Archive for August, 2013

Reading Round-Up

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

A very quick pass through what has been scrolling on my Kindle of late:

1) Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, by David Rakoff. Well, this one I didn’t Kindle, since the print version was carefully crafted, including illustrations. It’s beautiful and moving, catching my breath about once a chapter, and I’ll read it again before too long. Rakoff is (was, sigh) remarkable with language. However, it’s not a novel. It’s more like a collection of stories, told in verse. I get that they couldn’t have sold it as well that way, so. I’m just being annoyingly sticklerish, I suppose. Nothing new there.

2) The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Adventure, by Jack Handey. Also not a novel (more a series of one-liners), and not even funny, which was the promise. Alas.

3) Too Bright to See, Too Loud to Hear, Juliann Garey. A competently told fictional story of a years-long manic bender, but I don’t understand why the protagonist is so unlikable. I wanted to root for him but, mostly, couldn’t.

4) We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. If you can, read this one before you know anything about the plot, because there’s a creepy-delicious reveal partway through. It’s a very satisfyingly written novel, with an angry and articulate female narrator, something I’m always trying to find and always delighting in when I do—well, assuming that she knows she’s pissed off. Lionel Shriver tends to write rageful female narrators without acknowledging as much, as that sours the stew, my friends. Anyway, I’m going to stamp We Are All with a Highly Recommended.

5) Americanah, by Chimamanda Adichie. The latest novel by Adichie but the first I’ve read; from what I can tell, much of it is autobiographical. Adichie grew up in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. at nineteen, where she eventually wrote a blog interpreting American behavior for the non-American black person. Fascinating and smartly told. I have one objection, which is the final couple of pages, which revert to a fake-feeling romanticism that the rest of the novel doesn’t seem to share.

6) My Education, by Susan Choi. Oooooo, so very delicious. Incredibly smartly written and very emotionally satisfying. Franzenesque, even, but distinctly Choi. I loved it. My petit quibble is that the protagonist is not sympathetic—and now that I’m reading another book by Choi, A Person of Interest, I wonder if it’s not a tendency of Cho’s, to create characters we can’t care for. At any rate, if the protagonist in My Education had been more likable, it would have made the book even richer, and I imagine it would have earned a spot on my list of all-time favorites. As it is, I still give it a Highly Recommended.

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Monday, August 12th, 2013

This is the vegan chocolate cake that I adore, perhaps more than any other cake in the world, vegan or no. I’d made it as a single-layer and a double-layer cake before, but never in triple. And it worked!

Triple-Layer Madness

Triple-Layer Madness

True, it’s sitting on an ugly plastic cake-saver base, but I think we can look beyond that.

Here’s a view from farther back:

Trois Coleurs

Trois Coleurs

Bonus: triple-color action among our dining room, foyer, and living rooms! For those of you requesting photos of the newly painted teal living room, this is as close as we’re getting, given that there’s currently no furniture in the room that is blog-worthy.

And here’s what the cake looked like as a slice (a la mode, BUT OF COURSE):



And the following day, post-dinner-party:



Please excuse those unsightly scrapings on the plate. I didn’t plan well for this photoshoot.

I’m surprised to say that it took me (and John, and our renter-friend, and our roofers) (but mostly me) (basically almost totally me) a full 6 days to get through this.

Also, I wish there were more.

The Tiniest Little (but, in my View, Important) Quibble with Something Otherwise Unerringly Excellent

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

In general and like pretty much everyone else, I am 100% in favor of George Saunders. He is not merely a genius at writing fiction but also a genius at being a person, at least according to a) the people I know who know him, and b) everything he says in interviews. By all accounts, he’s a superlative guy who spreads kindness everywhere, and I would like to hug him. And thank him. And give him a vegan chocolate cake. Or a smoothie! Would he prefer a smoothie?

But if I may just say . . .

Perhaps you’ve seen his charming, funny, incredibly wise commencement address that is currently making the rounds? I am a fan of this genre, if for no other reason than that I have always fantasized about giving a commencement address myself—and, interestingly to me (and probably nobody else) is the fact that what I would say in said commencement address has changed throughout the years. Anyway, point being, I’ve read quite a few of them, and Saunders’ is my favorite. By a million points. He wins!

I have just the tiniest little quibble.

And that is this. Saunders’ basic thesis is that he has one sure thing to recommend, and that is being kind. More kindness in the world is good for everyone, including (perhaps especially) the person being kind; he even slips a little Buddhism in by talking about how we’re all connected, and how we all very deeply want to feel that connection, even when our egos steer us toward solipsism and selfishness. He also makes it clear that being kind is difficult, and he supplies some very good strategies for how to go about it. Here’s an excerpt:

So, the second million-dollar question:  How might we DO this?  How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Can you guess, already, what I’m thinking? Here’s what I’m thinking. He left out working with your feelings (sometimes known as therapy). He left out the very important fact that being kind is often (perhaps most often) difficult because we have feelings that are getting in the way—we’re hurt, or scared, or angry, or embarrassed, or ashamed. We do what we do largely because we are governed by unconscious feelings, but when we make those feelings conscious, and work through them, suddenly we have a lot more choices about how we behave. Also, we feel better—and more connected to others. So we’re just naturally kinder.

All of those other strategies? Excellent and highly recommended. But if you don’t deal with the feelings, those strategies might actually be counter-productive. Because if you rationalize or meditate or pray your way out of feelings, you might be all, “Woo hoo! I love everyone!” at first. But at some point down the line, you might find that those feelings are still actually there, underneath, directing you in ways you haven’t been conscious of . . . until suddenly you are. And that doesn’t feel good at all.

My point is, and you’ve heard me say this before: You can’t get around feelings. You have to actually feel them, and deal with them. And/but that in itself leads to greater kindness.

So I guess you know what my commencement address would be about.