Library Loot (10 June 2010)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

With a delivery of woodchips (the missing piece that will complete the backyard) due to arrive in that usual delivery time frame of several hours of the afternoon, I made a hurried stop over at the library (and the post office and Target) to pick  up four holds – and yeah, you guessed it, I couldn’t help grabbing myself a few more off the shelves.

Another Sea, Another Shore: Persian Stories of Migration– edited by Shouleh Vatanabadi

My search on the library’s catalogue for works by Kader Abdolah, author of The House of The Mosque (which I first heard of at Rob Around Books) resulted in this find, which unfortunately was the only one!

In today’s world, with its often fluid national borders, many outstanding literary works have given voice to the life experience of immigrants, whose very being challenges traditional notions of national identity and culture. The recent immigration of Iranians all over the world has carved a space for a distinctly Iranian version of this vital wellspring of contemporary writing.

The stories in this collection are varied in their voices and themes and treat a number of issues such as national identity, gender, race, and class. Some capture childhood recollections; others reminisce about the homeland and the life left behind. All of them reflect efforts to reinvent new and multiple identities, as well as multicultural and borderless spaces.

The authors include both established and new voices: Fahimeh Farsaie, Dariush Karegar, Nasim Khaksar, Farideh Kheradmand, Pari Mansuri, Mehrnoush Mazarei, Qodsi Qazinur, Marjan Riahi, Said, Azar Shahab, Mahasti Shahrokhi, Mohammad Asef Soltanzadeh, and Goli Taraqi.

The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca – Tahir Shah

A non-fiction read for the Moroccan leg of the Reading The World Challenge.

In the tradition of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge–and nothing is as easy as it seems….

Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he and his wife, Rachana, had, Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph, or spiritual leader.

With its lush grounds, cool, secluded courtyards, and relaxed pace, life at Dar Khalifa seems sure to fulfill Tahir’s fantasy–until he discovers that in many ways he is farther from home than he imagined. For in Morocco an empty house is thought to attract jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world. The ardent belief in their presence greatly hampers sleep and renovation plans, but that is just the beginning. From elaborate exorcism rituals involving sacrificial goats to dealing with gangster neighbors intent on stealing their property, the Shahs must cope with a new culture and all that comes with it.

Endlessly enthralling, The Caliph’s House charts a year in the life of one family who takes a tremendous gamble. As we follow Tahir on his travels throughout the kingdom, from Tangier to Marrakech to the Sahara, we discover a world of fierce contrasts that any true adventurer would be thrilled to call home.

Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate – Alice Medrich

Oh, chocolate, how I love you. A couple of weekends ago, a friend and I made some cocoa brownies using this recipe adapted from Medrich’s cookbook by amazing food blogger Smitten Kitchen (here’s the link to the recipe). The brownies were decadently rich but so simple to make. I never would have thought that brownies using cocoa (and not actual chocolate) could taste that great. It does help if you use better quality cocoa powder of course! I’m looking forward to seeing what else Medrich has up her sleeve.

It is hard, today, to imagine a time when the word bittersweet was rarely spoken, when 70 percent of the chocolate purchased by Americans was milk chocolate. Today’s world of chocolate is a much larger universe, where not only is the quality better and variety wider, but the very composition of the chocolate has changed.

To do justice to these new chocolates, which contain more pure chocolate and less sugar, we need a fresh approach to chocolate desserts—a new kind of recipe—and someone to crack the code for substituting one chocolate for another in both new and classic recipes. Alice Medrich, the “First Lady of Chocolate,” delivers.

With nearly 150 recipes—each delicious and foolproof, no matter your level of expertise—BitterSweet answers every chocolate question, teaches every technique, confides every secret, satisfies every craving. You’ll marvel that recipes as basic as brownies and chocolate cake, mint chocolate chip ice cream and chocolate mousse, can still surprise and excite you, and that soufflés, chocolate panna cotta, even pasta sauces can be so dramatically flavorful.

For the last thirty years, Alice Medrich has been learning, teaching, and sharing what she loves and understands about chocolate. BitterSweet is the culmination of her life in chocolate thus far: revolutionary recipes, profound knowledge, and charming tales of a chocolate life.

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi
All those accolades… will it live up to them?

*Winner of the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel*
In this Time Magazine top 10 book of the year, Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko. Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe. What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of The Calorie Man; (Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and Yellow Card Man (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these poignant questions. This title has been nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards. This title was also on the best book lists of the year for Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.

Little Nothings 1: The Curse of the Umbrella (v. 1) – Lewis Trondheim
Never heard of this graphic novel or its creator before, but looked interesting!

The great talent behind the new generation in Europe, the Dungeon series, A.L.I.E.E.E.N. and Mr. O, pours his heart out in funny snippets of everyday life. His paranoia, little annoyances, big annoyances, chase of rainbows, love of comics, travel impressions from around the world, dealing with kids, being a kid: it’s all about life as we know it. A collection from his comics blog that expands his palette with full color painting, one can only be awed at Trondheim’s uncanny sense of observation and relate to all his experiences closely. Another touch of genius by one of today’s best and most influential comic artists.

Lucky – Gabrielle Bell
Another graphic novel that caught my eye as I scanned the shelves.

Gabrielle Bell fascinatingly documents the mundane details of her below-minimum-wage, twentysomething existence in Brooklyn, New York, with a subtle humor. Her simple, unadorned drawing style, heavy narration, and biting wit chronicle transient roommates who communicate only through Post-it notes; aspiring artists who sublet tiny rooms in leaky, greasy broken-down border-house loft apartments crawling with bugs, cats, and bad art. Bell tackles a string of forgettable, unrelated jobs—including nude modeling, artist’s assistant, art teacher, and jewelry maker—that only serve to bolster her despair, boredom, and discomfort in her own skin.Bell’s self-scrutiny leads her to dream sequences that allow her to rise above her banal actuality and hyperawareness. She fantasizes about her vision of a perfect world as she becomes the accomplished artist and world traveler she longs to be. Bell’s daily comics allow her to escape the harsh, judgmental gaze of the world and the monotony of daily life. Her unpolished art speaks to a desire to record all the messy details while the pain and confusion are still fresh.

Coming of age amid the zine revolution, cartoonist Gabrielle Bell has been creating her comics to much acclaim, even winning an Ignatz Award for the self-published serialization of Lucky.

A Vocation and a Voice: Stories – Kate Chopin

A book that is older than me.

This collection of short stories includes “The Story of an Hour” about the author’s childhood, “An Egyptian Cigarette”, the story of a drug trip and the title piece about a sweet-voiced soprano who learns about adult life.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?
What did you get from your library this week?
See more Library Loot here

Anil’s Ghost

“Anil had read documents and news reports, full of tragedy, and she had now lived abroad long enough to interpret Sri Lanka with a long-distance gaze. But here it was a more complicated world morally. The streets were still streets, the citizens remained citizens. They shopped, changed jobs, laughed. Yet the darkest Greek tragedies were innocent compared with what was happening here. Heads on stakes. Skeletons dug out of a cocoa pit in Matale. At university Anil had translated lines from Archilochus –  in the hospitality of war we left them their dead to remember us by. But here there was no such gesture to the families of the dead, not even the information of who the enemy was.”

Anil Tissera is a native Sri Lankan who left her country at 18 and is returning after 15 years as a forensic anthropologist investigating political murders.

This is a story of juxtaposition. There is that lush and idyllic Sri Lanka, with its monasteries and temples. It is a beautiful, extravagantly abundant setting over which the spectre of war hovers. Death, blood lurks in the jungles, on the streets, in the hospitals:

“He would lie there conscious of the noises from the surrounding ocean of trees. Farther away  were the wars of terror, the gunman in love with the sound of their shells, where the main purpose of war had become war.”

I can’t help but fall for this place Ondaatje so vividly describes. How in movie theatres in Sri Lanka, “if there was a great scene – usually a musical number or an extravagant fight – the crowd would yell out ‘Replay! Replay!’ or ‘Rewind! Rewind!’ till the theatre manager and projectionist were forced to comply.” Or how Anil begins her day:

“She woke early the next morning in her rented house on Ward Place and walked into the darkness of the garden, following the sound of koha birds busy with their claims and proclamations. She stood there drinking her tea. Then walked to the main road as a light rain began. When a three-wheeler taxi stopped by her she slipped into it. The taxi fled away, squeezing itself into every narrow possibility of the dense traffic. She held on to the straps tightly, the rain at her ankles from its open sides. The bajaj was cooler than an air-conditioned car, and she liked the throaty ducklike sound of the horns.”

I’ve only previously read Ondaatje’s The English Patient and have often hesitated in picking up his other books, I’m not sure why. After reading Anil’s Ghost, I was awed by his lyrical writing and the complexity (but still accessible) of his characters. There were such great little details that made these characters come to life. Anil, for example, bought her name from her brother with cigarettes and rupees at the age of 13. Gamini, a doctor and her colleague Sarath’s brother, was nicknamed ‘Meeya’ or Mouse as a child, and who later in life “felt himself on a boat of demons and himself to be the only clearheaded and sane person there. He was a perfect participant in the war”.

This book doesn’t travel too far in terms of a plot and it does take a little while to sink into, plus the shifting perspective can be a little confusing. However, Ondaatje has written such a beautiful, rich book that it would be such a shame to pass it by.

Anil’s Ghost is my second read for the Sri Lankan leg of the Reading the World Challenge. It was a perfect fit for this challenge, bringing the country of Sri Lanka to life.

The Honorary Consul

It is with much reluctance that I write about this book. It started out well but got bogged down about 3/4 of the way through, and while well-written, didn’t quite allow me to sink into it. I felt like I was an onlooker, standing on the edge of the crowd, trying to peer over the shoulders of the many in front of me, trying to see what was going on, and merely getting glimpses.

Perhaps I ought to start flipping through these books before I actually chuck them in the basket when I’m at the library. However, since it started out well enough, would that have made any difference? I would’ve still checked it out of the library and brought it home with me.

It has been such a long time since I’ve read Greene. The first was The Quiet American , after the movie came out. The movie has coloured my recollection of the book, I can only think of Michael Caine and unfortunately, Brendan Fraser, when I try to remember what this book was about. Similarly, when I try to recall The End of the Affair , what comes to mind is Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes. So The Honorary Consul is the first Greene that I have read without being clouded by someone else’s vision. Yet somehow I have no firm impression of the book, despite having just read it a few weeks ago. While trying to come up with a serviceable summary, I even had to look up the names of the characters because they had already been wiped from my memory. That doesn’t quite bode very well for this book, or this review, does it? Ok, I’ll try to keep it short. Onward!

Fortnum is the Honorary Consul, long forgotten by his government in this sleepy border town in Argentina. A botched kidnapping by Paraguayan revolutionaries who were trying to capture the American ambassador means that Fortnum’s main connection to the outside world is Dr Plarr, a British-Paraguayan doctor. What complicates things is that Fortnum’s young wife, a former prostitute, is carrying Plarr’s baby, although Fortnum doesn’t quite know that. Anyway, there are funny moments and interesting characters (almost all were male) and good writing, which should all be elements for a good book, shouldn’t they? I don’t know, perhaps it was my reading mood at the time or maybe I was just juggling too many books and wasn’t quite committed to this one as I should’ve been.

This is my first read for the Argentinian leg of the Reading the World Challenge. However, perhaps this wasn’t the best of books to kick off the Argentinian leg of the Reading the World Challenge. I’ll be looking for another Argentinian read soon!

Read: Reef

I had a rather difficult time with Reef. It’s a commendable first novel whose narrator Triton gets taken in as a young boy by marine biologist, Mr Salgado, and becomes his houseboy and a very accomplished cook: (For Mr Salgado’s female guest, “I made everything: little coconut cakes – kavum – patties, egg sandwiches, ham sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, even love-cake… I made enough for a horse.”)

This book just didn’t quite gel with me, although there were so many reasons why I should have liked it. I really do like books that feature food, for example, and this one had quite a bit of that – especially the big Christmas feast that Triton manages to coax up. I do like to armchair travel, and having never been to Sri Lanka before and not having read a book set in Sri Lanka before this one (I think), I did enjoy the descriptions of the beautiful setting.

I noted in an earlier post that this book has been described as ‘spicy’ but I found the characters rather bland. Neither is it really a coming-of-age story – he does get older, but I didn’t really think that his character developed very much. Sometimes no matter the accolades and the award shortlists (in this case, both the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1994), it just doesn’t work. In this case, I struggled to finish it, as I’m struggling to write about it right now. Reef wasn’t the right book for me, but it has had quite a lot of positive reviews, so it might be right for you.

This is my first read for the Sri Lankan leg of the Reading the World Challenge (challenge page).

Read: The Crystal Desert

Sometimes all it takes is the first sentence of a book to make you want to read it. This book’s first sentence, however, was not quite so inspiring:

“I spent three summers in Antarctica, in places beyond the horizon of most of the rest of my species.” Perhaps this might have captured a reader’s interest back in 1992 when it was published, but not so much these days.

My eyes drifted down the page as I wondered if The Crystal Desert – which I found out about from Sara Wheeler’s Terra Incognita – were worth picking up.

“I was as lonely as an astronaut walking on the moon. But at other times, during the short, erotic summer along the ocean margins of the continent, Antarctica seemed to be a celebration of everything living, of unchecked DNA in all its procreative frenzy, transmuting sunlight and minerals into life itself, hatching, squabbling, swimming, and soaring on the sea wind.”

Sounds promising enough.

And it was, quite.

David Campbell is a biologist who spent three summers in Antarctica in the 1980s, his last visit spent at a Brazilian research station nicknamed ‘Little Copacabana’, where days were spent in a near-freezing biology lab and nights partying.

“We were scientists who had to come to study more enduring things: fossils and glaciers, the ebb and flow of seasons, wind and albatrosses, metropolises of penguins, and the crowded, unseen Antarctic underwater realm, which brims with life as no other sea on Earth. We were pilgrims in the last new land on Earth.”

Campbell has written a good travelogue, with a biological and historical (I learnt a lot about the history of whaling!) slant. He has a keen eye and a good sense of balance – not too much on the science and the details, a nice blend of  observations of the  natural life in Antarctica and personal anecdotes. It is thoughtful and at the same time, entertaining. Perhaps I haven’t read many books written by scientists before (and I’m not talking about secondary school science textbooks) so I was a bit unsure of what I was getting myself into.

But how can you not like a biologist who writes about the ship taking him to Antarctica in this way:

“She is a clamorous vessel. The hydraulic steering mechanism, located behind my cabin, whines and clinks every few seconds.”

This is my second read for the Antarctica leg of the Reading The World Challenge (challenge page). It made a good contrast to my first read, Sara Wheeler’s Terra Incognita, which was more about the human life in Antarctica.

Book provided by my library

Read: Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi

I was constantly frustrated as I read Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail. It has such potential, a fascinating, real-life story, a woman who grew up among the Moroccan royalty as the king’s adopted daughter, and whose life falls apart when she – along with her mother and young siblings – are imprisoned for 20 years for her father’s failed coup. Her youngest brother is only 3 when it happens and has never experienced life outside the walls of the desert prison.

But Stolen Lives hardly lives up to its promise as the writing is bland and very detached. I came away from it without really feeling much for these poor people, which sounds harsh I know, since these are real people who had to experience these terrible years, and for something they didn’t do.  I am the kind of reader who tears easily and have read many books with a tissue in hand, and I guess I was expecting to feel something…. anything… for this book. For me, the writing absolutely let the story down. And I don’t feel like I can say anything that will help this book, so I will let it be. Maybe you’ll have better luck with it!

Book provided by my library

Dang, I was doing so well with this challenge. This is the first book I’ve been disappointed in since beginning the Reading The World Challenge. This is my read for the African leg – Morocco.

Read: Island by Alistair MacLeod

Why do we read? It was a question that I couldn’t help musing over as I read this book. It’s not an easy question to answer. All kinds of answers popped into my head: chasing away boredom, a love for the written word, the way books can result in reflection and inspiration. And oh the worlds that books allow you to step into, take a look around and get lost in. Places that sometimes are made up, places that are wonderful or woeful, places that you will never in your lifetime get to but can explore through books.

And so it was for me and Alistair MacLeod’s The Island. At first I wasn’t quite so sure about it. There was that sense of sadness, a greyness about his stories. I thought, oh great, a depressing read. But as I read on, and began to kind of understand this place (Cape Breton) and its communities better, through the stories told from different perspectives, it all sank in and settled around me and was at once comforting and sad, familiar and strange. I couldn’t quite understand it (and this is my way of trying to understand it): How is it that a collection of stories, from this place so far removed from everything I’ve ever known, could move me so?

Perhaps it was the mood I was in. Perhaps it was the grey, the rain that I couldn’t stop from appearing outside my window. Perhaps that is just the power of the written word.

Sometimes I feel a little silly when I write about the books I’ve read. Especially when the books are by established but new to me authors. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t been said over and over before. But sometimes I think, maybe someone else hasn’t read anything by said author. And would, like me, be awed and inspired by those words for the first time.

There is a constant sense of the divide between working class and white collar such as in The Return; between educated children and their uneducated parents such as in The Golden Gift of Grey; between tradition and the contemporary world such as in The Tuning of Perfection. That divide is riddled with all kinds of issues and problems. Many never to be resolved.

Reading The Island does take a good investment of time, as I found it quite hard to move immediately from one story to another, and I took nearly three weeks to finish reading this (if it weren’t a library book, I think I might have taken much longer, as each story ought to be savoured individually) It is quite a sad read, even with the stories that have a lighter touch, and there were a few stories that were a bit too aloof, a bit too heavy for me, and I felt like I was chewing away at it, without getting much of a taste of its flavour. Those types of stories were a minority though and as I gradually made my way through this collection, I was moved and absorbed into this sad, snowy, foggy, craggy world that is Alistair MacLeod’s Island.

Book provided by my library

This is my read for the North American leg of the Reading the World Challenge (challenge page).

Read in February 2010

February didn’t start out too well but I managed to push through in the final days and rack up some better than expected reading totals.

Fiction (8)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
O Pioneers! – Willa Cather
The Unit – Ninni Holmqvist
Death with Interruptions – Jose Saramago
Island – Alistair MacLeod (review to come… promise!)

Graphic Novel (1)
The Sandman: Brief Lives – Neil Gaiman

Non-fiction (4)
The Food of a Younger Land- Mark Kurlansky
Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World – Claudia Roth Pierpont
Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica – Sara Wheeler
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table – Molly Wizenberg (review to come)

Total: 13

Library Loot (24 February 2009)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

Unless: A Novel – Carol Shields
I have to credit Carol Shields and my A-level lit teacher in Singapore for making me want to read again. In our second-year class on literary criticism, we read an excerpt from Shields’ Stone Diaries, and although I can’t remember what that excerpt was about today, it made me want to read more – and not just for school. I used to read and read heaps of books when I was a kid, all the way up to the end of primary school, but from secondary school onwards, that enthusiasm faded out a bit, I’m not sure why. Anyway, it’s a long-winded way of saying that it’s been a long time since I’ve picked up Shields’ work and I look forward to being inspired again.

Reta Winters, 44-year-old successful author of light summertime fiction, has always considered herself happy, even blessed. That is, until her oldest daughter Norah mysteriously drops out of college to become a panhandler on a Toronto street corner — silent, with a sign around her neck bearing the word “Goodness”.

The City & The City – China Mieville
Having quite enjoyed Un Lun Dun, I thought I’d pick up Mieville’s latest, especially since it made the shortlist for the Nebula awards

New York Times bestselling author China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other–real or imagined.

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives.

What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Having read some of the Woolf In Winter participants’ posts on To The Lighthouse, I felt that I ought to give a second chance to this book that I picked up about 10 years ago and perhaps wasn’t quite ready for it (I’m still not sure I’m ready for it now, but I’m going to just give it a try!).
This is my read that is older than me. And rather than copying and pasting the Amazon product description (something borrowed about being required reading for courses), I’ll copy and paste a little bit from kiss a cloud’s review:

Sitting here, a little teary-eyed, heart thumping, I want to say: Reader, if you fancy life at all, if you see yourself as thoughtful, pensive, a dreamer, a daydreamer, if you wallow in words, thoughts, and you worry everyday about things and what they mean to you and to others, and if you feel constantly overcome by memories and nostalgia and wonder about people and what they think, and if you wonder about the world and all its gifts and all its pleasures and all its darkness and all its light, then please, please, honour yourself by reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table – Molly Wizenberg

I wanted a foodie read and figured that since I’ve been reading her blog for a while now, I might as well read her book.

When Molly Wizenberg’s father died of cancer, everyone told her to go easy on herself, to hold off on making any major decisions for a while. But when she tried going back to her apartment in Seattle and returning to graduate school, she knew it wasn’t possible to resume life as though nothing had happened. So she went to Paris, a city that held vivid memories of a childhood trip with her father, of early morning walks on the cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter and the taste of her first pain au chocolat. She was supposed to be doing research for her dissertation, but more often, she found herself peering through the windows of chocolate shops, trekking across town to try a new pâtisserie, or tasting cheeses at outdoor markets, until one evening when she sat in the Luxembourg Gardens reading cookbooks until it was too dark to see, she realized that her heart was not in her studies but in the kitchen.

At first, it wasn’t clear where this epiphany might lead. Like her long letters home describing the details of every meal and market, Molly’s blog Orangette started out merely as a pleasant pastime. But it wasn’t long before her writing and recipes developed an international following. Every week, devoted readers logged on to find out what Molly was cooking, eating, reading, and thinking, and it seemed she had finally found her passion. But the story wasn’t over: one reader in particular, a curly-haired, food-loving composer from New York, found himself enchanted by the redhead in Seattle, and their email correspondence blossomed into a long-distance romance.

In A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg recounts a life with the kitchen at its center. From her mother’s pound cake, a staple of summer picnics during her childhood in Oklahoma, to the eggs she cooked for her father during the weeks before his death, food and memories are intimately entwined. You won’t be able to decide whether to curl up and sink into the story or to head straight to the market to fill your basket with ingredients for Cider-Glazed Salmon and Pistachio Cake with Honeyed Apricots.

The Sandman Vol. 7: Brief Lives – Neil Gaiman

Sandman. No need to say anymore.

Delirium, youngest brother of the Endless, prevails upon her brother, Dream, to help her find their missing sibling. Their travels take them through the world of the waking until a final confrontation with the missing member of the Endless and the resolution of Dream’s relationship with his son change the endless forever.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail (Oprah’s Book Club) – Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi
This is my read for the African leg of the Reading The World Challenge (challenge page)

A gripping memoir that reads like a political thriller–the story of Malika Oufkir’s turbulent and remarkable life. Born in 1953, Malika Oufkir was the eldest daughter of General Oufkir, the King of Morocco’s closest aide. Adopted by the king at the age of five, Malika spent most of her childhood and adolescence in the seclusion of the court harem, one of the most eligible heiresses in the kingdom, surrounded by luxury and extraordinary privilege.

Then, on August 16, 1972, her father was arrested and executed after an attempt to assassinate the king. Malika, her five younger brothers and sisters. and her mother were immediately imprisoned in a desert penal colony. After fifteen years, the last ten of which they spent locked up in solitary cells, the Oufkir children managed to dig a tunnel with their bare hands and make an audacious escape. Recaptured after five days, Malika was finally able to leave Morocco and begin a new life in exile in 1996.

A heartrending account in the face of extreme deprivation and the courage with which one family faced its fate, Stolen Lives is an unforgettable story of one woman’s journey to freedom.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?
What did you get from your library this week?

See more Library Loot here.

Read: Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago

“The following day, no one died. This fact, being absolutely contrary to life’s rules, provoked enormous and, in the circumstances, perfectly justifiable anxiety in people’s minds, for we have only to consider that in the entire forty volumes of universal history there is no mention, not even one exemplary case, of such a phenomenon ever having occurred, for a whole day to go by, with its generous allowance of twenty-four hours, diurnal and nocturnal, matutinal and vespertine, without one death from an illness, a fatal fall, or a successful suicide, not on, not a single one.”

What a way to open a book.

First, in this land of no death, there is joy and celebration. But immortality isn’t everything that it’s cut out to be. The hiccups emerge. The undertakers are concerned with the lack of business, the hospitals worry about the pile-up of patients. And families begin to wonder about their dying relatives, now not given a chance to expire. One family stumbles upon the idea of bringing their dying relatives over to the neighbouring country, and that catches on, the government frowns upon it (while at the same time, is pleased as it solves a lot of problems) and things get a big complicated and the maphia steps in (“Why the ph, To distinguish us from the original mafia”).

I hate to say this, as I do love what I’ve previously read by Saramago, but the first half of Death With Interruptions was a bit dry. There wasn’t a central character to relate to and for a book that is concerned with the not-dying, it oddly didn’t make me ponder the issue of death and dying.

Now the second half of  the book is far more enjoyable. death (with the small ‘d’) is the central character. She explains in a letter why she went on strike and begins a new practice of warning people – in the form of violet-enveloped letters – a week before their deaths.But one letter keeps coming back. She is intrigued, as it is a new experience for death, and visits with the not-dead cellist, first merely to observe, later to meet him.

Saramago’s version of death is quite different. First, death is female. She does have a scythe, which she talks to. She’s not averse to email: “perhaps I’ll try it some day, but until then, I’ll continue to write with pen, paper and ink, it has the charm of tradition, and tradition counts for a lot when it comes to dying”. death is a great character. She is sympathetic, curious, thoughtful.

The thing with Saramago is that he both frustrates and enthralls. His long sentences meander their way to you, wordy yes but what a sight. It does mean that such concentration is required when reading Saramago, especially his dialogue as the speech of characters is divided only by commas, Confusing, Yes isn’t it, but also quite genius. Saramago’s writing perhaps makes me forgive the relative dryness of his first half, as does the delightful death.

Book provided by my library

This is my European (Portugal) read for the Reading The World Challenge