Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mmmmm, cupcakes

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I'm a lover of cookbooks. In a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living, there was a plethora of cupcake recipes and decoration techniques, which inspired visions of me becoming an expert cupcake maker. So I've been eagerly awaiting Martha's latest cookbook on cupcakes. Because I'm supposed to be eating healthier these days, my husband was confused as to why I was buying a cookbook of cupcakes. But that's how much I love cookbooks. Even if I don't make the recipes, I like reading them, looking at the pictures, and imagining myself making them.Yes, I realize this is weird. I'm ok with it. Luckily (for me, not my coworkers) we had a staff lunch here at the Library yesterday, so I had an opportunity to try out a couple of the recipes on my coworkers. I made the peanut butter chocolate cupcakes (which was not supposed to have a frosting) and the devil's food cupcakes (which was supposed to have a ganache frosting). Um, Martha? A bit of a let down. First, the peanut butter chocolate cupcakes were quite dry. The devil's food cupcakes were good, but the ganache frosting was blech. And I didn't realize how long it would take to melt, and then cool, the frosting, so I didn't finish the frosting in time to ice the cupcakes I took to work. So, while good, no one wants to eat cupcakes with no icing. But the cupcake batter? Seriously delicious. I'd rather just eat it that way. You could sell that stuff in jars. Although I can hear my mother now: "You can't eat that! It has raw eggs in it!" Psshh. I've been licking bowls for years and never had a problem. I'm anxious to try some of the decorating techniques in this book though. That ought to be good for a few laughs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jennifer Weiner, what is UP?

I just finished Jennifer Weiner's latest, Best Friends Forever, and I'm just confused. As I began reading it, I found myself quickly sucked into the story. Addie and Val meet at the age of 9 and instantly become best friends. But something happens during their senior year of high school and the two haven't spoken in years. On the night of their class reunion, Val shows up on Addie's doorstep asking for help. The story alternates between Addie and Val's backstory and the present-day predicament. As I was reading it, I was thinking this may very well be Weiner's best book yet. The backstory is touching and captivating. Addie is a great character. The overall tone is fairly serious, but Weiner lightens it up every now and then with her usual wit. I was a little worried about this novel. Her last two novels, while good, were not great. Not like her earlier novels. But this one was very satisfying. Until I got to the end. I won't give it away, but let's just say that it seemed like she just recycled the plot from Good in Bed. Totally unoriginal and very disappointing. I'm just so befuddled. Please don't let this stop you from reading it. It really was a wonderful read, up until the end. I'm all for a nice, happy ending, but it feels like she was just in a hurry to wrap it up and couldn't come up with anything new. What was up with that? Does anyone else feel that way?

Friday, July 24, 2009

E. Lynn Harris, 1955-2009

E. Lynn Harris, the best-selling author of novels that addressed the subject of gay black culture, died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 54. Harris was the author of ten novels (most recently, Basketball Jones) and a memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.

Painted Cats??

If you think dog lovers are a little nuts, cat lovers can be worse. I give you Why Paint Cats: The Ethics of Feline Aesthetics by Burton Silver and Heather Busch. This tiny little book is a collection of pictures of painted cats. Yes. Painted cats. I once received one of those email forwards that included a picture of a cat with a picture of a man painted around his butt, which I figured had been photoshopped. Nope. People actually pay money to have this done to their cats. Big money. Like, thousands. I did learn that people have been painting cats in India, Japan and Botswana for centuries. But painting cats is a relatively new practice in the west. Some of the designs are quite cool (the "tattooed" cat) and beautiful, but some are just absurd. And it's not even permanent! Imagine spending $5000 for something that will only last a few months! As for the ethics of painting cats, the book doesn't do a great job of answering that question. I would like to see a book called How to Paint Cats, because really, how does one paint a cat? That kind of elaborate work seems like it would take hours, and I know my cat would never sit still that long. At least not without sedation. The book doesn't really go into detail as to the methods. One artist commented that he likes to do his painting when the cat is either asleep or hypnotized. Cats can be hypnotized? How can I learn to do that? And exactly what is used for the paints? Apparently the paints are vegetable-based and safe for the animals, but where does one buy these? I also saw the phrase "prepainting petting" a few times, which I assume means that the painter has to get the cat used to the brush first by petting it with a dry brush before the painting even starts. I know exactly what my cat would do if I tried to pet her with a paint brush. Attack it. Bite me. Run away and hide.

For your enjoyment: painted cats...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One Nation Under Dog

For those that know me, you know that I am a huge dog person. I don't have kids, at least not human ones, but I do have a dog and a cat, and they are like my children. Like mothers of human children, I can talk about my dog endlessly. I spoil her, feel guilty when I have to leave her, and spend whatever it takes to make sure she is happy and healthy. No, I am not nuts. And I am not alone. The pet industry is a $43 billion a year industry. Michael Schafffer takes a look at this phenomenon in his book One Nation Under Dog: Adventures in the New World of Prozac-Popping Puppies, Dog-Park Politics, and Organic Pet Foods.

Pet ownership is way up, as is spending on those pets. One theory is that our social networks are more fragmented than they used to be-more single, divorced, and childless people, fewer people live close to their families, and there is less community involvement. People are using pets to fill those gaps in their lives. Couple this with an increase in people's discretionary income and we have a lot of people who are willing to spend top dollar on their furry family members. Schaffer examines all aspects of the pet industry, from the toys, to the dog spas, hotels, walkers and chauffeurs, to the improvements in pet care and foods. It's a very interesting book that examines how the changes in our lifestyles have elevated the lifestyles of our dogs. And it provides proof that there are people who are crazier than me when it comes to their dogs. (See Chapter 2 about the doggie showers and Christmas parties.)

Cat lovers, do not despair. Tomorrow we have painted cats!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All the latest...

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance recently announced the SIBA Awards. Ron Rash won the fiction award for his novel Serena. Rick Bragg won the nonfiction award for The Prince of Frogtown. Martha Hall Foose won for best cookbook with Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales From a Southern Cook.

I am disappointed to report that the publication of Julie Powell's new book Cleaving, which was supposed to be released in August along with the movie Julie and Julia, has been pushed back to December.

James Patterson achieves new levels of selling out with his latest novel Swimsuit. The model on the cover is shown wearing a Perry Ellis swimsuit from this summer's collection. So Patterson and Macy's teamed up for an event in which Patterson signed copies of the novel for the first 300 people who bought $100 worth of Perry Ellis swimwear.

In books to movie news....Renee Zellweger has signed on to do a third Bridget Jones movie! Yay! The movie will be based on weekly columns Fielding wrote in 2005 for the Independent in which Bridget is in her 40s and trying to have a baby. All I want to know is whether Colin Firth will be reprising his role as Mark Darcy. John Krasinski (aka "Jim" from The Office) is directing his first movie, an adaptation of David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which will be released in September. HBO is adapting Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex for a series.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt

I cannot begin to tell you how sad I was to hear that Frank McCourt died yesterday, July 19th at the age of 78 from metastatic melanoma. Check out the article at the NY Times. McCourt was one of my favorite memoirists. I absolutely loved his stories of his childhood in Ireland, coming to America and then teaching in the New York schools. The audiobook versions are among my all time favorite audiobooks because McCourt narrated them himself. I met Frank McCourt at a book signing at the end of 2007. He was very entertaining and humorous. He said at the time that he was working on a novel, having tired of writing about himself. I have not heard whether he finished the work, but I hope so.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Goodbye Brothers Karamazov, I will not miss you.

One of my reading resolutions this year was to read more classic works of fiction. One of my co-workers suggested tackling it together, so a small group of staff members at my library decided to give it a try. Our first book was The Brothers Karamazov. We read the book in parts, meeting monthly over a period of four months to discuss. Today was our final meeting for the Brothers. I don't think I've ever been so thrilled to be finished with a book. This was such a struggle to get through. At its core, the novel raises some interesting issues, but the story gets bogged down with all this other stuff. And all the overly dramatic suffering: the crying, the weeping, the wailing, the moaning, the groaning, the pining, the hair-pulling, the teeth-gnashing, the fainting. Ugh. Enough already! Snap out of it! I just could not take any more of these absurd characters. But what I really wanted to get from this book was an understanding of what makes this book a "classic." Why is it one of those must-read-before-you-die novels? I still don't think I have the answer to that question. Nonetheless, I have read it and now I will place it on my bookshelf so I can smugly inform guests that yes, I have read The Brothers Karamazov.

Next up: East of Eden. Steinbeck should prove much more accessible than Dostoyevsky.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

84, Charing Cross Road

Not long ago Citizen Reader blogged about her joy of finding 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff and instructed her readers to "GO READ THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY." Ok, so I didn't read it immediately, but this book has been on my list for a while, and since CR spoke so highly of it (and I usually agree with her picks), I decided to move it up on the priority list. And once again, she's right. What a lovely way to spend a morning. The book is a compilation of letters passed between Helene Hanff in New York City and a used bookstore in London over the course of twenty years. Helene is quite a character, and the relationship between her and the employees of this bookstore (one in particular) is quite humorous and even touching. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is definitely reminiscent of 84, Charing Cross Road, so if you enjoyed Guernsey, you should not overlook this one. I also see there is a movie version, starring Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench, so you know what I'll be doing this weekend.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Covers can be deceiving

Sometimes I judge a book by its cover. When I pick up a book with a cover that has shoes, clothes, diamonds, or "girly" colors, I'm expecting chick lit. To me, chick lit is a light-hearted, rom-com that may have a bit of conflict, but everything turns out all right in the end. The characters tend to be in their 20s and single, but there are beginning to be more featuring married women in their 30s. A few months ago I blogged about Candace Bushnell's latest novel One Fifth Avenue. From the cover, it looked to be chick lit, but it certainly wasn't. The same thing happened to me recently when I picked up Hedge Fund Wives by Tatiana Boncompagni. The cover shows a diamond in a Tiffany box (diamonds + pastel colors = chick lit). So, I figured fun chick lit with wealthy young married women. There was nothing fun about this book. The characters all seemed miserable, and just like with Bushnell's book, I have a hard time empathising with millionaires. Or in this case, billionaires. But at least I might find out what a hedge fund is, right? Alas, no. The author spent way too much time trying to explain hedge funds and hedge fund managers, and I still don't get it. The difference between this non-chick lit book and Candace Bushnell's non-chick lit book, is that I had no problem putting this book down.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What are you really reading?

If you come over to my house, you will see on my coffee table The Brothers Karamazov, East of Eden, and several issues of National Geographic and Smithsonian. What you won't see are Hedge Fund Wives, Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs, Pretty in Plaid, and numerous issues of Health and Real Simple magazines, which are hidden under the coffee table. These are the books and magazines that I'm actually reading, but what I put on the coffee table is what I want you to think I'm reading. Now, I am reading (slowly but surely) the things on the top of my coffee table, but certainly not with the voracity with which I read the others. Do you do this?

PK in the Terrarium recently blogged about what he tells people he is reading versus what he is actually reading. Check it out. It's pretty funny. I love that he includes Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I'm working on that one too. It's not an easy one, but I like telling people I'm reading it. It makes me feel smart. I'm intrigued by Grow Your Own Pharmacy by Linda Gray, which makes his "what I'm actually reading" list. I'll have to check this one out. Here's my list....

What I tell people I'm reading...
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Kitchen Literacy:How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get It Back by Ann Vileisis
National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines

What I'm actually reading...
Health, Body & Soul, and Real Simple magazines
Harry Potter
Pretty in Plaid: a Life, a Witch, and a Wardrobe, or, the Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Ego-maniacal, Self-Centered, Smart-Ass Phase by Jen Lancaster
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
the JC Penny fall catalog (hey, it came in the mail and I'm easily taken in by shiny pictures)

What are on your lists?