Grillo Center Labyrinth

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Saturday Morning Walkers - October 16, 2006

Hi everyone,

Hope all of you walkers had a great walk on Saturday - haven't heard any reports yet. I was with Chris and others from my book group at the Literary Sojourn in Steamboat Springs this weekend (we missed you, Terrie and Susan d') and Barb was there with some of her book group also. I thought that it was a huge success - for the first time ever I had read at least one book of each author and it did enhance the experience. The Sojourn is held each year in September or October at the Sheraton in Steamboat Springs. They bring together 4 or 5 writers for a day of presentations about their past, current or upcoming books and writing styles. This year's writers were particularly outstanding. Here's a list of the writers and a few of their books:

Lisa See:

On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family
- this is her first book, a memoir about her own family's history starting in China and moving eventually to Los Angeles. It was quite a "dynasty" and the book is rich in the history of Chinese people who came to this country during that period.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: this is one my all-time favorite books. It is about the ancient custom of foot binding and the secret language shared by women in ancient China. It reveals the strength and power of friendship between women that is so relevant for all of us.

Erik Larsen:

The Devil and the White City
: Larsen talked about his technique of using "dual narrative" in this writing and this was certainly evident in this book about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and a horrific serial killer in Chicago at that same time. He is masterful in the way he weaves these two stories together. The book is non-fiction but reads like a novel. The Chicago Sun-Times calls him "a historian....with a novelist's soul".

Thunderstruck: This is Larsen's upcoming book due to be released in just over a week. In this book, he again uses the "dual narrative" in telling the story of an infamous murderer and Marconi who invented the radio during the Edwardian period in England. I'm looking forward to this one.

Myla Goldberg:

Bee Season
: This is Goldberg's first novel which was later made into a film. It is the story of a family tragedy around mental illness and the world of spelling bees. She says, "I did write it very consciously to get darker and stranger as it continues......I wanted it to lull people into this sense of complacency and then hit them over the head"

Wicket's Remedy: This is her latest book which is a historical novel set in Boston during the 1918 influenza epidemic. I did buy that book and will let you know how it is - be forewarned that I am morbidly drawn to topics like that. In fact, two other writers that were there have also written books about plagues and epidemics. No wonder, I had such a good time!

Stewart O'Nan:

O'Nan is quite a prolific writer - I'll just share two of his books here but you can check out his other work on

The Good Wife: This is the first novel of his that I read. He describes it as an "earnest account" of what it is like for a wife to be waiting for her husband while he is serving a lengthy prison sentence. He explores how people get through difficult day-to-day lives and discover resources within themselves which allow them to survive.

The Circus Fire: This is his non-fiction, journalistic account of the huge circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut during World War II. It is a fascinating and detailed picture of the Big Top at that time and meticulously draws a portrait of everyone involved in that disaster, from the circus employees to the survivors and victims of the fire.

Geraldine Brooks:

The Year of Wonders
: this is another historical novel about a small village in Europe and how they coped with a plague that threatened their survival. Brooks is a wonderful storyteller and as a former journalist, brings so much realism and well-researched detail to her story.

March: this is her most recent historical novel which was inspired by Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women. She writes this Civil War novel around the character of the absent father in that classic story, Mr.. March.

I have some other book recommendations that were given either by one of the writers or people I talked with at the Sojourn:

Stewart O'Nan recommends So Long, See You Tomorrow
by William Maxwell
Book Description
On an Illinois farm in the 1920s, a man is murdered, and in the same moment the tenous friendship between two lonely boys comes to an end. In telling their interconnected stories, American Book Award winner William delivers a masterfully restrained and magically evocative meditation on the past. "A small, perfect novel."--Washington Post Book World.

Chris' friend Linda Parker recommends Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos
From Publishers Weekly
"The dead, Margaret thought. They can be so loud." So muses the protagonist of this dreamy, powerful tale of familial warring, secrets and redemption. When elderly Margaret Hughes discovers that she has a malignant brain tumor, she refuses treatment and decides to take a nice young tenant into her huge, lonely Seattle mansion for company. What she gets is Wanda Schultz, a tough-as-nails stage manager who is secretly seeking the man who left her and prone to inexplicable weeping breakdowns. Wanda, ignorant of Margaret's illness, is intrigued by the museum-like house and its eccentric owner—so when Margaret unexpectedly invites her to a drink-champagne-and-break-the-priceless-antique-china party for two, she's delighted. But a dark history lurks; the houseful of gorgeous antique porcelain comes from Margaret's father's WWII pilfering of European Jewish homes. Meanwhile, Wanda's father, who deserted her years ago, is on the road trying to heal, and Margaret's mother's ghost is haunting the Seattle mansion, lounging about in expensive peignoirs and criticizing her only daughter. Wrestling to keep the dead and the ghosts of their pasts at bay, the two women slowly build an extraordinary friendship, and when Wanda discovers a talent for mosaics, the past begins to quiet. Though it takes a while to get started, this haunting and memorable debut is reminiscent of early Atwood, peopled by lovably imperfect and eccentric characters.

A friend of Barb's recommends Embers by Sandor Marai , a novel about male friendship.
In Sándor Márai's Embers, two old men, once the best of friends, meet after a 41-year break in their relationship. They dine together, taking the same places at the table that they had assumed on the last meal they shared, then sit beside each other in front of a dying fire, one of them nearly silent, the other one, his host, slowly and deliberately tracing the course of their dead friendship. This sensitive, long-considered elaboration of one man's lifelong grievance is as gripping as any adventure story and explains why Márai's forgotten 1942 masterpiece is being compared with the work of Thomas Mann. In some ways, Márai's work is more modern than Mann's. His brevity, simplicity, and succinct, unadorned lyricism may call to mind Latin American novelists like Gabriel García Márquez, or even Italo Calvino. It is the tone of magical realism, although Márai's work is only magical in the sense that he completely engages his reader, spinning a web of words as his wounded central character describes his betrayal and abandonment at the hands of his closest friend. Even the setting, an old castle, evokes dark fairy tales.
The story of the rediscovery of Embers is as fascinating as the novel itself. A celebrated Hungarian novelist of the 1930s, Márai survived the war but was persecuted by the Communists after they came to power. His books were suppressed, even destroyed, and he was forced to flee his country in 1948. He died in San Diego in 1989, one year before the neglected Embers was finally reprinted in his native land. This reprint was discovered by the Italian writer and publisher Roberto Calasso, and the subsequent editions have become international bestsellers. All of Márai's novels are now slated for American publication.

Did you know that there have been more novels written about male friendship than female friendship? I believe that it was Lisa See who said that while talking about Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I find that hard to believe!

Food Notes:

I'll try and keep this brief but our book group is as much about the food as it is about the books so our weekend is just filled with fabulous food. I don't have all the recipes yet but I will share them soon.

Dinner on Friday night - thanks to Janet and Kelly (a special thanks to Kelly for her warm and generous hospitality):

Mulligatawny Soup - a rich and comforting stew with chicken, celery, carrots, green apples and a creamy broth, flavored with curry. This was served with rice and a lovely salad.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with cream cheese frosting - very yummy and perfectly decorated for Halloween

Dinner on Saturday night - thanks to Cynthia and Rita:

Lemon Olive Chicken with Vegetable Tagine - very exotic and delicious roast chicken from O Magazine - - this was served with Mango Couscous -

Breakfast on Sunday morning - thanks to Chris (I was her sous chef): we did a variation of the frittata that Chris made last year and it was a big hit - this easily serves 8 - 10 people especially if you're having other things.

Steamboat Breakfast Frittata
2 cups frozen shredded or country style potatoes

4 large eggs or egg-substitute equivalent

1/2 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/4 cup tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup steamed asparagus, chopped (we used canned and they worked fine)

Bacon, browned and drained

1/4 cup leeks, sliced

1/4 cup artichoke hearts, chopped

any fresh herbs (we didn't use any)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. In a large skillet with oven-safe handle, heat oil. Add potatoes and heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the eggs, milk, and salt. Pour over the potatoes.

3. Sprinkle with whatever veggies or meat you choose. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 - 7 minutes, then sprinkle with cheeses. Continue cooking until center of the frittata is set.

4. Heat the broiler. Broil the frittata 6 inches from the heat until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Let the frittata stand on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

Other wonderful sweet treats that we had were Susan's Noodle Pudding, Judy's (to die for) Chocolate Whopper Cookies (found the recipe at - no question - they are the best cookies I've ever had (except perhaps for Mallomars) and Susan's Chocolate Chip Scones. I think I've already given you the recipe for the noodle pudding - if not, I'll include that in a future blog along with the recipe for the scones. If you don't know about Mallomars, check out this website

That's it for now - do check out the website for Literary Sojourn - - to learn more about this year's event. Think about coming next year!



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