Thursday, June 25, 2009

Corpus Christi by Bret Anthony Johnston

This was a pretty underwhelming book. I had read reviews that said “What a great first book!” or “Can you believe he used to be a professional skater?!?!”

As a matter of fact, I can. I think it’s a little more astonishing that he is a professor of creative writing at Harvard. Was it well written? Yes. Did he accomplish the task, a difficult one in my opinion, of composing just the right amount of a story within the “short story” length? I suppose.

I think what really bothered me was the content. Too many were just bullshit tear jerkers. The most prominent story is simply a description of a mother and her son as she slowly dies from cancer. Maybe that is more appealing subject matter for some, but I think it’s something that is universally acknowledged to be awful, and I don’t really think that it was described in any groundbreaking way. It’s a difficult process for the son as he watches his mother die, the mother feels guilty for imposing on the son, neither one of them can do a fucking thing about it. It sucks. It makes you cry because you think about what if my own mother died of cancer. Wouldn't that just really, really suck?

Of course it would, and I don’t need to read a book by this guy to know that. Neither is it something that I feel like this book helped me explore in any meaningful way. It pretty much made me feel exploited and anxious to finish the book so I could read something more provocative.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bruschetta with Fava Bean Pesto

I am not a good photographer

In the interest of eating seasonally and expanding my (somewhat limited) food horizons, I'm going to start buying things that I've never cooked or even eaten at the farmer's market. Today, that item was fava beans. I don't even remember having ever eaten favas, and I've definitely never cooked with them before. I'm just uncivilized like that.

However, they were cheap, and I happen to like how the name sounds. The only way that I could remember seeing them on a menu was as a paste on bread, so that's what I did. I made them into a pesto and spread it on bruschetta with a topping of red onion, tomato, red bell pepper, and oregano and a little fresh parmesan. Roommate's verdict was that it was like a "delicious, healthy little pizza". I couldn't agree more.

Bruschetta with Fava Bean Pesto

The Necessaries:
-20 whole fava bean pods
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
-2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 tomato on the vine
-1/2 of a red bell pepper
-1/4 of a red onion
-1 clove fresh garlic
-fresh parmesan
-delicious crusty bread of your choice (I used a como loaf)

For the pesto, shuck the favas and boil the beans with the inner pods on in salted water for about 7 minutes, then put them in a bowl of ice water. Drain them on paper towel, then remove the beans from the inner shell. Put them in a food processor with the olive oil, mint, lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper and puree.

Chop the tomato, red bell pepper, and onion, and sauté them on medium heat for about 3 minutes, then mix them in a bowl with the oregano for your topping. Slice the bread thick, then toast it in the same pan until crispy and rub the garlic clove all over them after slicing it open. Spread on some fava pesto, top it with the sautéed veggies and oregano, and sprinkle some grated parmesan on top.

Delicious. Of course, you can also just wrap all the ingredients up in a tortilla and have a burrito. There's really no reason to ever not do that.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"French Horn Garden Hoses"

Michael Chabon’s language is simply amazing. I first started to truly appreciate it upon reading the metaphor that is the title of this post when Chabon used it to describe the garden hoses in a fancy neighborhood in Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It just worked on so many levels it was like a comedian telling the perfect joke.

While Mysteries would have been an eerily appropriate first book to read upon graduating from college, my first book was Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

The length of the book is an epic 639 pages, and Chabon covers most of the first 35 years of two men’s lives. In the beginning, Sam Clay is an undersized Jewish boy in New York with a love for comic books when his (also Jewish) dashing cousin Joe Kavalier, who happens to be an amazing artist, arrives as a solitary refugee from Nazi occupied Prague. The two get into the comic book business together and create hugely successful titles that shape the comic book genre for years to come.

However, Chabon quickly draws the contrast between fictional heroism and our own futility. Joe left his entire family in Prague and only intends to use the money from his comic books to help his family escape the Nazis in Prague. He projects his vengeance into the comic books, nearly all of which are based on a clear good and evil battle with pseudonymous Nazis, but he eventually becomes frustrated because money alone does not seem to be enough to bring his family to United States.

Sam’s own interest in comic books is placed into a very personal context as well. His father was a well known strongman on the vaudeville circuit, but he was never around to raise Sam and eventually abandoned his wife and son completely. Chabon carries through Sam’s (somewhat subconscious) emulation of his father to an incredible extent. He enters a homosexual relationship with an actor who is very physically similar to his father, and when the culmination of Sam’s repression arrives it is revealed in dramatically public fashion that perhaps his homosexuality and psychological issues with his father have made their way into nearly every comic book character that he created.

But Chabon may just be proposing a more realistic version of heroism for our world. Both Sam and Joe abandon their fleetingly glamorous life in New York out a sense of obligation to their family and friends. Joe’s endless attempts to save his family and his eventual return to a normal life show the futility of attempting to be superhero, and perhaps the cathartic value of fiction as escapism. Sam’s own interest in comic books is heavily dependent on escapism, and he is forced to eventually confront that fact.

The intricately composed plot also includes the desolation of suburbia, a topic that is particularly near and dear to my heart after reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. However, the book does not feel like many of the “literary” Nobel or Pulitzer winning books (which this was) because of Chabon’s aforementioned ability with language. He describes an encounter in which Joe and Sam try to sweet talk a crotchety old landlord into letting them into the building as follows:

“The landlady, a Mrs. Waczukowski, was the widow of a gagman for the Hearst syndicate who had signed his strips “Wacky” and on his death had left her only the building, an unconcealed disdain for all cartoonists veteran or new, and her considerable share of their mutual drinking problem…Sammy winked, and the two young men smiled at her with as many of their teeth as they could possibly expose until finally she turned, consigning them all to hell with the eloquent back of her hand, and retreated down the stairs”

I’m not sure if those quotes really convey the excellence of Chabon’s wording, but that’s why you should read the book. Every scene is infused with a playfulness of language that has made Chabon my favorite writer of the moment by far. After I finish my current project of reading all the books on my bookshelf that I haven’t read, Wonder Boys may be next up.

New Things.

I'm not really sure where this blog is going to go yet. The name was conceived out of my fantasy of being a master chef and my seemingly endless ability to cook and consume burritos, but I have realized that the food blog market is pretty saturated with people that have way more time and resources to devote to the project than I do. I even observed that a certain classmate of mine has gotten into the food blog business as well, although hers seems to be based on restaurant reviews, about which I could really care less. So there will be food, but only when I am ambitious enough to plate something in a creative and pretty way and make sure my camera is charged to take pictures of it.

Another possibility is books. I plan on reading a lot of things that I haven't been able to read while I was in school, so there will be descriptions or reviews to follow shortly. First up, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, to be followed by Corpus Christi by Bret Anthony Johnston.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Glad I'm Gone.

Apparently the "character" that is so important to maintain at Reed doesn't include poor people.