Grillo Center Labyrinth

Grillo Center Labyrinth
Meander and Meet....designed by George Peters and Melanie Walker of Airworks For more information contact Susan at susan@well.com

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Saturday Morning Walkers - July 9, 2006

We talked about several books yesterday:

I'm currently reading The Love Wife by Gish Jen - it was a bit of a slow start for me but I'm now hooked and hope to finish it on this delicious rainy day! Gish Jen was a presenter at the last Literary Sojourn and I thoroughly enjoyed her book, Typical American.

From Publishers WeeklyA meddlesome Chinese-American mother bequeaths a Chinese nanny to her ambivalent son and his big blonde wife in this darkly comic fairy tale about cultural assimilation, biological destiny and domestic warfare. In her earlier novels (Typical American; etc.) and short stories, Jen established a sort of Asian Richter scale, registering the culture shock of new and not-so-new Chinese immigrants and their complicated, irrepressible families. Here she focuses on the racially mixed Wong family: Carnegie; his older wife, Janie (dubbed "Blondie" by Carnegie's hilariously awful mother); two adopted Asian daughters (the difficult teenager Lizzy and the hypersensitive Wendy); and a "bio" baby son who looks disturbingly non-Asian. When Carnegie's mother dies after a long bout with Alzheimer's, the Wongs are shocked to learn that she has arranged for an extended visit by a female relative from the Mainland, the unmarried, mysterious Lan. A year older than Blondie, whose "dewlap" and resemblance to an "Aeroflot" are beginning to alarm Carnegie, Lan seems quaint, "plainish" and self-effacing; soon her ambiguous status, passive-aggressiveness and blooming beauty threaten to destabilize the already rocky Wong marriage. Not only does she captivate Carnegie, who is dismayed and fascinated by his own rediscovered Chinese identity, she also preys on the Wong girls' insecurity as Blondie's nonbiological daughters. What threatens to turn into a standard evil-nanny plot takes on unexpected depth as Jen captures the not always likable Wong family with her trademark compassion, laser-like attention to detail and quirky wit. Though the shifting first-person narratives sometimes come off as awkwardly stagey (particularly Carnegie's, with comments like "I was entranced by the eternal return of villanelles—that deathless morph"), this novel has a robust, lived-in quality that makes you miss it when it's over.

Jackie recommended Saturday by Ian McEwan, the author of Atonement

From Publishers WeeklyCrossley offers a smart, measured performance of McEwan's cerebral novel about an ominous day seen through the eyes of Henry Perowne, a reflective neurosurgeon whose comfortable life is shaken following a run-in with a street thug. Crossley's polished English accent is a fine accompaniment to a story that focuses on the people of privileged London, and while most of the novel consists of Perowne's narration, Crossley easily and subtly shifts into a handful of characters, including Perowne's wife, the jumpy goon Baxter and even a hawkish American anesthesiologist. But what truly suits Crossley's approach to the text is his cool, precise, almost distant tone. Perowne is a surgeon and, aside from his frequent ruminations and flights of thought, he is nothing in his actions if not cautious and calculating. In this way, events as far flung as a squash game and lovemaking are broken down in the churn of his mind and lead to conclusions not only about his own life but life in general. The plot has its moments of tension and suspense, but Crossley does an excellent job of capturing the book's real rewards: McEwan's intriguing examination of how we view ourselves, and how even the simplest events can snowball into complex moral dilemmas.

Other books that were mentioned (both of these are among Libby's favorites!):

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

From Library Journal"I wasn't born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha....I'm a fisherman's daughter from a little town called Yoroido on the Sea of Japan." How nine-year-old Chiyo, sold with her sister into slavery by their father after their mother's death, becomes Sayuri, the beautiful geisha accomplished in the art of entertaining men, is the focus of this fascinating first novel. Narrating her life story from her elegant suite in the Waldorf Astoria, Sayuri tells of her traumatic arrival at the Nitta okiya (a geisha house), where she endures harsh treatment from Granny and Mother, the greedy owners, and from Hatsumomo, the sadistically cruel head geisha. But Sayuri's chance meeting with the Chairman, who shows her kindness, makes her determined to become a geisha. Under the tutelage of the renowned Mameha, she becomes a leading geisha of the 1930s and 1940s. After the book's compelling first half, the second half is a bit flat and overlong. Still, Golden, with degrees in Japanese art and history, has brilliantly revealed the culture and traditions of an exotic world, closed to most Westerners. Highly recommended.

Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

Amazon.comOwen Meany is a dwarfish boy with a strange voice who accidentally kills his best friend's mom with a baseball and believes--accurately--that he is an instrument of God, to be redeemed by martyrdom. John Irving's novel, which inspired the 1998 Jim Carrey movie Simon Birch, is his most popular book in Britain, and perhaps the oddest Christian mystic novel since Flannery O'Connor's work. Irving fans will find much that is familiar: the New England prep-school-town setting, symbolic amputations of man and beast, the Garp-like unknown father of the narrator (Owen's orphaned best friend), the rough comedy. The scene of doltish the doltish headmaster driving a trashed VW down the school's marble staircase is a marvelous set piece. So are the Christmas pageants Owen stars in. But it's all, as Highlights magazine used to put it, "fun with a purpose." When Owen plays baby Jesus in the pageants, and glimpses a tombstone with his death date while enacting A Christmas Carol, the slapstick doesn't cancel the fact that he was born to be martyred. The book's countless subplots add up to a moral argument, specifically an indictment of American foreign policy--from Vietnam to the Contras.
The book's mystic religiosity is steeped in Robertson Davies's Deptford trilogy, and the fatal baseball relates to the fatefully misdirected snowball in the first Deptford novel, Fifth Business. Tiny, symbolic Owen echoes the hero of Irving's teacher G√ľnter Grass's The Tin Drum--the two characters share the same initials
Chris Rich has a recommendation:

Three Weeks With My Brother, a memoir by Nicholas Sparks

From Publishers WeeklyWhen bestselling author Sparks (The Notebook; Message in a Bottle; etc.) receives a brochure offering a three-week trip around the world, it's not hard for him to persuade Micah, his older brother, to join him in touring Guatemala's Mayan ruins, Peru's Incan temples, Easter Island, the killing fields in Cambodia, the Taj Mahal and Ethiopian rock cathedrals. His account of the trip is refreshingly honest and perceptive. At each stop, the brothers, both deeply committed to their families, cover the crucial moments in a life full of familial love and tragedy: Nick's role as the middle child always feeling left out; his marriage in 1989; the loss of Nick and Micah's mother two months later after a horseback riding accident; the death of Nick's first baby and the physical problems of his second son; the death of their father in a car accident; and the passing of their younger sister from a brain tumor. As the brothers travel together through these mythical sites and share candid thoughts, they find themselves stunned by fate's turns, realizing that a peaceful moment may be shattered at any time. Weaving in vignettes of tenderness and loss with travelogue-like observations, Sparks's account shows how he and his brother both evolved on this voyage. "Somehow there was a chance we could help each other, and in that way, I began to think of the trip less as a journey around the world than a journey to rediscover who I was and how I'? developed the way I did."

We also talked about books by Tom Robbins, a favorite of both Mary's, Jackie's and Barb's - I've taken out Even Cowgirls Get the Blues from the library.

Recipe suggestions:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_33028,00.html - Zuppa di Polpettini - meatball and pasta soup - great for a rainy Sunday!

http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/pages/c00195_rec07.asp - Butterflied Roast Chicken with Chile Cinnamon Rub - great technique for roasting chicken.

Restaurant news:

Sad news about the recently opened Dish Restaurant I mentioned in an earlier e-mail - they were flooded out by a burst pipe in the condo above the store - may take awhile to re-open but that is their plan - meanwhile, David Query (Zolos, Rhumba and others) is lending his kitchen space so they can continue to make sandwiches for Amante's Cafes - one in NoBo (ha!) and one on Walnut, just west of 11th.

I went to Primi's, new Italian restaurant by Kevin Taylor (former owner of Dandelion) - service seemed a bit stiff and pretentious for Boulder (literally just opened on the 5th!) but the food turned out to be spectacular! I had Roasted Sea Bass on a bed of corn and mussels and topped with paper-thin fried zucchini. It is located at the corner of Walnut and 13th in the space originally occupied by Acqua Pazza. Hope they have better luck surviving there. I would definitely try it again - maybe for lunch.

Looking forward to our big outing next Saturday with Linn (and hopefully Kris?!) up in Allenspark. E-mail from Linn to follow and e-mail from Barb re the rest of the month's schedule to follow.

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