The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini


In 2005, The Kite Runner, Khalid Hosseini’s debut novel, became a barn-burning success. I remember reading it for my book club, as many did. I was at the beach with one of my book club friends who had already read the novel. As I turned each page, gasping at some new atrocity, my friend smiled sadly. “It’s horrible, isn’t it? And yet so beautiful.”

kiterunnerThe Kite Runner was cited by Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai as one of two books every student should read. It was made into an Golden Globe-nominated film. And The Kite Runner is so frequently taught in schools that one can easily find study guides on line. And yet, The Kite Runner was, for the third time, included in the American Library Association’s list of books most frequently challenged. This week has been declared “Banned Books Week” by the American Library Association.


Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of
September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The Kite Runner tells the story of two young men who were born in the “golden age” of Afghanistan but come to adulthood during its turmoil.  Hosseini has said that in Hassan, one of the boys, the reader discovers in fact the history of Afghanistan in the modern age. Even if it’s a parable, that doesn’t make it any easier to read.

Like many writers, Hosseini says he would like to have The Kite Runner back to re-edit. “I’m glad I wrote them when I did because I think if I were to write my first novel now it would be a different book, and it may not be the book that everybody wants to read. But if I were given a red pen now and I went back … I’d take that thing apart.”

I think the book is a masterpiece just the way it is, even though turning the page often brings a fresh round of tears. If your book club hasn’t had the chance to read The Kite Runner yet, now — in the midst of Banned Books Week or in celebration of it — is a good time to do so.


Neither I nor my Kentucky grandmother have any experience with Afghan cuisine. So I did some research.

Qabili Palau, which consists of tender meat (usually lamb) domed under rice that’s mixed with lentils, raisins and julienned carrots. The bolani is a flatbread often stuffed with pumpkin, leeks or other vegetables. It’s comparable to the Indian paratha. The mantwo is a meat-stuffed dumplng topped with yogurt that takes its cues from Chinese and Central Asian cuisines. The aushak is more of a vegetarian ravioli. Kabobs also feature prominently.

I found this recipe on the website of Saveur. Our book club hostess made Qabili Palau but substituted beef roast for lamb shoulder.
Qabili PalauQabili-pulao-is-the-national-dish-of-Aghanistan-image-wikipedia
12 cups basmati rice
4 tbsp. canola oil
2 lb. boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1⁄2″ pieces
Kosher salt
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
12 cup raisins
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
12 tsp. ground black cardamom seeds (optional)
12 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. rose water (optional)

Put rice into a large bowl and cover with water; let soak for 20 minutes. Drain rice and reserve. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Season lamb with salt and brown, turning occasionally, 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a plate; set aside. Reduce heat to medium, add onions, and cook, stirring, until browned, 12-15 minutes. Return lamb to pot with 2 cups water; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until meat is tender, about 1 hour. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a plate; set aside. Reserve cooking liquid in pot.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add carrots, season with salt, and cook, stirring, until tender, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer carrots to a plate; set aside. Add raisins; cook until plump, 2-3 minutes. Set raisins aside.

Combine coriander, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, cardamom (if using), and cloves in a bowl. Add rice to reserved pot; stir in half the spices and 3 cups water; season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, without stirring, until liquid is just absorbed, 8-10 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle remaining spices over rice. Scatter lamb, carrots, and raisins over rice. Cover; continue to cook until rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Stir rice, lamb, carrots, and raisins together and season with salt and pepper; transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with rose water (if using).

Again, my knowledge is not only limited, it is non-existant. According to Wikipedia:

The music of Afghanistan has existed for a long time, but since the late 1970s the country has been involved in constant wars and people were less concerned about music. As such, music in Afghanistan has been suppressed and recording for outsiders is minimal[clarification needed], despite a rich musical heritage.

Located on the crossroads between many trade routes, Afghanistan’s music tradition was influenced by Arabs, Persians, Indians, Mongolians, Chinese and many others passing through. Thus Afghan music features a mix of Persian melodies, Arab scales, Indian compositional principles as well as sounds from ethnic groups such as the Pashtuns or Tajiks and the instruments used range from Indian tablas to long-necked lutes.

During the 1990s, the post-Soviet and Taliban governments banned instrumental music and much public music-making.[1] In spite of arrests and destruction of musical instruments, musicians have continued to ply their trade into the present. The multi-ethnic city of Kabul has long been the regional cultural capital, but outsiders have tended to focus on the city of Herat, which is home to traditions more closely related to Iranian music than in the rest of the country.[2] Lyrics throughout most of Afghanistan are typically in Dari (Persian) and Pashto.

I would download the score to The Kite Runner movie. You could do worse than listen to an Oscar-nominated score.



Come Sail Away: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George


Some of my favorite novels are set in Paris. And some of my favorite novels are books about readers. The Little Paris Bookshop encompasses both.

Monsieur Perdu lives a small life in Paris, mourning a love lost decades ago. He is the proprietor and prescriber extraordinaire on the Literary Apothecary, a floating book shop barge on the Seine. He fills his life at 27 Rue Montagnard by eavesdropping on his neighbor’s celebrity gossip, eating a routine set of meals, reading and refusing to think of the love who left him 21 years before. By day, he prescribes books (with the occasional refusal of sale of an inappropriate read) to those who board the Literary Apothecary. His primary companions are a couple of literary lovers.

. . . he pippisaw Kafka and Lindgren sloping toward him beneath the avenue of trees that lined the embankment. Those were the names he’d given to two stray cats that paid him daily visits on the basis of certain preferences they had developed. The gray tomcat with the white priest’s collar enjoyed sharpening his claws on Franz Kafka’s Investigations of a Dog, a fable that analyzes the human world from a dog’s perspective. On the other hand, orange-white, long-eared Lindgren liked to lie near the books about Pippi Longstocking; she was a fine-looking cat who peered out from the back of the bookshelves and scrutinized each visitor. Lindgren and Kafka would sometimes do Perdu a favor by dropping off one of the upper shelves without warning onto a third-category customer, one of the greasy-fingered type.

But Monsieur Perdu’s life is upset by two arrivals: a new boarder at Rue Montagnard and a young, successful novelist aboard the Literary Apothecary. With no plan, Perdu upsets his entire life, gives “the gangway a few powerful kicks to release it finally from the ground,” and sails forth on the Seine with no destination other than “‘Away from here!'” And it is then, as with most river trips, the big adventure begins.

I truly enjoyed this book, much in the same way I did The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store and Shadow of the Wind.  It is ultimately a book about a man who loves books and sees books themselves as a healing, medicinal force. I agree with him. In a critical review by Amanda Vaill, the Washington Post called international bestseller The Little Paris Bookshop a “novel [that] tastes like artificially flavored cardboard.”

Kirkus Reviews called it “a warmhearted, occasionally sentimental account of letting go of the old loves to make room for new.”

I thought it was lovely. Yes, it’s sentimental. But if you are taking me on a river trip aboard a novel-filled barge into Provence, a peck of sentimentality is perhaps to be expected, and appreciated. I think your book club would love The Little Paris Bookshop.



Fish Provencal
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
10 oil-cured black olives, pitted, sliced
1 teaspoon capers, mashed
4 (6-ounce) firm white fish fillets, like snapper
Sauce: Heat oil in saucepan. Add onion and garlic; saute for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, olives and capers; simmer, uncovered, over medium heat 15 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaves.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Coat broiler proof baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place fish in single layer in baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove dish from oven. Increase oven temperature to broil. Spoon sauce over fish. Broil fish 3 to 4 inches from source of heat for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.


I would intersperse some great French music with tango. On a new find (for me!), you can enter “French chanson” and have a whole night of Serge Gainsborough, Edith Piaf, and Jacques Brel.

Happy reading & eating!little paris//

Wedding Bells


On August 15, my handsome, intelligent, exciting boyfriend got down on one knee and presented me with a beautiful ring and asked me to be his wife! So now I have a fiancé! And I’m ecstatic to be planning our wedding, which has me thinking about all the fine works of literature that feature weddings. I thought I’d share a few. (Jane Austen will have to have her own blog.)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides  marriage-plot

According to the author, this was his attempt to write a modern Jane Austen novel. As such, it is a woeful failure. It’s far too jaded. But not as a work of its own. Madeleine Hanna is graduating from Brown University in the early 1980s with a degree in literature, a hangover, a best friend who’s in love with her, Mitchell, and a mentally unstable, sometime-boyfriend named Leonard.

. . .Leonard sat up. His head wasn’t crowded with thoughts. There was only one. Rolling off the bed onto his knees, Leonard took Madeleine’s hands in his much bigger hands. He’d just figured out the solution to all his problems, romantic, financial, and strategic. One brilliant move deserved another.

“Marry me,” he said.

The Marriage Plot follows Mitchell, Madeleine’s best friend, to Mother Teresa’s mission in Calcutta, as well as tracking along with Madeleine and Leonard through Leonard’s bi-polar disorder and treatment and Madeleine’s attempts to find her way as a neo-victorian. It’s a great read, but not romantic.

member of the weddingThe Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

“They are the we of me.”

Remember in high school when you read about 12-year-old orphan Frankie Addams and how she believed she was going to run away with her sister, the bride, and her new husband? How superior you felt, as a mature 16-year-old, to the foolish child? How you felt sorry for the kid but thought she just needed to grow up? Or maybe that was just me.

Read The Member of the Wedding again for the beauty of the language and Carson McCullers illuminating thoughts about identity, society and isolation.

“She was afraid of these things that made her suddenly wonder who she was, and what she was going to be in the world, and why she was standing at that minute, seeing a light, or listening, or staring up into the sky: alone.” 

seating arrangements

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

It’s a summer wedding on a New England Nantucket-ish Island, and the WASPy Van Meters have gathered to honor daughter Daphne, about 7 1/2 months pregnant, with a wedding. Despite his obvious superiority, patriarch Winn Van Meter has been shunned by the island golf club and unremittingly tries to find a way in around the circus-like atmosphere of the wedding. Add a naughty bridesmaid with a daddy fixation, an escaped lobster, a recent abortion and a troubled aunt, and you have what the New York Times called “a smart and frothy debut novel.”

It’s probably the funniest of the marriage books I’m discussing here, full of ironic humor: “This was truly advanced WASP: how to comfort a wronged wife and mother without acknowledging any misdeeds done or embarrassment caused by loved ones.” But that doesn’t lessen the intensity or passion or beauty of Shipstead’s writing.

A tiny light appeared, like a distant lighthouse, diffusing through the fog in a soft, pale sphere and then fading to something smaller, like a firefly. He had lit a cigarette. She was close enough that she could smell the tobacco and hear him take a drag. The firefly floated in a little curlicue, enticing her. Or maybe it was not a firefly but the bioluminous lure of an anglerfish, lighting the way to a set of nasty jaws. Maybe she had stumbled out of an ordinary night and into a benthic underworld. “Livia,” he sang again. “Livia, Livia.”

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwanON-CHESIL-BEACH-380x231

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.

If there is a master of the novel in this 21st Century, by my reckoning it is McEwan. He of Atonement, Saturday, Amsterdam. And On Chesil Beach. This small book examines the first twenty-four hours of a marriage and the great misunderstanding in the honeymoon bed that has the potential to alter everything thereafter. I love this book and have given it as a gift on occasion. It is a masterpiece.

How did they meet, and why were these lovers in a modern age so timid and innocent? They regarded themselves as too sophisticated to believe in destiny, but still, it remained a paradoxto them that so momentous a meeting should have been accidental, so dependent on a hundred minor events and choices. What a terrifying possibility, that it might never have happened at all. And in the first rush of love, they often wondered at how nearly their paths had crossed during their early teens, when Edward descended occasionally from the remoteness of his squalid family home in the Chiltern Hills to visit Oxford. It was titillating to believe they must have brushed past each other at one of those famous, youthful city events, at St Giles’ Fair in the first week of September, or May Morning at dawn on the first of teh month – a ridiculous and overrated ritual, they both agreed; or while renting a punt at the Cherwell Boat House – though Edward had only ever done it once; or, later in their teens, during illicit drinking at the Turl.

princess brideThe Princess Bride by William Goldman

I know! It was a book first! You’re picturing Billy Crystal: “Have fun storming the castle!” and Mandy Patinkin: “My name is Inigo Montoyo. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Maybe even the young and ethereally beautiful Robin Wright refusing Chris Sarandon’s marriage proposal yet again. (Yes, I’ve seen the movie a dozen times. Just like you.)

But William Goldman’s novel, published in 1973, was actually as important. Contemporaneous with Watergate, the OPEC oil embargo, a stock market crash, The Princess Bride offered a measure of hope. l

“I love you,’ Buttercup said. ‘I know this must come as something of a surprise to you, since all I’ve ever done is scorn you and degrade you and taunt you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second, more. I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm. Your eyes are like that, did you know? Well they are. How many minutes ago was I? Twenty? Had I brought my feelings up to then? It doesn’t matter.’ Buttercup still could not look at him. The sun was rising behind her now; she could feel the heat on her back, and it gave her courage. ‘I love you so much more now than twenty minutes ago that there cannot be comparison. I love you so much more now then when you opened your hovel door, there cannot be comparison. There is no room in my body for anything but you. My arms love you, my ears adore you, my knees shake with blind affection. My mind begs you to ask it something so it can obey. Do you want me to follow you for the rest of your days? I will do that. Do you want me to crawl? I will crawl. I will be quiet for you or sing for you, or if you are hungry, let me bring you food, or if you have thirst and nothing will quench it but Arabian wine, I will go to Araby, even though it is across the world, and bring a bottle back for your lunch. Anything there is that I can do for you, I will do for you; anything there is that I cannot do, I will learn to do. I know I cannot compete with the Countess in skills or wisdom or appeal, and I saw the way she looked at you. And I saw the way you looked at her. But remember, please, that she is old and has other interests, while I am seventeen and for me there is only you. Dearest Westley–I’ve never called you that before, have I?–Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley,–darling Westley, adored Westley, sweet perfect Westley, whisper that I have a chance to win your love.’ And with that, she dared the bravest thing she’d ever done; she looked right into his eyes.
So there you have it. Some of my favorite novels contemplating marriage. Now, I still need a photographer . . .
Happy Reading!

The Martian, by Andy Weir

the martian book

There’s life on Mars. But not the little green man or the Warner Brothers kind. This guy’s name is Mark Watney and NASA sent Marvin_the_Martianhim as part of a five-person mission, partly because he’s a botanist, partly because he’s a mechanical engineer and partly because he can weather intense situations with humor and cool decisiveness … and MATH. Reading Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, actually made me slightly regret that I didn’t understand the mathematical calculations and scientific wizardry that hero Watney utilized to stay alive after he was left for dead on the Red Planet.

This is a FANTASTIC book. And I have to give a huge shoutout to narrator R.C. Bray who mastered Watney’s humor, NASA’s stress, and every single accent (German, Indian, Chinese, Brooklyn) with skill.

I finished listening to it today and was literally on the edge of my seat during the last twenty minutes.  The book was originally self-published, and then purchased by Random House and re-published on February 11, 2014 and I suppose the movie rights were already sold because Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and a full Milky Way or Hollywood stars have already made a film that will be released on October 2, 2015. Here’s a link to the trailer: It looks good, Mr. Damon. Looks good. And I have to say I’m glad your old buddy from Southie is nowhere to be found in the cast list.

Since I listened instead of read the novel, I can’t tell you how great the prose was or how majmath-namesestic the imagery. Frankly, I doubt that’s what Weir was going for. I can tell you the math was astounding and the plot left me anxious to return to my drive so I could find out how Watney was going to survive the: explosion, deflated habitat, sub-arctic cold, lack of food,
rover crash, sandstorm, explosion, build-up of CO2, loss of communication with earth, explosion . . . you get the idea. Lots of math. AND it’s fascinating. Don’t ask me how because other than one year on the Math Bowl team (which surprised no one more than me), I have no capacity for the subject.

Not only does he use math, he uses botany to transform 12 potatoes, sent by NASA so the original six astronauts of Watney’s mission could have a “real Thanksgiving meal,” into several thousand. He uses chemistry to turn his own urine into rocket fuel. He uses astronomy in the form of a 16th Century Sextant and observations of the Martian moon to establish longitude and latitude. This guy is a walking encyclopedia of stuff I did not learn in school. AND I LOVED IT.

The novel, now transformed into a movie starring none other than Matt Damon, began as a free, serialized story on computer programmer Weir’s own website. He could find neither a literary agent nor a publisher willing to invest in the novel. Not only that, but the Washington Post is giving Weir credit for saving none other than NASA itself.


READ this book. And be prepared to spend a couple of days reading. Or listen to it. I’m very glad I did.

MENUspace food

We grew up eating “space food”sticks. Remember those? Sort of pre-Power Bar power bars. I found that you can still find these sticks in space museums. If that’s not practical, you can also order Astronaut Ice Cream from amazon. Both of these would be fabulously fun food to serve.

In the same vein, you could serve dehydrated apples or other fruit.

One item you will definitely want to serve is potatoes. Lots and lots of potatoes. Do a little Forrest Gump thing. Fry ’em, boil ’em, bake ’em, bake ’em twice, hash brown ’em, etc.


Rocket Man, Elton John

All by Myself, Eric Carmen

Staying Alive, The BeeGees

Space Oddity, David Bowie

Space Cowboy, Steve Miller Band

ABBA: The Album (Released 1975)


The movie has already been cast and though I’d quibble with one or two choices (Kate Mara I’m looking at you — does she look like a Johansson?), overall I like it.

Kate Mara Kate Mara
Beth Johanssen
Kristen Wiig Kristen Wiig
Annie Montrose
Jessica Chastain Jessica Chastain
Matt Damon Matt Damon
Sebastian Stan Sebastian Stan
Chris Beck
Sean Bean Sean Bean
Mitch Henderson
Chiwetel Ejiofor Chiwetel Ejiofor
Mackenzie Davis Mackenzie Davis
Jeff Daniels Jeff Daniels
Teddy Sanders
Michael Peña Michael Peña
Rick Martinez
Donald Glover Donald Glover
Aksel Hennie Aksel Hennie
Alex Vogel
Naomi Scott Naomi Scott
Sam Spruell Sam Spruell
NASA psychologist
Jonathan Aris Jonathan Aris
Brendan Hatch