reading: perfume, Eugenides, Kincaid, skincare


Scent and Subversion, Barbara Herman — A quick intro to vintage perfume and then a series of reviews of classics broken down by decade. Not unlike Perfumes: The A-Z Guide in format but focused on vintage scents and with more historic framework in place. Written by a perfume enthusiast for perfume enthusiasts. As with the guide, a good text to get you thinking about what makes good perfume writing, and how to think about (and how to think about describing) perfume.

The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides — I’ve been listening to podcasts of KCRW’s show Bookworm a lot lately, and getting a number of recommendations from those conversations (the host Michael Silverblatt interviews authors about their recently released books), this being one of many. I didn’t love it, but I give it to him that it is painstakingly life-like in its bizarrenesses. I was drawn in by the concept that the marriage plot (where the whole novel turns on whether or not or who or when someone will marry, see Jane Austen for example) , wildly common in the early days of the novel, is more or less dead as a driving force now, and yet Eugenides wanted to try his hand at one. Sounds to me like a good exercise.

My Garden (Book), Jamaica Kincaid — I heard an interview with Jamaica Kincaid (whose voice is gentle and inviting – Bookworm again) about this book and was curious to check it out. A series of essays held together by the common thread of gardening but touching on themes of post-colonialism and identity. Casual and charming, good for those who can appreciate the Latin names of plants, or who like to hear them roll around.

Younger: The Breakthrough Anti-Aging Method for Radiant Skin, Harold Lancer — This reads, somewhat unfortunately, like a well-researched infomercial. If you can skip through the repetition, though, the breakdown of how skin works (and how the method works) is solid. The basic idea is that you encourage your skin to repair itself, as modern skincare is still not as sophisticated as the systems of regeneration the skin already has in place. The issue is communicating to the skin that it should be in regeneration mode, and the method for doing this is daily exfoliation, before cleansing. This is almost the conclusion I’d come to independently, but I wasn’t exfoliating before cleansing, and the reasoning for doing so seems sound. My skin is responding well, too.

reading: Turgenev, Zola, Mead, paella, recipes


Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev — Turgenev has a sensitivity and a clarity that makes reading him feel healthy for your mind.

The Ladies’ Paradise, Emile Zola — The novel on which the recent Masterpiece number The Paradise is loosely, rather cartoonishly based, the novel being a good deal darker and harsher. Often lovely and often sad, unafraid of sympathy or sentimentality in a bold, masterful way that makes you, the modern reader (usually so scornful of sentimentality in our jaded superiority), ready to embrace it, too. Somehow I’ve read it before Zola’s more famous Germinal, which I’ve wanted to read for a lot longer. How decisions of what to read are made are a matter of endless interest to me.

One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, Rebecca Mead — This book reads like an engaging, well-researched magazine article that just happens to be kind of long. Mead (a staff writer for The New Yorker) gives a thoughtful breakdown of the wedding industry from the dress factories in China to  independent bridal shops, small town churches, and Vegas chapels, underscoring how blatantly commercial and inherently manipulative the industry is, and how rife with paradoxes. That weddings are becoming bigger and more expensive in concert with the divorce rate (interesting for a bunch reasons). The dream that wedding industry advertising is selling promises more and more (expanding to fit the growing consumer appetites and the cultural call for individuality), subtly conflating wedding with marriage (the better the wedding, the better the marriage, is the implication), and the consumable peripherals are multiplying as fast as vendors can dream them up, each bolstered by as much pseudo/faux-tradition as will stick to them. The Bride is one of the most desirable consumers, eagerly wooed by all industry sectors – a cash cow to be milked to the max.

This is good writing, with a mix of interesting and funny details chosen and the reflection to make it appealing for a wide audience. Picked it up at the library on a whim along with another of Mead’s titles about Middlemarch, a favorite of mine.

La Paella, Jeff Koehler

Paella!, Penelope Casa — Such a versatile, appealing dish. I love to learn culinary concepts like this; a set of basic principles which, once established, may be approached with an endless variety of ingredients. I’m determined to be a competent maker of paella, whatever the style. I got a pan.*

*A very simple, inexpensive pan with a thin bottom, the style preferred by seasoned paella chefs for its quick response to changes in temperature.

My Paris Kitchen, David Lebovitz — I like browsing this species of cookbook, part recipe compilation, part food memoir/food philosophy, part cultural translation. This has a nice blend of traditional French dishes and the ‘quirky personal dishes loosely based on a classic’ that are the natural by-product of a good, creative cook living their life. I don’t necessarily read such books in order to make the recipes, but to be inspired by various innovative or promising-sounding combinations.

Homemade Winter, Yvette Van Boven — A straight cookbook with a great rustic, homey aesthetic, featuring a lot of my favorite ingredients (cinnamon, clove, ginger…). Much more likely to try a recipe verbatim from this kind of cookbook (and likely to skim or skip whatever prose there may be, only casting an eye over the recipe ingredients). I’m a little late mentioning this, I was browsing it all winter. I think about elaborate cooking a lot more than I actually engage in it these days (I work so many hours, reader!), and I bake still less. I’ve been thinking about making a loaf of bread for 14 months at least. It’s time to confront my excuses.