Archives for category: Books

The season finale of GIRLS happened this past week, and one highlight for me was book-spotting grumpy Ray reading I Capture the Castle. Have you read it? It might be one of my Top 10. It was written in 1948 by Dodie Smith about a poor family living in a washed-up castle, making do and having fun. Coming of age of a seventeen year old girl, journal style, eccentric father, unexpected visitors…I know that sounds predictable but truly, it is a charmer!  I recommend, as Ray did by saying, “This book is so fucking incredible. Anything by a British woman is just…fuck.” (or you could read my longer review here.)

Very apropos too, because the Summer Solstice plays a lovely role in that book and I always wish that I had some sort of tradition or rite to do on the longest day of the year. Is there anything you like to do to mark these kinds of holidays?


Frequently I wonder what my children in the future will think of my internet presence now. If my mom had a blog, I wonder, would I find it and go back through the archives, reading all of it? Would I ignore it? Would I be embarrassed by what she shared there?

So I was delighted to read this bit from Sam Lamott, whose mom Anne Lamott famously wrote an entire book about Sam’s first year of life. In the preface to their new book (about his son, Anne’s grandson), he writes how he feels when reading the last book:

To this day, that book is the greatest gift anyone has given me; I have a very special relationship with it. When I read any of my mom’s books, I hear her voice talking as if she were in the room right next to me. But when I read Operating Instructions, I hear and feel my mother’s love for me, her frustration and dedication, her innermost feelings and favorite moments of my first year with her. I will always cherish these memories of our funny family and our friends, and I will always be able to come back to them even when my mom is too old to remember them herself.

a great tribute to the possibility of blogs, right?

I literally do the same thing every day. I believe that discipline and self-love are the total secrets to freedom. I sit down at the same time every day because I don’t want it to be an issue. I’m like a teenager. If you give me a chance to negotiate around sitting down at 9 a.m. and beginning the piece, I’m going to be like a 15-year-old. I may have a reason why that doesn’t really make sense and why you’re trying to bum my trip.

My dad taught me that to be a writer is a decision and a habit. It’s not anything lofty, and it doesn’t have that much to do with inspiration. You have to develop the habit of being a certain way with yourself. You do it at the debt of honor. I’ve written 13 books now. It’s not really important that I write a lot more books, but I do it as a debt of honor. I got one of the five golden tickets to be a writer, and I take that seriously. I don’t love my own work at all, but I love my own self. I love that I’ve been given the chance to capture the stories that come through me.

-Anne Lamott, interview on

Comes out March 20th.

Aleksandra also makes grilled cheese sandwiches with Gruyere and a sprinkling of white wine (before broiling), sliced comice pears sauteed in butter and sugar, coconut sticky rice, pasta with ‘just a little butter, Parmesan and black peper,’ and before bed a mug of hot milk sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg….

In the winter, I have made hearty salads of smoked mackerel and red-skinned potatoes and accompanied them with braised leeks. I like to saute sausages and eat them with a mound of broccoli rabe, a lemon wedge and olive oil; and assemble platters of prosciutto, mortadella and duck liver pate with a tuft of parsley and caper salad. I might roast carrots and beets, and dip them into ricotta seasoned with olive oil and sea salt.

-Amanda Hesser, Cooking for Mr. Latte (currently reading)

This book is in the guise of a dizzy girl memoir, but it’s actually a beautiful pitch for savoring all the food you eat, and relishing the treats you allow yourself.

It’s true that babies sleep occasionally, and give you a chance to do something for (with?) yourself.

For me right now it’s reading this delicious and oddly modern sci-fi from 1956. (that’s pre-Sputnik, of course. Just imagine what they thought of space then.)

a section from our burgeoning bookshelves—this one is closest to the couch—that I like to admire and think of all the good times we had together.

I opened up Patti Smith’s Just Kids last week and read it nonstop until it ended and left me flipping back through to my favorite parts. It was wonderful. I recommend it to anyone who is harboring an artistic spirit, or wondering what happened to theirs, or torturously pondering what to do next. It’s about her life with Robert Mapplethorp (both pictured above) as late teens-early 20s in NYC—so poor, so unknown, and yet eager to greet their future. Their belief in their artistic ability and the worthwhileness of  becoming artists, the joy they took in their city lives, the way they styled their working habits; it all inspired me to take firmer hold of my own artistic ambitions. It’s also an amazing primer on bohemian Greenwich Village, the Factory, the Chelsea Hotel….basically New York City in the ’60s.

I really didn’t know anything about Patti Smith, aside from her name, when I picked up the book, so don’t let that stop you. This isn’t a fangirl review.

Just Kids won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction. In her weepy acceptance speech she said,

Publishers: never abandon the book….There is nothing more beautiful, in our material world, than the book.

Next up: Netflixing the documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life.

Photo by Katie Simon, 1979.

Whatever is going on over at the Paris Review, it’s working like my new Macbook air. Super slickly sexy in a way that makes me wonder if I have enough in me to keep up with it, no cords attached, with barely a mutter of effort to show that it is hard at work.

My favorite feature on the blog is the Cultural Diaries because I like to examine minutia of the cultural lives of strangers. But even the web design is snappy, not to mention how much you want to pick up and page through recent issues when you pass them in the library. And the editor-in-chief Lorin sounds shockingly cool, if not obnoxiously like how you imaged yourself at age forty.

I don’t follow him, but I do follow Thessaly La Force, their web editor, on Twitter, and would recommend her literary daily doses as well. They will make you feel like you walk to work on the streets of New York.

Drawing by William Pène du Bois from the Paris Review website footer, and their very first issue.

Rob Bell’s Love Wins is not making its way onto my reading list because I’ve read a few of his previous books and his style is not my style. But I’ve wasted enough time reading tweets about it the last couple of months that I did want to at least read a review. So how nice that the New York Times had Lauren Winner write up a little something this past Sunday. If there is one Christian writer I will article-stalk until I find everything she’s ever written, it’s Ms. Winner. I like her dependably smart, historically well read, and cheerful approach.

As for the future heaven, Bell does indeed question the teaching that only a select few will get there. He imagines a woman sitting in church crying because she realizes that “if what the pastor is saying about heaven is true, she will be separated from her mother and father, brothers and sisters . . . forever, with no chance of any reunion, ever.” Against that vision, Bell suggests “an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.”

The Athenaeum is a library we joined last year because when you live in a little apartment in a cold city and the coffee shops seem to have sold all their chairs and tables, it becomes difficult not feel absolutely stir crazy for most of the winter. So we joined the Athenaeum which is up the street from our apartment, and is one of the oldest libraries in the country with George Washington’s personal library, ancient maps of Boston, yellowed books of death tolls, etc. The real reason we go there is for the reading rooms which are full of tables by tall windows that look out over Boston and everyone is hushed and typing away.

Almost all of their books are purchased from endowed funds which means–bookplates! Every new book, no matter how insignificant it might turn out to be, is marked with a bookplate, each with its own design. Of the many choices one has to stow money in and keep their name in circulation after they’re gone–park benches, college buildings, patenting a strain of bacteria–a small fund for book purchasing with your own bookplate seems like the best idea.

How could they have planned that the book purchased–Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing–would turn out to be robin’s egg blue?

Isn’t it eerie when you see a picture from a book you read when you were younger but haven’t seen in forever? Just like getting that transporting whiff that makes you feel great and safe or terrible.

Anyone remember this one, Caps for Sale, involving a bunch of rambunctious monkeys making off with the poor salesman’s hats? I have memories of books that I do not even remember the titles of, like one involving a balloon that escapes to balloon world, a heaven-like place where all lost balloons go.  And what about this: we looked at better art on a daily basis when we were five than we do now.

Allie nicely proposed I return to these pages with an update about how David Sedaris’s new book and I got along. If you like grisly humor, heavily anthropomorphized  animals, and riffs on the absurdity of moral social structures, you’ll love it. I finished each chapter with a wrinkled nose and a faint, creeping sense of gagging. Take the story of the lamb and the crow. The crow chats the lamb up, suggests she try mediation to pass some time, and darts in for the lamb’s baby’s eyeballs while the ewe happily takes the crow’s advice. Not my type of visual.

David Sedaris has always hinted that he obsessives over the macabre – illustrated books of obscure anatomy, the fine art of taxidermy. So it’s really not a surprise that the “delightful” in his mind is more delightful grotesque than delightfully lovely. The stories also rely heavily on the idea that imagining animals doing really human things – like conniving or gossiping – is reliably funny.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a sold as a bestiary, an old word that means a collection of tales about beasts that is vaguely moralizing. They printed it to be a gift-save-it-for-the-grandchildren book (probably ironically), so the paper is heavy, it’s size-cute, full of illustrations by Ian Falconer (who illustrated the Olivia children’s series, if you’re wondering where you’ve seen that grayscale + one vivid color combo before) and the font is big. It sells for $21.99 (which is not a very ironic price, really, is it?).