the like, and have been branching out to include meals in my repartee that are done entirely from scratch. It may seem intimidating at first to mix and blend all the spices that Asian cooking is known for, but one of the benefits is that you get to tailor everything to your own palate. The more I experiment with blending spices from scratch, the more I find that it really is possible to achieve the flavors you know and love from your favorite Thai or Indian restaurant from the comfort (and relative frugality!) of your own home. The past week I was craving pineapple curry, and after searching high and low, I managed to find a recipe that did not simply call for one to use a store-bought paste or sauce as the curry base. Below is the version I slightly modified from that on Vazhayila. Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 1 lb chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 tbsp oil or ghee
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp of lemongrass paste (can be found alongside most refrigerated herbs in your produce section)
  • 2 green chilies, chopped (remove seeds if you like less spicy food)
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp dried coriander
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • salt
  • 5 tbsp fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1.5 cups of fresh cubed pineapple + 1/8 cup of juice
19th August
written by Steph

When I picked up a copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao I only knew three things about it: 1) it had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction; 2) it had a bunch of Spanish in it; and 3) it involved a lot of “geeky” sci-fi/fantasy references. The first point was certainly not a deterrent, and I figured that being fluent in French and having taken one year of highschool Spanish would probably be enough to make it through any smatterings of Spanish throughout the book. I’d only heard effusive praise for the book, even by those readers who didn’t have an extensive background in genre fiction, so I was pretty excited to give it a go. I think the first thing I have to say is something that you’ve probably heard in other reviews but which I must make very clear: THERE IS A LOT OF SPANISH IN THIS BOOK. Sometimes it’s just a word thrown into a sentence here or there that doesn’t completely undermine your comprehension of the book… but other times it’s an entire phrase, and it’s not likely to be one of those phrases you learned in an introductory language course. This isn’t holiday Spanish, this is contemporary, living Spanish that uses a lot of slang and idioms, that will probably be lost on you unless you’re a native speaker or extremely fluent. If you know how to ask where the beach is or proclaim your love of chicken and rice, that’s not going to cut it. Consider yourself warned! (As an aside, you need to worry less if you know nada about sci-fi and fantasy. I’m sure some references didn’t hit home, but I didn’t feel these detracted from my comprehension of the novel.) (more…)
17th August
written by Steph

So way back in 2009, I read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, because I had heard it was a really engrossing page-turner that was super fun to read, and its 500+ pages really just whipped by. I did largely enjoy the novel, but wound up thinking it was good, not great; it did, however, pique my interest in Eugenides’ first novel, The Virgin Suicides, which is perhaps better known for its film adaptation. Well, by everyone but me, because I have of course not seen the movie (though I have now rented it from Netflix, so it’s only a matter of time!). On a whim, I recently decided now was the right time to finally try on Eugenides’ debut and see whether it was a better fit than Middlesex. The premise was certainly just as tantalizing as Middlesex (the story of a hermaphrodite): The story revolves around the suicides of the five young daughters of the Lisbon family, although predominantly it looks at the effects of the youngest daughter’s suicide (the first to commit the deed) on the rest of the family. Through the eyes of an anonymous group of boys who have been long fascinated by the beautiful and mysterious Lisbon girls, we watch as the family unravels and slowly spirals into decay and derelict dysfunction. Throughout it all, the boys try to solve the mystery of what caused Cecilia Lisbon to jump to her death. (more…)
16th August
written by Steph

Linguine alle Vongole

I’ve said it before on this blog, but I’ll say it again: yes, you can eat pasta during the hot and humid days of summer! I realize the thought of a thick, heavy dish doesn’t necessarily appeal when the weather is breaking 100º, but there are ways to lighten up your pasta dishes to make them appropriate and appealing. The big thing is cutting back on the sauce – rather than something heavy or creamy, summer is the time when I turn to “barely there” sauces that are more like a drizzle and explosion of fresh ingredients. Your tastebuds and your A/C will thank you!

This simple dish of linguine and clams will whisk you away to Italy (where I’m sure they eat pasta all year round, regardless of soaring temperatures), all from the comfort of your own home. For inspiration, I combined two recipes, one from Rasa Malaysia, and one from Mario Batalli, courtesy of Epicurious. Some of you may be a bit leery of cooking shellfish at home, but I assure you nothing could be simpler than this dish. Best of all, this dish only has about 15 minutes of active cook time, so you won’t spend your time slaving in front of a hot stove. Elegant and simple, this is summer dining at its best! Ingredients (for two)
  • 1.5 lbs of fresh littleneck clams, cleaned and scrubbed (see below for info on cleaning clams)
  • 8 oz linguine… use the best you can afford
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp of crush red pepper flakes (add more if you like your dishes spicier)
  • ½ cup white wine (we used Riesling, which I’m sure is a sin, but it worked for us… use whatever you like to drink)
  • 6 tbsp of parsley, finely chopped (+ 2 extra tbsp for garnish)
  • juice from ½ a lemon
  • salt to taste
13th August
written by Steph

A cracking good read!

For years I’ve been hearing about how Three Men in a Boat is the funniest of books, a book that will truly tickle your funny bone. Some have even claimed this might be the funniest English book ever written. Such claims cause ambivalence within me, because I LOVE me some British humor, but I also get worried because I fear that when I finally get on the boat (as it were), I’ll find the item in question only kind of funny rather than a rip-roaring side-splitter. I mean, for all their stiff upper lips, those Brits do dry humor better than pretty much anyone in my book (Blackadder, anyone?), and we all know I fell head over heels for P.G. Wodehouse last year, all to say that any declarations of being the apex of humor are going to come under some pretty harsh scrutiny when I’m the one doing the judging. (more…)
11th August
written by Steph

Today I wrote a little guest post over at The Book Case in which I tease a portion of Nicole Krauss' upcoming novel, Great House (a.k.a. the literary event everyone is holding their breaths over). I actually had the great honor of chatting with Krauss yesterday about the book for a feature I'll write for the October issue of BookPage, celebrating the release of her third book, which certainly stoked the flames of my enthusiasm. If you're jonesing for something to tide you over, pop over and check out my post, in which I speak rhapsodically about the wild excitement this book has inspired.