Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just Finished: The Moviegoer

"Yet it was here in the Tivoli (theatre) that I first discovered place and time, tasted it like okra."

(Warning, I spoil the ending below...I couldn't help it.)

Listed as one of the Times 100 Best Novels [since 1923], The Moviegoer by Walker Percy is southern literature itself. Set in New Orleans after the Korean War, Binx Bolling is aimless and adrift despite his good standing as a successful young stock broker from a good family. Nearing his 30th birthday, Binx is on an existential journey he calls "the search" which constantly eludes him as he goes from happiness to malaise and back again. His frequent moviegoing and his list of secretaries temporarily suspends this malaise, but ultimately they get worn out by him and he by them. His familial relationships are complicated. Both his aunt and his mother prefer to view him as a latent genius made for a career in research but do not actually dig deeper. The one person he seems able to help is his aunt's stepdaughter Kate who veers between sanity and insanity and, he finds, is perhaps the only person who, by saving, he can save him.

The Moviegoer is very much a product of it's time and the voice, the descriptions, the behavior of the characters reminded me of movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's and Rear Window though more serious. Binx's journey is very much a selfish quest and a spiritual one--the search for something that will fulfill the longing he can only momentarily assuage with making money and sleeping with his secretaries. In the end, he sacrifices the search to help the person who most needs him, which, it could be argued is indeed the fulfillment of the search. This is a thought provoking story with elements of redemption that I think will continue to resonate in my mind. Plus, I love the diction and feel of books and movies from this time period--slow, desperate, and sometimes convoluted like listening to people from another English speaking country talk to each other in their own non-American way.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Just Finished: How to Breathe Underwater

Well...just finished a few weeks ago. I have to be honest, the cover was better than the book. I think of that cover often, not only because it's sitting in plain sight, but because the picture is so beautiful. I'm not the biggest fan of short stories in general because I always want more than the 15 pages allotted, but this book was well reviewed so I took a chance.

How to Breathe Underwater
is Julie Orringer's first collection of short stories. Each is somehow related to adolescence and growing up yet thankfully it's not first kiss, awkward prom date kind of stories. In fact, they aren't really coming of age stories at all, and each is vastly different from the other in subject and locale. The stories are at once ordinary and mundane events yet hold your attention because the people are so real that you could walk past them on the street.

The opening story was perhaps the most striking and is the hardest to describe. A New Orleans family attends Thanksgiving at the home of a new age follower who has been treating the mother of the family who is sick with cancer. The children of the family are thrust into a foreign world of tofurkey and meditation. As they play in the backyard with the other children, they encounter desperation and darkness that culminates in an unexpected ending. In another story, a plump, somewhat self-conscious study abroad student plays host to her cousin, a tall model with whom she has always been at odds and has a glimpse of what lies beneath the surface. Still another story is a witty letter written by an adult woman to her teenage self. All the stories are very human, if not all very original. They are not so much compelling as relatable and are reminiscent of the hardships and tragedies that we have all faced at one time or another. Considering the subject matter, Orringer could have written these stories for teenagers, however her subtle prose puts an adult voice to these stories of youth, rebellion, and self-discovery. Not a must read, but an interesting one.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Music for Autumn

I love autumn. I can't say enough about it except that we don't get enough of it here; however, I'm thankful that the cool evenings have come earlier this year than usual. Cardigans, jackets, jeans, blankets, tea, breezes, large leaves from plane trees falling everywhere, pumpkins, birthdays for some of my favorite people, the laziness of summer without the heat, curly hair not diffused by humidity. There is so much I could say about this most glorious of seasons. Today though, I've come up with a few songs I listen to as compliments to the shortening days...

  1. This Side [Nickel Creek]
  2. Manner and Means [Caedmon's Call]
  3. Let it Fall [Sean Watkins]--one of the most autumnal songs I know (Fall in the title does not refer to the season)
  4. More Love [Dixie Chicks]
  5. Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight [Amos Lee]--especially good for walking around the city
  6. These Days [Denison Witmer version although the Jackson Browne original is just as good]
  7. Ready [Meg Hutchinson]
  8. Comes a Time [Mutual Admiration Society]
  9. Gold [Interference, from Once soundtrack]--Listen to on repeat.
  10. Something Pretty [Patrick Park]--Listen to on repeat.
  11. Fields of Gold [Sting]
  12. Doctor My Eyes [Jackson Browne]--Never been able to get enough of this song.
  13. Drops in the River [Fleet Foxes]--All of Fleet Foxes for those of you who skipped the previous post.
  14. Don't Go Away [Oasis]
  15. Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes [From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack]
  16. Bobby [From Love Song for Bobby Long]

These are in no particular order, just great great songs I love to listen to all year and remind myself of autumn.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fleet Foxes

Just in time for autumn, I discovered Fleet Foxes. Have you listened to them? They simultaneously sound like the concentrated light of lazy fall afternoons and a last day on the beach when the air turns chilly. I have recently come to think the world of music reviewers for their amazingly precise descriptions of music and for Fleet Foxes, retro baroque pop is perfectly fitting. I've been listening to them for a month nearly everyday without tiring of them. Unlike a lot of music for me these days, I love almost their whole album + ep. The songs are cohesive enough without being exactly the same and the storytelling in them is gorgeous, poetic, slightly melancholy, and even occasionally romantic but never depressing. These guys harmonize like they grew up in an Ivy league a capella group (in a good way). For you China folks, they're free on Google.

Favorite songs:
  • Drops in the River: "Days are just drops in the river to be lost always." Minutes 2:15 & 3:15 get me every time.
  • Mykonos: "You will go to Mykonos with/with the vision of a gentle coast/and a sun to maybe dissipate/shadows of the mess you made"
  • Blue Ridge Mountains: "Let's drive to the countryside, leave behind some green-eyed look alikes/So no one gets worried, no."
  • English House
  • Ragged Wood: "Lie to me if you will at the top of Beringer Hill/Tell me anything you want, any old lie will do."
Side note: A few months ago I heard someone admit that they were a little ashamed that they liked Fleetwood Mac. Why would anyone be ashamed of that? Stevie Nicks has one of the most distinct voices in rock and their music is good. Landslide, Rhiannon, Dreams. Good songs.

Fleets forever!

Monday, October 12, 2009

We Jump. It's What We Do.

We climbed the Lupu Bridge (it's one of the many bridges that connects the east and west parts o the city) a few days ago and since we had some nice wind and a fancy camera just made for it, we took 5.3 million jumping pictures. They're my favorite. Well...they were...see video.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pics from the City

Here are a few more of the pics I've been taking. All on my city excursions. I don't know if you know this, but it's very difficult to get a lot of very good photographs.  This one to the left is my favorite of late. I just get entranced by it. The little colorful bulbs in the  background are tiny pomegranates. Who knew that pomegranates could be tiny and ripe? I had the urge to pick one and hold it in the palm of my hands and maybe even give it a little peck.

I don't know what I think about graffiti, but I like how this picture came out.

This building is much more Gotham-y at night.

At an intersection downtown. I took this while I was stopped at a red light. Thankfully there are no trees to fall on this [beautiful] mess.

What were "they" thinking when "they" piped 97 electrical wires into this window? Did anyone stop and say, "Hey guys, do you think this is the best long term solution?"

I have no idea what this says. It's not impossible that it is a Chinese saying or a request for more chalk.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

New word: Argot, no relation to ergot

Good word of the day from my page-a-day new words.

\'är-gt\ n : an often more or less secret vocabulary and idiom peculiar to a particular group.
 my definition: fancy word for insider joke.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Healthy, Hearty Pumpkin Muffins

[Adapted from Whole Living.com]

It's not quite cool enough here yet for pumpkin, but who cares. I had some fresh pumpkin  so I boiled it for a while and pureed it a la potato masher (if you're in China, make sure to use the pumpkins that are orange on the outside, green ones aren't as sweet). Finding a healthy pumpkin recipe proved more challenging than I realized. Even this one from Wholeliving.com was supposedly healthy but with 3/4 cup veggie oil and 3 eggs, not quite, so I made major adaptions and came up with a roommate approved recipe! (Note: I also made my own applesauce and sweetened it a bit with brown sugar so I reduced the sugar in the recipe.)

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tablespoon (or more) pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 egg whites, beaten
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsn flaxseed
2 Tbsn water
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries, optional
1/3 cup pecans, optional

How to:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Prep 12 large muffin tins with paper or a little oil. (I used silicone muffin cups and the muffins didn't stick at all.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. In a large bowl combine wet ingredients. Once combined add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add dried fruit and nuts, if adding.
  4. Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling about 3/4 of the way. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, 40 minutes to 50 minutes (It was very humid when I made these and I was using a Chinese oven so be careful that they cook in the middle. Don't put them too close to the top burner and let them cook longer if they seem to need it. Cool in pan for a few minutes and allow to finish cooling on a wire rack.
Serve warm with butter, cinnamon and sugar, or green rhubarb jam, if you're so lucky to possess some.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ideal Jobs

[Change of font today. Tired of Arial.]

Sometimes I think of jobs that would be really fun to do but which don't actually exist. Part of the reason these pretend jobs sound so appealing is that they also sound blissfully non-time consuming or time consuming in blissful ways.

1. Naming books. I realize that lots of authors probably name their own novels. I also know that plenty of novels get renamed. What if I could get a gig as book title editor. No grammar skills required. I would have to read the book, of course, which would be a plus as long as I worked in the fiction/creative nonfiction division. If the Powers That Be (also known as "They") didn't consider this enough work, I could spend the remainder of my day approving and vetoing book cover designs.

2. Professional book reader. Don't mistake this for job #1 because it's not the same at all. In this profession, I would be one of those people with a mysterious talent for enjoying books that are always popular. [I hardly ever read best sellers, so they'd have to be literary hits.] Once my talent is discovered, books will come in the mail by the hundreds with checks enclosed in their pages and all I will have to do is give the books a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Since I'm not very good at actually reviewing books, I will just give my yay or nay and send them along to the New York Times for review. This job will be kind of secret like the people who decide what colors we're all going to wear 10 years before they hit the runway.

3. Child naming vetoer. When more than one person in America had named their child ESPN, something has to be done. Calling child services might be the first step, but close behind is a CNV who inspects the names of all children either before or shortly following birth. Any initials that spell a curse word (no example needed), names that sound like other things (Matt Trest) and awful get your child beaten up on the playground names will be done away with (Iowna Hanky). Sure it sounds like this is taking away a parent's freedom to name their own child, but really it gives that child so much more freedom in the future. No more Josie Grossy, my friends.

4. Model beautiful jewelry by Shannon Guo from lips to clavicle.