The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead ✎✎✎✎

handcar

Like a runaway train, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad swept through 2016 on its way to winning the National Book Award for Fiction. You had to read it so that you knew the construct, the fantastical reimagining of a historical event, the simply gut-wrenching language; so that you could keep up with the conversation.

In Whitehead’s imagination the underground railroad, said to have saved over 30,000 people from slave-holding states, is an actual railroad. Engines, conductors, station agents, tunnels carved from the earth by those who would use them to escape.

The tunnel pulled at her. How many hands had it required to make this place? And the tunnels beyond, wherever and how far they led? She thought of the picking, how it raced down the furrows at harvest, the African bodies working as one, as fast as their strength permitted. The vast fields burst with hundreds of thousands of white bolls, strung like stars in the sky on the clearest of clear nights. When the slaves finished, they had stripped the fields of their color. It was a magnificent operation, from seed to bale, but not one of them could be prideful of their labor. It had been stolen from them. Bled from them. The tunnel, the tracks, the desperate souls who found salvation in the coordination of its stations and timetables – this was a marvel to be proud of. She wondered if those who had built this thing had received their proper reward.

. . .Who are you after you finish something this magnificent—in constructing it you have also journeyed through it, to the other side. On one end there was who you were before you went underground, and on the other end a new person steps out into the light. The up-top world must be so ordinary compared to the miracle beneath, the miracle you made with your sweat and blood. The secret triumph you keep in your heart.

The reader travels the rails and stops with Cora, a young woman imprisoned in slavery on a

Georgia plantation, an orphan, the victim of a brutal rape. When a fellow slave offers Cora the chance to run, at first she declines, then she hesitates and then, she decides to go. The two make it to what initially seems a haven — another imagining of Whitehead where the town population imports “pilgrims” from slavery for nefarious purposes — from which they must run again to another and another. Yet Cora takes refuge in her mind, seeking out knowledge, learning, literature.

What a world it is, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your only haven. Was she out of bondage or in its web: how to describe the status of a runaway? Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. On the plantation, she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing the summer stars. The place was big in its smallness. Here, she was free of her master but slunk around a warren so tiny she couldn’t stand.

In Juan Gabriel Vasquez’ review for the New York Times, he says: “In a sense, “The Underground Railroad” is Whitehead’s own attempt at getting things right, not by telling us what we already know but by vindicating the powers of fiction to interpret the world. In its exploration of the foundational sins of America, it is a brave and necessary book.” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/books/review/colson-whitehead-underground-railroad.html?_r=0

whitehead-bookThe Underground Railroad is the first work I’ve read by Colson Whitehead, but according to Salon.com,  he is “[a] recipient of the MacArthur (the so-called genius grant) and Guggenheim fellowships, Whitehead is the author of six previous novels, including “John Henry Days,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prizeand The New York Times bestseller “Zone One,” a zombie tale set in New York.” Sounds like there is more good stuff out there waiting for me to get to. The Salon article includes an interview with Whitehead about the inspiration for The Underground Railroad. “The idea of ‘what if the underground railroad was actually real,’ is, in many ways, something we picture in elementary school. Yes, it’s fanciful and childish. But it also had many possibilities and that got me thinking about all of this in an active way.” http://www.salon.com/2016/08/27/why-colson-whitehead-made-the-underground-railroad-real-its-fanciful-and-childish-but-it-also-had-many-possibilities/

The Underground Railroad is a beautiful but frequently-tough read, particularly for those who may be more willing to pretend (as I once heard a neighbor say) “all that ugly stuff is over.” In this particular time, Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad may be just the warning bell we need to stay attuned.

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When Cora reaches Valentine’s place in Indiana, there is a feast day which includes “hogs . . . chopped on the long pine table and covered dipney sauce. Smoky collards, turnips, sweet potato pie.”

I love watching Top Chef, the current season of which is being filmed in Charleston, S.C. On a recent episode, they mentioned Edna Lewis, (April 13, 1916 – February 13, 2006), an African-American chef and author best known for her books on traditional Southern Cuisine. I’ve got two of her publications on order (back-ordered probably due to others having seen the same show) but I did find her recipe for Spicy Collard Greens on FoodandWine.com http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/spicy-collard-greens.

From my research, “dipney” is a sauce that was mopped on the meat while cooking. Here’s a recipe from a very fun website called the Obsessive Compulsive Barbecue: http://ocbarbecue.blogspot.com/2013/06/antebellum-barbecue-mop-recipe.html.

And from my grandmother’s cookbook, a recipe for Southern Sweet Potato Pie.

Wash 3 sweet potatoes and bake for 30 minutes until soft. (Don’t microwave incidentally, you can’t get the same texture.) Peel and mash. You need 2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes.

Preheat oven to 425.

Cream 1 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar together and then mix with the mashed potatoes. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, until blended. Mis in 1/2 cup bourbon, the grated rind and juice of 1/2 orange and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour the filling into the pie crust (my grandmother always used Pet-Ritz) and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes until the filling is set (it doesn’t wiggle) and the crust is brown.

Sift with confectioners sugar when cool or serve with a bourbon-whipped cream.

MUSIC

Spirituals would be ideal. I’ve mentioned the American Spiritual Ensemble before, led by the University of Kentucky’s own Dr. Everett McCorvey, and their music certainly would hold up to a discussion of The Underground Railroad.

Read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Remember its lessons as well as its beauty and power and tragedy. colsonwhitehead-erinpatriceo-brien_sq-7c50afdaaa81e8021d312015cea780f25ff42465-s300-c85.jpg

 

Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

(c) Museums Sheffield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Three Fates              Museums Sheffield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

If there was a consensus choice for best book of 2016, it was Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff’s microscopic view of modern marriage. According to Ms. Groff’s website, Fates and Furies is a finalist for the National Book Award, finalist for the Kirkus Prize, NPR’s Morning Edition Book Club Pick and a New York Times Bestseller. It was Amazon’s book of the year and also President Obama’s favorite book of the year, after learning of which the author tweeted: “I just died, came back to life, read again, died again. That’s it, I retire.” http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/10/obama-favourite-book-of-2015-lauren-groff-fates-and-furies

Fates and Furies is another novel in which you see two different marriages that are one and the same. In the first half of the novel deals in Lotto’s viewpoint of his perfect marriage to Mathilde, “the best person I know,” whose endless sacrifices, patience and pragmatic luminescence fulfill Lotto in ways even he doesn’t understand. This is Fate.

Lotto was weeping; he could tell from the cold on his face. He tried to keep quiet. Mathilde needed sleep. She had been working sixteen-hour days, six days a week, kept them fed and housed. He brought nothing to their marriage, only disappointment and dirty laundry.

Singer_Sargent,_John_-_Orestes_Pursued_by_the_Furies_-_1921

Orestes Pursued by the Furies, John Singer Sargent

In part two, Groff lets us in on a little secret. Mathilde is in fact not the best person Lotto knows.

The woman stopped five feet from Mathilde with a little cry. Mathilde brought her hands to her cheeks. “I know,” she said. I’ve looked so old ever since my husband — ”

She couldn’t finish the sentence.

“No,” the woman said. “You’re still elegant. It’s just. You look so angry, Mathilde.”   . . .

Slowly, Mathilde said: “Angry. Sure. Well, what’s the point of hiding it anymore?”

And then she lowered her head, pressed on.

Her anger is just the beginning. For every ecstatic beatitude Lotto offers, Mathilde has a hidden counterpart. Her past, her dealings with Lotto’s mother, her feelings about having a child; even the smile that perpetually creases her divine face. These are the Furies.

fates and furiesThe New York Times ran an unreservedly positive review in September, 2015 and named Fates and Furies one of the 100 Notable Books of 2015.

 A domestic union set prominently in a work of fiction has the sometimes unfortunate capacity to obscure whatever else is going on. Yet “Fates and Furies,” Lauren Groff’s remarkable new novel, explodes and rages past any such preconceptions, insisting that the examination of a long-term relationship can be a perfect vehicle for exploring no less than the nature of existence — the domestic a doorway to the philosophical. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/books/review/lauren-groffs-fates-and-furies.html

Groff weaves Greek mythology into the narrative and even her technique harkens back to classical Greek literary traditions. An unnamed voice comments parenthetically throughout like a Greek chorus.

Each of the three Greek Fates plays a hand in the plot: Clotho the Spinner of the Thread of Life, Lachesis, the Measurer of the Thread allotted to each person; and Atropos, the Cutter of life’s thread. The Furies, more of a girl group of nameless “infernal goddesses”play a critical role in the Orestes myth for pursuing Orestes into madness after he murders his mother. There’s some fun gals!

The Slate book club discussion illuminates and challenges several of Groff’s devices and is available to listen to online: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2015/12/lauren_groff_s_fates_and_furies_book_club_and_discussion.html. If you want to get really literary for your book club, there are a plethora of reading guides for this novel on line; everything from NPR’s Morning Edition to the University of Virginia.

Or you can just read it, enjoy it and see whether, like the Oracle of Delphi, it has a message for you.

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I’m actually hosting my book club’s discussion of this book next week and drawing my menu from the potluck garden party Lotto and Mathilde host early in their marriage.

Bibb Lettuce salad with vinaigrette

Vinaigrette: two tablespoons of dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of sugar, fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, mint) and 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar. Drizzle olive oil stirring until you have the consistency you want. You can use lemon juice in place of the vinegar if you prefer.

Spanakopita (I’ll get these at Trader Joe’s)

Artichoke Dip. Always a favorite and a simple recipe. One can of artichoke hearts, one cup of mayonnaise, one cup of parmesan cheese. Blend and bake at 350 until hot and crusty and delicious.

Lasagna. I don’t have a recipe for this yet, but my mother told me her secret is to add cream cheese to the ricotta. I’m going to try it with turkey instead of beef. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

antigone

Antigone by Frederic Leighton

MUSIC

Mentions: The opera Tristan und Isolde; Salt-N-Pepa; Nirvana; Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Then there are the fictional operas of Nero and Go.

There is an opera by Carl Orff entitled Antigonae which might be fun to listen to, or might be a drag. I wanted to mention it in case you were interested, but I think I’ll play Thriller.

 

MOVIE CASTING

Lotto: Liam Hemsworth

Mathilde: Emma Stone

Chollie: Jonah Hill

Happy Reading!

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Falling: The Rocks by Peter Nichols

mallorca

Have you ever thought that life would all make sense when you got to the end of it and looked back? Have you identified those moments, decisions, actions in which life changed course immediately? The Rocks, Peter Nichols’ second novel, raised these questions in my mind but didn’t answer them reassuringly. It did, however, give me a very enjoyable read.

When the book opens, it is 2005 and long-divorced couple Lulu and Gerald have encountered one another for the third time in the sixty years since their disastrous honeymoon, despite being two ex-patriot Brits living on the same small Spanish Island. The chance meeting at a local market, ends on the road to Lulu’s resort hotel, the Rocks.

Mallorca coast. Photo credit Pixabay.com

Mallorca coast. Photo credit Pixabay.com

[Gerald] caught up with Lulu just outside the Rocks. He grabbed her arm again with strength field by rage, and spun her round.

“You never — he stared, with a smoker’s bulling growl, but his chest was empty of air, heaving spasmodically.

Again, Lulu shook off his grip. But she was surprised and immensely pleased to see the effort Gerald had made, how overwrought, breathless, and unwell he was. It occurred to her that with just a nudge, he might easily die of a heart attack right in front of her. “You’re pathetic, Gerald. An empty, hobbling husk of a man.” A flame of old anger rose in her. “You’re a belter! A miserable, wretched shit of a fucking —

You never developed the film! Did you!” The furious, strangled world erupted wetly out of Gerald’s chest, his body pitching forward. “I lured them away! Do you understand? I got them away ! I — ” His blue-and-gray glistening face thrust into hers, but he had no more breath.

The encounter ends, shall we say, badly and without further explanation. Over the course of the next several hundred pages, Nichols leads the reader back in time through the lives of Gerald and Lulu, Gerald’s daughter Aegina and her child Charlie, Lulu’s son Luc and his frustrated careers, and illuminates motivations, temptations, sins, and omissions in reverse. The Rocks drops the reader into 2005, 1995, 1983, 1970, 1966, 1956, 1951, until, finally, we reach the beginning in 1948, and the revelation of what happened on Gerald and Lulu’s honeymoon voyage.

It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite novels of the last few years, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, reviewed here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/simply-beautiful-beautiful-ruins-by-jess-walter/.

Emma Straub’s 2014 novel The Vacationers, https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-vacationers-by-emma-straub/ is also set during a disintegrating family’s vacation on Mallorca, but other than setting has little in common with The Rocks. 

Gerald Rutledge, my favorite character of the book, has devoted his life to three things: repeating Odysseus’ voyage and

John William Waterhouse, 1891

John William Waterhouse, 1891

finding the actual locations of incidents in The Odyssey; raising his daughter Aegina; and working and preserving his own little bit of Mallorcan paradise with its olive groves and lemon trees. Lulu, conversely, I didn’t like at all. She devotes her entire life, seemingly, to scheming revenges, neglecting her child, and plotting sexual pairings.

Kate Christensen, reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, read Nichols’ memoir Sea Change.

As I read, I had a series of “aha!” moments; the parallels between Nichols’s own life and marriage and those of his fictional characters were deeply satisfying to uncover. Nichols, like his character Luc, grew up partially on Mallorca, the son of divorced parents. Like the novel’s secondary lovers, Luc and Aegina, Nichols and his ex-wife met as children on the island, and their own romance failed, in part, because of their inability to transcend their childhood knowledge of each other and ­become adults together. The memoir, like the ­novel, contains a precipitous nautical elopement, dope smuggling in Morocco and a young wife held hostage by pirates. People getting into trouble, both on boats and in marriages, might be said to be the common theme between the two books.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/24/books/review/the-rocks-by-peter-nichols.html

I very much enjoyed The Rocks. The themes of regret, misunderstanding, romantic love and adventure will be excellent fodder for your book club’s discussion.

MENU

On board Szabo’s yacht, a luxurious menu is served.

Two young crewmen appeared with bowls of salad. They poured wine for each of the guests. . . . the plates were handed out: cold grilled quail with a reduced fig sauce, tiny warm new potatoes, avocado halves filled with pomegranate seeds, plates of toast with pate de foie gras.

Gerald’s own menu is much simpler: “Aegina had made the tumbet she had learned from her mother: a Mallorcan dish full of aubergines, tomatoes, onion, garlic, goat cheese, and olives from Gerald’s trees.”

This recipe for Mallorcan Tumbet fromSpanish Sabores blog looks like the genuine article:  http://spanishsabores.com/2013/09/15/mallorcan-tumbet-recipe/

MUSIC

Aegina listens to her father’s favorite records while painting. Those mentioned, pastoral music of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century English composers, are: “Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Butterworth, Holst, Finzi, Alwyn, Bantock, Parry, Bridge, Delius, Moeran.”

iTunes has a $7.99 album of Elgar’s music. Elgar: Enigma Variations, Introduction & Allegro. Spotify has an English Song Series by Butterworth you could play for free.

MOVIE CASTINGthe rocks

Gerald – Benedict Cumberbatch

Lulu – Emily Blunt

Luc – Jamie Bell

Aegina – Oona Chaplin

Happy Reading & Eating!

Easy links for purchase:

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BANNED BOOKS WEEK: Flying with The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

kites

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. http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/teaching-the-kite-runner-with-the-new-york-times/?_r=0 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

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.

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek

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.” http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/01/khaled-hosseini-kite-runner-interview

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.

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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.

http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/07/31/everything-you-need-to-know-about-afghan-food/

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).
MUSIC
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.

GazankidsflykitesJuly302009

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Mirror, Mirror: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

beauty-day--retro-Image-Graphics-Fairy2

“Pretty is as pretty does,” my grandmother must have told me thousands of times.  And one can never really believe a mirror anyway.

At least not in Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi which begins:  “Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years, I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.”  This is the voice of Boy Novak, a girl.  The first narrator.  The daughter of a brutal and sadistic rat catcher whose absent mother is never discussed, living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the year nineteen hundred and thirty-something.

Boy runs away to idyllic Flax Hill, Massachusetts, a town where “people make beautiful things . . . [where they are] interested in the process, not the end product.”  Boy marries a jewelry artist named Arturo and becomes stepmother to his young daughter Snow.  But after Boy gives birth to Bird, she sends Snow away.

In Boy, Snow, Bird, it is not only the mirrors that are untrustworthy.  Things are more often than not the opposite of how they appear.  This is the first novel by Ms. Oyeyemi I have read, but according to the New York Times, she is thirty years old and a five-time novelist.  Besides the fact that I hate her a little bit for that accomplishment, I love her writing.  The following is from the section of the novel narrated by Boy’s daughter, Bird, who also has an issue with mirrors.

Sometimes mirrors can’t find me.  I’ll go into a room with a mirror in it and look around, and I’m not there.  Not all the time, not even most of the tie, but often enough.  Sometimes when other people are there, but nobody ever notices that my reflection’s a no-show.  Or maybe they decide not to notice because it’s too weird.  I can make it happen when I move quickly and quietly, dart into a room behind the swinging of a door so it covers me the way a fan covers a face.  Maybe I catch the mirror off guard somehow.  It starts to look for me — “look for me” isn’t quite right — I know mirrors can’t see.  But the image in the glass shifts just a little bit off center, left, then right, then back again, like its’ wondering why it isn’t reflecting all that standings in front of it.  I know a girl just came in; now where’s she at?

In its review, the New York Times says, “Oyeyemi picks myths and fairy tales because she sees the blood and guts behind the glitter and ball gowns. In essence she’s a writer of rather enchanting horror stories, but like the candy-colored blood of the dead ballerinas in Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film “Suspiria,” her violence is all the more gruesome for its misleading pulchritude.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/books/review/boy-snow-bird-by-helen-oyeyemi.html

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The author herself admits as much, saying she writes retold fairy tales.  “And fairy tales teach lessons, she says. Lessons like ‘Everything that you see is not necessarily what it is. You have to find another way to know things. You have to find another way to know things. There is inner vision. And then there’s exterior vision. There are levels of seeing.'”  http://www.npr.org/2014/03/07/282065410/the-professionally-haunted-life-of-helen-oyeyemi

In Boy, Snow, Bird, beauty is desired, deceitful and dangerous.  And perhaps that is the point of the Brothers Grimm original tale as well.

Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was made of black ebony. And whilst she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.

Soon after that she had a little daughter, who was as white as snow, and as red as blood, and her hair was as black as ebony, and she was therefore called little Snow White. And when the child was born, the queen died.

After a year had passed the king took to himself another wife. She was a beautiful woman, but proud and haughty, and she could not bear that anyone else chould surpass her in beauty. She had a wonderful looking-glass, and when she stood in front of it and looked at herself in it, and said,

            “Looking-glass, looking-glass, on the wall,

dfd91135db5fde17a2f44144a2e79482                                              Who in this land is the fairest of all?”

The looking-glass answered,

    “Thou, o queen, art the fairest of all.”

Then she was satisfied, for she knew that the looking-glass spoke the truth.

I highly recommend Boy, Snow, Bird for your book club.

MENU

Just for giggles, I’ve designed a menu based on Walt Disney’s Seven Dwarves (none of whom make an appearance that I can see in Boy, Snow, Bird).

Doc:  Mix a pitcher of Gin & Tonics and pour into a beaker.  (Tonic originally contained quinine as a malarial prophylactic.)

Sneezy:  Anything with black pepper.  Steak au poivre, chicken with black pepper are the two that come immediately to mind.  Here are ten more:  http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/04/peppery-peppercorn-recipes-truffles-monkfish-gratin-10-best

Dopey:  Bugles chips (tiny little dunce caps) to dunk into bugles-original-flavor1

Grumpy:   Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip.  Spicy, yummy and just hot enough to put a little fire into your soul.

INGREDIENTS:
2 (10 ounce) cans chunk chicken,
drained
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese,
softened
1 cup Ranch dressing
3/4 cup Tabasco
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Heat chicken and hot sauce in a skillet over medium heat, until heated through. Stir in cream cheese and ranch dressing. Cook, stirring until well blended and warm. Mix in half of the shredded cheese, and transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, cover, and cook on Low setting until hot and bubbly.

Sleepy:  Dried cherries, almonds, dark chocolate chips mixed together.  Why?  Because they all make you sleepy!  And it’s yummy! http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/g796/sleep-inducing-foods/?slide=13

Bashful:  A blush wine

Happy:  Cupcakes with little happy faces.

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MUSIC

There are several ways to go here.  You could do some moody, New Yorky jazz from the 1930s.  I would play The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love c.d. all the way through.

MOVIE CASTING

Arturo:  Javier Bardem

Boy:  Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones certainly has the look for it

Boy’s mother:  Tilda Swinton

Snow:  Lily Collins (maybe but she’s already played Snow White I think — so maybe some unknown who is younger).

HAPPY READING!

The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills

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Readers of daeandwrite not living under a rock will have seen that Harper Lee is about to publish her second novel, entitled “Go Set a Watchman,” a “newly discovered” novel written in the early 1950s, according to Harper Lee’s legal representative and her publisher Harper Collins.  Harper-Collins has today revealed the cover of Go Set a Watchman, above, which recalls the look of the original cover of To Kill A Mockingbird with elements of black tree branches and light green leaves against a solid background. http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780062409850

Readers of daeandwrite may also remember that I’ve written of my concerns about the publication of this new find before:  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/the-tale-around-the-tale-harper-lees-new-novel-go-set-a-watchman/.

My concerns have not lessened after reading Marja Mills’ recollection of her years of friendship with Harper and Alice Lee.  Mills, a former reporter and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune, went to Monroeville, Alabama, hoping against hope to meet with Harper Lee, the famously reclusive author for an interview about the Chicago Public Library’s selection of To Kill a Mockingbird as the first selection in its One Book, One Chicago program.  Although initially given the Lee run-around, Mills eventually became not only friendly with, but confidantes and neighbors of Harper and Alice Lee.

Mills gets no further than page 46 before she detailing Harper Lee’s aversion to publishing another book.  This incident below is in 1963, mind you.  Well after the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Questions about her second book began to rankle.  She wasn’t making the progress she hoped, and preferred not to disclose the specifics of the novel she had been working on for more than a year at that point.  The expectations of a second novel were overwhelming.  When you start at the top, she told those close to her, there is nowhere to go but down.

Her decision never to publish another book took on the aura of a dramatic decision she had made early on after the overwhelming success of To Kill a Mockingbird  Her choice to live out of the public spotlight and begin a half century of silence seemed equally stark.

But the decision not to publish again was far more gradual than that.  As I got to know Nelle (Harper Lee) and her friends, I learned that, rather than a grand decision, the shape of her life was dictated by a series of choices made at different points along the way  For many years, she thought there might be a second book.

At age thirty-four, Harper Lee had a stunning achievement behind her, and a world of promise before her.  Naturally, she planned to write more.  She would turn her keen eye once more to the complexities of character and community.  In To Kill a Mockingbird and in future work she envisioned, the rich particulars of her corner of the Deep South could illuminate something universal.

“I hope to goodness every book I write improves,” she told an interviewer, only half in jest, in 1964.  “All I want is to be the Jane Austen of south Alabama.”

Then:  silence.

(Emphasis mine).  In 1964, Harper Lee was well-aware of having written what would have been the forerunner of To Kill A Mockingbird.  And clearly, had no intention of publishing it.  She made no reference to it, or even considered it.  She was thinking of, considering and planning future work, not thinking of past.

In the epilogue, Mills recounts that Nelle suffered a serious stroke in November 2007 and thereafter underwent months of hospital treatment and rehabilitation in hopes of being able to walk again.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and Nelle moved permanently into an assisted living center.  Nelle was, according to Mills, “able, for a time, to keep up with some reading, to hold the kind of conversations she used to with friends, to get out a fair amount.  She had good days and bad days.”

But, according to Mills, in her at least annual visits over the next several years, Harper Lee continued to decline.  Although the time frame is not completely clear, it appears that sometime between 2009 and 2011:

Things became increasingly difficult as Nelle’s condition worsened and her memory failed, as had [her sister] Louise’s, who died in 2009 at age ninety-three.  By the time I saw her a couple of visits later, she was not the Nelle I knew.

Another recent update is that, based on an anonymous tip filed by a self-proclaimed doctor and friend of Harper Lee concerned she was unable to give informed consent, the Alabama Human Resources Department is investigating a claim of elder abuse.  Articles from the Washington Post and New York Times outline the issues and cover the story in varying depth:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/12/report-alabama-investigating-possible-elder-abuse-in-connection-with-harper-lees-new-novel/http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/arts/artsspecial/harper-lees-ability-to-consent-to-new-book-continues-to-be-questioned.html?_r=0

Harper Lee wrote these beautiful words:  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

It would be a sin to take advantage of one as well.

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Vintage Arthur Singer illustration

Monkeying Around: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

monkey_on_bicycle_vintage

Vintage Photo

     Karen Joy Fowler is an author with range.  The Jane Austen Book Club.  Sarah Canary (Pacific Northwest, 1873).  Sister Noon (Gilded Age, spinster and charity work in San Francisco).  Now, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, a novel about a family who raises a chimp as a child.

     Unfortunately, by telling you the premise of the book, I give nothing away.  The flap copy, the back jacket tell you this.  And it’s a mistake.  Because if you just picked up the book and began reading, it would take you until you were about 1/3 of the way through before you realized you were reading about a chimp.

     In her New York Times review of the book, Barbara Kingsolver expresses the same frustration.

To experience this novel exactly as the author intended, a reader should avoid the flap copy and everything else written about it. Including this review. The last writers to be unscathed by spoilers were probably the Victorians, who pounded out the likes of “Great Expectations” in weekly, serialized installments. No reviewer could blow the surprise of a convict benefactor or Miss Havisham’s cobwebby cake when these were yet unwritten. But in modern times, literary fiction presents a conundrum: The more craftily constructed its suspense, the more it tempts its advocates — in the interest of airtime — to reach into a serious tale and pull out something resembling a tabloid headline. Such as: “Girl and Chimp Twinned at Birth in Psychological Experiment.” That’s the big reveal in Karen Joy Fowler’s “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” a novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get.

0609-bks-KINGSOLVER-cover-popupMatt Dorfman for the New York Times

     In the 1970s, Indiana University Professor Cooke and his wife bring two new members into their family simultaneously:  Rosemary and Fern. Rosemary is their biological daughter.  Fern is adopted; she was the child of a chimpanzee slaughtered by poachers in Africa.  Rosemary narrates the story, beginning in the middle.    Along the way, Rosemary and author Fowler raise hugely disturbing questions about the ethical treatment of non-human animals in our society.  Rosemary remembers being sent away by her family at age five; when she returned, Fern was gone.  Where she went and why is the puzzle at the heart of Rosemary’s story and Fowler’s novel.

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IU Sample Gates.  GO  HOOSIERS

     Ultimately, it’s a novel about the truths we tell ourselves.  The issues we believe in more than self-preservation.  Memory, family, transformation, joy and grief.

     We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves won the Pen/Faulkner Award for 2014, and was recently short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.  It will be the topic of discussion at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning’s Brown Bag Book Club the weeks of October 30 and November 6.  By the way, The Carnegie Center is the recipient of this year’s Kentucky Governor’s Award for the Arts.  Here’s a very interesting article with Ms. Fowler about her father’s career as an animal behavioralist and some of her thoughts on the novel:  http://karenjoyfowler.com/books/we-are-all-completely-beside-ourselves-qa/

MENU:

I would have a lot of fun with this book for book club night and for the menu, there is no question I would go as vegan as possible.

Golden Raisins mixed with peanuts

Peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches.  Grilled.  Yummy.

Plantain chips

Banana Cream Pie

MUSIC

You know where I’m going don’t you?

Oh yeah:  http://www.monkees.com/listen  monkees-logo

MOVIE CASTING

Rosemary:   Elle Fanning  Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' 2nd Annual Governors Awards

Dr. Cooke:   Alexander SkarsgardAlexanderSkarsgard_900-600-05-14-12

Mrs. Cooke:  Drew BarrymoreDrew Barrymore

Lowell:  Joseph Gordon-Levittjoseph-gordon-levitt-feminist

Harlow:  AnnaSophia RobbAnna

Happy Reading!