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Powell's Q&A

Ayun Halliday

Describe your latest project.
Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste is the fourth in a series of self-mocking autobiographies. I thought it was going to be funny essays about food, but after reading a couple, my editor, Leslie Miller, suggested that the real story was how I morphed from a repressed picky eater in white, middle-class 1970s Indiana to the ravenously omnivorous bundle of culinary contradictions that I am today.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Posy Simmonds. She's a versatile English author and illustrator who seems equally at home pumping out children's books, humorous comic strips, and longer-form adult-oriented stuff. I can't get enough of Gemma Bovery, her dense and multi-faceted graphic adaptation of Madame Bovary. It's one of those books I haul out when I succumb to a sort of euphoric insomnia. For kids, I'd recommend Lulu and the Babies, about a petulant little girl who gets separated from her father in an art museum. There aren't many words, but such ones as there are are great fun to read aloud in a plummy English accent that does not come naturally to me at all.

What is your favorite literary first line?
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

What section of the newspaper do you read first?
The Metro section, a habit born of necessity since my husband is an unrepentant front page snatcher. Still, it's incredibly compelling to read about all these personal tragedies: an eight-year-old caught in gang crossfire, an old lady mowed down by a taxi cab, a small plane crash at Coney Island, a stabbed tourist. And then to lighten things up, there'll be some story about a bunch of previously unacquainted Upper West Siders who upon learning of the death of a the neighborhood's most beloved homeless person, take up a collection for a memorial plaque to be screwed onto his favorite bench. I read these stories secure in the knowledge that President Bush will not be issuing a statement regarding any of them.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
I'm not really so much a shoe person as a shoe lace person. From October to March, I wear a pair of Doc Martens I snagged for eighteen bucks at a thrift store in Los Angeles. They look like your garden variety Doc Martens, except for the laces. I'm always on the lookout for a colorful pair — I believe they're currently threaded up with leopard-print. I wear them to such shreds that swapping them out for a fresh pair feels like the start of a whole new fashion season.

I have to admit that I'm rather smitten with some recently purchased summer footwear, that cost me all of ten bucks. Looks-wise, they seem to have been sired by a pair of Converse low tops who were carrying on a clandestine love affair with a pair of Mary Janes. They've got the white rubber toe cap and soles, but instead of laces, a little strap decorated with a rhinestone skull and cross bones. They make me feel like a punk rock vintage debutante and I wish I'd bought fifty pairs because in terms of durability, they're the antithesis of Doc Martens.

Name the best Simpsons episode of all time, and explain why it's the best.
Oh man, what a great question! I wish everybody asked this question! I could give a different answer every time! Today, I'm going to say the one where Homer receives a promotional video from the Japanese-based Mister Sparkle Company and freaks out because the product mascot looks just like him. There's your answer, fishbulb.

On a related note, a friend just gave me a book titled Cartooning with the Simpsons. (She also gave my long-haired daughter an instructional manual called Great Braids! authored by none other than Thomas Hardy! If you loved The Mayor of Casterbridge...) The dedication on the Simpsons book features a picture of the family's cat and reads, "To the Memory of Snowball I: You may be gone, but we still remember how to draw you." That's exactly how I feel about my late cat, Jambo, who continues to figure prominently in my zine, The East Village Inky, three issues after his death.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Perhaps because I too aspired to a life on the stage, Spalding Gray exerted enormous influence, particularly something he said in an interview with Tricycle magazine. Asked why he started performing his autobiographical monologues, he said something to the effect of: "I got sick of waiting for the big, infernal machine to make up its mind about me."

Do you read blogs? What are some of your favorites?
I just completed a virtual tour of thirty food and literary blogs to promote Dirty Sugar Cookies, and am about to embark on a similar tour of parenting blogs in celebration of a UK edition of my first book, The Big Rumpus, so, yes, I read blogs, though certainly not as much as someone who has Internet access at their crummy office job.

Food-blog wise, I really like The Amateur Gourmet, The Girl Who Ate Everything, and Cupcakes Take the Cake, even though I'm not particularly keen on cupcakes. I like Written Road, a blog for travel writers, where editor Jen Leo shares her leads and posts inspirational reports from her do-it-yourself book tours. The travel site Boots-n-All provides free blog accounts to its users — it's always fun to paw through those at random, get the scoop from the base of Kilimanjaro or a small town in Romania.

But my favorite blog of all, and it's a very guilty pleasure, is D-listed, a snarky celebrity gossip site. I stumbled upon it when I learned that Heath Ledger had moved in across the street and was Googling him so that I'd recognize him if I saw him taking out the trash or something. Oh my god, it is so mean, but the site owner, Michael K. is consistently witty for one so prolific. Half the time, I don't even know who these "celebrities" are, which leads to more Googling. My husband is deeply resentful of my addiction to D-listed as it interferes with dinner and child-rearing.

(I nearly forgot to mention that I've got a food blog of my own.) spacer

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