Thursday, December 31, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
An interview I did with the poet Campbell McGrath that originally appeared in BOMB in 1994. McGrath has now published eight books of poetry, and he has received the extremely prestigious MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships and the Kingsley Tufts Prize, but this was the first interview with him to be published. The wide-eyed interviewer is a bit embarrassing in retrospect, but my interest in the list poems he introduced me to have not abated over time.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
that critically-acclaimed holiday movies The Messenger and Up in the Air are basically the same story? A pair of employees goes around informing people of bad news, the older ones, settled in their ways, supposedly showing the young pups the ropes, while ending up learning a lesson or two along the way themselves.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I thought back on my original approach to teaching it the other day when she told me she had a student complaining that he didn’t understand what was going on in it. If this were an early McCarthy book, I would understand the complaint, but The Road? Every day is more or less the same, and every day the boy is going to ask the same questions, and the dad is going to deal with them in the same way. I’m intentionally making it sound boring or static, because the reasons I love McCarthy have nothing to do with plot. I love the way he uses words and makes sentences. In fact, when I read him, I underline all the words I don’t know and the phrases that blow me out of the water. The words he chooses are lyrical, archaic, earthy, rich. Here’s my list from The Road (with page numbers):
Shoddy (as a noun, 28)
Temporal gyrus (64)
Billets (of wood, 70)
Port cochere (105)
Tang (as part of a shovel, 109)
Scud (as a noun, 221)
Mae west (uncapitalized, 225)
Incinerate (as an adjective, 273)
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
• 20 books on top, including
5 books of poetry
2 kids books
2 photography books
2 books that were given to me
2 books for school
2 books on fly-fishing
1 library book
1 novel unfinished since spring break
1 borrowed book
4 bought secondhand
• 6 books underneath, including
a world atlas (permanent resident)
a book of poetry
3 books bought second-hand yesterday (1 for school and 1 on fly-fishing)
1 borrowed book that is long overdue
• 4 magazines on top
• 3 magazines underneath
• Also a box of tissues (Puffs with aloe vera), two coasters, various photocopies (on stretching and for school), clippings (recipes), my sunglasses, a calendar, and 40 or so pages of loose-leaf typed poems in neatly-stacked piles (more of which are also in orderly stacks on the floor next to the table).
Monday, July 27, 2009
Also, why is the flatter of the two candy bars you produce called Mounds? That mystifies and sometimes confuses me, Peter Paul.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
“She really was a very patient girl, she had the metabolism of a fish in winter.”
—from Jonathan Franzen’s story, “Good Neighbors,” in the July 8 & 15 issue of The New Yorker
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
I become most vividly aware of these words while teaching the short story, “The Guest” by Albert Camus. Before the kids even read the story, I point out that it was originally written in French, and that the original title is “L’hote,” a word that means not only guest, but also host. It’s a fine opportunity to point out the decisions translators must make, but the contradiction in the title also reflects the paradoxes and reversals of the story. It seems to me a clear case of a writer using ambiguity deliberately to increase the complexity of his story.
Many kids blurt out that it’s stupid to have a word mean its opposite and see it as a shortcoming of the French language, but I point out that we have many words like this in English, words such as
A more complete list can be found at this site.
As a side note, it’s interesting to me how many of these mean to attach or cling in one form and to separate or move in their other form. Perhaps an etymologist could explain why that is.
Slang also takes advantage of contranyms. Bad can mean good as well as something negative, and my students these days are quick to use sick when talking about really impressive things. It also makes me wonder if there is a term for when you use two different words that seem to be opposites for the same purpose. For example, something really appealing can be cool or hot.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Yesterday, I was trying to decide what to make for dinner that night. The boys were coming over, and I wanted something that would appeal to them as well as me, but something a bit different than the ordinary fare, and something that wouldn’t take too much time, when another culinary light went on for me.
While on my recent trip to France, I was complaining to Fred, my traveling buddy, that the US still really hasn’t caught on to crème fraiche. You can find it in any French grocery store, but while many other delicious French foods and ingredients have become much more common in the states since my first trip abroad a quarter century ago, this one is still fairly rare. It shows up on the menus of many fine restaurants, but I can’t get it at my local grocery store. She suggested Boursin as an alternative for my purposes—creating a creamy sauce for a pork or chicken pasta. The Boursin idea kept rolling around in my head for a couple weeks without finding traction, when suddenly I knew what I wanted to do with it.
So, here’s what I came up with and what you will need to make it chez vous:
An hour before cooking, cut chicken breasts into one inch pieces and then marinate them.
Mince two very large shallots, then sautee them until they turn brown. Add the chicken. When it is nearly cooked, toss in some small pieces of prosciutto. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan. Pour a little white wine into the pan, and turn up the heat. Once it has begun to cook off a bit, turn the heat back down, and mix in the Boursin until it is smooth and creamy, then place the chicken back in the pan, and mix until it is all covered in the sauce.
I served this over pasta with haricots verts on the side, and R. said I should quit teaching, go to the track for a few years to get enough money, and then open a restaurant. Not only is it one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received for my cooking, but it sounds like a fun way to raise money for such an enterprise. In any case, it’s easy and delicious. Try it at your home.
When I returned home, I set about recreating this concoction on my own, and met failure after failure. Clearly what the French called lemonade was different than anything I could find in the Midwest. I even tried mixing lemonade, mineral water, and beer, but to no avail. The funny thing is whenever I told friends what the drink was made of they all did some version of wrinkling or turning up their noses—lemonade mixed with beer didn’t sound appealing to anyone.
As time passed, I almost began to doubt my memory. It seemed like something I had made up or dreamt, and eventually I even forgot about it. When I returned to France for the first time a couple years ago, it never even occurred to me to try to track down a panache. Coffee éclairs, bread, cheese, and wine—yes! Panaches—never crossed my mind. Of course, I was in Paris and Bretagne, places that with their relatively cool climates might not have as much cause to cultivate panache drinkers.
This year’s trip, which started out with Paris and Bretagne, passed without incident, but one of the first restaurants we went to once we headed south listed panache on their drinks menu. I knew I needed to ditch the high school students we were traveling with, and find a little time alone to see if I still found this drink satisfying almost two decades since I last tasted it.
I only had to wait a couple of short, hot hours—the perfect preparation for such an event. It proved to be nothing less than glorious. The rest of our time on the Cote d’Azur, I looked for opportunities to savor a panache at the end of a hot day of walking and sightseeing.
At some point, while enjoying one of my drinks and mourning that I would soon be leaving them behind, it dawned on me that I lived in the age of the internet. Surely, I could find a recipe, so I could recreate this drink in the comfort of my own home. And I did. Though, it is more commonly known as a shandy, some version of this drink is enjoyed in a number of countries around the world.
While that seemed affirming in and of itself, I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found a discussion thread on the topic, which included the telling detail—Trader Joe’s carries a French lemonade and a lager is the ideal beer with which to blend it. I promptly went out to the suburbs and bought multiple bottles of their limonade, and raced home to try it out—a 100% success. I no longer have to cross an ocean for this pleasure.
Bonus Happiness Point: Trader Joe’s is opening a store near my home, so I no longer have to make a trip out to the suburbs to load up on supplies.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Back when I took myself more seriously, I could not distinguish irreverence from arrogance or ignorance. They were all symptoms of the same shortcoming. But now, the lines are clear. Irreverence comes from complete honesty and respect. It’s the ability to step outside a serious situation, see it objectively, and help others understand it with levity. To throw down a much needed reality check just in the nick of time.
Influenced by the recent biographies of John Cheever and Donald Barthelme and the ingenious NCAA-like brackets of the Tournament of Books, said blog also features a nice showdown between the stories of Cheever and Barthelme.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
a very weak monster,
a most poor credulous monster,
a most perfidious and drunken monster!
This puppy-headed monster . . . most scurvy!
An abominable monster,
a most ridiculous monster,
a howling monster, a drunken monster!
O brave monster!
Thou wert but a lost monster.
(from The Tempest, 2.2 & 4.1)
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
—Kevin Costner as Crash Davis in Bull Durham (1988)
I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.
—John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything (1989)
Taymor previously directed a production of The Tempest for stage, and the clips I have seen of it are remarkable. If I could go back in time, I would buy tickets to see it. Since that's unlikely, I'll be at the new movie version on opening night.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
The next morning, I was contemplating a homemade egg McMuffin, but I was low on cheddar, which I needed to save for R’s lunch and the possible emergency quesadilla if W didn’t want whatever I was serving that evening. Then I spied the chevre. It was a more than perfect substitute. It brought the breakfast sandwich to life. In fact, I treated myself to the same breakfast on Wednesday morning as well.
This morning brought a slight but no less satisfying variation to the eggs and chevre breakfast. I sautéed a shallot, scrambled a couple eggs, then added chevre, sun-dried tomatoes, and leftover salmon. Served with a couple slices of ciabatta toast, it was a wonderful way to start the weekend. You could do worse at any number of restaurants.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Thursday, January 1, 2009
This year again it features two teams I wouldn’t care about—Texas Tech and Ole Miss—if it weren’t for Michael Lewis. Lewis is the husband of former MTV news cutie Tabitha Soren, but more importantly he is a remarkable sports journalist—when he isn’t committing other forms of journalism. His article on the innovative and unconventional Texas Tech coach Mike Leach in the New York Times Magazine just over three years ago was the best piece of writing on football I had read in a long, long time. I was photocopying it, and sending it off to anyone I thought might appreciate it. I didn’t have cable at the time, and the next season I would scour the tv listings to see if I could find a Texas Tech game to watch. Leach was clearly a character, but the way Lewis wrote about his team’s offense, it sounded like something I had never seen before, something that had to be seen to be fully believed and appreciated.
After falling for that article in such a big way, I was overjoyed to hear that Lewis’s next book was going to be about football. I hoped it would be an expansion of the piece I had loved so much, but it turned out to be on entirely different aspects of the game, though they proved to be no less interesting. The Blind Side weaves together two different threads. The first traces the evolution of the game both on the field and in the front offices of the NFL as the Offensive Left Tackle develops from an anonymous member of the faceless, seemingly interchangeable, often-ignored offensive line, to one of the highest paid positions on the team. The other thread follows Michael Oher, a young African-American who can barely read or write and is growing up in brutal poverty, at real risk of becoming another statistic who falls through the cracks (I realize I am mixing metaphors here, but I’m sticking with it). He is taken in by a wealthy white evangelical family, and before he has played a single down of high school football at Left Tackle, he is being projected by scouting reports as the foremost college prospect at that position. It is a smart and surprising book that I can’t recommend highly enough.
Which brings us to tomorrow afternoon’s game. For me, it is the only must-see bowl of the season. Michael Oher will be playing in his last game at Ole Miss, and after his most successful season, Leach may be coaching his last game at Texas Tech. I hope he stays on, but rumors have been flying all season that a number of more glamorous programs that have fallen on hard times may try to woo him away from Lubbock. I imagine Texas Tech will wallop Ole Miss, and I guarantee the broadcasters will drop Doak Waker's name at some point and mention Leach's interest in pirates, but when I watch the game I will be doing so through the eyes of Michael Lewis.