by Dallas Hudgens, November 5, 2012 1:00 PM
I've always had trouble understanding the structures of things. Cars, houses, cakes, novels. Detailed instructions have provided little assistance. When my first son turned two, I tried to assemble a Donald Duck scooter. The job consisted of snapping axle locks and wheels to Donald's feet and wings — locks on the inside, wheels on the outside. I got three of them right and then snapped a rear lock outside its corresponding wheel. I only realized the mistake after my son was rolling across the floor. Seeing that it wasn't a sophisticated vehicle, the misplaced part caused no loss of function. But it looked odd, like Donald had suffered a compound fracture to his leg.
I've written two novels in the years since, and I confess they both have that Donald Duck, splayed-leg construction to them. The first novel started as a collection of stories that I had hoped would work together as a whole. I didn't quite get it there, and the advice I received was to rewrite the stories as a novel.
I had no idea how to do this. I did read and enjoy novels, but I'd always favored short stories. My first experience was in high school, when a teacher assigned Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge. It wasn't just the form of the short stories that got me (the weight of every word and the volume of emotion contained in 20 to 30 pages) but the fact that they were set where I had grown up, in Georgia. Before then, I'd always assumed literature focused on places and periods of time that were unfamiliar to me. It's not that I didn't appreciate understanding history or the larger world, but sometimes the biggest mysteries in your life can be the places and people you see every day.
After Flannery O'Connor, I was struck by the stories of Raymond Carver in Cathedral. I didn't quite understand what minimalism meant, but I was drawn to his characters and their sadness. Carver's work made me think to try writing short stories myself. For 20 years, I only wrote short stories. The closest thing I had to a method was to write a scene and see if the characters felt alive to me. If they did, then the following scenes seemed to happen on their own.
At a loss for how to turn my story collection into a novel, I decided to set the stories aside and start from scratch. I hardly felt like I'd become a competent short-story writer, and now there were new challenges to face — plotting a novel, in particular. I wasn't sure where I wanted the novel to go or what steps it should take to get there, so I stuck with my old method and strung scenes together, hoping the characters would come to life in my head. The characters did their job, but the plot remained elusive. I lost count of the rewrites and revisions. Somewhere along the way, with the guidance of my agent and editor, I found a structure and a story arc. It wasn't expertly assembled, but it rolled across the floor without toppling over.
Just before that novel was published, I started a second novel and resolved to do a better job with plotting. I didn't post notecards on the wall, and I left room for the characters to push the story where they wanted it to go, but I knew what sorts of situations I wanted to throw them in and what obstacles I wanted them to encounter. After it was finished, someone who'd read the book mentioned the word plot. There were some problems with the plot, they said. I was just happy to hear that a plot existed.
I felt very fortunate to have published two novels, but I also understood that, from a business standpoint, a third opportunity from my publisher was not a realistic expectation. I thought I could give up fiction writing, but I compulsively went back to it. And when I did, I found myself writing short stories. Again, I tried to make the stories work together as a whole. The collection became Wake Up, We're Here.
My publisher passed on their option to buy the collection. I understood their decision and was grateful for the opportunity they had given me with my novels. Afterward, I realized I'd spent years asking editors and publishers to take a chance on my writing, but I'd never taken a risk myself. I sensed there might not be an audience for the short-story collection, but it was important to me, and I wanted to see the book through to the end and know that I'd done my best.
Once I'd decided to publish the story collection myself, a friend taught me the basics, such as how to purchase ISBN numbers and set up a print-on-demand title. Another friend recommended a terrific editor, Steven Bauer. And finally, the publicist who'd worked with me on my two novels, Lauren Cerand, said that she would promote the book. Without her help, I doubt that anyone outside of friends and family would have ever read the collection.
The track of my writing life had moved backward, from legitimately published novels to a self-published short-story collection. But I understood when the novels were published that I had plenty of weaknesses as a writer, stretching far beyond the structure thing. And now, with the short stories, I know that I haven't regressed as a writer just because of how the book was published. More importantly, the process has had value beyond any perception of the book. Succeed or fail, I've learned the great benefit of any undertaking is the relationships built with people during the process. And with writing, which is such a solitary activity, those relationships mean even
by Alexis Smith, January 19, 2012 3:57 PM
One of the things I miss most about working at Powell's (besides working with the funniest, smartest, quirkiest folks you'll ever meet) is finding random, old children's books on our daily carts of recently acquired used books. Some of these books I remembered from my childhood, others were new to me, if not to the world. Here are some of my favorite discoveries from my eight years as a bookseller.
- Plants That Never Ever Bloom by Ruth Heller
Some of Heller's gorgeous nature-themed books are still in print, but not this one. The rhyming text is simple enough for my three-year-old son, but delivers plenty of facts.
In proper scientific terms all of these are GYM-NO-SPERMS.
- Where Have You Been? by Margaret Wise Brown with pictures by Barbara Cooney
There are favorites and there are favorites. Margaret Wise Brown occupies a superlative category all her own. Her ingenuity attracted some of the best illustrators of her day, including Cooney (known best for her own classic, Miss Rumphius).
Little Old Rook/ Little Old Rook/ Where do you look?/ At the very last page/ Of this very same book/ Said the Little Old Rook.
- Shaker Lane by Alice and Martin Provensen
This is probably my favorite book ever about rural living and changing landscapes. The Provensens, Caldecott winners, illustrated some of the most beloved children's books of the 20th century, like Margaret Wise Brown's The Color Kittens, and countless Golden Books (big and little).
Not so long ago, if you went down School House Road and crossed Fiddler's Bridge, you would come to Shaker Lane. A Shaker Meeting House once stood at the crossroads. Nothing was left of it but a few stones.
- Wonders of Nature by Jane Werner Watson with pictures by Eloise Wilkin
This book is technically back in print, as a Little Golden Book. The version I discovered, years ago, is a Big Golden Book, from 1974. Jane Werner Watson was an editor and author of Golden Books. Eloise Wilkin also illustrated and wrote many Golden Books; the chubby children of her work are immediately recognizable.
Isn't it a wonder the way the woods know that spring is coming before the snow is gone?
- Birds by Brian Wildsmith
Wildsmith ? besides having an enviable variation on my own surname ? had his own distinct way with wildlife illustrations. This book explores the sometimes peculiar, always beguiling, names for groups of different types of birds. So we find "a stare of owls," "a siege of bitterns," "a congregation of plover," and all the rest.
- The Winter Bear by Ruth Craft with pictures by Erik Blegvad
I actually found this one at a church rummage sale for 25 cents. Without a dust jacket, the brown cloth binding didn't look like much. But one look at the illustration and I knew it was a special book. Blegvad, like the Provensens and Wilkin, has illustrated tons of kids' books over the years. (There's a great blog post by another Blegvad fan here.)
I don't know anything about Ruth Craft, except that this is an endearing book about siblings going out to play on a winter's day.
So, three set off/ In the cold still air/ With an apple or two,/ (And plenty to wear). And one jumped high./ And one jumped low./ And one walked backwards.../ As far as he could go.
- In the Middle of the Night by Aileen Fisher with pictures by Adrienne Adams
I adore Adrienne Adams. Almost none of the books she illustrated are in print anymore, so I snatch them up whenever I come across them. Aileen Fisher wrote many nature-themed books for kids, often in unmetered, rhyming verse. This one is about a little girl who wants to know what the world is like in the middle of the night.
And that's where the moths hovered,/ we discovered,/ feasting on bread and honey/ because (isn't it funny?)/ moths do their sleeping when it's sunny.
(A note on the pictures: I took all these pictures on my beloved 1960's faux bois laminate kitchen table. It belonged to the old lady who lived in the house my dad bought in Seattle when I was 11. The lady sold us a bunch of furniture with the house because she was moving into assisted living. For a long time it was in my dad's kitchen, then in his garage under piles of vinyl records. A few years ago he gave it to me when I needed a new kitchen table. Now, it is my favorite backdrop for taking pictures of the second-hand books, records, and objects I
by Matt Love, March 16, 2011 3:13 PM
If you happen to visit Newport, Oregon on March 18, I want to invite you to a very cool hard-core Oregon event. That evening, my journalism class at Newport High School will launch Sandtuary
, a special edition of the school's news magazine, the Harbor Light
, documenting and celebrating the state's unique legacy of publicly owned beaches. I hope you can join us for a special evening of music and spoken word jams that begins at 7:00 p.m. After the student performances, Lincoln City surf rock band Retroactive Gamma Rays will tear into action and keep the party going. After that, you can head down to the beach and run wild until dawn.
This 32-page publication coincides with the release of a new curriculum about Tom McCall, the legendary two-term Oregon Governor who in 1967 signed the famous Beach Bill into law protecting the dry sand areas of the ocean beaches from privatization. This revolutionary piece of legislation reaffirmed the state's sacrosanct notion of publicly owned beaches first initiated by Governor Oswald West.
West was governor in 1912 when he rode his horse from Cannon Beach over Arch Cape and Neahkahnie Mountain and into Nehalem. He later said the ride inspired him to write a masterfully brief 66-word bill that declared the wet sand areas along the ocean beaches a public highway.
The Oregon Legislature passed the bill in 1913. With his law, Oswald West changed Oregon and all of our lives forever. He helped create a relationship between a state's citizenry and a specific natural resource that is unlike any other in the country.
Oswald West's law protected the wet sand areas of Oregon's ocean beaches, but the state had no such safeguard for the dry sand areas, the space where virtually everyone recreates. In the summer of 1966, an elderly couple and their nephew were kicked off the beach by a motel owner as they picnicked in front of the owner's Cannon Beach motel.
The event touched off the epic 1967 legislative battle that eventually culminated in passage of the landmark law known as the Beach Bill. This law, which nearly died in committee due to a cabal of coastal legislators, empowered Oregon "to forever preserve...ocean beaches of the state...so that the public may have the free and uninterrupted use thereof."
I love that phrase, "the free and uninterrupted use thereof." Sounds like pretty much what's going to go down at our launch party. This year, I have some incredibly talented writers, poets, and musicians who regularly produce some of the best student work in my nearly 20 years as teacher. I like to think we report, write, design, shoot photographs and rock out better than any high school in Oregon and keep the spirit of Tom McCall alive in our words and deeds. Just read part of the beach manifesto the students wrote:
We the students of NHS…
Have grown up on these beaches.
We understand the sanctity of each grain of sand.
We use our sandy playground to swim, surf, and frolic by day,
Bonfire and stargaze by night.
We fall in love by the tide pools.
We embrace our tubular waves with passion.
We know every inch from Agate to Ona.
The salty waves run through our veins.
We the students of NHS…
Traded the metal shackles of privatization for sandy socks long ago.
We insist on our right to unharnessed nature, to free beaches.
We grapple at the thought of Californication.
The beaches are in us and of us.
Who dares to privatize?
Who dares to put a price tag on our catharsis?
Wow! Marx and Engels couldn't have written it better. If you want to hear more of that kind of youthful passion, come check out the Harbor Light staff on March 18. If you do, you'll also get to hear the only pop song ever written that has the names of Tom McCall, Oswald West, Ken Kesey, and Steve Prefontaine in the lyrics. You can't miss that!
See you at Café Mundo, located in Newport's historic Nye Beach area at the corner of NW Coast and 2nd Court.
Cost? It's absolutely free, just like Oregon's publicly-owned
by David Vann, January 27, 2011 9:34 AM
I'm in London this week for the U.K. launch of Caribou Island, and I really enjoy the range of radio and TV formats for books here. I was on a BBC radio show yesterday called The Verb (BBC Radio 3) with a cellist, a storyteller, and a playwright. I was asked to write a 1,000-word essay beforehand on Old English meter in contemporary American fiction, using examples from McCarthy, Proulx, and Robinson, and I read this essay aloud, then the host asked me a few questions (about McCarthy's earlier sources, such as Melville and Faulkner, for instance, and about my own writing and Alaska). But the real fun was in watching the other acts. We were all in the studio together, and after the cellist performed, retelling fairy tales through music, it was amazing to watch the storyteller, a young woman who sang and recited and was absolutely captivating. Then another young woman read her 4-minute play meant for radio, and I couldn't believe how good it was (you can hear it, too, by podcast, after the show airs tomorrow).
I also recorded a bit yesterday for a BBC 2 TV show called The Review Show. We had a brief interview on camera, and I read a few sections from the book, but the bulk of the show will be three or four critics discussing the book. This got me wondering a bit about what could be possible in the U.S. In France, too, I was on a show in which four other writers discussed their books. This was prime-time TV, Thursday evening, and one of the books was about math, but the show has an audience. In Spain, a national TV program called Pagina 2 filmed me in a lumber warehouse talking about my book and family history and sent a crew to get footage of a cabin in the mountains. In Australia, I'll be on a show in April discussing a classic and a new book with several other authors. In the Netherlands, I was interviewed for almost twenty minutes, in detail, about Legend of a Suicide. TV there imagines its viewers as people who are smart and educated and have long attention spans and don't mind hearing about tragedy. I think this could be possible in the U.S., too, if it were given a chance.
All of this got me thinking about where books are free to roam on radio and TV in the U.S. I'm writing a short bit on Chaucer for NPR's All Things Considered, so U.S. radio is clearly capable of covering the same sort of topics. And the longest, most in-depth, smartest radio interviews I've had in the world have been in the U.S. I was just interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm, for instance, and he's as thorough and generous and skilled as an interviewer can be. I've had great radio interviews on NPR affiliates throughout the U.S., including big stations such as Minnesota Public Radio and stations in locations that perhaps seem less likely, such as in rural south Texas. But I wonder whether we could branch out a bit in format, bringing multiple authors into an interview or multiple reviewers or other artists, as in the BBC formats. And I think there must be more ways to include books on TV in the
by Taylor Plimpton, September 13, 2010 10:44 AM
It is a fine, drizzly Portland day in New York City. Having spent some four years of my life at Reed College, I remember these days with a certain fondness… There is, after all, a comfort in this kind of rain, in this soft, gray blanket thrown over the world. Shelter, often taken for granted, inspires sudden gratitude. Warm and dry, one feels especially warm and dry. Best of all, one does not feel guilty lounging on the couch all hung over and cozy and doing a whole lot of nothing, which is what I've been doing today. Yes, a fine Portland rain goes well with a Sunday hangover. The way the day feels — soft, hazy, sleepy — is the way you feel. You are in tune with nature, and it is a fine feeling.
Of course, I've been back in New York since I graduated from Reed College, some 11 years now, and here in the big city these rainy Portland days are few and far between, which is most likely why I remember them with such fondness and nostalgia, and am so appreciative of the rain today. But I have not forgotten that when you live in Oregon, that wet-dog winter drizzle can get to you. If there were shamans who could sing the sun into existence, and dance the clouds away, surely they would gravitate to the Northwest. With this in mind, the following…
Sun-making is best practiced in Portland, OR, where it rains a lot. There's no real point, however, in attempting it on a truly dismal winter day, when the clouds are uniform and endless, heavy as the sea, and the rain is a constant and a given. Even the strongest sun-maker will fail in weather like this....
Better to try a spring day in Portland, one that starts with a fine rain, soft and delicate, gracing your cheeks. The clouds above should be lighter, and behind them, there should be the sense of the sun. Yes, to be a sun-maker, you must be able to sense the sun — where it is, and what it wants to do (it wants to burn through the clouds and shine down on all that wet green land). In this way, a sun-maker's job is simply one of encouragement. You are reminding the sun of your appreciation, coaxing it out with flattery.
Sun-making is also a matter of faith. There can be no second-guessing, no doubt; your mind must be open, yet focused, as clear and bright as a desert sky. Looking up at the white-washed heavens, blinking up into the soft rain, you must feel the sun on your face — not just imagine it, but actually feel it — the warm, golden glow of it sinking into you, expanding, washing you away. And if you are truly mindless (but for that certain sense of the sun), it will happen. The rain won't lift, not yet, but the sun begins to shine through — ah, those beautiful sunny rains of Portland — a sudden fairy-tale land of jeweled leaves and grass and air, everywhere droplets light-struck and a-sparkle, rainbows gracing rooftops and old sad trees. And it is a miracle you have performed (though you must feel no pride, or the clouds will condense again: sun-making is necessarily an egoless profession), you have conjured out the sun in one of the rainiest places on earth, and up in the sky you can see it, hot, yellow, happy, burning through a haze of white clouds and shining down on the wet city, and suddenly everyone in Portland is a sun-maker, looking up and smiling and feeling the warmth of it on their faces, their sense of the sun final and certain. The rain has stopped, and with all these sun-makers there's no chance it will return, not for a while, at least. It is a sunny day in Portland, and all because of you....
by Chris Force, August 4, 2010 10:08 AM
Okay, first of all, there is a stripper pole in this room. It may be a leftover from Shteyngart
; I don't know, but it's creeping me out.
They did a pretty good job with my rider: fresh organic fruit, obscure German design mags, tofurky sandwiches, and a vintage turntable loaded with 1980s hardcore-punk LPs. I specifically said no Judge records, but I'll let a few things slide.
Anyway, so last night a bunch of the Powell's book geeks were hanging out in the green room with me. I was getting my pre-blog-writing massage, and they were putting band-aids on their paper cuts and discussing how much they would be willing to pay for a copy of Stieg Larsson's zine Sfären. (One book-blog editor, whom I will not mention by name, said he would "give his left nut" for a copy, which made me think: a) who would possibly want a book-blog editor's testicle and b) what happened to his right nut?)
They finally got to asking me some questions about how I started ALARM, and I directed them to this handy video:
Turns out that these guys had no idea you could get books anywhere but Powell's. So, as an out-of-town guest, I'm turning to you, my faithful local blog readers, and asking: Do you ever use your local library? The Multnomah County Library dates back to 1864! Holy shit, that's old. Do you ever go? While I'm here, should I make the
by Meghan Daum, May 27, 2010 12:03 PM
An article in today's New York Times came with the headline "At Book Expo, Anxiety Amid the Chatter." Predictably, it reported on the major presenters at the annual book industry convention, Book Expo America, and, even more predictably, conveyed various forms of bellyaching about the future of print media. As a newspaper columnist, this worry is an almost daily refrain. Nearly every time I do a public event someone in the audience asks me a question about "the death of print" -usually something like "how much longer will the L.A. Times be in business?" (as if I, a non-staff, contract writer who doesn't even have an office in the building knows the answer.) My standard answer (which I also happen to believe) is that we're in a transitional time, that the business model for print media just needs time to adjust itself so it can turn a profit in an electronic media age, that people need time to realize that news aggregating is not the same as news reporting, that eventually people will realize that reliable information is a commodity worth paying for.
The thing is, I don't know when this will happen. Moreover, I'm about as far from an "early adopter" of technology as you can get. I don't have a Kindle, a Sony Reader, or a Nook.
I have no interest in the Ipad (in fact, I only got an Ipod a few years ago.) I've had a smartphone for less than a year — and there are still many parts of it that I cannot use. In other words, I'm not the person to ask about this stuff. I still like to hold a book in my hands. I like to pick it off the bookstore shelf and feel its weight and dimensions and run my fingers along the spine.
I like to tuck in my bag when I travel and see it poking out like a piece of candy that I look forward to eating later. But apparently not everyone feels that way.
People love their e-readers (sorry, that just sounds so much like the Scientology e-meter I can't help but laugh.)
They love their Ipads and their Kindles and their Nooks. If they could get their reading material wirelessly transmitted to the surface of their contact lenses they'd apparently do so in a heartbeat.
And, you know what? That's actually good. In fact, it's more than good. It's necessary.
It's easy for Luddites like me to smirk at technology (and, for the record: I am hereby proclaiming cinema lobbies highly dangerous places because of the number of people who are checking their BlackBerries and Iphones while exiting the movie and literally walking smack into each other.) But, as an author, I'd be crazy if I pooh-poohed anything that facilitated the reading process. A staggering number of books are published each year (half a million in the U.S. along according to some counts.) Most of them are read by few people other than the author's mother or perhaps some dissertation committee (and, let's face it, these committees usually just look at the table of contents.) The way I see it, there's a tremendous about of hubris inherent in being an author. To ask someone to sit down for several hours to read what you've written is to make an enormous request. So why should we turn our noses up at anything that makes that process easier?
Why? Because writers love to complain. I'm no exception. In fact, complaining is one of my major hobbies. But if there's one thing I'm not complaining about it's anything, anything that encourages people to read my book. Sure, I don't make as much money when someone buys an electronic version of my book rather than a physical book. That takes us back to the ways in which the business model needs to catch up with the times. But just as there's a huge amount of truth to that adage "the only thing worse than a book tour is no book tour" it's also true that the only thing worse than the death of print would be the death of reading.
And it doesn't look like that's happening anytime soon. People love their gadgets too much to let that
by Amy Gray, December 15, 2009 10:17 AM
Slathering, brutishly dumb and strong. Carnal serpents of sullied desire. Unrelenting wisps of evil that whip at our greatest fears. Magnificent bastards, all of them.
In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell described monsters as "explod[ing] all of your standards for harmony, order, and ethical conduct." But why do we need them? Why are we still writing about monsters in our shiny world where mystery has been conquered and exposed? Why didn't we leave them behind?
Originally, in stories like Beowulf, monsters served as an ultimate test for the hero, beasts filled with rage and power. The hero faces his/her fear, and slays the monster through ingenuity or amazing strength. The victorious heroes show themselves to be examples for their communities, transcending their mere mortality to become golden superhumans (unlike Beowulf's forever scarpering warriors, possibly to "Yakety Sax"). In contrast, the monster lays defeated, the threat removed, a wise lesson and example for all. Goodnight.
Eventually, as we grew in sophistication, we created monsters that moved beyond their vengeful, violent, and voracious ways. Monsters that represented our greatest sins, like the monsterfied seven deadly sins in Piers the Plowman or any number of grotesque additions to ecclesiastical art. We created monsters of ourselves — the other-worldly, all powerful witches (see Macbeth for their incarnation as political advisors). Imagination and fear ran riot — if a monster can be human, how can we tell them apart?
But monsters had become morality's bitch.
Thankfully, the vampire craze of the 1700s (and Erzsebet Bathory prior) brought some sleaze and lascivious grime back into monster tales. Vampires who grind into young maidens, draining them of their innocence in both Carmilla and Varney the Vampire. Slowly, motivations for monsters became more elaborate and detailed. They covet, they love, they despair, fight, and sometimes they get all emo and jump into Mount Vesuvius in a fit of boredom.
Could it be that there is a part of us that thrills in the monster? Is that why we need them? Can we see part of ourselves and others in their rampages? The stories that quicken our pulse and, if they're good, make us leap up and do a quick lap of the room (oh, don't try to deny it)?
Or is it that disquieting feeling that maybe, just perhaps, we wouldn't mind having a bit of that monster in us... or, even, worse, to succumb to its
by Amy Gray, December 14, 2009 11:30 AM
I'm Amy Gray. I like smoking, carbs, and words. I live in the (currently) sleek humidity of Melbourne, Australia. When not lying horizontally on my life partner, the couch, I write. Just recently I wrote a book about vampires. I know. No, really, I know. Right now your eyebrows are raised, your hand clenched on the mouse or touchpad ready to click away in indignation. It's true: I have contributed to the glut of vampire books on the market.
But I am unrepentant.
Some eleven and a half months ago, I celebrated Christmas with a self-hosted, 40-hour vampire film festival. It started with the sublime Nosferatu and ended, somewhat inexplicably, with the first installment of Twilight.
At the time, my housemate and I nearly came to blows over the film. I was apoplectic over the characters, enraged by the original novel and smug about the slathering fans. How could a vampire book series ignore all the rich, velvety lore surrounding vampires? It was the vampire equivalent of a diet shake — it slaked a thirst momentarily but felt achingly incomplete. How could a new generation unfurl into a love of stylish monsters without the seduction of Carmilla (Dodo Press) by Le Fanu? The lyrical Dracula by Bram Stoker? The complete story arcs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Just what would you give to a fledgling intrigued by these lusty creatures of the night?
That's how the book came about. Presented as a manual for aspiring demons, How to Be a Vampire attempts to cram in over 3,000 years of history about one of folklore's most intoxicating bogeymen. Given almost every culture has a blood-sucking variant in the dark alleys of archetypes, it's a jumping board into a wading pool. There will always be greater and murkier depths to explore.
That's the other thing: I love monsters. Classical myths to men-in-a-rubber-suit films from the fifties and all that lies between. This week's blog posts will not be about the exquisitely ethereal gossamer of highbrow. We're going down, people, down to the heady lowbrow of monsterland and myth, where folklore rebirths as gaudy neon viscera.
Light a smoke and take my hand. It'll be fun.
by Tod Davies, October 9, 2009 10:18 AM
I guess because this is my last guest post, I've been thinking about what I would eat for my last meal (which is one of my favorite dinner table conversations, along with what literary character you most identify with — and the last time we had THAT conversation, one person said Mrs. Dalloway
, one the narrator from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
, one said Ahab — ! — the woman who had cooked the incredible meal said Richard Olney
, and Alex said Alice in Wonderland
... I was the Duchessa de Sanseverina in The Charterhouse of Parma
that night...). And then, because it's just before breakfast, I started thinking about what I am actually going to eat next. And THEN, because these Powell's blogs always put the books you mention at the bottom, I started to think of what books I would like to see there...
Tod's Last Meal (as of Friday, 9 October, 9 am, subject to change without warning):
A big wide bowl of as many freshly picked peas cooked with hearts of lettuce, split green onions, and butter as I can eat (I've never had this in actual life, but my guess is this would be a pretty big bowl).
A perfectly roasted duck with crispy skin.
A small casserole of Potatoes Anna, which is a finicky dish I never make for myself in real life because I can never seem to bring myself to the extra step of clarifying the butter.
A selection of blue cheeses (Fourme d'Ambert, Gorgonzola, Rogue Creamery Blue) with a perfectly ripe Bosc pear, because it's my last meal, and no one can tell me I can't only have blue cheese. Of course I can.
A few pieces of See's dark chocolate covered marzipan.
And to drink, I'd just let Kathryn and Paul Sloan of Small Vines wine pick me out one of their Pinot Noirs. Maybe since it's my last meal, I'd have a little chilled glass of framboise with the choccies, too...
But here's what I'm actually going to eat after I send off this post, and very much looking forward to it I am, too:
A Tortilla and Egg cooked in Duck Fat.
Simple, this. Satisfying and smelly. (The person who taught it to me, a hippie living in a mountain cabin with a husband named Magic Rock and daughter named Aspen Rose, made it with bacon fat. I like it with duck fat, but of course, in order to do it this way, you have to be a duck monomaniac who keeps the fat from her roast ducks for just such a moment. As it happens, I am such a monomaniac, and living proof that a carnivore can live in perfect harmony with a vegetarian.)
Heat a small cast iron skillet, and dollop in a spoonful of duck fat. When it's sizzling, add one corn tortilla. Cook a moment, then crack an egg on top. Break up the egg a bit with a fork. Salt. With one deft and anticipatory movement, flip the tortilla so the egg is on the bottom, scooping whatever bits seep out back under the tortilla with your fork. Turn down the heat and cook till the egg is done to your liking (no harm in peeking; just lift the tortilla and have a look). Flip the tortilla right side up onto your plate, spread with a little Dijon mustard, and, if you can get it to the table without eating it, eat slowly, wrapped in a tube, with your fingers.
This is best with fresh grapefruit or orange juice, but today it will have to just be accompanied by a cantaloupe half.
Now, there. I've given you one of my most prized recipes as a parting lagniappe.
So humor me here. I have to list my five favorite books so that Chris will line them up on the bottom of the page — that is, if Powell's still has them under its roof. But Powell's has every book under its roof. I have faith in that. And I have faith that you won't reject me, gentle reader, because at least two of the favorite books are the ones that seem to get mentioned every time Shelf Awareness interviews some writer and asks what books they have lied about reading. I always feel sort of weird when I see that, as if I have some secret bad habit, kind of like wanting tortillas and eggs and duck fat for breakfast. Sigh.
But here goes (in no particular order):
1.) War and Peace (this one no one seems to read but me, and I can't imagine why, unless it's just that no one admits to reading it).
2.) Proust's In Search of Lost Time (see above).
3.) Isak Dinesen's Winter's Tales.
4.) Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma (see farther above).
5.) Lewis Mumford's The City in History.
Farewell, all. See you farther up ahead. And thanks, Powells Books and all who sail in her brave and beautiful ship, for letting me paddle alongside for a while in my own little boat...
With best and warmest wishes that you, and everyone else, gets something nice to eat, from Tod (who's off to eat that tortilla and egg RIGHT