Sunday, December 19, 2010

Zeitoun

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Highlander for hosting our 8th annual Holiday BC!  What a gorgeous, elegant, and festive evening.  The house and the tables looked divine.  As someone remarked, "Wow, this is really a grown up's home!"  That's right:  who needs Mandy when we've got Moraga?  In El Jefe's humble opinion, it was our best holiday event yet.  Why not start every meeting sipping champagne, tucking into spinach artichoke dip (the low fat kind, right?), and munching on prosciutto-wrapped marinated artichoke hearts, all in--well, what could only be called a sitting room.  And sit we did, enjoying cocktails and company until the index cards got passed out.  Apparently, The 10th Member of TCOB decided it was high time to impose some rules and regulations aimed at ensuring a neutral and fair outcome on the vote.  Like a United Nations electoral observer, The 10th Member made sure that each person had a standard issue ballot, a private opportunity to mark their number, and that each ballot was deposited securely into... his hands.

   The presidential elections in Honduras were free and fair.  Just like TCOB.

The next step in the process was to have each vote announced, going around the room one and a half times to make sure that each person's vote was counted, either once or twice.  But El Jefe is confident of the results, which gave the book an average score of 8.5 and a 95% rate of completion (you know who you are!).  The secret ballot process caused the Doctor much consternation:  like a dangling chad, she typically likes to throw a little uncertainty into the mix by changing her vote depending on which way the wind is blowing.  Knowing that a last-minute switch-up would be impossible under the keen eye of The 10th Member, she and Diggity-D both went for broke with an unusual couples' vote of matching 10s.  There might have been some other 10s, but it was shortly after that point that El Jefe began to slide into a narcotics-induced fog, and the details get a bit hazy.


There is no question, however, that Dave Egger's Zeitoun garnered the most enthusiasm and genuine discussion of any holiday BC book to date.  El Jefe vaguely recalls more than one person saying that this book was life changing.  Like the Glass Castle, it was one of those stories that opens your eyes--and wide-- to the crazy shit that goes on right here at home, things you imagine happen only in third world countries.  There were so many sad and despicable scenes in this book:  elderly people trapped on rooftops, dogs shot to death on a highway overpass, a mentally retarded person hosed down with pepper spray in a makeshift jail, a FEMA trailer lying locked and useless in the yard for over a year.  The scenes from "Camp Greyhound" were some of the most painful to read, not to mention the utter trampling on the due process rights of American citizens.  It was terrifying and depressing to see how easily both legal and ethical standards went out the window, and with no apology or restitution.

"Prisoners" being led into Camp Greyhound.

Please help.

In the 9th Ward.

Not everyone in the group was entirely sympathetic to the main character, Abdulrahman Zeitoun.  Certainly there were some that partly blamed him for choosing to stay behind in the face of a mandatory evacuation (not to mention common sense), and having such an inflated opinion of himself as the saviour around his neighborhood.  Others remembered well the heightened sense of suspicion and paranoia that still lingered after 9/11, and almost took a "what do you expect?" attitude, given that FEMA had been placed under the umbrella of Homeland Security.  Still others critiqued either the author or Zeitoun himself for what seemed like obvious oversights:  for example, once Zeitoun got out of jail, how come he didn't help his friends?  What took Zeitoun's wife so long to call a lawyer?  But despite these differences of opinion, there is no doubt that this book was provocative and profound, and generated an empassioned discussion that followed us all the way to the dinner table.

It's always a relief to segue from dwelling over the misfortunes of others to a filet mignon roast with creamy gorgonzola sauce.  And rosemary-Parmesan mashed potatoes.  And a leafy green salad garnished with slivered red onion and mandarin oranges.  And cheesy garlic bread.  And paper party crowns.  Thank goodness for a delicious dinner and for our many blessings.  At this point, El Jefe did make her exit, longingly eyeing the annual bounty of Heath Bar cookies and the divine-smelling fruit cobbler.  Unfortunately, there were no leftovers the next day.

Please let this book be a reminder to all of us during the holidays how lucky we are to have friends, family, and a roof over our head, and to be generous to those in need.  Merry Christmas, and see you in the New Year!  xoEJ



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Freedom

Ah, freedom!  Do any of us really know what it means?  Certainly El Jefe would like to be freed from writing these blog entries in the middle of the night, but alas, that doesn't appear to be in the cards.  We had a wonderfully bohemian evening at Chez Mademoiselle, in the heart of artsy Venice, where El Jefe truly feels at home.  Walking into a classic California bungalow, adorned with festive Christmas lights, breathing in the sweet aromas of Venice living---ahhhh!  And then to settle down after a long day with a glass of wine and to polish off the remainder of those prosciutto-wrapped bread sticks--was there goat cheese inside?  Who needs freedom when we've got lishy apps, vino, and good friends in abundance!  For dinner we had a delish beef stew and, uh oh, El Jefe can almost picture the dessert but cannot put her finger on exactly what it was.  The memory is failing, and worse yet, El Jefe fears that Red might have brought it and will now be offended at the second-in-a-row dessert dis!  (Don't take it personally, it's solely due to being overworked, or to inhaling the second-hand smoke of the Venice aroma--there was a second app, as well, that has been forgotten...)  But it was all delish!




Ahhh, Venice.

The book, Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, was nothing short of a momentous let down.  It also was nothing short of 600 pages, which contributed mightily to the let-down-ness experienced by those who powered through cover-to-cover. 

576 pages.  Really?

We had high hopes for this book, given what a big hit Franzen's previous book, The Corrections, had been.  But at 4.7, this was one of the all-time low scoring books in TCOB history, led by La Mademoiselle herself, who gave it a scathing 3.  Complaints ranged from the characters not being credible, to the book overall being too self-conscious and cliche', to having too much filler.  Across the board, this did not live up to The Corrections--it simply was missing the poignancy of that earlier novel and failed to move the readers.  Obviously we are a bunch of cold-hearted, nature-hating industrialists, for who else could resent a book that spent 100 pages on the plight of the helpless, nearly-endangered cerulian warbler?

The cerulian warbler.

One thing was for sure, it was hard (if not impossible) to like any character in this book (except maybe the warbler).  Each one was as flawed as the next, and while readers often connect (or at least sympathize) with flawed characters, the author obviously miscalibrated--both Walter and Patty were just annoying.  In all fairness, there were a few positive points made, one of which was that Franzen is skilled at putting into words complex and conflicting emotional states that aren't easily given to being described in writing.  Or is that just El Jefe's reaction to Richard Katz that we're talking about?

Our next meeting is, sit down, our 8th annual holiday book club!  And this year Pam Pam is being freed from hosting, with the Highlander taking up the torch in her own home.  We are scheduled for Thursday, December 9th, at 7:30.  By now everyone undoubtedly knows what to bring, but nonetheless we'll circle back with assignments closer to the time.  The book is Dave Eggers' Zeitoun, which hopefully everyone (including and especially the boys!) has started already.  Until next time...  xoej

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Si, si, El Jefe es muy tarde.  But no less excited to welcome Baby Alec, the newest member of the younger BC generation!  And, he's turning out to be such a sweet and cooperative little munchkin that I am sure the Doctor will be right back into the swing of things by November, having had plenty of free time sit and finish our 500 page Jonathan Franzen novel.  But in the meantime, thanks to Ms. K for hosting a lovely and intimate TCOB.  To hear and be heard was a revelation, and it's what makes those occasional small group meetings so...pleasant!

We caught up on the month's gossip over a simple yet elegant new dip, created by Logan's run.  Creamy hummus topped with pesto and scooped up on crunchy corn tortilla chips.  It was a blend of cultures and tastes that was unusual and delicious.  Then, a platter of lishy chicken enchiladas from Thyme Cafe (Happy 1-Year Birthday Thyme, today!) and a green salad.  And for dessert, a light but flavorful medley of wild berries topped with fresh whipped cream.



Our book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, scored about a 7.  Everyone was fascinated by this book on so many levels:  from the science to the history to the personal tragedy, someone could not have dreamed up this story as fiction if they tried.  Having grown up in an era where cell research already was well established, we took the existence of cell cultures as a fact of life.  Not one of us would have had the occasion to ponder the miracle and the mystery of where these cells came from, nor did we understand the breadth of what they have accomplished.  So, from a purely scientific standpoint, this book was a real eye opener.  The social and medical history, too, was a new discovery for us, and a disappointing one.  Who wants to look squarely at a past where black people were intentionally injected with syphilis and subjected to questionable treatments in overcrowded mental asylums?  These painful realities set the stage for the myriad ethical issues raised by this book, which, unfortunately, the author did not leave as open as she could have.  After years of painstakingly researching this story and infiltrating the lives of the Lacks family, Ms. Skloot clearly (and understandably) was not writing this book from a position of objectivity.  Although she did accomplish laying out multiple viewpoints from which to consider the moral questions surrounding cell research, her own agenda came through:  she felt that the Lackses had been wronged and deserved some financial consideration in return for Henrietta's cells.  Whether or not any particular reader agreed with her, we did agree that her point was a bit heavy handed, and that although her research had taken a decade, we did not want to continue reading about this family for a decade.  Overall, a great read in terms of content, but some additional editing would be welcome.

Henrietta Lacks, late 1940s.

Henrietta and David Lacks, circa 1945.

Divide and Conquer.

Our November meeting is on our regularly scheduled first Wednesday of the month at Chez Mademoiselle...and we'll all need the address! For the book selection, see last month's posting.  The Highlander is on apps, and we need a volunteer for dessert.  Until next time, read early and often!  xoej

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cutting for Stone

Ah, the summer went fast but the book went slow.  It's hard to believe that yet another season has flown past, our eighth summer of good friends and good literature.  The Foxx hosted an evening par excellence.  We sheltered ourselves against the chilly Venice fog, ensconced in front of the fire, sipping red wine, and reclining on the Foxx's chic new couches.  Baked figs stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped in pancetta rounded out the cocktail hour.  After all, what's TCOB without pancetta in all its meaty splendor?  A dinner of scrumptious lasagna and salad followed, perfect for what almost felt like a cozy winter night, and then back to summer again with salted caramel ice cream for dessert.  A true labor of love, but a lishy one that's well worth every churn of the ice cream maker.


Before diving into the book just yet (procrastination), El Jefe needs to report on her fantastic long weekend spent with Blondie in Sun Valley.  We had a blast, eating, drinking, shopping, hiking, moose sighting, and Labor Day parading our way through the vacation (who needs to know that most of the time we also were herding four kiddos?!).  And strangely, like a blind person who exhibits a superhuman sense of smell, it seems that Blondie's geographic handicap actually has caused her other TCOB connections to become more acute.  What book do you think had newly arrived in the mail, in all its hardcover glory?  None other than The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, our October selection!  Yes, Blondie has actually started to develop TCOB telepathy, predicting the book selections before the recap even comes out.  El Jefe takes this as a sure sign that Blondie one day intends to return (to Los Angeles).


O.T.'s favorite Ketchum lunch spot, "Grump's."

And finally onto the book.  The biggest challenge faced by Cutting For Stone was its length.  Those of us (about half) who conquered its 700 plus pages gave it high marks, while those of us who didn't wondered how on earth it ever got voted on given the length.  Nonetheless, the overall rating was still quite high, averaging just over 7. 


If you could make it through the story's rather slow start, you were rewarded by a fantastic and mystical tale in which exotic characters moved throughout intertwined plots, all set against the lush, velvety backdrop of Ethiopia (and Brooklyn).  Though falling just short of Rushdie's mastery, this book is a strong contender in the tradition of great storytelling (let's call it Rushdie-lite).  The author's prose is so elegant that the descriptions of dinner make your mouth water, and the descriptions of local poverty, violence and ignorance make your heart break.  It's also a tribute to the author's excellent writing that the medical information (even if, as pointed out by the Doctor, a bit rudimentary) not only was interesting but also added a level of realism that made the reader more invested in the story.  Though difficult to read about, some of the topics addressed in the book--such as female circumcision and the occurrence of vaginal fistulas among poor African women--are of critical humanitarian importance and the author should be commended for addressing them in a bold and public way in a work of fiction.  Dare El Jefe draw an analogy to the salted caramel ice cream?  (Yes, El Jefe dares.)  Cutting for Stone requires time and dedication, but pays off in spades.

The October and November meetings are at the homes of Ms. K. and La Mademoiselle, respectively.  In October, Logan's Run is bringing apps and the Highlander dessert.  Read early and often, and in case you have not yet developed your sense of TCOB telepathy, the books (in order) are below. 

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
And.... for December consideration in case the boys don't come through, The Thieves of Manhattan, by Adam Langer.  xoej

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blood Oath

Thanks to the Doctor for hosting TCOB last week!  Ah, to come from work and be met with an assortment of wines, a platter of hors d'oeuvres, good friends, and only one day to go until the weekend.  El Jefe was especially relieved to relax into the couch over a glass of sauvignon blanc and to munch on miniature shrimp and bell pepper skewers while catching up on the month's gossip.  From seafood to more seafood, it was a particularly unbloody meal considering the book at hand.  Although we probably should have paid homage by digging our fangs into an extra rare slab of steak, we instead feasted on savory tuna burgers with a spicy tapenade aioli on made-to-order Belwood buns.  Being a Bobby Flay recipe, the burgers had his signature smoky, almost spanish flavor--excellent with terra chips and a green salad.  And for dessert, assorted cookies, including a delightful almond selection.  Dalish!


We passed.

Blood Oath, by Christopher Farnsworth, was not surprisingly a controversial TCOB pick.



In fact, for the first time ever, there was even a suggestion that the book should have been previewed before subjecting all TCOB members to its full 400 pages.  With no write-in vote from Foxx, Blood Oath scored an even 5.  It always seems so cliche when people say, "You either love it or you hate it."  But then again, it also seems cliche to say, "Forget the War on Terror.  This is the War on Horror, and you've just been drafted."  Suffice it to say, there were a few of us (El Jefe proudly included) who ate it up.  And there was the other camp that wanted to throw the book across the room, burn it, or literally strangle the person who had the nerve to publish it.  To address the negatives first:  It is written like a screenplay.  It is the most transparent, unoriginal, rip-off conglomeration of all the more intelligent horror and sci-fi stories that have ever come before it.  It was unreadable.  The vampire sex was too tame (even Logan's run could handle it!).  The story was predictable and, frankly, lame.  All true, especially the part about the vampire sex.  Now for the positives:  The opening sequence involves werewolves who battle U.S. special ops in Serbia.  The subtitle is "the President's Vampire."  The vampire is a secret agent and has been under a blood oath to serve all American presidents since Andrew Jackson.  The vampire is supposed to be kind of hot.  The bad guys are jihadists.  The other bad guy is a German scientist.  The vampire has a vampire girlfriend.  Sorry, what is wrong with this book?  Nothing!  Can't wait for the movie!

Max Schreck, Nosferatu, 1922

Bela Lugosi, Dracula, 1931

Frank Langella, Dracula, 1979

Keifer Sutherland, Lost Boys, 1987

Tom Cruise as Lestat and Brad Pitt as Louis, Interview with the Vampire, 1994

Robert Pattinson, Twilight, 2008

The Foxx has offered to host our September meeting, and Ms. K. will host October.  In September, Red is bringing apps and El Jefe dessert.  For details on our book, see last month's post.  Until next time, read early and often and keep your fangs in.  xoej


Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Murderer's Daughters

Our first TCOB in the Highlander's new home!  Dating, breakups, marriage, divorce, new boyfriends, new kids, new houses, remodels, onward and upward!  We are either too cliche or have just been together too long.  Self-deprecation aside, Highlander, the new digs look terrific!  What also looks terrific is Red's new line of fine jewelry.  Custom cut topaz, rose gold, diamonds?!  Luckily it's gorgeous so El Jefe will forgive the spotty attendance record, knowing how hard you were working.
  Janna Conner Designs.  14K yellow gold "cubist" earrings with white topaz and diamonds.  Yes, please.

Over bangles and baubles, we snacked our way through caprese skewers and spanikopita, caught up on the month's gossip, and planned our birthday and Christmas lists. Then, on to burgers and a veritable smorgasbord of toppings: grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms, brie, avocado cream, and other lishy treats. And the controversial peach donuts for dessert. All the fun of a donut-shaped peach, none of the calories of a donut. Or wait, did we miss the fine print...


 Only 201 calories per.


 Our book this month, the Murderer's Daughters, was highly divisive.  There was a cluster in the 8's, a cluster in the 4's (overly dramatic!), with a smattering of less polarized votes in between.  Not counting the last-ditch downgrade to a 3 (talk about predictable), the book averaged out at 6.3.  Clearly that number doesn't tell the whole story.  What does tell the story, at least from the perspective of the low graders, is the sentiment that (and I quote) "I would rather have those hours of my life back than have wasted them reading this book."  Snap!  The low graders found the story soap opera-esque, annoying, and poorly written.  In particular, Merry's tap, tap, tapping on the scar left by her father's botched stabbing seemed to be an irritant.  Alas, although the physical wound healed, the psychological damage was incurable--but no sympathy for this victim from the naysayers!  For some reason, their troubled childhood did not evoke nearly the same heartbreak as the Glass Castle, which was offered in our discussion as a comparison.  On the other hand, the yeahsayers (?) loved the pulpy drama, the fast read, and the tragic characters.  While the group could not agree on whether Lulu and Merry were one dimensional or complex, we did agree that Merry's relationship with her father was tres strange (how could she forgive the very person who almost succeeded in killing her), and perfect little Drew's sudden appearance in Lulu's life was a bit much.  But, opinions and ratings aside, there was an especially poignant moment when it was revealed that this book held a personal meaning and connection for one of us, whose mother's own childhood years were spent in an orphanage.  After all, the author stated in the epilogue that she wished she could say that this book was fiction.

Please see last month's post for the August and September lineup.  There was a motion to move the August meeting one day later to the 5th.  If you have an objection to that, please send El Jefe an email.  Also if you can bring apps or dessert next month.  Until next time, beware the undead!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Run

Thanks to Logan's Run for hosting the June meeting!  We started out with a bountiful platter of mixed apps--assorted cheeses, dips, veggies, and crackers.  For dinner we had baked chicken breasts with goat cheese and fresh basil, and a butter lettuce salad with avocado.  Logan's Run recently has gone on a gluten-free diet and I think she snuck some gluten-free laugh supplements into the meal, as hilarity seemed to ensue throughout dinner for no apparent reason.  For dessert, just to reverse any good our dinner might have done, a delectable variety of cookies, brownies, and blondies from Clementine.  Lish!

Run, by Ann Patchett, scored a 6.0.  We couldn't help but compare it to Bel Canto and the Magician's Assistant, both of which we remembered to be more captivating.  This book was just "good."  Not great, not terrible, perfectly readable--but just good.  (Perhaps that's why La Mademoiselle decided to read next month's book instead!)  We all agreed that the story was well-written in terms of its prose, but there was too much filler, and somehow the characters were one-dimensional and simply not that interesting.  In fact, we didn't even engage in our usual comparison of who loved or hated each character, our chatter about which characters were annoying or endearing.  Even Sullivan, the brother who seemed to have the best chance at being multi-dimensional, was summarily revealed in a single page.  We just couldn't see the point in the whole thing.  The plot wasn't unique enough to make it a plot-driven book, the characters weren't engaging enough to make it a character-driven book, so it languished betwixt and between:  definitely not, as the cover bragged, Ann Patchett's best book.

Our July book is The Murderer's Daughters, by Randy Susan Meyers, our August book is Blood Oath, by Christopher Farnsworth, and our September book is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  In order, the Highlander, the Doctor, and Ms. K. are hosting.  For July, La Mademoiselle is bringing apps, and El Jefe's on desserts.  Until next time, read early and often, and happy start of summer!

 Massimo Vitali, Rosignano 2004, diptych

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

¡Hola amigas!  We spent a very enjoyable and intimate Cinco de Mayo at Casa de Jefe.  True to the day's festivities, we shook up some margs at the bar (El SeƱor bartending, natch) and dug into a gargantuan platter of chips and homemade guac.  Then, we feasted on three kinds of enchiladas, Ranchero, Suprema, and Carne, with all the usual accoutrements-- beans, rice, chopped cilantro (obv!), a variety of salsas, Mexican crema, and just to make us all feel better, a green salad.  It is nothing less than a testament to our will to stuff ourselves beyond reason that we still managed to polish off half of a chocoloate peanut butter cake.  ¡Muy delicioso!

I'd hit that.

Now on to our book, Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger, which scored an impressive 8.25.



This modern day ghost story set in London was unexpected, playful, and poignant--and everyone loved it.  Each character was different and interesting.  The twins, Julia and Valentina (a.k.a. "Mouse") start out as a lovable pair, relishing the sudden adventure of living together in their late aunt Elspeth's flat, and roaming the streets of London in search of Alexander McQueen (may he R.I.P.)-inspired fashions. 

Alexander McQueen, 1969-2010

Of course things go terribly awry, as is wont to happen when living adjacent to a Victorian cemetary in a haunted apartment.  But in between the book's jaunty beginning and the eerily tragic ending was a good ol' fashioned page turner.  We delighted in Martin's lovable craziness, Robert's nervous but sweet stalking, and the twins' frolics with the Little Kitten of Death and the ouija board that at first seemed to be so harmless.  Most (but not all) of us were surprised by the turn of plot in which Elspeth, rather than Edie, was revealed to be the twins' real mother.  Which only made it more dispicable that she [did that thing that I won't mention in case, dear readers, you haven't finished].  But was it a pre-meditated plan all along, or were her intentions pure?  This is one of several questions to which we'll never know the answer;  while the author tied some threads of the story up neatly at the end, other strange scenes from the book's final pages remain unexplained, such as Julia's encounter with "Valentina" in the store, and Robert's sudden disappearance.  A fitting ending for this supernatural tale.

Highgate Cemetery, North London, England.



Tombs at Highgate

Entrance to the Egyptian Avenue

"Managed neglect" has been the policy at Highgate for the last two decades.

One too many margaritas means that El Jefe does not remember who is hosting in June (yikes, June!), but it may have been the Doctor?  Let us know!  See last month's posting for the book, and until next time...xoej

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism

Let's look on the bright side:  Blondie's few and far between (at least too few and too far for El Jefe) visits to the fair City of Angels are sure to mean that the Club of Books will be a hit.  Not to mention, she pulls off house-sitting on one of the most sought-after streets in Brentwood and hosting a dinner for 9 to boot.  Is there anything this woman can't do?  Apparently, pick a lock.  A memorable evening that began with sitting out on the front steps of the M____'s home on Cliffwood, waiting for the key reinforcements to arrive.  Thank goodness for screw top fume blanc!

Once we penetrate Fort Knox (does El Jefe spy an Alexander Calder in the foyer?), we settle into the study over sparkling wine and pancetta wrapped dates, stuffed with melted manchego and mint.  Much to El Jefe's delight, the bubbly appears to be gaining TCOB popularity.

Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut
Crisp acidity, vibrant green apple, citrus.  $22

Pancetta also seems to have become a staple.  Apparently this versatile cured meat works equally well in hors d' oeuvres and main courses.  For example, pancetta and taleggio lasagna with treviso radicchio.  Lish! 


Traviso radicchio

vs.

Regular radicchio

Served with a green salad on the side, and polished off with Red's scrumptious lemon squares.  Don't dispair, Red!  We love your homemade goodies.


Thinking in Pictures:  My Life with Autism garnered a 5.3.  And Ms. K's rating was not excluded even though it was the high score of the evening at seven-point-oh.  El Jefe's authority to fudge the math is completely revoked when she herself does not partake in the book (shame!).  The low score was a 2.  And though the ratings may have varied widely, the comments did not.  Across the board, we found this to be a difficult read.  Jumpy tenses made the story hard to follow, and the hands-off editing, albeit clearly done for stylistic reasons, left us with a book that at times seemed to repeat whole sections of itself over again.  While this tactic may have given readers a more tangible sense of Grandin's dry and non-linear view of the world, it was frustrating.  People were torn between wanting a greater understanding of the experiences of those afflicted with autism, and feeling that they could not at all relate to Grandin, and being fascinated by her strange inventions such as her cattle chutes and her squeeze machine.  We also talked about how heartbreaking it must be for a parent to raise a child with autism and not be able to develop a reciprocal emotional relationship with them, and those of us who have known children with autism shared personal stories.  Interestingly, it was pointed out that with all the publicity surrounding the occurrence of autism in children, one rarely hears much about autism in adults.  If you are interested in learning more about Temple Grandin or re-visiting this story in a more user-friendly way, Foxx strongly commends the HBO movie based on this book. 




Our next meeting is on Wednesday, May 5 at Chez Jefe.  Logan's Run is on apps, and Ms. K on dessert.  The May, June, and July books, in order, are Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, Run by Ann Patchett, and The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers.  Until next time, read early and often!

Memory Lane:  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (Nov. 2005).

 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sarah's Key

Now that was worth popping the bubbly!  Blondie in from Sun Vally and a full house.  Plus, we figured out all it takes is champagne to get Ms. K. to drink.  No mere wine for her any more....rich!  But you don't have to be if you just pick up a $10 sparkler from Trader Joe's.  Refreshing, tasty, and the best part of all is that its distinctive orange label could be mistaken for Veuve from a distance.


Cremant de Bourgogne.  $9.99 at Trader Joe's

We caught up on the month's gossip over spicy tuna rolls, toro on crispy rice, and a few other options on the other side of the table that were out of El Jefe's reach.  Why would she reach with champagne in one hand and sushi in the other?  No need.  We then continued on to a mixed green salad and a hearty tortilla soup topped with sour cream, shredded jack and cheddar cheese, and crispy tortilla strips.  ¡Muy caliente y lishy!  And in a sort of post-Valentine's Day homage, chocolate chip cookies baked in a copper heart-shaped pan polished off a fantastic dinner.



Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay rated 8.13--plus 2.  Not to entirely shut out Ms. K's all-time-TCOB-low rating (being the hostess no less!), but rather to separately acknowledge it as an outlier among the rest of the generally high scores.  This was a Children in Peril book, Ms. K's least favorite genre (even lower ranking than "ghetto lit") and of course not easy for anyone to read.  According to the reports, there was not a dry eye among us (except perhaps the steely Blondie--or did her tears just freeze to solid ice in that snowy Sun Valley clime?).  Certainly El Jefe blubbered the whole way through, although admittedly that's not saying much coming from someone who gets equally choked up watching the GE Healthymagination commercials or the ads for the United Negro College Fund.



But aside from featuring Children in Peril, Ms. K thought the story was contrived, excessive, and written with the sole purpose of tugging at one's heartstrings from cover to cover.  The other main critique of this book was that its protagonist, Julia, went off on a self-indulgent lark when she started flying around the world to track down Sarah's only remaining family member--her son who knew nothing of the circumstances of Sarah's tragic childhood.  Some of us couldn't understand what possessed her to undertake this mission, which was bound to bring shock and hurt to Sarah's unsuspecting kin.  Others of us empathized with Julia's need to make an apology, to clear her conscience, and to see that Sarah's legacy was not forgotten.  Nor will the horrific events of the Vel'd'Hiv' be forgotten thanks to this book.  It was stunning that none of us, at least those educated in the United States, had ever been taught about the Vel' d'Hiv in our high school history classes, and barely about the Nazi occupation of France at all.  Even La Mademoiselle said that her knowledge of that time and some of the political figures involved was only partly learned in school, the rest picked up from the dinner table grumblings of her pere every time the controversial Francois Mitterand came on TV.  Kudos to this brave, French author for bringing to light a sad and shameful subject that many would rather leave in the darkness. 

Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv.  July 16-17, 1942, Paris.

Inside the Vel' d'Hiv.
Le Monument Commemoratif de la Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv.  Paris 15e.

Our next meeting, as of now, is on the regularly-scheduled day in April.  Blondie is going to try to host while she is in town.  If memory serves (and usually it doesn't), the Doctor is bringing apps and Red dessert.  The May meeting will be at Chez Jefe.  Our two books are below, and my favorite advice is above.  

P.S.  Can we give it up for Kathryn Bigelow?!  The first female to win the Best Director award in 82 years of Oscars!  And a Columbia grad to boot...

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger.