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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookbooks, Essays, on January 15th, 2014.

cookbooks verticalIt’s not a new tidbit here, that I love cookbooks. Now, there are collectors, and then there are collectors. I’m just a general all-purpose cookbook collector. I own about 300 or so now, and have given away at least another 150 or more. I tell myself that I do NOT need one single solitary additional cookbook. Ever. But I just can’t seem to help myself. I do occasionally order one because I just have to, that’s all. Others I’ll put onto my wish list at amazon, hoping that family or friends will buy it for me for my birthday or at Christmas.

If you haven’t noticed, cookbooks are one of the hottest selling genre of books these days. Didn’t used to be so. It seems like amazon sends me an email every few days (maybe it’s weekly) telling (touting) 2 or 3 more new cookbooks that I should look at and perhaps buy. There’s probably a special tag in the amazon servers just for me (and others like me) that says “sucker” or “easy” where it comes to buying cookbooks. You think?

The shelves you see at left reside in our family room, right next to the kitchen. Actually I’ve culled some out of that since I took that photo a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I have a sofa-table just a few feet away that is a repository for stacks of stuff. Magazines I haven’t gotten to yet (and have been there for at least a year!), books I’ve pulled out of the shelves above and never re-filed, then I’ve stuffed some other cookbook into it’s slot. The depth on that sofa table is about 16 inches or so. Mostly more cookbooks. People give me books (not always ones that I’ve requested) and they have no home, exactly.

As of a year or so ago I created a cookbook annex up in my office (upstairs). I think I have 3 shelves there, and mostly they are books I don’t refer to for cooking. Most of them are memoirs and some rather esoteric cookbooks that are pretty to look at, but not to cook from.

When we had new carpeting installed underneath the family room shelves a year ago I had to unload that entire shelf system. Oh my gosh was that difficult, time consuming and back breaking. I sorted through the books when I went to return them, and tried my best to group them and I did give away another 20 or so. Problem is that some barbecue books that really belong on the 3rd shelf left had to go on the bottom shelf because they’re tall. Really tall, and they won’t fit anywhere except at the bottom. I’ve considered using a Dewey decimal system, but no, that makes no sense since all the books, just about, are within one small, really narrow group of numbers. Because of the variety of heights, I can’t group all similar genres together.

Some years ago when I subscribed to Eat Your Books, the site that helps you find recipes within your own cookbooks, I entered most of my cookbooks into my own site there. I’ve mentioned it numerous times here, that if I want to find a recipe for chicken and artichokes, for instance, I can go to my site at Eat Your Books and enter those two items and it will give me a long list of the different recipe titles, the book they’re from on my own bookshelves, and the list of main ingredients. I use it all the time. Far better to sit at my computer than to stand in front of that bookcase for 45 minutes hunting. I love that site.

Today I was catching up on my blog reading and really enjoy the varied things I find (read) on the Eat Your Books blog. This one has to do with Anne Willan. She’s the American author, chef, and owner of the La Varenne cooking school in Paris. She and her husband have lived in Paris for a long, long time. If I ever have the inclination, and the time, on some trip to Paris I’m going to sign up for a class.

Anne Willan has just published a new book, a memoir type with recipes: One Soufflé at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France, and I ordered the hard copy just yesterday. Once I’ve read it, I’ll let you know what I think of it. Cookbooks I always order in hard copy; memoirs about cooking as well; nearly everything else goes to my Kindle.

In the meantime, though, I have some other books that require my attention. I’m doing the review in one of my book clubs of The Submission: A Novel. I read it last year and highly recommended it to everyone I met. Because I couldn’t stop talking about it, our selection committee chose it to read in my AAUW book group for 2014, and of course, no one else was willing to do the review, so I’m it. I’m a little intimidated about that because there are some very sensitive religious and ethnic issues in that book, and generally, in that group, anyway, we don’t choose books that have that kind of potential discussion problems. Fortunately for me, Seattle (the city of) selected that book in it’s read-a-book program, and they have a very detailed guide available with discussion questions. So I may be able to use those without having to figure out for myself how to squeeze through a minefield of religious issues to have an open discussion. No one in my group is Muslim, and perhaps I’m overly concerned, but I think it will take a sensitive hand (voice) to keep the discussion from getting out of hand. I’m also supposed to be reading any book by Alice Munro for one of my other book groups, but haven’t even started on that one. My 3rd book group, fortunately, I’ve already read the book. Just today I also ordered 5 more books on my Kindle. Just finished reading  The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice. A novel about 2 young girls sent to a convent in Venice and both become musicians of note. Both are taught by Vivaldi. I’ll be writing that up on my left sidebar in the next day or so.

To get back to the reason I started this post, on the Eat Your Books blog, they discussed a Cookbook Tree of Life that has been created by Anne Willan (the print pictured at left, photo from the La Varenne website). I immediately clicked through to the source article at zester daily, and then further to Anne Willan’s blog post to take a look at it. In a nutshell, Anne laid awake one night thinking about her own family tree (framed copy) in her closet, and began thinking about whether cookbooks, as a collective group, could also have a comparable family tree. She must have spent months researching this, and narrowed the field to the first four cookbooks printed prior to 1500. And then expanded the tree in width and height to reach the breadth of books about 100 years ago. The cookbook tree covers the period of 1674-1861. From what I can see, the 16” x 20” $65 limited edition print would be a keepsake. I’ve thought about ordering one for myself, but I lack wall space anywhere near the kitchen to hang it. Besides, do I need it? No. But do I want it? Yes. But . . . I’ll try not to order it. Perhaps you’d like to, though.

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