reading: Harad, McPhee, Johnson, Knausgaard

On May 14, 2016 by theseventhsphinx

I’ve failed to include reading for a long while,  a bit of a shame as I’ve been reading so many things I would recommend. Let the jury note a general resolution to improve on this front. What I’m reading tends to be a more or less direct reflection of what is occupying me, and what I find important and interesting from one month to the next. I have long believed that reading is the most important activity I do, and I grow increasingly dimwitted when I neglect it.

reading theseventhsphinx

Coming to My Senses, Alyssa Harad — This is a wonderful story about the awakening of Harad’s passion for perfume intertwined with thoughts about beauty and identity that are relevant to us all, and especially to women, whose relationship to beauty (to an abstract, artistic concept of beauty as well as a commercial, mainstream concept of beauty) is so complex and, in many ways, problematic. Harad writes eloquently about her own journey, and any of you secret perfume obsessives out there—of which I am a not so secret one, but even readers here (and even good friends) cannot begin to imagine the true volumes of perfume in my possession—will surely identify with her. A delightful read, and I suggest following her on twitter as well. One great result of reading this is the irresistible urge to dig out perfume samples, buy new perfume samples, and think with still greater (and variously focused) attention about perfume and beauty. This is directly related to the larger questions of what makes art art and what makes the beautiful beautiful that has been humming along in relation to the painting I’ve been doing, which I will have to get into another time.

Middle Passage, Charles Johnson—I’m about a quarter in here and it is already a riveting, deeply ominous narrative. A fictional account of a New Orleans thief stowing away on what turns out to be a slave ship collecting and transporting slaves from Africa. I’ve read enough about this novel to know it’s only going to get more gruesome. Excellent, if we want to call such a grisly story about such a awful subject excellent…thanks to GeekOutsider for prompting me to push this to the top of the list.

Levels of the Game, John McPhee—As I was reading this I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘this is so good!!’ McPhee is, on the surface, describing a semi-final match in the 1968 U.S. Open. The face-off (I wasn’t familiar with either player before reading this), fantastic tennis writing in its own right, is brilliantly interleaved with biographical, social, and historical context. You don’t need to be that into tennis to appreciate what this is: an attentive, informative, wonderfully researched, insightful essay. The format reminded me of L. Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, a play-by-play of the 2008 Wimbledon men’s final. Wertheim’s account of the match (extremely detailed, with certain dramatic points described at length) is similarly interrupted to provide context – I’m convinced he’s standing on McPhee’s shoulders. It’s also an interesting read and one I enjoyed a lot (I read it twice!) but it pales in comparison to Levels style and subtle humor, and has nothing like the cocktail of social tensions surrounding the ’68 match. There is little I enjoy more than putting myself in the hands of a brilliant essayist.

My Struggle: Book Two, Karl Ove Knausgaard—A strange, compelling autobiography on the model of Remembrance of Things Past, that is, an exhaustively detailed, sharp-eyed reflection of his remembered life. Knausgaard is of course not Proust, but we would not want him to be, he is thoroughly himself. The powers of description that help me to trust his narration (I mean, put my trust in him as a reader (I mean, keep reading)) are all the more effective paired with his grim (at times grim, at times provocative), relentless honesty. Already I am enjoying Book Two, focusing on his romantic and family life, more than Book One (also massive), which chronicled his childhood and the death of his father. Interesting too that he is speaking in such detail of cultures – Norwegian, then later Swedish – so foreign to me, beyond the fascination of speaking in such detail of a life so foreign to me. A kind of life. Incidentally, the work, some six volumes in total, is a literary sensation. Not hard to see why.

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reading: wine, wine, wine

On August 29, 2015 by theseventhsphinx

wine books

Sense a theme? We are very into wine.

Red, White, and Drunk All Over, Natalie MacLean — An entertaining and practical book by a young, stylish wine writer – half the story of her life as a wine writer and half useful wine user’s manual. A condensed and approachable guide to serving and enjoying wine. Often funny as well, as the title implies.

Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France, Kermit Lynch — A passionate importer shares tales from the road. If you’re not already into wine this might not provide enough context but quite interesting if you’re into French wine. Lots of vignettes/mini histories of his favorite producers.

How to Love Wine, Eric Asimov — A general call not to be intimidated by wine from the New York Times wine critic. Not bad as an opening text if you are just getting into wine, with the basic concept that wine is meant to be enjoyed, and advice to help you avoid all those pitfalls that can make it no fun at all (i.e. stressing out about impressing people (probably you are good at other things), being intimidated by your lack of wine knowledge (you don’t need any to know what you like), worrying that your palate isn’t good enough (it is), bad wine (not as common as it used to be), paying too much (you don’t have to), etc.). Likely preaching to the choir if you already love wine but satisfying to have someone writing intelligent things about wine with which you can agree, reaffirming your good sense.

Bordeaux/Burgundy: A Vintage Rivalry, Jean-Robert Pitte — Great if you are into the history of these regions, which is vast and complex. Lots of rich detail. Reads a bit like a thesis in parts (could be a translation issue – originally written in French, which we like) but obviously well-researched. [See also this interesting tasting/debate with Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson on the topic]

Tasting Pleasure: Confessions of a Wine Lover, Jancis Robinson — Jancis Robinson is to Britain what Robert Parker is to the U.S., the most influential wine critic. Unlike Parker, though, Robinson seems infinitely more personable to me, and more in line with my approach to wine (she doesn’t think much of scores, for example). She co-authors the definitive World Atlas of Wine, did a great series of videos on major grape varieties for the BBC, did an interview/ tasting with the quirky WineLibraryTV (pretty funny contrast between host and guest), and is the author of dozens of books about wine, including this memoir.  This chronicles how she sort of stumbles into being such an influential wine critic, and some of her memorable tastings and projects. I’ve liked all of her writing, and really all of her speaking, which is intelligent and no-nonsense with a good sense of humor…I like her.

Reading Between the Wines, Terry Theise — Wine philosophy. Theise reflects on what it means to make wine, what it means to make good wine, what it means to enjoy wine, what it means for wine to be beautiful, what it means for anything to be beautiful…if you are interested in thoughts on what makes a good life, this is a really interesting read.

Passion on the Vine, Sergio Esposito — Of all the wine memoirs* I’ve been reading, this is the best memoir in its own right, independent of wine data. Funny, with life and wine nicely integrated, engaging writing.

*I’m calling them wine memoirs, books written by people who are passionate about wine that are partly about the people and partly about their experiences with wine, though some are more guides or manifestos than memoirs.

Reflections of a Wine Merchant, Neal Rosenthal — As with the Lynch, you want to be pretty into wine to go for this, otherwise it’s a bunch of people and regions and details about wine. OK, but Lynch and Esposito were more interesting to me.

 

reading: cookbooks

On February 9, 2015 by theseventhsphinx

IMG_9606I am a frequent reader of cookbooks, some for practicality, some for fantasy, some for inspiration. Being a better cook is important to me (is part of my aspirational identity, part of my style, is non-negotiable), as is trying new foods and learning about other cultures through food. Here’s the stack I’m browsing currently:

The New Persian Kitchen, Louisa Shafia — I often like, in the case of cookbooks that focus on a particular culture, the section of the book that outlines specialty ingredients, describing their peculiarities and uses, and where you might find them, what they might be substitutes for, or what you might substitute for them. Expanding the culinary glossary. Immediately I imagine my own uses for them, how they might add interest to my existing repertoire. Immediately I want to go find them, if I don’t already have them. Immediately I want to use them if I do already have them. So far this is a great cookbook in that I want to make many of the dishes and I’m interested to read the small details, which seem well done here, about preparation. Not only preparation of the dish itself, but lots of good information about preparation of the ingredients. Ex. After reading this, I will be soaking some grains before cooking.

Simple Thai Food, Leela Punyaratabandhu — Also quite good, more the kind of cookbook I graze, skimming for what I want to read in more detail and absorbing the broad concepts, basic formulas, for later application rather than intending to cook a specific recipe (partly because many of the dishes are so flexible). Lots of explanation again, useful and clear, a little bit of bio mixed in, anecdotal evidence, all to the point. I love Thai food.

momofuku milk bar, Christina Tosi — The book born of the famous bakery, this is a fantasy read. These dishes are over-the-top, beautiful, innovative…complicated. Time-intensive. Gadget-intensive, stuff-intensive. I don’t really want to make them, but they are cool. Well, I might try a few of the easier ones…

Plenty More, Yotam Ottolenghi — I’ve enjoyed all of Ottolenghi’s books, interesting and uncomplicated (that is, often not many ingredients, though certain ingredients are complicated in themselves) combinations. Again I mostly skim here for concepts. You don’t need the recipe, you just need to remember the concept of the combination that is the key to the interesting flavor profile, and store it away, let it join the mix of the other flavor profiles in your flavor bank. His combinations inspire your own, which inspire still more, and so on. The kind of book that makes me hungry.

 

 

 

reading: Durrell, Ellis, Bettelheim, Vaughan/Guerra

On October 19, 2014 by theseventhsphinx

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Clea, Lawrence Durrell — The last book of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, a vivid and beautiful series. I find Durrell highly musical, though not always pitch perfect (as I often find, for example, Nabokov). I remember being amazed that he mentions in his Paris Review interview writing these books in some incredibly short amount of time, and they have a fast fluidity about them. Good.

American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis — I haven’t seen this movie but was drawn to the book after 1, hearing this Bookworm interview with Ellis, who came across as sort of thoughtful and interesting, or I think it was this podcast, and 2, being directed to the business card scene in the movie, which is entirely worth your time. Christian Bale so fitting here. The book is fascinating if you are into first person narrators and doing strange things with them, and presents a surreal juxtaposition of minutely detailed hyper-consumerism with excessively violent homicidal mania, all dotted with bright insightful moments. Parts of it were nearly too gruesome to read, for me, and I don’t have any wish to watch more of the movie, being possessed of an impressionable imagination. I really still wish I hadn’t watched The Exorcist. Still. It’s interesting. Especially if you are a writer.

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim — I love stuff like this. Really can ingest no end of it. This is I guess popular in child development circles but I find it engaging in its own right.

Y The Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra — Such a great, thorough, thoughtful (often creepily believable) execution of a thought experiment; what would happen if (almost) all the men died? Totally riveting, in parts, and Agent 355 is such a badass [black! female!] character. Recommended. My geek friends have only been telling me to read it for 5 years or something. You were right, geeks, you were right.

moodboard: ladylike

On August 11, 2014 by theseventhsphinx

Now that’s what I’m talking about.

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Nothing mutually exclusive about these elements.

image via pinterest

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