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Dining Alone – Tragedy or Opportunity? March 31, 2010

Posted by bookgoddess in Books, cookbooks, Reading.
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When I was growing up, my family did not generally gather around the dinner table for our evening meal.  We did eat at the same time, usually, parked on various pieces of furniture, television on, books and magazines at the ready.

I write this knowing that I will shock some traditionalists, but it seemed to work well for us, and I would say that we were a closer family than most.

But I do suspect that the nonstandard dinner environment may have helped make me comfortable with eating alone.  I have become aware of how much of a problem this is for some people.  Many people tell me they don’t (won’t, can’t) cook for themselves, and if they have taken this position, it seems to be deeply ingrained.  There are others who prepare something nice for dinner, whether they are alone or not.

I was interested to find two very readable, recently published books on the topic of eating alone:  Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant:  Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, an anthology edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler; and What We Eat When We Eat Alone:  Stories and 100 Recipes by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin.

More people live alone than ever, we are told, and they have to sustain life somehow.  In Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, we find a rich tapestry of approaches to dining alone.  Food writers (M.F.K. Fisher, Laurie Colwin) and novelists (Ann Patchett, Haruki Marukami) express the solitary dining experience with varying degrees of comfort or anxiety.  Each chapter is a little gem, and is followed by a recipe for something described in the chapter.

What We Eat when We Eat Alone, on the other hand, is narrated throughout by the renowned Deborah Madison.  For her book, she interviewed numerous people about their solitary eating habits, and she tells their dining stories in a lighthearted manner, grouping people according to various characteristics.  There are a good many recipes in this book, but as with the previous title, the stories are the point.

I suspect that if you are deeply opposed to eating alone, you probably don’t want to read about it either, but these titles are well worth reading, and you will certainly pick up a few interesting ideas.

Here’s how I feel about it:  I enjoy meals with my loved ones.  It is a beautiful thing to share, and for your cooking to be appreciated.  However, I can enjoy a nice repast with myself, too.  And remember – if you love Parmesan cheese and your spouse doesn’t, or if your family turns its nose up at chicken curry, it can be a golden opportunity.

I once encountered a lady in the grocery store who was shopping on her little mobile cart.  In her basket, among other things, she had some focaccia bread and a lovely artichoke.  I thought, there is a lady who knows how to live well, despite negative circumstances.  I think of her every so often, and I am inspired.

Happy Reading (and Dining!)

The Book Goddess

This Book is Not for Everyone March 26, 2010

Posted by bookgoddess in Book Clubs, Books, Fiction, Literature, Mysteries, Public libraries, readers, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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It’s a great joy when you recommend a book to someone, and they just adore it.  Recently I recommended the wonderful British mystery writer, Peter Robinson, to a long time patron.  When she stopped by yesterday, she thanked me and was looking forward to reading more of his books.

However, it can be deflating when you love a book and the person you recommend it to does not share your enthusiasm.  I have had book clubs disappointed with two of my all time favorites, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather and Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.  My friend Peggie was lukewarm about another favorite, Raney by Clyde Edgerton, though she truly loved my recommendation of The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz.  And my supervisor, a former children’s librarian and outstanding human being, inexplicably does not like Winnie-the-Pooh.

It happens with me, too.  I finally gave up on the immensely popular and critically acclaimed Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, mostly because I found parts of it too brutal for my taste.  And both the aforementioned Peggie and another friend, Joanne, highly recommended The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille.  I just bogged down and stopped listening to the audiobook.  I’m not really sure why.

Please keep on recommending books, because when it goes right, you make a truly fabulous connection.  Just remember that we may not love the same books.  But in the library, the good part is that the price is right and we have no problem when you bring the item in for a return or exchange!

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess

The Fault Tree March 4, 2010

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Book Clubs, Books, Fiction, Just for Mystery Lovers Book Club, library programs, Mysteries, Public libraries, readers, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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I was sorry to miss our most recent Just for Mystery Lovers Book Club here at the Library.  If you like mysteries, please pay us a visit.  We meet on the 4th Saturday of the month at 10:30 a.m.  Nice people, interesting discussions.

The book for February was The Fault Tree by Louise Ure.  The “detective,” Cadence Moran, is a blind auto mechanic.  I know – the scenario is unlikely, but the author does a great job of getting inside the head of this character.  Cadence’s automotive sensibilities (recognition of engine sounds, etc.) become an integral part of the plot. 

I did enjoy the story line, but what I liked even more was the insight into Cadence’s unique experience of the world as a blind person.  I’d recommend the book to fans of Laura Lippman and Sue Grafton.

The next meeting of the Just for Mystery Lovers Book Club will be on Saturday, March 27th.  The selection will be Rough Weather:  A Spenser Novel, by the late, great Robert B. Parker.

Happy Reading!

The Book Goddess

Just Browsing? Why it’s Important November 30, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Book Floor, Books, Just Browsing, Public libraries, readers, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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Do you enjoy browsing for books?  Many people do, but I believe I read somewhere that this behavior is on the decline.  So I’ve decided to give you permission to browse, and to tell you why I am convinced it’s a good thing for you to do.

I’m aware that there is much to be done and little time in which to do it.  I can be very task-oriented myself.  This is a good thing in certain situations, but taken to excess, it can create a very limited, hunched-over, tightly wound individual.  I suggest browsing for books as a fabulous way to de-stress and open your mind a little.

So – you enter the ground floor of the West Palm Beach Public Library.  You have a few minutes to spare on your lunch hour.  Wander into the collections.  Yes, you may head straight for your favorite (Mysteries?  Food & Wine?) – but how about something completely different?  For now, judge the books by their covers.  Open a few and read the first few paragraphs.  Act on impulse – the price is right!

How do you feel now?  Perhaps you will read about another culture, or learn a new craft.  Maybe you will plan a trip or think about starting your own business.  There is a wonderful feeling of possibility in a library, a sense of new worlds to explore.  I’m feeling better just thinking about it.  How about you?

Happy Reading!

The Book Goddess

P.S.  While this article was originally addressed to West Palm Beach Public Library patrons (in the Holiday 2009 issue of Library Currents), I’m sure that most of my readers have a favorite library or bookstore for browsing.  We need to cherish and support these wonderful resources!

Our Hispanic Literary Heritage September 30, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Book Talk, Books, Fiction, library programs, Literature, readers, Reading, Reading lists.
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At our most recent Book Talk, I presented a “sampler” of the rich feast of Spanish language literature in translation, as well as some titles from North American writers of Hispanic origin. 

As I began to prepare, I started to become overwhelmed.  This is a major literary language – for example, ten Nobel prizes have been awarded to writers in the Spanish language.  I also became very excited about the wonderful variety of the books – a rich feast, indeed. 

I should mention with pride that I am partly of Spanish descent, and perhaps that increases my appreciation of this body of literature.  But I recommend these books to all of you.  When we talk about culture, we are privileged to be citizens of the world, and it is a good thing to move beyond our cultural center.  I love Southern food, but I don’t eat it every night of my life. 

So – this is your invitation to Hispanic literature.  Click here for my list of books, and also please visit the Color Online blog for another wonderful selection of titles.

Disfrute sus libros!  (Happy Reading, or more literally, Enjoy your books!)

Reading for the Stressed September 16, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Books, Fiction, Mysteries, Public libraries, Reading.
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And who isn’t, these days?  If you haven’t personally been afflicted by unemployment, health issues, concerns about children, etc., I’m reasonably certain that you are closely acquainted with people who have. 

Everyone copes with stress somehow, and of course some responses are healthier than others.  Unsurprisingly, I think one of the healthiest resources would be a good book.  For our purposes, books can be useful, or distracting, or in some cases, both. 

Let’s assume that you really can’t do too much about the stressful situation in which you find yourself.  You’re sitting by the hospital bed, you’re waiting for someone to come home, the results of your test won’t be available until tomorrow.  You may want something to distract you.  My regular readers know that I favor mysteries, and one reason is that they almost invariably feature a resolution.  This can be a very welcome vicarious experience when your life has gone awry. 

Your choice may be something other than a mystery, and I say, go for it.  You might even consider nonfiction.  Our next month’s selection for the Second Saturday Book Club is The Worst Hard Time:  The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan.  I suggested this book because I thought it might give us some perspective on our own economic crisis.  We shall see how that goes. 

On the other hand, escape reading of any kind will only take you so far, and I want to remind you that the libraries and bookstores are filled with useful books for almost any situation.  If you’re facing divorce, you might be well advised to read a book for laypersons on the topic.  Educating yourself about health issues is essential.  There are lots of books on how to save money and cope with financial difficulties. 

Two important reminders:  Make sure that you are choosing a resource by someone who has the appropriate qualifications for the topic.  And get professional help if you need it. 

What about those books that are both useful and entertaining?  One of my friends, who adores romance novels, claims that they helped her to know what kind of men to avoid and who to marry.  I think she and her husband have been together happily for twenty years or so.  I make no representations that this will work for you, but I am not one to argue with success. 

Happy Reading! 

The Book Goddess

Celebrating Agatha Christie September 14, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Fiction, Mysteries, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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What comes to mind when you hear the word Torquay?  For me, it is an image of John Cleese as the hilariously incompetent hotel proprietor in Fawlty Towers. 

But this week is different, as Torquay is hosting the Fifth Annual Agatha Christie Festival in honor of the their native daughter (and best-selling novelist of all time, thank you very much).  It sounds like it will be great fun, starting with the opening event:  A Fete Worse Than Death!  I wish I were there. 

Agatha Christie occupies a special place in my reading history.  I first encountered her at age eleven.  I was a precocious reader, and teen fiction as we now know it really did not exist.  My mother loved reading murder mysteries, and she was pretty sure Agatha Christie would provide a reasonably age-appropriate reading experience.  

Well, the die was cast.  I started reading Agatha Christie that summer, and I have adored murder mysteries ever since.  Christie was still living when I started reading her, and for some years my mother would give me the latest hardback for my birthday or Christmas. 

To the best of my knowledge, I have read all of her fiction.  My favorite of her detectives is Miss Marple, and I highly recommend Murder at the Vicarage, the first of the Miss Marple mysteries.  The distinguished mystery novelist and critic H. R. F. Keating named these as her top three titles:  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (also a personal favorite of mine), Murder on the Orient Express, and Sleeping Murder

Christie is not so well known for the non-mystery novels that she wrote under the name Mary Westmacott.  One of these titles, Absent in the Spring, would make my list of all-time memorable books, and I am happy to see that it is in print.  I will be ordering it for the Library.  

If by some happenstance you have never read anything by Agatha Christie, I think you would enjoy the experience.  And if you like it, there are dozens more! 

Happy Reading! 

The Book Goddess

Double Daggers September 9, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Books, Fiction, Mysteries, Reading.
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One of my friends says that if she let herself, she would be reading mysteries all day long and never do anything else.  Since she is a remarkable person who makes a real contribution to our world, I am glad that she sets limits on the mystery reading. 

I too love mysteries and have spent an inordinate amount of my life reading them.  My friend has decided to read only the best ones, which I think is a fine approach, sort of like only eating really tasty food.  Here are a couple of titles that I think she – and you – might consider.  It so happens that they are both “Dagger” winners.  

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association (UK), which is the largest cash prize in the mystery field.  Set in the Shetland Islands, it depicts the mystery of a young girl’s murder against the background of an isolated community.  There is an obvious suspect, but Detective Jimmy Perez has doubts.  He is also struggling to decide whether to give up police work in favor of a life on the even smaller island where he was born. 

I really enjoyed the portrayal of the community, so very different from our own, and the characters.  If you want to cool down, this book would be a good choice, since the setting is invariably cold.  An excellent police procedural.  And I’m happy to report that there are three more in the series!

Another British standout is the more recent Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which won the Debut Dagger from the CWA.  Flavia de Luce is the eleven-year-old schoolgirl and amateur chemist who must solve the mystery when her father is accused of murdering an old classmate.  Set in the fifties, the book is charmingly eccentric and I loved the fact that a smart, strong, and independent young girl was the main character.  You will pick up a few facts about chemistry, poison, British stamps, and escaping from sticky situations.  Most enjoyable and highly recommended. 

Happy Reading!

 

The Book Goddess

Loving the Product August 31, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Books, Librarians, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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Many years ago I read In Search of Excellence, the landmark leadership book by Tom Peters.  He writes compellingly about the elements that make businesses successful, and one of the points which has stuck with me is the importance of “loving the product,” whether you are a CEO or an employee on the production line. 

I’m happy to say that our Library staff is full of people who “love the product.”  Lunch and break time conversations often focus on whatever wonderful book we are reading or remember with particular fondness.  Our Staff Picks section on the First Floor is full of an amazingly wide range of handpicked titles. 

And you love books, too.  When you enter the Library, you feel at home.  You have to choose carefully between the many books you want to check out, because you can’t carry all of them.  You join in the conversation by recommending books to us.  Then, to continue the business analogy, you help us “increase our sales” by checking out books.  Please – keep up the good work! 

We’re very grateful to all our customers.  You are the reason for the Library, and we thank you for helping us get our new home off to a great start! 

Happy Reading, 

The Book Goddess

(This essay originally appeared in the September/October issue of Library Currents, which also includes information on Library and Friends activities for all ages.  You can find it at our homepage:  http://www.mycitylibrary.org/.)

Theodore Dreiser August 27, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Books, Fiction, Literature, readers, Reading.
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Have you read any of Theodore Dreiser’s novels?  In his time, which was close to a hundred years ago, he was considered one of the greatest living American writers, but I suspect he is mostly read by English majors today.  Since this is his birthday, I’d like to suggest that you read one of his books.

My top choice would be Sister Carrie, in which a small town girl goes to the big city and is led astray by a traveling salesman.  The results are not what you might expect.

Another remarkable novel is An American Tragedy, based on a true crime, which is a literary relative of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Richard Wright’s Native Son.

Both of these works appear on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century, at numbers 33 and 16 respectively.

Dreiser’s novels are long, intense, and compelling.  He was a prime practitioner of naturalism, which means that pessimism and determinism dominate the novels, and he was outraged by the social and economic inequalities of the day.  Even though it has been many years since I read these books, they have left a powerful impression.

You can find both of these books in the West Palm Beach Public Library in the Classics section on the First Floor or in the Fiction Section on the Fourth Floor, and I hope you will!

Happy Reading!

The Book Goddess

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