"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

Set in the late 18th century with William Blake also part of the foreground to the story, this gives you a brutally honest picture of what life was like in Britain for the working class. Anyone slightly middle class is on the periphery of the story as it deals with working class men and women and how very early in life children were forced to become adults, take on the responsibility and cares of adults and how they managed as well.

Tracy Chevalier brings together a rural Dorsetshire boy Jem and a street smart Londoner Maggie together in a very tender story - not the romance that was expected of the encounters but more of something deeper and unusual for the age of our two youngsters.

Thomas Kellaway moves from rural Dorsetshire with his family after his son dies in a tragic accident, hoping that the move will help them with their grief. He comes to London and joins the Astley's who run a very successful circus. The Kellaways are makers of chairs but they take on carpentry jobs with the circus which is financially better but does not bring them the satisfaction of a craft. Anne Kellaway is distrustful of Londoners, the circus and the Astleys but she does seem to mellow by the end of the story, but it is the story of Jem and Maisie the two Kellaway children which are at the heart of the story.

How Maisie is seduced by the wily John Astley. A simple village girl she was ripe for the plucking and Jem has to cope with the wily way of Londoners who realize he is just a simpleton who can be taken for a ride. Maggie is the one who comes to their rescue on more than one occasion because Maggie realizes that there is an innocence in both the Kellaway youngsters which she feels must be safeguarded as they are unaware of their own gullibility. How Maggie risks her own family's wrath to do this is also part of the story.

The backdrop of a revolution pending in France - seemingly very remote to the hard life of a working class family - it also brings its effect to them all despite the feeling that it is something very far away.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter

I really did try to read this book,but just couldn't get through it. I don't know if Ms. Coulter is mentally ill or just sociopathically angry, but for sure her style never changes, twisted facts, facts taken out of context, facts distorted, and always always the anger and hatred. It is sad to think that this kind of book has an audiance in America, doesn't speak very well of us.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Newland Archer, of a wealthy old New York family, has become engaged to pretty, naive May. But as he tries to get their wedding date moved up, he becomes acquainted with May's exotic cousin, Countess Olenska, who has returned home after dumping her cheating count husband. At first, the two are friends, but then they become something more.

After Newland marries May, the attraction to the mysterious Countess and her free, unconventional life becomes even stronger. He starts to rebel in little ways, but he's still mired in a 100% conventional marriage, job and life. Will he become an outcast and go away with the beautiful countess, or will he stick with May and a safe, dull life?

There's nothing too scandalous about "Age of Innocence" in a time when J.Lo acquires and discards boyfriends and husbands like old pantyhose. Probably it wasn't in the 1920s, when the book was first published. But this isn't a book to read if you appreciate sexiness and steam -- instead it's a social satire, a bittersweet romance, and a look at what happens when human beings lose all spontaneity and passion.

Wharton brings old New York to life in this book -- opulent, beautiful, cultured, yet empty and kind of boring. It is "where the real thing was never said or done or even thought," so tied up in tradition that nobody there really lives. And even though the unattainable countess is beautiful and sweet, it becomes obvious after awhile that Newland is actually in love with the idea of breaking out of his conventional life.

Wharton's writing is a bit like a giant rosebud -- it takes forever to fully open. So don't be discouraged by the endless conversations about flowers, ballrooms and gloves. Wharton put them in to illustrate her point about New York at that time, and all the stories about different families, scandals and customs are actually very important.

Newland seems like a rather boring person, since he only has brief bursts of individuality. But he gets more interesting when he struggles between his conscience and his longing for freedom. May is (suitably) pallid and a bit dull, while the Countess is alluringly mysterious and unconsciously rebellious. The fact that she doesn't TRY to rebel makes her far more interesting than Newland.

"Age of Innocence" considered a story about a man in love with an unattainable woman, but it's also about that man straining against a stagnant, hypocritical society. Rich, intriguing and beautifully written.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Qualify of Life Report by Meghan Daum

Lucinda Trout works for a local morning show in Manhattan, surrounded by vain, appalling Sex In The City wannabes, and a Devil Wears Prada-esque boss. That's where the chick lit similarities end. Lucinda doesn't WANT to remain immersed in the shallow pool, she's looking for a more simple life. Her chance arrives when the show sends her to the deepest Midwest to report on "housewife heroin", a new drug that COULD BE COMING TO NEW YORK! Her boss loves the cheap, tabloid-y angle of the story, but stresses that Lucinda should avoid showing fat Prairie City residents on camera. Christiane Amanpour she isn't.

Lucinda is so dissatisfied with her life in Manhattan, and so surprised by the friendly, cool people she meets on location in Prairie City, that she decides to move there. By convincing her boss that she can report remotely on the unique "quality of life" inherent in the heartland, she manages to keep her job and her ties to the city. But life isn't quite as simple as she thinks...

I laughed with Lucinda as she gets herself into increasingly more ridiculous situations - my favorite scene involves throwing a "barn party" using the residents of Prairie City as props, and a Manhattan stylist who sends precise instructions regarding the appropriate apparel for Lucinda's human mannequins - but in the end, Lucinda learns that relocating doesn't make life simpler at all.

The Quality of Life Report is a classic fish out of water story with a twist.