Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Unread tag tag-down

I know this is long and possibly boring, but I had fun with it -- someone compiled a list of the top 106 books tagged "unread" on Librarything, and started a nifty little meme. I can't promise I caught everything I read, or everything I own, but I did my best. Interestingly, I almost always finish a book so the italics don't really apply, although I really never did finish Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Of course I was in junior high when I tried reading it, so maybe I should someday give it another shot...

Here is the plan:
Bold = I've read it for fun
Underline = I read it for school
Italics = I started it but didn't finish
Asterisk = I own it, but haven't read it

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov*
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace*
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha

Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian: a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula [actually reading right now]
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes: a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake: a novel
Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit*
In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences*
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers


Now you do it!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Frolic of His Own (1994)

A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis (1994) isn't really an easy read, but it is a rather fun one. I haven't read any other of Gaddis' books, but if the online book review community is to be believed, this is his most accessible novel. Made up primarily of dialogue (with no quotation marks, unconventional punctuation, and speakers changing in mid sentence), interspersed with lengthy legal briefs and sections from an unpublished play, the format takes a little getting used to. Once you get a feel for the characters, though, the style becomes almost naturalistic -- the conversations more actual and penetrating than in a conventional novel.

The story centers around Oscar Crease, a man who comes from money, lives alone in a giant isolated family house, teaches history, and has somehow managed to hit himself with his own car while jump starting it. He naturally sues the car manufacturer. At the same time, a blockbuster movie set during the Civil War has just come out, loosely based on the true story of Oscar's grandfather. But Oscar wrote a play interpreting the same events 30 years ago, so he is also suing the studio for stealing his work. His step-sister, Christina, and her husband, Harry (who is a big-shot lawyer), are in and out of the house giving advice, making tea, putting out fires, and having a much needed drink. Also in and out (but mostly in) is Lily, Oscar's silly girlfriend who is hiding from her estranged husband, trying to reconcile with her religious family, and constantly in need of a little more money. And she is possibly the most admirable of all of them. Not in the book at all, except as the gigantic motivation behind nearly every one of Oscar's actions, is Oscar's father, a 97 year old Federal judge who just made an unpopular ruling on the case of a dog who got stuck in the base of a gigantic modern art sculpture.

Got it all straight?

The ups and downs and downs and ups of this group make for a very engaging plot. And since they get worked up over a misplaced letter or the wrong thing for dinner (as well as winning or losing thousands of dollars, death, and more death), I found myself often having to take a break from this book and read a magazine when the frantic pace of the streaming conversation got to be too much for me. This is not a relaxing read, in any sense.

It is, however: often very funny, an interesting exercise in style, very long, a bit curmudgeonly, viciously satiric of the legal profession, satisfyingly complex, and ultimately a good read. If you are up for a challenge, then I highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

It's a tasty fish...

Watch this.

Then read this.

The whole thing is worth it, but this is honestly the money shot. And I can't stop watching it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I seem to be busy and boring this week, so until I think of something exciting to write about (or finish the book I'm reading), please enjoy this picture of a delightfully-arranged fruit salad I made a week or so ago and a smattering of bullet points:
  • Goodbye Dragon Inn is a wonderful movie, and Tsai Ming-Liang is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary directors.
  • Stuffed poblanos are awesome, but reheated stuffed poblanos are gross. Go figure.
  • Although Joolie and I may disagree on tampons, we totally agree on bras. Or bra-stores anyway. My ladies are extra happy since I paid a visit to Petticoat Fair. I'll talk your ear off about the awesomeness of my visit there if you let me.
  • I just realized yesterday that HEB's "Here Everything's Better" slogan totally utilizes the letters HEB. Until then I thought they were just saying that things were better here...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cosmic Encounter

This weekend I was introduced to the fabulously complicated and more than a little geeky (but fun) game, Cosmic Encounter. The rules are really way too long to summarize here (and honestly, we played it for about four hours and I think I was vaguely getting the idea of how to play it somewhere in the last half an hour or so). The best part of the game, however, is that you are assigned an alien identity that gives you special powers that the other players don't have. There are dozens of alien-types in the version of the game that we were playing, each of which comes with a hefty paragraph or two describing its particular gift (caution: after several drinks these hefty paragraphs with ambiguous instructions may be difficult to accurately interpret). This makes each game rather complicated at the beginning (since you are trying to figure out what you can to do the other players and what they can do to you) and would also (I imagine) keep the game fresh and interesting even after playing it a million times. My favorite part about the alien powers, however, was taking alien portraits of all the game players.

I am not a full-fledged Cosmic Encounter convert yet, but I would love to play it again just to try out the powers of a different alien.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Emergency Party at My Place

You should probably run right now and order your own copy of volume eight of the collected Achewood comics: Emergency Party at My Place. It happens to include two of my favorite story arcs, Phillipe's journey to the transit station to save his old couch (starts here if you want to read it online), and Roast Beef's magic underpants that almost destroy civilization as we know it (starting here). Sure, you just read them online, but there is something very satisfying of having them and a host of other fine strips collected into a nicely printed book.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Lots of churches use these pre-printed templates for their worship bulletin (the other side is blank so you can copy your worship service on it), and they are all pretty goofy, but usually more on the hazily-painted Jesus with his flock side than this.

I've got about a million interpretations of this one and I'm pretty sure that none are quite what they were going for...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blood Money

If you donate enough blood at the Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas, you too can get a foldable blood bank camp chair delivered to your house for free through the Hands of the Donor program. Plus it has two cup holders so it is perfect for righties, lefties, or those of us who occasionally have two drinks at the same time. Woo!

Invite me over to your backyard and maybe I'll bring my own chair along!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Skylark Three (1948)

Skylark Three (published serially in 1930 and in book form in 1948) by E. E. "Doc" Smith is the second in the Skylark series, and continues the adventures of the strong, smart and honorable Dick Seaton, his strong, smart, and honorable (and rich) friend Martin Crane, and their wives as they fly around the universe, help alien planets, try to thwart the evil DuQuesne, and ultimately battle for the survival of life as we know it. Naturally they manage to do all this without too much adjusting of their moral compasses, quibbling amongst themselves, or meeting any aliens they can't either see eye to eye with or obliterate.

Smith writes great science, although the scientific sections in this one sometimes get a little lengthy and confusing. Not as much romance (since everyone is already married) and really not that many battles either since much of the book is spent on compiling the best scientific minds from a group of widely dispersed planets in order to defeat a powerful foe from another galaxy. Fun devices that take the place of the all-powerful Lens in the Lensman series include an "educator" which is sort of a freaky-Frankenstein device that lets you transfer knowledge, thoughts and experiences from one brain to another. Selectively. And also from dead brains! So you know that is going to come in handy. They also develop a Projector that lets you see, hear, and physically appear in any location in the universe. Add that to your educator and you have the perfect tool both for collaboration and total upheaval. Plus there are water people who live on a watery planet and have webbed hands and feet!

So you see, science is exciting. And Choo is great for loaning me this book. I love the "Doc"...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I am a culinary genius

My new invention:
  • Take one tortilla (I used flour, but I think whole wheat would be even better).
  • Slap one thin slice of prosciutto on that thang.*
  • Sprinkle the tasty meatstuffs with some thinly sliced leeks.**
  • Now add shredded mozzarella (any white cheese would taste good).
  • Heat in the microwave for 30-40 seconds so the cheese gets melty.
  • Evenly spread a good handful of arugula on top.
  • Roll it up like one of those "wraps" you hear about.
  • Now eat your tasty treat.
*I don't usually have prosciutto on hand (partly because I always mispronounce it which makes me uncomfortable ordering it at the deli [I also do such a horrible job of spelling it that spell check couldn't even interpret what I was trying to do -- luckily I am married to a spelling bee champion]), but I had it this week because I made these sandwiches on Friday night. They were as awesome as they sound.

** I also don't usually have pre-sliced leeks on hand, but I sliced too many for this amazing dip (here's my dip in action) and I'm so glad I saved them instead of throwing them away.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My new favorite thing

Is Name that Contact. I can't get enough of it, and if you have a Flickr account I bet you will like it too. And if you don't, then make one. And be friends with me. And then I will have even more contacts from which to guess.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Amateur Gourmet (2007)

I started reading Adam Robert's blog, The Amateur Gourmet, over four years ago when he posted about the creation of a cupcake that would commemorate Janet Jackson's errant Super Bowl boob. So I feel like I know him pretty well -- I knew him when he was an unsatisfied law student in Atlanta, I followed him to New York City where he earned his MFA in dramatic writing at NYU, and (although slightly jealous for his success), I was pretty happy when he got the book deal that resulted in The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, and Table Hop Like a Pro (Almost) (2007). [Where's my Spacebeer bookdeal, jerks?]

I really like Adam's blog (note: I usually don't refer to people I don't know by their first names, without an invitation to do so, but after four years of daily updates, I feel like we can skip the formalities). He is an adventurous cook, he posts interesting recipes, he takes great food pictures, and he has a creative and winning sense of humor. His openness and his goofiness draw the reader in and give the blog an informality and readability that is instantly charming.

Much of that same charm is present in the book, and I think it would appeal even to those who have never read his blog. Here Adam writes a series of essays that explore his own journey from only eating take out to cooking seven course meals for his friends. He opines on ordering in fancy restaurants, takes us to a master knife sharpener, and tries to get his friend who hates olives, coffee and stinky cheese to give them a try. And he even throws in some of his favorite recipes. It's all very readable and approachable and fun, particularly if the reader really is a beginner who hasn't thought through many of the issues or had many of the experiences that Adam recounts.

The weak part of the book (its hard to write about the weak part since Adam and I are such good pals) is the somewhat cutesy philosophies that weave in and out and close many of the chapters. These pop up on the blog sometimes too, but are worded less formally and come off more sincere and less stiff. I also really really miss the photographs that Adam posts to his blog -- somehow just imagining his food experiences isn't quite enough when you are used to four color evidence of every step.

So: I 100% recommend that you go read The Amateur Gourmet's blog. And if you like that, then you should check out the book too.

[Oh, and he also has his own Food Network video blog that should make me a little jealous, but actually makes me happy. Especially since he accidentally got to interview a drunken Anthony Bourdain. Mmmmm.]

Monday, April 07, 2008

Shoes for a Black Magic Woman

Were you aware that Carlos Santana has a line of women's shoes? How very incongruous! According to the website, the shoes "reflect the same passion and energy that is generated by Carlos Santana's music." Since they donate a portion of their profits to his foundation for underprivileged children, I can't giggle about it too much. But I can giggle a little.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Orlando (1928)

I think this is the fourth time I've read Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928). I love Virginia Woolf and I really love this book. This time around I read it for the illustrious Smarter Than You Bookclub, at my own suggestion. I hope the other ladies like it too, but after this most recent read, I don't see how you couldn't just fall completely in love with this smart, funny, exciting and rewarding book.

Orlando starts his life out in the age of Queen Elizabeth as the son of a wealthy family who lives in a large estate in the English countryside. He grows up, falls in and out of love with society, falls in and out of (but mostly in) love with poetry, never loses faith in nature, and eventually (when he is thirty) takes an ambassadorship to Turkey to escape the attentions of a woman. And while he is there a very strange thing happens: he falls asleep, sleeps for a long time (during which there is a violent revolution all around him) and when he wakes up, he is a woman. No one is too surprised about this, least of all Orlando. She continues to do much the same things she did before, although some things are changed -- and Woolf delights in exploring why some things should be different as a woman than as a man. Luckily there is plenty of time for that since the book ends in 1928 and Orlando is only 36, even though she has been alive for 400 years. As Woolf writes:

And indeed, it cannot be denied that the most successful practitioners of the art of life, often unknown people by the way, somehow contrive to synchronize the sixty or seventy different times which beat simultaneously in every normal human system so that when eleven strikes, all the rest chime inn unison, and the present is neither a violent disruption nor completely forgotten in the past.

Orlando is not one of these people. In fact, her body and mind are so filled with times and personalities that it allows her to change gender and live for 400 years.

Woolf wrote Orlando while at the country estate of her beloved friend Vita Sackville-West. Woolf and Sackville-West were fascinated with each other and probably did have a few physical romantic encounters, although the overall evidence points to a more mental affair than a physical one. Vita Sackville-West's son, Nigel Nicolson calls Orlando "the longest and most charming love letter in literature," and it really is. Orlando is written as a biography (it even has an index!), and the pictures of Orlando as a woman are all actually pictures of Vita, Orlando's country estate is Vita's home, and many of the events and personalities of Orlando are based on Vita herself.

Nicolson wrote a really fascinating book about his mother, his father, and their devoted and unique marriage called Portrait of a Marriage (1973). If any of you bookclubbers are intrigued and want to borrow it, let me know -- it is a nicely structured balance between extracts from Vita's diary recounting her early life and her tumultuous affair with a woman and context, other sources, and history provided by Nicolson. There is also a bunch of Virginia Woolf stuff in there and the reaction of the Sackville family to the publication of the book.

And now three reasons why I also think Orlando is hilarious:

1. The Arch-duchess Harriet Griselda of Finster-Aahorn and Scandop-Boom in the Roumanian territory who pesters Orlando when she is a man, then pesters Orlando when she is a woman (as the Arch-duchess is really an Arch-Duke in disguise) and is only temporarily put off when Orlando cheats at Fly Loo and puts a frog down his shirt. [I just did a Google search for Fly Loo, which I thought Woolf had made up, but the game is perfectly described in this 1883 article in the New York Times. Who knew? (The Fly Loo bit is towards the top of the second column, but the whole thing is really worth reading. And like much journalism from the late 1800s, it is hard to tell if it is fact or fiction. Probably a bit of both. Thank you NYT for opening up your content!)]

2. Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine (who marries Orlando, but spends most of his time sailing dangerous waters)

3. Rattigan Glumphoboo (shorthand to describe "a very complicated spiritual state -- which if the reader puts all his intelligence at our service he may discover for himself.")

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


John linked to this too, but it is such a momentous occasion that I think the link bears repeating. I even teared up a few times.

Plus, it goes down in history as one of the few ceremonies to take place in a wrestling ring that doesn't end with an "unexpected" brawl.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


For the robots.

For the jingle.