So what's on your summer reading list? Mine got a lot longer after I cleaned up all the stacks of books piled around my bed. Ouch.
Here’s what I did not do last weekend: Make the bed.
Here’s what I did accomplish: Wore my blue paisley silk Stella McCartney pajamas most of the weekend. Ate chickpea masala for three days. Took a late afternoon bubble bath watching the light filter through the oak leaves. Drank mojitos made with giant garden mint leaves.
Then I tackled the piles of books stacked by my side of the bed.
Oh the horror...
It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t open the nearest window without threading my way through towers of heavy books, any one of which could have broken my toe if it had toppled over.
Fifty nine books altogether, plus countless magazines.
So I got organized.
Around the edge of the bedroom I made neat piles, assigning all those books to categories like: Not worth finishing, give away...Keep for the future, because you never know…Lightweight, save to read while traveling....Put on bedside table to read now. Cookbooks, gardening, travel guides…
I stashed some in the library. This required me to make room by removing books that I decided I could live without. Thank heavens for our new rolling library ladder. B calls it “an affectation.” I, reaching for the upper shelves, call it “a divine necessity.”
Some went to my office, others back to the floor within “easy access” of the bed. Some went into a box for the used bookstore. And then what did I do? I went to Flyleaf Books and bought five more books to read.
Is there a 12-step program for compulsive book buyers?
Anyway, here’s what I plan to enjoy this summer. As we say in French class, on verra.
New Books I’m Reading Now:
Writings from the Sand, Collected Works of Isabelle Eberhardt, Volume I. University of Nebraska Press. Seductive writings, translated from the French, of a rebellious young woman who traveled alone through North Africa, often dressed as an Arab male, during the late 19th and early 20 centuries. She died in a flood at age 27, but her papers, incredibly, were unearthed from the dried mud under her house many years later.
Paris in Love, Eloisa James, Random House. After breast cancer, a Shakespeare professor and her Italian husband take a year off in Paris, uprooting their young children in the process. A delicious book composed mostly of tasty mouthfuls: “I asked if Alessandro would pick up some of the spectacular chocolate mousse made by a patisserie on nearby rue Richer. His response: ‘I thought you were on a diet.’ These seven words rank among the more imprudent things he has said to me in the long years of our marriage.”
Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater's Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good, Barb Stuckey, Free Press. Probably the sixth book I have read trying to understand the interrelationship of taste and smell. This is the quirkiest: Stuckey includes experiments like dying part of your tongue blue and then counting the number of taste buds you have. Hint: They look like blue bubbles.
A Different Lind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance, Andy Couturier, Stone Bridge Press. A young American writer’s portraits of 11 men and women who have left fast-paced lives to become artists, philosophers and farmers in the mountains of rural Japan. Among the benefits: an abundance of time to think and do work that is truly fulfilling. Provocative.
The Cookbook Library, Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook, Anne Willan, University of California Press. Traces the evolution of written recipes and cookbooks through an exemplary collection of old texts collected over the years by Willan and her husband. I like the way Willan gives recipes as originally written followed by her modern interpretation. For example, a 1641 recipe for a Genoese tart becomes the irresistible and not-too-difficult Spinach and Parmesan Cheese Tart with Mint.
Books I Started a While Ago and Absolutely Must Finish:
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Wade Davis, Knopf. The true story of dashing British climbers’ attempts to scale Mount Everest in the 1920’s. Based on letters, diaries, archival material and field work in Nepal and Tibet. Appalling scenes from the trenches of World War I made me flinch; only the geography of war has changed. (I once met Wade David at a lecture in Raleigh and for several years thereafter received brochures advertising magic mushroom retreats in Mexico.)
River of Smoke, Amitav Ghosh, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I love, love, love this book, the sequel to Sea of Poppies. An riveting adventure tale full of exotic characters, “spectacular coincidences, startling reversals of fortune, and tender love stories.” Why does it keep falling off my bedside table and getting lost among piles of magazines?
Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Richard Rhodes, Doubleday. The Austrian-born “silver screen bombshell,” star of Samson and Delilah and other epics, was also a first class brain. During World War II she and composer George Antheil invented “a jam-proof radio guidance system for torpedos, the science of which apparently underpins our digital world.
Life, Keith Richards, Little Brown. Great read, but can’t seem to get past the Stones’ drug-fueled adventures at the 4-Dice Restaurant in Fordyce, Arkansas. Hilarious, but I’m still on page 21. The autobiography that launched the rock star memoir trend.
Books I Can’t Wait to Start Reading:
The Right Hand Shore, Christopher Tilghman, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I cried buckets at the end of Tilghman’s first novel, Mason’s Retreat. This new book returns to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and another tale of the charmed but doomed Mason family. Tilghman, who teaches at UVA, is a brilliant and moving writer, deeply pleasurable to read.
An Everlasting Meal, Cooking with Economy and Grace, Tamar Adlar, Scribner. Not as much a cookbook as it is a meditation (though the recipes do look good.) Adler, a former Harper’s Bazaar editor and cook at Chez Panisse, has written a slow food contemplation of simple foods like the egg: “A good egg is worth it [the cost], as long as your stance egg in hand isn’t automatic. As long as you stop before cracking it and think: ‘I am going to softly scramble this egg,’ or ‘A bowl of yesterday’s rice would be delicious topped with this one.’”
The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food, Adam Gopnik, Knopf. A Christmas present that re-surfaced during the great book clean-up. Despite the blurb on the back by the always insightful Padma Lakshmi, “The perfect book for any intellectual foodie, a delicious book packed with so much to sink your teeth into,” I will read it anyway, if only (and especially) to enjoy Gopnik’s endearing wit.
Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard, Nigel Slater, 10 Speed Press. I’ve already driven myself mad by reading Slater’s introduction to his “diminutive” garden in an 1820’s London terrace: “There is barely an inch of ground to spare. From white currants and golden raspberries to purple figs and red gooseberries, my pocket handkerchief of urban space is bursting at the seams. Give me a couple of feet more and I’ll show you space for a crab apple with blossoms the color of a loganberry fool.” Recipes such as an Apricot Pilaf, made of course with apricots from his own garden, plus cardamom pods, bay leaves, black peppercorns, a cinnamon stick, cloves and mint, make me want to kill myself. (Not really, but I am deeply, deeply jealous of this man’s prolific garden.)
Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut, Salma Abdelnour, Broadway. A paperback I’m saving for the next plane. I‘ve always enjoyed the author’s travel articles in Food & Wine so I’m taking a chance on her memoir of the year she spent in Lebanon reconnecting with her family and old friends after moving to America as a young girl.
Whew! Can I really read all these books by August 31st? (Hope so because I'm absolutely positively not buying another book until these are finished.)
What's on your summer reading list?