Thursday, November 29, 2007


I know, I know, it has been an eternity since I've posted a book review, and that is because of my extremely slow progress in Master and Commander, the first of Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin series. This is not to suggest that I'm not enjoying elements of the book; I am, and I'd like to read more of them eventually. I think Jack and Stephen's characters have a lot of depth, their "opposites-attract" friendship is engaging, and there's a lot of humor in the books. I'm told Post Captain is more of a drawing room story, O'Brien's tribute to Jane Austen; his eloquence and wit certainly qualify him for such a task.

However, Master and Commander has not captured my attention in the way the Hornblower novels did. It's pleasant enough while reading, but then I set it down and lose interest. As Ickie mentioned in his review, O'Brien's novels are less steamlined than Forester's. Or as my dad put it when we were discussing the books on the phone recently, "What they really need is a good editor."

I'm sure you O'Brien fans are enraged at this suggestion, but there's something about the books that don't quite do it for me. It's not necessarily the verbosity that bothers me, and I can appreciate O'Brien's desire to wax romantic or educate the reader on the minutia of naval life, and the now-and-then action scenes do excite, but it's so slow-going plotwise. In fact, I feel the book has everything necessary (artful language, humor, interesting characters and relationships) except a cohesive plot. The Sophie goes out on cruises, returns, out and back, and to me the chain of events read more like a memoir than a purposeful plot.

All the same, the first book is worth reading, just don't expect it to zip along like other straight-up adventure stories. It is very different from the film, which I enjoyed immensely.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Successes

Ickie and I enjoyed our second Thanksgiving of non-travel this year. I brined the turkey overnight using this recipe, with a few adjustments. I couldn't find allspice berries, so I just threw in a bit of mulling spices in the brine; I didn't wake up in the middle of the night to flip the bird over; I warmed the aromatics on the stove top instead of microwave (because we don't have one); prior to cooking I placed a few sage leaves and rosemary sprigs under the skin of the breast to look pretty; and I cooked it in an oven bag at 325 degrees until done.

I got our bird for free using our grocery store's "turkey points" and acquired it when I thought we might be having some guests, and earlier this week I felt like a gluttonous American to roast a whole 12-pound turkey for two people. However, after we tasted it, our misgivings flew out the window. It's perhaps the juiciest turkey we've ever had. What we don't eat, I'll freeze for soup.

Speaking of soup, our friend EW had us for dinner last weekend and among other things made this comforting Sweet Potato Soup recipe. We enjoyed it so much I made it myself a few days later. It's quite savory and the sweet potato flavor is not overwhelming; it tastes rather more like leek and potato soup with something a bit different thrown in. It was cold and rainy leading up to Thanksgiving, so soup was fitting.

This morning we decorated our tree, and last night we went downtown for the tree lighting ceremony. It was clear but gusty and in the upper 20s, and there were free horse-drawn carriage rides throughout the old port. We arrived bundled up at the square and realized they were not actually lighting the tree for 45 minutes but instead drawing the event out with mayoral speeches of dullness, impossible-to-see freezing ballerinas, and a beastly Jimmy Buffet sound-alike, so we went into Henry the VIII's for roast beef sandwiches while the benighted masses froze outside. After the crowd broke apart, we admired the lit tree towering in the square and then walked to the theater and watched Lars and the Real Girl, a quirky, quiet, tender movie that moves yet doesn't insult its audience, and in the end it made me feel very good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Poem for Fall's First Snowy Day

November’s last golden leaves
Lie wilting on the forest floor.
In twilit clearings
Their outlines drowsily peek
Through sheets wispy white.

The path, close and dark,
Is rimmed with green boughs
Sugar frosted
And beneath them a shelter
For my snow-flecked head.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Gift That Makes One Laugh Hardest

Several years ago I discovered James Lileks's Gallery of Regrettable Food online. I'd sneak onto the site at work and sit at my desk hunched over in painful silent laughter ("The Unbearable Sadness of Vegetables" was a favorite title therein). Then my sister gave copies of Lileks's book to Ickie and my father for Christmas. Ickie would pick up the book and start reading it, and he'd laugh so hard I was afraid he'd vomit up his holiday dinner (which he had done on a previous occasion), so I kept hiding it. However, it remains gloriously funny reading.

Last night, after Ickie and I formed addictions to the Free Rice vocabulary game, we talked about our favorite words. I pointed out that unguent had appeared on the quiz for me, a word which was featured effectively in Lileks's chapter entitled "Submit to the Power of Ketchup." After reminiscing and getting all cracked up about unguents and deviled onions, we had a conversation about words we like.

Ick: "I like feculent. And truculent."
Toosa: "Ugh, I don't. I like feckless, but I don't like words that end in -ulent. They sound gross."
Ick: "What? Why?"
Toosa: "They sound like unguent. They sound ointmenty."
Ick: "What are some other words that end with -ulent?"
Toosa: "Opulent. That's not so bad. Ebullient."
Ick: "Ebullient is an -ullient word."
Toosa: "Well, same sound. Let's make some up. Here, let me slather your forehead with this globulent."
Ick: [recoils in horror]
Toosa: "Feeling glum? Have some of this lemonulent to perk yourself up."

This is what happens when I have a conversation too late at night. At this point I'd amused myself to the point that I was paralyzed with laughter and couldn't go to sleep...just like the Christmas Ickie received the gallery. I heartily recommend it this gift-giving season.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

When Bad Things Happen to Horses

When several days ago I finished The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle, I had a moment of panic. The book delves into very real human emotions, but the emotions and events Kyle depicts are so agonizing that they traumatized me. I panicked because I suddenly thought to myself, "If I have to write something this painful in order to be a successful writer, I don't think I can do it."

Animals is a coming of age story told by Alice, a young girl growing up on a ranch. Her mother suffers from debilitating depression, and her father struggles to maintain the ranch after Alice's older sister runs away. Friendless Alice also deals with the death of a schoolmate, an unconventional crush, and the rich clients who patronize the ranch.

Kyle is a young author and this is her first novel, and it's a notable first effort in my opinion. The preteen narrator's language is plain and raw. Alice's misery comes and goes (as is the case for the other characters), and she knows too much for a child. The book delves into achingly real human emotions, and Kyle's characters are frustratingly human. Not one of them is a hero, but none of them are villains either. Most characters are kind and cruel in equal measure.

If you're in the mood for something that doesn't make you feel as though your heart has been ripped right out of your chest, now is not the time to read this book.