Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sorry, it's not exotic cheese

Today, we're going to go to the Finished Book Pile and see what we have there.

First up is Laura Kalpakian's novel, These Latter Days. If that sounds Mormon-y, it is, although the characters are highly imperfect. It's really kind of amusing to see them thinking, Well, this is really against the Word of Wisdom, but here goes (Note to my posterity: this is only funny in fiction). Sometimes it was hard to tell if I was reading the characters' misperceptions of church doctrine, or the author's. That Mormons believe we enter heaven two by two, and thus the importance of marriage, came up again and again, but they are all confused about it. Nobody seems to think there is any place in heaven for single folks, and they also are sure that if your spouse messes up and goes to hell, there you go right along with him. By the end of the book, it's pretty clear that Kalpakian has no use for the church or its leaders. But I read on anyway, citing the motto: We Don't Adopt Other People's Grievances; We Only Nurture Our Own. Besides, it was a delicious saga, great to turn another page and learn what happened to all the children when they grew up, who married who, who broke who's heart.

Next, I read The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen. News stories present everything as two extreme sides. Lawyers fight to win, not to find the truth. Everything is too much shouting and debate. It was one of those books that makes me say, "I guess so. But there's not much I can do about it." Tannen's fire for her subject grew when she wrote an earlier book, went on talk shows to publicize it, and was constantly thrown into debates that kept her from getting her message out. Or they didn't want her on if she wouldn't go along with the pit-one-against-another format.

Next, we have The Day the Earth Caved In by Joan Quigley, an account of a mine fire burning for decades under the town of Centralia, PA. It starts when the earth opens up and swallows a 12-year-old boy.

Centralia was not terribly far from Bethlehem, where I used to live. I've seen towns like it, "coal-cracker towns" the locals called them, hard-bitten, shabby places. Besides the main story, I loved for book for explaining those towns to me, i.e. who immigrated there, people who live their whole lives in a 5-mile radius, related to everybody, thoroughly caught up in the high school football games and bowling leagues of the community.

After that, I read Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab by Melissa Plaut. Ah, New York! I miss it. Following Plaut in her cab was a delicious virtual return to the throb of the Big City. Be warned, though. It's a pretty profane little book; Plaut sees the underbelly of the city, which I happily managed to avoid when I visited. And when she wants to relax, she and friends head for their favorite dyke bar. Still, she's a thoughtful writer and someone who's trying to be a decent person, in her own way.

Now, I'm reading a collection of short stories, fables and essays, The Best of George Ade. He's a Hoosier writer from days of yore--like, he went to college in the 1880s. I was charmed right away as I opened the first page and read:

"Two Sisters lived in Chicago, the Home of Opportunity.
"Luella was a Good Girl, . . . but she was Plain, much. . . .
"The other Sister was Different. . . .
"From earliest Youth she had lacked Industry and Application.
"She was short on Intellect but long on Shape.
"The Vain Pleasures of the World attracted her. By skipping the Long Words she could read how Rupert Banisford led Sibyl Gray into the Conservatory and made Love that scorched the Begonias." . . .

I thought I have to read this out loud to John. I tried, but it didn't translate well. We didn't catch lots of Ade's slang; also, the hearer misses the wink-wink message conveyed by the capitalized words. I could tell that John was Working Hard at Showing Interest.

But it still makes a great private read. And it's clean. I need something clean after Plaut's book.

And now, for a recipe that you might find appealing: Cheesy Wild Rice Soup

I took the soup to John's father's 95th birthday party last Saturday and when the other Carson wives wanted the recipe, it was so simple, I could write it down for them right there. When she saw the ingredients, one sister-in-law's enthusiasm appeared to cool a bit.

Maybe she thought the soup got it's cheesy groove from that $7-a-wedge imported stuff, but no, it's only Velveeta. Some people have scruples against Velveeta. But I don't see what's so bad about it. My cat likes it.

Oh, wait, that's probably no compliment to Velveeta.