A few weeks back, some asshole broke into the server hosting this here blog and it got deleted almost entirely. Fuck. Luckily the server had back up and I’ve managed to put it mostly back together including over ten years of reading lists. In having to put the humpy dumpty back together, I realize how much fun I used to have writing about books (and sometimes food). The more I wrote the more I began to worry about sounding professional, as if I was writing for the Times Book Review or The New Yorker. Do I like those publications? Hell yeah I do but I don’t need to sound or write like them.
My other concern is my kind of dumb blog name. Back when AOL IM existed and I signed up, I joked with a friend about picking the nerdiest sounding name, something that included D&D and books. Bookgnome was taken. So I became Bookdwarf. Does this name still serve me well? Is it offensive in any way? It’s meant to refer to LOTR and D&D so hopefully not. I’m keeping it for now. I’ve had it since maybe 2004? Remember the Lit Blog Coop? I was part of that too.
I’m writing all this to say that it’s time to get back to what I do best: talking about damn books. Yes, I work for a publisher but those that know me know that I wouldn’t recommend a book here that I hadn’t read and loved so I’m going to stop worrying about coming across like a shill for Penguin. They do publish some really fine books (read Whiskey When We’re Dry please). So time to resume especially as it might serve to distract me from our crumbling democracy. I’ll try to write something once a week, okay? We’ll see where this goes. Thanks for reading!
I thought I’d mention some of the amazing books I read last year. Some I read in 2017 but will be out in 2018, One of best novels I read coming in just one week is Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists. She’ll be at Harvard Book Store on 1/23. I won’t shut up about Danielle Lazarin’s story collection Back Talk coming in February. I don’t normally like short stories (I know) but I loved loved loved this book. And she’ll be at Harvard Book Store on 2/13 and I can’t wait.
Other novels I loved were Peter Heller’s Celine, Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett, Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun, Eka Kurnlawan’s very strange but absorbing Vengeance is Mine All Others Pay Cash, and the novel that people couldn’t stop talking about Jessmyn Ward’s Sing Unburied Sing.
I’m currently on the last book in N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth series, The Stone Sky, and I’m loving it all.
I haven’t disappeared I promise! I still read a ton (even when brushing my teeth) but found myself feeling less excited writing review after review. But after a year or more off, I’m going to start back up again. Some things might be short, some might be long. And I won’t pressure myself to write about a book if I don’t want to at all. Most of all I want it to be fun again.
I’m what I call a ‘completist’. I usually try to finish a book, even if I’m not enjoying it. I don’t do that 100% of the time but I will more likely finish a book that I’m not liking just to see where it goes. Occasionally the last 20 pages can turn a book around. I’ve definitely hate-read a few books (looking at you Magpie Murders) if nothing else to fend off those who might say, ‘well the ending makes it better, you should have read it to the end’. Sometimes you just have to suck it up, keep on reading that crap book, and just throw it against the wall when done.
Part of my reluctance to review was because of my job. I’m a sales rep representing Penguin books hence I read a lot of Penguin books, many of which I really enjoy (everyone should read Danielle Lazarin’s wonderful Back Talk coming in February). But I don’t want to come across as some sort of cheerleader for Penguin books simply because it’s my job. It wouldn’t feel authentic if I did that, I felt. Then I realized that’s dumb. I read a ton and have been for years. No one is going to respect me less (I hope) for talking up a Penguin book that I love because I work for them.
A fantastic debut, that strides the line between adult and YA fiction, Rabbit Cake tells the story of 12-year-old Elvis Babbit, whose mother recently drowned while sleepwalking. Elvis loves facts and studies phenomena almost obsessively, yet when her school counselor convinces her she needs 18 months to properly grieve, she finds out all kinds of things she doesn’t know yet. How to keep her older sister who also sleepwalks from poisoning herself while sleep-eating or why her father has started wearing her mother’s silk robe around the house? And how did her mother, always a strong swimmer, manage to drown?
Hartnett manages to effortlessly capture Elvis’s voice, her bewilderment and her love for her family and friends in Freedom, Alabama. There’s something special about Elvis that makes the reader want to throw your arm over her shoulder and tell her everything’s going to be okay.
If I haven’t mentioned, Mr. Bookdwarf and I bought a house last year that needed to be completely gutted. We finally unpacked most of our cookbooks a few weeks back and start cooking, but now is the time to finish the kitchen, so we have no kitchen sink for a while! Before that, however, we did cook a delicious beef stew from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. This is a classic cookbook, one we turn to time and time again. It’s a straightforward beef carbonnade made with beer. We cheat and add potatoes and carrots. Yum!
We started unpacking cookbooks that had been in storage for over a year in our new house. I forgot how many I have! Mr. Bookdwarf and I decided to make a recipe from each cookbook, as a way to try new recipes and to test that they’re worthy of keeping. Last night, we cooked this Winter Minestrone from David Tanis’s One Good Dish.
As an aside, you should also know is that I got an Instapot for Christmas this year. Did I (or you) need another kitchen appliance? Honestly, after living in a temporary apartment with not much of my kitchen stuff, I realized there was a lot I didn’t need could get rid of. But this device is many things in one—pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice maker, yogurt, and more. I’ve used it a few times and had fantastic results.
Tanis’s recipe is quite simple. Sauté some aromatics, add pancetta or bacon and cook for a few minues. Then cook cannellini beans that have been soaked overnight in 6 cups water for 1 1/2-2 hours. Meanwhile, you roast some winter squash to add to the beans at the end. I simply adapted the recipe to use non-soaked white beans with water in the Instapot on the pressure cooker bean setting after sauteing the aromatics and bacon on the sauté setting. It took about 45 minutes until the beans were tender and creamy. And we used acorn squash—a complete pain to peel FYI—roasting it with olive oil, s&p, and a dash of red pepper flakes for 35 minutes. I also threw some bacon to crisp up toward the end of the squash cooking for garnish because I’m fancy like that.
This was both easy and delicious and I would definitely make it again! I can’t wait to pick another cookbook to try.
The Invisible Library had me at “interdimensional secret agent librarian” but it turns out to also be a charmingly-written novel with a wry awareness of literary tropes and their permutations. Published last year in the UK, this is a book The Guardian noted as some of its favorite science fiction, saying “it’s a breath of fresh air to discover a fantastical world that defies easy provenance and brings something new to the genre.”
I agree wholeheartedly, and was gratified to see that two sequels are already written, and due out in the US in September and December, respectively.