To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

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Hush little baby, don’t say a word,

Mama’s gonna buy you a Mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird don’t sing

Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring

  To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s 1960 coming-of-age novel won the Pulitzer Prize, made the names Boo Radley, Scout and Atticus Finch cultural touchstones and arguably, at least in the case of Atticus Finch, archetypes, and may well have helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

    The story is a familiar one, not only in terms of this book, but to childhood itself.  There’s a new kid in town who challenges the norms.  Figuring an offensive burst is better than defending himself for his exotic background and petite frame, Dill taunts Scout and her brother Jem into confronting the stranger who lives in the spooky house within their midst:  Boo Radley.

   All the while, Jem and Scout’s widowed father Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer in the town of Macomb, Alabama, is fighting the struggle of his life, in court and out, in defending a black man, Tom Robinson, from the unfounded accusations of Mayella Ewell and her father Bob Ewell.  The book, and the film adaptation, are so full of iconic moments that one simply needs to see an image or read a brief quote and be reminded of the fullness of feeling contained throughout this beautiful novel.

.   Atticus and Tom   mocking book     to_kill_a_mockingbird_photo

  On the eve of the novel’s fiftieth anniversary, American media outlets celebrated the novel in the way only American media outlets would:  by unleashing venom upon the book, Harper Lee and the novel’s fans.  The Wall Street Journal said, “It’s time to stop pretending that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature.”  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703561604575283354059763326.  The New Yorker published Malcolm Gladwell’s interestingly harsh criticism of To Kill A Mockingbird on the eve of the novel’s 50th anniversary.  Gladwell’s hypothesis is that Atticus should have been a stronger defender of civil rights and lacked moral fiber.  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/08/10/the-courthouse-ring.

It just seems to me that to judge Atticus Finch by 2009 standards is unfair.  Atticus was a man of his time and place, as Harper Lee makes very clear.  “He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him and because of Simon Finch’s industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in town.”  He treats everyone with respect; including some people the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal writers deem unworthy.  And everyone, almost everyone, in the town respects him.

A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson.  The foreman handed a piece of peer to Mr. Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge. . . .

I shut my eyes.  Judge Taylor was polling the jury:  “Guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . ”  I peeked at Jem:  his hands were white from gipping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stage between them.

. . .

Atticus took his coat off the back of his chair and pulled it over his shoulder.  Then he left the courtroom, but not by his usual exit.  He must have wanted to go home the short way, because he walked quickly down the middle aisle toward the south exit.  I followed the top of his head as he made his way to the door.  He did not look up.

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.

“Miss Jean Louise?”

I looked around.  They were all standing.  All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet.  Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father’s passin’.”

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MENU

The book is plumb full of great food, from Calpurnia’s summertime daily does of lemonade, to the many angel food cakes, to the Halloween pageant costumes of Maycomb County agricultural products including ham, beef, butter beans and peanuts.

My book club menu for To Kill A Mockingbird would include:

County ham and biscuits

Butterbeans (baby lima beans) with butter, salt and pepper

Roasted new potatoes (400 degree oven, salt & pepper and olive oil til crispy)

My grandmother’s angel food cake

1 1/4 up soften cake flour

1/2 cup sugar

12 egg whites at room temperature

1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/3 cup sugar

Measure sifted four, add 1/2 cup sugar and sift four times.  Combine egg whites, cram of tartar, salt and flavorings in large bowl.  Beat at high sped until soft peaks form.  Sprinkle in rest of sugar in 4 additions beating until blended after each addition.  Sift in flour mixture in four additions, folding in with large spoon, turn bowl often.  Pour into ungreased 10 inch tube pan and bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes.  Cook cake upside down in pan on cake rack.

And of course, Tequila Mockingbirds

  • 1 Jalapeño pepper slice
  • 2 oz Patrón Silver Tequila
  • 1.5 oz Watermelon-Basil Purée*
  • .75 oz Fresh lime juice
  • .75 oz Agave syrup (one part agave nectar, one part water)

In a shaker, muddle the jalapeño slice. Add the remaining ingredients and fill with ice. Shake for 10 seconds and double strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.

*Watermelon-Basil Purée

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups Chopped fresh watermelon
  • 7 Basil leaves

PREPARATION:
Purée both ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.

 MUSIC

Must start with James Taylor and Carly Simon’s Mockingbird!  This video is too much fun, to see Sweet Baby James and Carly dancing the shag mid-song.  http://youtu.be/4WM_R-6AKHE

Rocking Robin, Jackson Five

Blackbird, the Beatles

Freebird (if you can stand it)

Little Bird, Annie Lennox

MOVIE CASTING

There’s no need to remake To Kill a Mockingbird, but if Hollywood should ever decide it wants to, I can only hope George Clooney will be cast as Atticus Finch.

 

Happy Reading & Eating!

 

 

Mockingbird illustration by Jon Janoski, credit Encyclopedia Britannica

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The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman (Or Why You Really Do Not Want to Know What a Man is Thinking)

american male

We meet Nate on the streets of New York rushing to a dinner party hosted by his ex-girlfriend Elisa.  On the way, he runs into Juliet, a woman he dated three times; until she got pregnant and then he “thoughtfully” paid for her abortion, spent the day with her, got her ice cream and a prescription and then dumped her.  Nate very nearly cannot believe that Juliet fails to recognize how thoughtful he was.

 Nevertheless, he had done everything that could have been

expected of him. Even though he had less money than she did, he

paid for the abortion. He went with her to the clinic and waited

while it was being performed, sitting on a stain- resistant, dormitory

lounge– style couch with a rotating cast of teenage girls who

typed frenetically on their cell phones’ tiny keyboards. When it

 was over, he took her home in a taxi. They spent a pleasant,

strangely companionable day together, at her place, watching

movies and drinking wine. He left the apartment only to pick up

her prescription and bring her a few groceries. When, fi nally,

around nine, he got up to go home, she followed him to the door.

  Why would Juliet not be overjoyed to see him?  Once at Elisa’s, despite her frenetic propensity to rehash their relationship on each occasion they interact, Nate meets his next girlfriend, the seemingly sensible Hannah Leary.  By the time Hannah has decided to accept the third date from Nate, I was screaming at her to run.  Run far and fast away.

   Adelle Waldman, a woman incidentally, says she wanted Nate to “represent the creative man-child as accurately as possible: as someone who is at moments surprisingly sensitive and yet seems to wreak emotional havoc on the women he dates — women who mistook the moments of sensitivity to indicate that he was a different, and more reliable, type of male person.”  I’m not sure how Adelle Waldman has found her way through the outer, socialized shell of the male brain, or really if she accurately has.  I hope some of my male friends will read this book and let me know.  But if she has accurately depicted the limbic reactions of the average, American male, it’s semi-horrifying.  And goes a long way toward explaining the divorce rate and declining marriage rate.

bride and groom

  According to Ms. Waldman, though, men do relate to Nate. Some even to the point of asking her how she managed to “nail” them in her descriptions.  http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/11/letters-from-the-creative-man-child.html.  Which is not only distressing to women but damning to men.  At least to men like Nate.  Men like Nate who are serial daters; justifying to themselves their rejection of the current woman in favor of the next based on “I never promised more,” and “I told her from the get-go that I wasn’t looking for anything serious,” or “I know I’m being withdrawn and hostile but if she asks me if I’m mad at her one more time, I am leaving.”

  My good friend Heather Dugan has written a book called Date Like a Grownup, the goal of which is for “readers to develop a personalized strategy for building a life foundation that facilitates growing a ‘right fit’ relationship.”   It helps identify the Nates of the world.  http://www.heatherdugan.com/2014/02/16/date-like-a-grownup-anecdotes.  Maybe the subtitle of Heather’s book can be avoiding Nate.

  And there’s another hopeful piece of news today.  Everyone’s favorite ladies’ man and my personal Future Husband George, is reportedly taking the leap of getting engaged to his humanitarian lawyer girlfriend.  And if George can grow up, then pretty much anyone can.  Right?

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Menu (from the disastrous congratulatory dinner Hannah cooks for Nate)

Linguine with clam sauce

    Two cans of clams

    1 bottle of clam juice

    1 lemon

    Garlic to taste

    1/2 Vidalia onion

    1/2 cup White wine

    Saute onion, garlic in olive oil.  When onion is soft, add white wine and 2 tbsp of the clam juice.  Reduce.  Add the clams and if desired, additional clam juice.  Serve over hot linguine pasta.

Escarole Salad

1 head of escarole, torn and tossed with vinaigrette.  Top with toasted almonds.  I make vinaigrette by mixing fresh herbs with one teaspoon of mustard, adding about 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar and then drizzling in olive oil until I get the consistency I want.

Music

  I don’t know.  This books makes me want to go all Man Eater, Hall and Oates, and Maniac, Michael Sembello.  So let’s do it.

Man Eater, Hall & Oates

Maniac, Michael Sembello

This One’s for the Girls, Martina McBride

Stronger, Kelly Clarkson

Simply the Best, Tina Turner

Anything by Melissa Etheridge

Making Art, Waging War: The Stockholm Octavo

theseeker

Emil Larsson has a problem. He needs a wife or he will lose his job as a sekretaire in 18th Century Stockholm; a job that has brought him a good income, legitimate and illegitimately taking bribes from the ships he inspects at night in the harbor of “The Town,” Gamla Stan.  To help him find an answer to this most pressing romantic problem, despite the upheaval of revolution in France that is spreading its message toward Sweden, he turns to his friend Mrs. Sparrow and her unique brand of fortune-telling:  The Octavo.

“I have come to believe that we are ruled by numbers, Mr. Larsson.  I believe that God is no father, but an infinite cipher and that is best expressed in the eight.  Eight is the ancient symbol of eternity.  Resting it is the sign that mathematicians call the lemniscate.  Raised upright it is man, destined to fall into infinity again.  There is a mathematical expression of this philosophy called the Divine Geometry.”

Emil begins his search for the eight who make up his Octavo, encountering a cross-dressing calligrapher, a French fan-making emigre, a runaway bride, and most fascinatingly, the Uzanne, a widowed baroness, fan collector, instructor of maidenly “arts” and defender of the aristocracy.  The Uzanne uses every means within the realm, and some that are not of an earthly nature, to enforce her dogmatic will.  Her favorite tool in waging her own war is a mysterious and beautiful fan called “Cassiopeia.” Oh, and magic.

turquoise_green_fan_png___updated_by_jssanda-d4snb1w

It the book sounds like an intriguing 18th Century mash-up of The DaVinci Code and The Witches of Eastwick, that’s what I thought too.  It is not.  Amid all the interesting references to card reading, the revolution in Europe, the mysteries of the Divine Eight, how to use a fan to cause men to pass out-do your bidding-fall madly in love in an instant, etc., I found the novel lost momentum about halfway through and became rather a chore to finish.  The elements of fascination were there, and I definitely would like to read more about fans.  But ultimately, Emil was not a protagonist that garnered my sympathy.  He was too foolish and easily swayed to root for him in his quest.  Mrs. Sparrow went AWOL for much of the novel.  And no other central character in Karen Engelmann’s novel proved particularly sympathetic

The much more interesting conflict, and one less focused, in this book:  against the backdrop of revolution and class warfare … and ultimately war, Emil’s friend calligrapher Fredrik Lind, the French fan-maker Christian Norden, and the Uzanne herself, attempt to preserve art in the face of war.  In The Stockholm Octavo, the artists are conquered by the magicians and warriors at least temporarily.

The Monuments Men explores a based-on-real-life story of another eight men tasked with saving art in a time of war.  George Clooney, who wrote the script with his buddy Grant Heslov, gives himself a wonderful monologue that is at the very crux of art and war.

“While we must and will win this war, we should also remember the high price that will be paid if the very foundation of modern society is destroyed.  They tells us no one cares about art.  But they’re wrong.  It is the exact reason that we’re fighting, for culture, for a way of life.  We are at a point in this war where that is the most dangerous to the greatest historical achievements known to man.  You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they’ll still find a way back.   But if you destroy their history, destroy their achievements, then it’s as if they never existed.  That’s what Hitler wants.  That is exactly what we’re fighting for.”

The Monuments Men save art in the lap of war.  The Uzanne plans to use art to make war.  Why wage war if not to save art?  Perhaps the answer is written only in the night sky.Cassiopeia

If you decide to choose “The Stockholm Octavo,” for your book club, I offer a delightful recipe from my grandmother’s recipe box, written in her own hand.  It’s a meatball soup, chosen by me due to the Swedish meatball refrain that has run continuously through my mind.  I would serve this with wine, lots of wine in the book, and make sugar cookies in the shape of fans for dessert.  A lovely soundtrack for your evening would be George Winston’s Winter into Spring c.d. (1982).  Of course, if you want to be tongue-in-cheek and/or prior to discussion, ABBA would be fun!

Meatball Soup

Cover several beef bones with 3 quarts water, bring to boil, simmer 4 hours.  Strain, chill and skim off fat.  Add to broth, 1/2 cup diced carrots, 1/2 cup thin sliced onions, 1/2 cut fine cut celery, 1/2 cup sized white turnips, 1 package frozen corn and 1/2 can of tomatoes, 4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon basil.

For meatballs:  1 pound ground been, 4 slices stale bread (soak in water and squeeze dry), 1 egg (slightly beaten) 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, 3/4 teaspoon thyme.  Make 3 dozen tiny meatballs and add to soup.  Simmer about 30 minutes.