Search This Blog

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Future House of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

There is a bit of Margaret Atwood going around these days, and this book is very much in the family that for me starts with The Handmaid's Tale, a book I both hate and think is memorable as well as a cautionary tale.
The review in The Guardian aptly sums up where we are in our new world where every vile thing that comes into a narrow mind finds its way into a Twitter stream, often with attribution.  No longer do the misogynists feel like they need to hide.  Here it goes. Troll: “Look out the window and name one thing women have made.” Without missing a beat, a woman tweeted back: “EVERY. SINGLE. HUMAN. BEING.”  Really?  These men are so quick to claim the accomplishments of their gender without a hint of the talent that went into it.  And that, female fertility and the male need for that to be a point of subjugation and not power, is at the core of this book.  Erdrich is amazing in her insight, her way of telling a chilling tale without it seeming to be overtly terrifying, and the abundance of her work across a number of equally awful human traits is something to be in awe of and this book is no less so.  Beautifully done, and ultimately haunting. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Long Strange Trip (2017)

A documentary about the Grateful Dead is complicated for me.  I saw them for the first time in 1974, and for the last time in 1995, and literally hundreds of times in between.  They define the bookends of my youth.  So while I do not have first hand knowledge of much of the beginning, I know quite a bit about the middle and the end from the standpoint of a Dead Head who saw hundreds of shows.  For example, when i saw the Grateful Dead exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I had far more concert tickets, back stage passes, and bootleg tapes than they did. 
So maybe I am too close to it all, but there were a number of things that I loved about this documentary. One was that it captured the audience side of the experience very well.  We did feel the energy of the show, and while there were good nights and nights that were off, it was always an adventure that exceeded just the music, or what happened within the venue.  The parking lot was always interesting, and you would never just show up in time to go into the show.  It also demonstrated that trying to stay true to your roots as a touring band gets really tiring when you get into your 0's and 50's and the toll that took on the band in general and Garcia specifically.  The other thing that as a fan I always found fascinating is that their roadies and their sound and lights designers were employees, not just people they hired on the spot.  So the whole crew was a known entity that traveled everywhere with them.  It is just an unusual musical mark in time that is pretty well captured here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Genius (2016)

This is a somewhat intense but very enjoyable movie looking at the relationship, both personal and professional, between the writer Thomas Wolfe (played very intensely by Jude Law) and his editor at Scribner, Max Perkins (beautifully underplayed by Colin Firth).  Wolfe was a prolific writer, who spewed out dozens of pages of writing every day, and yet it was largely incomprehensibly but perfectly worded.  He had a manic quality about him.  Like his temporal lobe was over stimulated and he couldn't stop writing.  he thought he was a genius, but no one saw it until Max Perkins.  He had been repeatedly rejected by other publishing houses, but Max saw a glimmer of brilliance in him, and he worked doggedly with Wolfe to pare down the thousands of pages into something manageable.  Look Homeward Angel was published as Wall Street was literally crashing down and yet it managed to be a huge success, and they were able to work together to publish one additional book together.  But that was it, because the process was very painful for Wolfe, and he felt bound in by Perkins rather than altogether grateful.   The work of a great editor is a thankless one.  Perkins had a glorious career, in that he discovered not only Wolfe but also F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Coming to My Senses by Alice Waters

This is a funny book, and when I say funny, I really mean that. It is a little bit comic and a little bit odd.  The one thing that it does not come across as is arrogant.  She looks back on her youth, her growing up experience, going away to college and becoming more independent, and then her first forays out into the world, all in an attempt to show how she came to be the woman who opened Chez Panisse at the age of 27, without any experience in cooking, running a restaurant specifically, or a business in general.  There were several pivotal experiences that she had that made it crystal clear to her what was important to her and what was not. She had the strength of character mixed with equal amounts naivete and hard work that she started a revolution.  Ruth Reichl was in Berkeley at about this same time, and has already described the cool chemistry that was available there to do new and great things with new and great ideas as they relate to food, and Alice Waters did it right.  She had support and talent and luck, but it was also great timing.  She tells a great story about salad, which I think is at core what I have learned from her.  Put the very best food you can find on the table, and let it speak for itself.  Treat it as well as you can, and the food will follow.  This is a must read for anyone who cooks in a serious way as a home cook.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Demolition (2017)

Grief is different for everyone.  As are relationships.  Jake Gylenhaal’s wife is killed in a car accident, and his life unravels.  He impulsively marries a woman who he is perhaps in like with but is not completely in love with.  So the marriage has some bumps that were not completely laid to rest when she suddenly dies.  The second complication is that her parents do not like him, and he works for her father.  So his work environment is inherently linked to his personal life, and with her death, that becomes intolerable.  So how does he respond?  Very poorly.  He becomes increasingly agitated to the point where he starts to destroy things.  He loses his job.  His FIL tries to wash his hands of him, saying at one point that he wishes that his SIL had died rather than his daughter.  None of this helps him process what he is feeling.  But after taking a bulldozer to his house, he starts to move forward, and ends up coming up with a fitting memorial for his wife.  Grief comes on like a juggernaut, and the path to recovery is varied and can be equally surprising.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Paprika Rubbed Roasted Chicken

I have been getting cookbooks that came out in 2017 that received some critical acclaim out of the library and giving them a try.  I love this cookbook and this recipe.

Step 1
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Step 2
Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Grind fennel seeds in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Combine fennel, hot paprika, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic, and olive oil in a medium bowl; rub spice mixture all over chicken. Rub any leftover spice mixture onto lemon quarters.
Step 3
Place chicken, breast side up, on a rimmed baking sheet or in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet; scatter lemons around chicken. Roast at 325°F for 1 hour or until chicken is tender, lemons are soft and jammy, and a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion of breast registers 160°F, basting chicken with drippings every 30 minutes. Remove from oven; rest 15 minutes. Squeeze lemons over chicken, or serve lemons with warm chicken.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Paris Can Wait (2017)

This is a small movie that is really very inviting.  The reviews of it were quite critical, perhaps because the maker is the spouse of a well known director.  I did not approach it with any previous knowledge, and was on a long flight, and I found it to be diversionary in a pleasant way.
Ann is the wife of a distracted, all business, no time to play director. In order to strengthen and reinvigorate his marriage, he has brought his wife along on a business trip.  Which goes exactly as you would expect—poorly.  They are in Cannes and headed towards Paris, but he gets called away to Budapest for an emergency on a film that has run into difficulties, and she is going to travel by car with a French man.  He immerses her in the culture on a meandering route through the countryside. The food, the wine, the cheese, the art, all of which demonstrates the French appretiation of what is good in life, and making time for it.  It is a philosophy that resonates with me, and captures some of what I love about travel in France, and I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Gandhi (1982)

The quest to know more about the vast country that is India continues, even after we returned home.  We had seen Ghandi when it came out 35 years ago, but not since, and it really chronicles an amazing story that inspired a number of people who followed his recipe for success overcoming a tyrannical force with nonviolence.
Ben Kingsley plays Gandhi, starting as a young man, and following his transformation from a young Indian who was educated in the West and wore Western clothing into the man who wore traditional clothing of a low caste that he wove himself.  He felt increasingly that he needed to identify with the millions of Indians who were living in poverty, and that non-violence was the only way to win the war with the British, who were like the Romans at their peak.  Fighting them would be an unsinkable battle.  Instead they tolerated beatings and killings, massacres that were reported world wide, and in the end they prevailed. The story ends with Muslims fighting Hindus, which was a grizzly end to an otherwise inspiring story.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Years Roll By Quickly At Our Age

I'm in love with a man who's in love with the world.  As Amos Lee goes on to say:
But the people on the street,
Out on buses or on feet,
We all got the same blood flow.
Oh, in society,
Every dollar got a deed,
We all need a place so we can go,
And feel over the rainbow.

But sometimes,
We forget what we got,
Who we are.
Oh who are are not.
I think we gotta chance,
To make it right.
Keep it loose,
Keep it tight.
 Today is my spouses birthday, and since his last birthday, we have had many adventures and I hope we have many more.  We traveled far and near.  We became grandparents.  We hiked across the hills of England, we drank port in Porto, and we marveled at the accomplishments of the Mughal empire in India.  It was a year of change and a year of some concerns, but we (mostly) savored it all and hope for more to come.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

This will not be nominated this year, but I watched it and really found a lot to like about it. The main character, Greg, is a talented and funny amateur filmmaker who has almost nothing in common with Earlexceptthat they develop story and staging ideas for short movies and then execute them. His life takes a dramatic turn for the better when his mother insists that he spend time with Rachel, a woman he played with when they were both children, but who he hasn’t much seen since grammar school. She has been diagnosed with a not very good kind of cancer, and Greg’s mother correctly predicts that her friends are likely to shun her as a result.  She is quite alone, and struggling with what her illness means, and Greg and Earl do manage to be a bright light in an otherwise dim landscape.  It is funny and sad at the same time, and well worth watching.