Tag Archives: books

Book review: Stir, by Jessica Fechtor

I made a batch of these chocolate cookies yesterday afternoon. I love this recipe — see my modifications at the end of this post — because it’s very simple and you don’t need to measure ingredients particularly accurately, but the result is a cookie with a deep flavour and a texture that’s heading on for brownie-like. Basically, this is the double-choc cookie recipe that will ~*change your life*~.

I’ve been on a bit of a “the girl who brings cookies” kick recently, which is not an identity I’m entirely comfortable with (I’d rather bring my rapier wit, y’know?) but I am enjoying getting back into baking after spending Spring going “urgggh, I’m too tired and cooking is hard and complicated.” And creaming butter and sugar by hand feels approximately like exercise so this is all about healthful living, right?

Actually, part of what prodded me to get back behind the mixing bowl was reading Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor, which is a book I’d love to read the proposal for because the concept is that it’s a combination food memoir (ok fair enough…) slash (wait for it…) recovery-from-a-brain-aneurysm memoir. Continue reading

Snow in Giardini Reali

More notes from my extremely glamorous life.

Spent a good chunk of the week moping around with a mild flu — I’m much better now — so  this week’s post won’t exactly be a tale of great adventure. Even my fever dreams are boring: I was convinced at one point that the way I lay in bed had to be somehow “like a bowl of pasta” and I still don’t know what that was supposed to mean. Answers on a postcard.

  • It snowed here on Thursday night:
    Ooh pretty.

    Ooh pretty.

    Actually, it barely snowed at all and Friday turned out to be quite a warm sunny day, but I only realized this a fair while after I’d looked out my window in the morning, said, “woah, snow!” and put on warm clothes. Which were far too warm for my office which gets strong afternoon sun. Oops.

  • Inspired by “Texts from the Dashwoods“, I re-read Sense and Sensibility. I think Sense and Sensibility is actually my favourite Jane Austen novel, partly because it’s the only one in which I really want the main couple to get together. Probably because in the others I get a strong vibe of “oh well I have to marry someone and this guy isn’t actively terrible unlike every other man in my social circle” from the heroines. As noted previously, I’m not very romantic.
  • Further evidence of unromanticism: Even though I wanted Edward and Elinor to get together, I’d also have been satisfied with them each marrying other people due to circumstances but still enjoying a lifelong friendship where “we used to fancy each other” was in the past. Or just, in general, a novel — any era and genre — that features a friendship between a man and a woman without romance being on the agenda. Any suggestions? (Besides Elinor & Colonel Brandon in S&S, obviously. But something along those lines.)
  • I also re-watched The Castle which is a delightful movie. Recap for UnAustralians: it’s a comedy about a family who nearly have their home seized under compulsory acquisition, which sounds like an odd topic for a comedy — ok, it is an odd topic for a comedy — but it works. Mostly because the dialogue is perfect: (images stolen from Buzzfeed)
    anigif_enhanced-25547-1390979979-1anigif_original-grid-image-13476-1390980030-3anigif_enhanced-32068-1390980063-9anigif_original-grid-image-20158-1390980105-9It’s nearly 20 years old, as you might guess from the images above… but I think it holds up.

So now I’m off to see if my bedsheets are dry yet — laundry in winter is no fun. Maybe next week I’ll do something less boring?

Summer reading: “Too much happiness” (Alice Munro) and “Gabriele D’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War” (Lucy Hughes-Hallett)

I took 2 books with me on vacation this year, and both have stuck with me, for very different reasons.

The first is a short story collection, Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. “Ooh, short stories!” I thought when I bought it. “And apparently Munro mostly writes about day-to-day things. This will be good for dipping in and out of.” Tell you what, I had to dip out after every story just to catch my breath. I’m not even sure what the right word for this book is — haunting suggests the wrong atmosphere because the stories aren’t otherworldly at all; beautiful clarity is what the blurb says, but that doesn’t express the darkness that’s never far below the surface of ordinary human interactions; I think I said devastating in a facebook post but that’s not quite right either. I’ve hung onto the book so I can re-read later, but already it has burrowed into my brain and I suspect it’ll pop into my thoughts when I least expect it.

The other book was Gabriele D’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett. I don’t even remember how I came upon this. A review somewhere maybe? It’s a biography of Gabriele D’Annunzio, who was an Italian poet and political figure in the early 20th century. Possibly I had never heard of him before because people would rather forget him? — he is most infamous for leading an invasion of the city which is now Rijeka in Croatia, without the official support of the Italian government at the time.

From the start, I was hooked. In some ways, the subtitle of the book should really be “Can you believe this jerk???” because this guy really was a nasty piece of work, so reading was a bit like watching a train wreck. He starts off as a poet who’s obsessed with fame, once he’s famous he uses that fame to do whatever he likes, including plenty of womanizing that leaves his lovers at best emotional wrecks, and then moves in to politics. The kicker is that he was vehemently pro going to war in 1914, mostly because it suited his aethetic ideals about countries being founded on the blood of young men. Hughes-Hallett doesn’t use the word “sociopath”, but I will.

But wrapped around all of this is not just a history of Italy at the time but also of intellectual fashions and popular world views. Because D’Annunzio didn’t live in isolation, and if his (horrible) views and actions didn’t resonate with others, he wouldn’t have gotten very far. For instance, something that comes up a lot is the late-19th-early-20th century idea of “beauty” being everything and if you’re making beautiful things then traditional morality is beneath you. And it’s true that making beautiful things is a good thing to do, but over the course of the book you see the idea being caught up in some really ugly selfish behaviour, because it is a selfish way of thinking. In the end, I was just as much challenged by the question of what unexamined ideas do I have about the world that are ripe for being exploited for bad ends?

(My only complaint about the book is that it could have been about 25% shorter — but that could just be because I had to carry it around in my backpack!)