Book Club – February 2021

For me, the absolute best place to read is a coffee shop.  It’s the perfect amount of background noise and the best ambiance.  Here are the two standouts that I read this month:
Long Bright River” by Liz Moore
 I loved this addictive procedural about two sisters navigating the opioid crisis from opposite sides.  I couldn’t put it down – it was unglamorous, but compelling and heart-wrenching.  
A Promised Land” by Barack Obama
I listened to the audio version of this book, which I can’t recommend enough.  I like that you can hear him wince when talking about his frustrations or hear the joy and satisfaction in his voice when he tells a corny joke.  It made me feel so nostalgic thinking about the 2008 election – which was a very exciting time in my life. 

See what else I’m reading on Goodreads

 

Book Club

Recently, I did something that has always felt very off-brand for me.  Since all branches of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh closed, my access to books has been seriously limited. So I ordered a Kindle.  Why did this take me so long?  The Kindle has been around for at least a decade and are relatively affordable.  I love it for so many reasons: books can be downloaded instantly, the backlight, font, and text size are adjustable, it’s light and comfortable to hold.   And the best part?  Library books can be downloaded for free using the Libby app.  I’ve also started using Libby to download audiobooks, which I love for fiction.  

Anyway, here are some of the best books I read this year: 

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino – Tolentino nails what it is like to be a millennial woman right now.  I read this book in one sitting. 

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener – this is a great peek into the world of tech start ups and hits very close to home for me

Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms by John Hodgman – I met Hodgman last year and got my copy of this book signed.  I also love his podcast, Judge John Hodgman 

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris – Sedaris is my favorite author; his books are like candy for my brain. 

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson – I’m currently reading this book.  It’s basically history through the lens of the house, which is fascinating. 

B O O K C L U B

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Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman describes the life a woman trying to fit in with society, it is wonderfully weird, insightful, and well-written.
Vacationland – John Hodgman

Before Rob introduced me to the podcast Judge John Hodgman (where Hodgman settles petty disputes), I best knew Hodgman as the PC in the “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” Apple commercials circa 2006.  I’ve grown to appreciate his wit and commentary.  In Vacationland Hodgman pokes fun at himself as a product of privilege when he finds himself owning two vacation homes.

January Book Club

I’m still working on some of the books from my December reading list, but here are the next two I’m hoping to read:

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – The rise and fall of Stanford drop out Elizabeth Holmes and her start up, Theranos, which promised to revolutionize health with a drop of blood, but couldn’t deliver.

American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment – After his release from imprisonment in Iranian, a Mother Jones reporter takes a job as a prison guard to learn about incarceration in American from the inside.

I’m naturally more drawn to non-fiction than fiction, but I’m hoping to read more fiction this year.  If anyone has any great novels to recommend, please let me know.

December Book Club

Book Club

I have a ton of books on my list this month:

Candide – What I’m reading right now.  Candide is like a parody of the tale of an aristocrat.  It’s very short and fun to read.

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good – A humorous book about an 88 year old Swedish woman murders anyone who gets in her way.

Faithful Place – A 19-year-old man plans to run away with his girlfriend but she never shows up at the train station, he assumes she left him until 22 years later when her suitcase is discovered in an abandoned house.  Don’t you want to read this book now?

Small Fry – I am eager to read this memoir about Lisa-Brennan Jobs, the daughter of Steve Jobs.
Damnation Island – A history of Riker’s Island and how New York treated the poor, mentally ill, and criminal.

Art Thinking – This book is a practical guide to navigating creative self-employment with advice detailing how the worlds of creativity and commerce collide.

Book Club

Book Club

Right now I’m itching to read The Library Book by Susan Orlean.  I absolutely love libraries and can’t wait to read her book about the 1986 fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of books in the Los Angeles Public Library.

This year, I’ve been trying to read more fiction.  I’m always more interested in reading non-fiction and have to force myself to pick out novels.  But, I never regret reading fiction once I’m actually into the book.  I recently heard an interview with Gary Shteyngart that made me curious about his latest book, Lake Success.  It’s a story about a someone with a seemingly perfect life losing it all.  Here is the podcast episode, which also includes a great interview with Lisa Brennan-Jobs, daughter of Steve Jobs.

 

Cooking with My Paris Kitchen

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Some of my favorite recipes have come from David Lebovitz’s blog, but truthfully I have never cracked open one of his many books.  I love the writing on his blog, and the food is always excellent.  His Tomato Tart is my favorite way to use the best-of-summer tomatoes.  David also has great Instagram stories.  I love seeing the messy honesty of his recipe testing, antiquing, and exploring.  

I read his cookbook cover to cover, because My Paris Kitchen is much more than lists of ingredients and instructions.  His stories about traditions, dinner parties, lessons learned, and his life in France make the book worth reading, even without the recipes.  After studying French during high school and college and doing a study abroad, France has had a special place in my heart.  Lebovitz’s anecdotes about French culture brought back a lot of my special memories.  My Paris Kitchen is worth reading, even if you don’t plan on cooking any of the recipes.  

The cooking is a little advanced with a lot of specialty ingredients, but Lebovitz encourages readers to used their judgement and focus on intuition and senses rather than precisely following exact details.  Which I did, liberally.  It took me a while to pick the recipes I wanted to cook, but ultimately I ended up going for recipes that included ingredients I already had on hand to cut down on the shopping I’d have to do.  

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The Israeil Couscous has become a fast favorite for us, but I did have to make two major substitutions.  While I always have plenty of lemons on hand, I have never preserved one.  Rather than letting a lemon brine in salt for a week, I just used zest and extra salt.  I’m sure it’s not as complex of a flavor, but it was still delicious.  Next, I substituted walnuts for pistachios.  Honestly, I just wasn’t going to shell any amount of pistachios, and I already had walnuts on hand.  I am curious to try the recipe as Lebovitz intended, but I hope he would be proud of my ingenuity.  And it turned out great.  I have already made the salad again.  I like to make it on a day off and bring it to work for lunch.  

The chocolate mousse recipe has often been hailed as one of Lebovitz’s best.  He recently demonstrated the recipe on Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street.  During my time in France, I remember buying cups of Mousse au Chocolat from the grocery store.  It was stocked near the yogurt in little plastic cups.  It’s one of my favorite desserts and only takes a few ingredients.  Honestly I don’t know why I never made it before.  The hardest part is waiting for the mousse to set (it needs to sit for eight hours).  Lebovitz’s version is way better than anything found in a plastic cup. 

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I have never made dry caramel before, and it was a little nerve wrecking.  It took two tires to get it right, but the payoff was worth it.  The caramel and salted butter made the chocolate mousse so much more interesting than it would have been as just a chocolate one.  The mousse is so light in texture but extremely rich — an intense and delicious dessert.  Eating the mousse was so indulgent, it was like eating chocolate frosting.  Because it is so rich, a little goes a long way.  We divided it into six portions but should have done eight.

 

I found that the recipes in My Paris Kitchen are better suited to special occasions and weekend projects than everyday cooking.  Many of the recipes required specialty ingredients that would take some effort to hunt down.  The food is also very indulgent -lots of fat, butter, cream, meat, cheese, etc – not foods I want to eat every day.  Lebovitz tells a story with each recipe that compels the reader to try it out, no matter how complicated or expensive or caloric it might be.  

October Book Club

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I’m currently reading Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover.  Westover grew up in rural Idaho and never attended school, but managed to end up with a Phd.  After listening to interviews with her on The New York Times Book Review Podcast and Fresh Air, I felt compelled to read her story.

Next on my list is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.  I’ve read Jane Eyre, but never Wuthering Heights.  I though the gothic themes in the novel would be perfect for fall.  I also love reading the classics of British literature, especially at this time of year, because it reminds me of being in school.