Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Audiobook Recomendations

 Infidel written and read by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a raw, intense memoir of a gutsy young Muslim girl and how her experiences shaped her current political and personal views.  She lets it all hang out and invites us into the inner sanctums of her mind and heart.  It's beautifully written too.  No small wonder that this woman is fluent in three languages and a member of one of the most influential think tanks in the world.  Her reading is as emotional and authentic as her writing. I couldn't imagine this book read by anyone else.

For social commentary masquerading as thriller, try the second book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy.  The Girl Who Played With Fire brings back the most kickass feminist vigilante in recent literature. Lisbeth Salander is a punkrock computer hacker with a photographic memory and a harrowing past.  She's an intriguing character - intensely vulnerable yet frighteningly capable.  The audiobook is read by the actor Simon Vance without whom I would still be stuck on many of the Swedish names. The pronunciation of "Blomqvist" is worth the cost of admission. He masterfully takes on a stunning array of characters and gives them each an individual voice. 

My good friend Becca works in childrens' publishing, and she turned me onto this one.  Alan Bradley's Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie introduces the charmingly devilish Flavia De Luce, a precocious 11 year-old who solves a murder while plotting dastardly revenge against her pretentious older sisters.  She's inquisitive, clever, peevish- sometimes all at the same time.  Jayne Entwistle reads this one and is just spot on.  Delicious.

Neil Gaiman is a masterful storyteller but his voice has a hypnotic quality that keeps me from really listening.  I drifted through his reading of Stardust (but loved the graphic novel beautifully illustrated by Charles Vess; the movie version was forgettable).  I'm glad he let a pro handle the luscious accents in Anansi Boys, a strange re-imagining of the African Anansi stories. It's classic Neil Gaiman - funny, intriguing and often downright disturbing.  The comedian Lenny Henry reads this one and does such a fantastic job that I would classify it as performance art.  I re-listened to some sections just to savor his storytelling ability.

Looking over this short list, I gravitate towards non-American accented readings.  How about you?  Got any recommendations?  I'm always up for a good story.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Read to me

Is listening to a book being read to you just as good as reading the book yourself?  Is it better?  Does it count?  Or is it as big a cop-out as watching the movie?

I think it depends.  Some books really benefit from having a great actor narrating (Maggie Gyllenhaal reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar - she brought the characters alive to me in a way that didn't really happen when my 16 year old self read them on the page).  And some books are better left to the reader's imagination (Nora Ephron reading her own I Feel Bad About My Neck made me think, "She sounds like a sarcastic, slightly more charismatic version of Hilary Clinton giving a public speech. Talk. Faster. We're. Not. All. Morons.")

Acting/reading ability aside, I think there are certainly benefits to reading a book old-school style with eyes skimming page be it on paper or on-screen.  Your mind fills in the audio and visual components of the story.  And in that sense, you participate in the creative process along with the writer.  The Harry Potter series comes to mind.  Reading the books on paper first allowed me to make the characters look and speak in a certain way that was all my own.  Yet when I listen to Jim Dale's superb reading, I realize that all my accents are wrong and perhaps I should leave the English accents to the professionals.  Which begs the question, "As a reader, am I limited by the creative extent of my own imagination?  Am I better off waiting for the audiobook, the movie, the 3D movie in IMAX?"

Listening to a great actor reading a great book, I think, can be a thrilling experience.  It's like being a kid listening to an adult who really gets into the story, taking on different voices, and even acting out certain scenes.  It's delightful.  It gets the imaginative juices flowing.  A good story is a good story, no matter the media. 

Lately, I seem to be incapable of reading a book in the conventional sense.  In fact, I've been in a reading slump for the last six months.  But my need for stories hasn't abated - I just fill it with different forms.  TV series, movies, and audiobooks.  I blame the knitting.  It's hard to turn a page while purling a stitch.  I would need another hand.  So I've been listening to alot of audiobooks.

Now that I'm in the throes of a lengthy knitting slump, I'm starting to feel drawn once again to words on paper.  Itchy fingers, I guess.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jay Kim, Esq.

My brother Jay is a very interesting person.  He studied art at Brown before attending Parsons School of Design for painting.  But after a year in NYC, he decided he didn't want to become a starving artist after all.  At a loss, he went back to school and got two more degrees from the University of MD - mathematics and computer science.  He worked for a web design company for a bit and through a random set of circumstances, he ended up working for the US Patent Office where he reviews software patent applications.  And this is where, of all places, he decided to blossom.  Apparently, patent law is where it's at.

Last week, he graduated from law school at George Washington University.  I'm duly impressed - not just by the degree but because he obtained it while holding down a full-time job and doing his share in raising his three-year old hellion (I mean, daughter).  I wanted to get him a graduation gift worthy of such an amazing accomplishment.  Maybe a fancy pen or engraved stationery yet somehow that just didn't seem suitable to my very unstuffy brethren.

Did you know you can get personalized M&M's?

 Yup.  For about half the cost of your basic Mont Blanc pen, I got three bags of M&Ms - one side read: Jay Kim, Esq.  while the other side had this picture of him looking serious and grumpy.

Scary Lawyer Face

Congratulations, Jay.  We're all mighty proud.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On my soapbox: dinner for doggy

I enjoy cooking.  Over the years I've expanded my repertoire with varying amounts of success: grilling, baking, stewing, soup-making, touching on nearly every ethnic food there is.  It's fun, often tasty and always rewarding.  Of course it helps to have a well-stocked kitchen (Yarn Widower often grumpily complains that we own every kitchen gadget there is; he's prone to exaggeration) and a good chunk of time to devote to home-cooked food (a rare luxury in this day and age).

I love food.  I could go on and on about the importance of it, the subtle nuances of flavor, the heady aromas of spices, the emotional and physical ramifications of preparing and eating truly good food.  But not today.  Today I want to talk about my latest cooking venture - cooking for my dog.

Maybe this sounds like overindulgence.  But the more I learn about food (see Food Matters by Mark Bittman), the more I pay attention to what actually goes into food.  And as far as kibble and canned pet food goes, it's usually not good.  According to Food Pets Die For by Ann Martin, the stuff that goes into most commercially available pet food is the detritus of the food industry - roadkill, diseased livestock, and massive amounts of chemicals to prolong shelf life and keep down costs.  In other words, it's not really food.

Of course, there are some dog food companies that are more interested in nourishing your pet than making cash at the expense of your pet.  Do an internet search of "pet food ratings" and you'll find tons of information.  One site that I really like is  They offer in-depth reviews of dog and cat food companies.  After conferring with the pupster, we switched from Science Diet to Taste of the Wild dry dog food.  He likes an equal part of kibble to an equal part of "moist" food.

Which brings us to the cooking portion of this program.  Pup-cakes.  I make a big batch of these the same day I make a big old meatloaf for me and the Yarn Widower (similar ingredients allows me to buy in bulk).  I freeze what I can't use in the next few days and Bennan is one happy well-fed dog.

makes about 24 muffin-sized portions

2 lbs lean ground beef (15% fat or less)
1 large sweet potato or yam, cut into 1/2" cubes (no need to peel)
2 stalks of celery, cubed
1 apple, cored and cubed (no need to peel)
2 cups of cooked brown rice
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
3 eggs
2 Tbsp of minced flat-leaf parsley
3 Tbsp of dried kelp powder (optional, available in health food stores)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Oil muffin tins.
2. Mix all the ingredients together.  I use my hands but you can use a large wooden spoon.

3. Pat the mixture into the individual muffin tins. 

 4. Bake for 45 min to 1 hour or until an instant-read thermometer reaches 165 degrees F.  Allow to cool completely before serving or storing.  Keeps for 1 month in the freezer.

Are they cool yet?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Knitting Slump

I've misplaced my knitting mojo.

There's really no explanation for it except that it happens from time to time.  I have plenty of yarn, plenty of unfinished projects. Just no oomph.  No obsessive must-knit-now feeling.  Maybe it's the weather - it's starting to get downright steamy here in So Flo.  Maybe it's the bleak state of things - oil pumping out into the gulf, car bombs in Manhattan. Sigh.

Thankfully, I just got an influx of knitting books. I ordered Shirley Paden's new book, Knitwear Design Workshop.

And yesterday, my friend Kerrilyn lent me the use of her library card so I raided the knitting section at the Boca Raton library.

I think I'll start there.