Bob and the Vandals

I would have liked to have known Bob Dylan in 1962. Right before things started to get crazy for him and even crazier for the nation. I would have liked him as a friend. Maybe less for his music and more for his personality. I liked his sense of humor and can’t help but wonder if he has it still. Are you still funny, Bob? Are ya? I liked his unwillingness to be painted into a corner or labeled like a cheap suit doused with cheaper cologne. I admired his tenacity to keep singing when so-called fans started to protest against his electric sound. I laughed at his ability to dodge questions about being a protesting artist with a hidden agenda or unclear message. What are you trying to say, Bob? ‘I don’t know’ seemed like the perfect answer and he used it all the time. He put everyone from reporters to Joan in their places. Take that! All that was left was (and still is) the whining about how they didn’t understand him (and still don’t).
Imagine being able to write lyrics so crazy good that they flow out of you nonstopping, unstopable. You write so well you can’t keep your own sentences straight. Can’t remember the difference between what you wanted to say and what you actually did say. Don’t even recognize yourself on the radio. I would give anything to write like that for just one day. I’d write the perfect letter. I know who I’d send it to. He’d have to read it because of its perfection. He wouldn’t be able to help himself. Since I can’t write like that, I won’t. Instead, I will listen to Bob. I’ll listen to the vandals take his words and run with them. Tangle them up in blue, steal them for their own. Brilliant by default. Brilliant because of Bob.

Confessional: I wrote this back in August (on the 6th to be exact). I am reallllly pressed for time today so I’m cheating and sending this one up – unfinished.

Choice Cuts

Kurlansky, Mark. Choice Cuts: a Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History. New York: Ballantine, 2002.

I like nothing better than a good cookbook. A close second to a good cookbook is reading books written by cooks. Mark Kurlansky does one better and combined the best of food writing from soup to nuts; covering techniques, ingredients and even ethnic origins of food. Then, there’s the introduction. How can you compete when the introduction is titled, “Better than Sex” (p 1)? I mean, come on! Out of the thirty chapters  five six really grabbed my attention. More than the introduction, you ask? Mais oui! How could I not be seduced with chapter titles such as these: “Rants” (p 115), Poultry, Fowl, and Other Ill-Fated Birds (p 210), “Loving Fat” (p 303), “The Dark Side of Chocolate” (p 330), “A Good Drink” (p 361) and, “Bugs” (p 380). See, aren’t you the least bit curious about that last one?

Everything about this book is based on one simple subject – food. Kurlansky takes that subject and explores everything having to do with it. From growing, hunting, buying, and preparing to smelling, eating, and savoring it. The art of cooking, the downfall of rotting, from killing to cultivating. From Cato to Chekhov, Kurlansky finds quotes, essays and passages from a multitude of well known individuals, some with lives centered around food like M.F.K. Fisher and Elizabeth David and some not like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and E.M Forster. Whether focused on an ingredient like garlic or chocolate, or a technique like faking venison or baking bread, or a location like favorite restaurants or markets, Kurlansky covers it all. It’s historical and cutting edge. Technical and funny. Poetry and dissertation. Well worth the read.

Favorite passages: “A blonde seems humbly to beseech your heart while a brunette tends to ravish it” (p 39), “So don’t worry about me down here eating nothing and [makeing] an ass of myself. I have had strange eating habits since I was a boy (Ernest Hemingway)” (p 61) and, “cook-books have always intrigued and seduced me (Alice B. Toklas)” (p 182).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “Mark Kurlansky: Too Good To Miss” (p 146).

A side note: Before I knew what Choice Cuts was really about I assumed it had something to do with meat. After all, Kurlansky has written about solitary food items such as cod and salt, too. So, thinking this was a book about edible meats nothing disturbed me more than seeing an illustration for what I thought was a squirrel. I was close – it was a dormouse.

‘Sippi (with a spoiler of sorts)

Killens, John Oliver. ‘Sippi. New York: Trident Press, 1967.

In honor of Mississippi becoming a state in the month of December I put ‘Sippi on my list. What an incredibly expansive, volatile story! It follows the lives of two very different people growing up Wakefield County, Mississippi in the 1960s. Carrie Louise Wakefield was born into white money privilege about the same time as Charles Othello Chaney was born into black poverty servitude. “Chuck” and his family worked as servants for Carrie Louise’s extremely wealthy family and would forever be intertwined in each others lives. Over the ever growing turbulent years, events like the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights Movement and the death of Malcolm X stoked the fires of racial unrest. Despite Carrie and Chuck’s vastly different upbringings they both manage to go to college, see a world larger than little Wakefield County. Black and white becomes more and more complicated.        

Favorite lines:
“…seriously wondering how a little bouncing hunk of human essence could possibly emerge from this organized confusion” (p 4). If you couldn’t guess Killens is describing childbirth.
“She was time enough and overtime” (p 69). Here, he’s describing a beautiful woman.
“He had been daydreaming in the nighttime”  (p 129).
“Actually he had drunk the kind of whiskey that would not let you walk. It made you run. He was running drunk” (p 218).

A few complaints. It took a long time to get to the only place the story could end up. Some places were a little drawn out and repetitive. And, yes – I’m gonna blow it – the sex scenes between Carrie and Chuck are a little drawn out and more than a little ridiculous.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 208).

Lincoln’s Dreams

Willis, Connie. Lincoln’s Dreams. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1987.

Connie Willis typically writes science fiction or fantasy and while Lincoln’s Dreams doesn’t take place in the year 2197 or on the planet Baktakazini, it is equally mind bending and thought provoking. Jeff Johnston is a historical researcher working for a Civil War novelist, Thomas Broun. Broun is obsessed with Abraham Lincoln’s dreams of foreshadowing before his death. Broun goes to great length to analyze them with Jeff’s help. Through his research, Jeff meets Annie, a beautiful Sleep Institute patient who has troubling dreams of her own. Annie has been having dreams not about Robert E. Lee, but AS Robert E. Lee. It’s as if her dreams really are those of Lee’s. Jeff takes it upon himself to not only satisfy the growing obsession Broun has with supporting facts about Lincoln’s dreams but, he also tries to cure Annie of her own Civil War nightmares while falling in love in the process.

Since the bulk of Willis’s storyline centers on Annie having dreams there are a lot of sleep scenes and subsequently the analysis of those dreams. It’s the analysis that I enjoyed the most. The details of the dreams gave life to the Civil War and its participants.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Connie Willis: Too Good to Miss” (p 246).

Note:  It is painfully obvious this is a half-assed “review” of sorts. This just goes to show me & myself how out of it we really have been these past few weeks. I have been finished with this book for awhile and never finished this properly. *sigh*

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

BrysonBryson, Bill. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.

I was skeptical of this book. The premise is Bryson has been away from American soil for twenty years (living in England) and the book is supposedly his running commentary on how different everything has become. Right off the bat I wanted to ask, “What? They didn’t have ATM machines or public pay phones in England? Not even by the time Mr. Bryson left?” I have to admit, it never crossed my mind that England could be twenty years behind the U.S. in such things as technology and invention.
In actuality, Bryson’s book was, in a word, delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed his opening essay about the differences between English and American postal services. However, for the most part the comparisons ended there. It was more about how nonsensical America could be with it’s rules and regulations. It reminded me of Robert Fulghum with his humorous observations.

Favorite funnies:
“Going to a restaurant is generally a discouraging experience for me because I always manage somehow to antagonize the waitress” (p 13).
“It is all immensely complicated, but essentially it means that practically every team in baseball except the Chicago Cubs gets a chance to go to the World Series” (p 25).
“He converses as if he has heard that someday he will be billed  for it” (p 93). Sounds like my father!

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lustin the chapter, “Bill Bryson: Too Good to Miss” (p 36).

Anatomy of a Murder

img_43561Traver, Robert. Anatomy of a Murder. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1958.

If you want to get technical about it this was my first book of December – considering the first two were read while it was still November. A technicality, I guess.

Anatomy of a Murder was written in the 1950s by Robert Traver. From the moment I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. 439 pages went by in a blur. I read before bed, when I first woke, on the drive into work, on my lunch break, waiting in line at the grocery store…It had me hooked from the very first sentence. It’s no wonder this novel became a movie. For starters, take the author – Robert Traver was the pen name for John D. Voelker who happened to be a lawyer and a judge in addition to being a fantastic writer. Secondly, Voelker used a real life murder than took place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. True stories are always fascinating.

So, here’s the story (now that I’ve set the stage, so to speak): Paul (Polly to his friends) Biegler is an ex-D.A. turned public defender set out to prove his client, Frederic Manion, murdered a bartender in a moment of insanity. Proving the insanity isn’t the only challenge of the case. Biegler must also prove Manion’s wife was raped by the bartender (and thus creating the moment of insanity) when all evidence surrounding Mrs. Manion’s attack is not admissible in her husband’s trial. The entire story is so well written you never want it to end.

Some of the many, many lines and phrases I found great:
“gently drunk” (p 13).
“Juries, in common with women drivers, are apt to do the damndest things” (p 39).
“I consider jealousy the most corrosive and destructive of all emotions and I long time ago made up my mind that I refused to be jealous of anyone or anything. Life is simply too goddam short” (p 73).

One last comment. I always thought that lawyers (of any kind) needed to show judges the utmost respect both in the courtroom and in chambers. Right? Well, someone needs to explain the scene on page 244 where Polly is in Judge Weaver’s chambers. Picture this, the Judge has just lit a pipe and Polly sits, “one leg over the arm of [his] chair.” I don’t even sit that way in my mother-in-law’s house!

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “What a Trial That Was!” (p 243).

Dangerous Friend

Dangerous FriendJust, Ward. A Dangerous Friend. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

This is the companion read to The Quiet American by Graham Greene. I have to say it was interesting to read one man’s book in honor of someone else. But, back to Ward Just. Just was born in December, hence the addition of A Dangerous Friend. If it isn’t clear, I read The Quiet American because it was so similar to A Dangerous Friend. It just made sense to read them together.

A Dangerous Friend takes the reader to Vietnam, 1965. Sydney Parade is a man bored with his Connecticut life. In search of something bigger than himself he leaves his wife and daughter for the jungles of Saigon. While his intention is to be part of a foreign-aid operation building bridges, administering agriculture education, and facilitating supply delivery, Sydney soon discovers war is war no matter which side you are on. The depths of conflict strike his moral heart and leave him struggling to survive any way that he can.

A couple lines that I liked:
“…we were imprisoned in our own language, tone deaf to possibility” (p 4)
“The answer to chaos is repetition” (p 73).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two different chapters: “Companion Reads” (p 64), and “Ward Just: Too Good to Miss” (p 135). Also, mentioned in the introduction (p xi).