Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Story about A Boy

Jim the Boy, by Tony Earley, is a nearly flawless novel, quiet and not at all showy, the brief, simply told story of a boy growing up in North Carolina during The Depression. At the opening we read a letter about Jim's father's death, his mother's grief, and Jim's birth one week later. The story follows a year in the life of Jim, raised by his fragile mother and three kindly uncles on a farm in the small town of Aliceville.

Ickie (who read the novel first) pointed out that even though the narrative is told in the third person, it's still from Jim's perspective, and often the reader deduces subtleties that young Jim does not, such as when he suspects he'll be punished on his birthday although it's pretty obvious he won't be. I found the understated affection of Jim's uncles to be all the more poignant, who are able to communicate more love with a phrase like "I don't care what anyone says, Jim, you're all right," than with any manner of gushing. Although Jim is obviously a good-hearted, intelligent boy, what makes him special is the sense of caretakership everyone in the town (and a few from outside of it) exhibit over him. Although Jim misses his father, he is only vaguely aware of the charmed life he leads through belonging to everyone else.

As I mentioned earlier, the novel is brief and can easily be read in a day or two, and when Ickie completed it, he was rather speechless with emotion, insisting shortly thereafter that I read it immediately, and I'm grateful he did.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sleepers Awake!

"Sleepers, wake!" A voice astounds us,
the shout of rampart-guards surrounds us:
"Awake, Jerusalem, arise!"
Midnight's peace their cry has broken,
their urgent summons clearly spoken:
"The time has come, O maidens wise!
Rise up, and give us light;
the Bridegroom is in sight.
Your lamps prepare and hasten there,
that you the wedding feast may share."

Zion hears the watchman singing;
her heart with joyful hope is springing,
she wakes and hurries through the night.
Forth he comes, her bridegroom glorious
in strength of grace, in truth victorious:
her star is risen, her light grows bright.
Now come, most worthy Lord,
God's Son, Incarnate Word,
We follow all and heed your call
to come into the banquet hall.

Lamb of God, the heavens adore you;
let saints and angels sing before you,
as harps and cymbals swell the sound.
Twelve great pearls, the city's portals:
through them we stream to join the immortals
as we with joy your throne surround.
No eye has known the sight,
no ear heard such delight:
Therefore we sing to greet our King;
for ever let our praises ring.

Words: Philipp Nicolai, 1597
Music: Wachet auf

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New World

This morning I read The Arrival by Shaun Tan, and it's one of the most extraordinary, fantastic, moving things I've ever read (I cried at the end of it, but in a good way). I use the word "read" loosely because the book is all pictures, and these pictures are more effective than any commentary I could write about the book, so here you go:

Monday, March 10, 2008


Many of you know I love inventing dishes and having them turn out well. I also love yummy sandwiches, according to me and confirmed by this blog. Ickie and I are fans of the PBS show Sandwiches You Will Like and regularly update our personal list of favorite sandwiches. Here are a few highlights:

*Pot Roast Sandwich, Good Eats Cafe, Grand Rapids, Michigan
*Steak & Cheese, Llywelyn's, St. Louis, Missouri
*Chicken Cranberry, Marie Catrib's, Grand Rapids, Michigan
*Lobster Roll, Red's Eats, Wiscasset, Maine
*Grilled Cheese, Hog Island Oyster Co., San Francisco, California
*Hot Pastrami, Italian & Greek Market (now closed), Santa Barbara, California
*Original French Dip, Philippe's, Los Angeles, California

This past Saturday Ickie had a Cuban pork sandwich at La Familia in Portland that probably needs to be added to the list.

Today when I was hungrily making my way home from the gym, I was considering what I had in the fridge and what I could create from it. Hence, I invented this scrumptious sandwich, which I scarfed down too quickly to take a photo.

Bacon-Squash-Cheddar-Spinach Sandwich

2 pieces thick-cut bacon, cooked
2 slices crusty Italian bread
Irish cheddar
Leftover roasted butternut squash
Jalapeno jelly

I placed a slice of cheese on one bread slice, mushed some squash onto the other, and toasted it in my toaster oven. I added the bacon and spinach when it came out and had the jelly on the side, which I spooned onto each bite. I think chutney would work well in place of the jelly.

This is pretty much what happens when I watch reruns of Top Chef at the gym.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Welcome to Kid World

If you're looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud many times, as it did me, consider The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. Ever since reading Bryson's A Walk in the Woods about 10 years ago, I've been a fan of his amusing travel logs. Thunderbolt Kid is his memoir of growing up in Des Moines in the 1950s. It's packed with humorous childhood episodes and is an idyllic snapshot of life in a small Midwestern town during a time when Americans were happily obsessed with Jell-O and household appliances.

Bryson's writing is both loving and snide, adoring his parents for their rather doubtable optimism and poking fun at his boyhood community. In one of my favorite chapters, Bryson recounts his humiliation when his mother made him wear a hand-me-down pair of his sister's lime capri pants to school.

I've always thought Bryson's word choice was exceptional when it came to depicting in great detail a place or event rife with humor and/or wonder. For example:

"The last stop on every shopping trip was a corner grocer's called Benteco's, where they had a screen door that kerboinged and bammed in a deeply satisfying manner, and made every entrance a kind of occasion."

"We did sometimes (actually quite routinely) give a boy named Milton Milton knuckle rubs for having such a stupid name and also for spending his life pretending to be motorized. I never knew whether he was supposed to be a train or robot or what, but he always moved his arms like pistons when he walked and made puffing noises, and so naturally we gave me knuckle rubs. We had to."

"Essentially matinees were an invitation to four thousand children to riot for four hours in a large darkened space."

"Mrs. Vandermeister was seven hundred years old, possibly eight hundred, and permanently attached to an aluminum walker. She was stooped, very small, forgetful, glacially slow, interestingly malodorous, practically deaf. She emerged from her house once a day to drive to the supermarket, in a car about the size of an aircraft carrier."

Similar to Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories and Jean Shepard's In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (which inspired the movie A Christmas Story), Thunderbolt Kid made me yearn for a time when children could wander around town all day long without parental supervision, getting into mostly harmless mischief and talking to strangers at will.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Infinite and Inexpressible Grace

I'm reading Dante's Purgatorio for Lent this year, and I came across a beautiful passage today. In it the Angel of Caritas speaks to Dante:

"It is because you focus on the prize
of worldly goods, which every sharing lessens
that Envy pumps the bellow for your sighs.

But if, in true love for the Highest Sphere,
your longing were turned upward, then your hearts
would never be consumed by such a fear;

for the more there are there who say 'ours'--not 'mine'--
by that much is each richer, and the brighter
within that cloister burns the Love Divine....

...Because within the habit of mankind
you set your whole intent on earthly things,
the true light falls as darkness on your mind.

The infinite and inexpressible Grace
which is in Heaven, gives itself to Love
as a sunbeam gives itself to a bright surface.

As much light as it find there, it bestows;
thus, as the blaze of Love is spread more widely,
the greater the Eternal Glory grows.

As mirror reflects mirror, so, above,
the more there are who join their souls, the more
Love learns perfection, and the more they love."