In Which I Write About Reading

Whoa, a post about reading and writing, instead of about cooking or mothering? What?! It had to happen eventually, the rediscovery of what my blog was supposed to be about in the first place, so why not on New Year’s Day?

I’ve been reading a lot. It’s not as if my life is so filled with mothering and baking that I’d forgotten how to read. Or write. In fact, since my teaching load was so light last semester, I had a lot of time to do both. Being semi-employed has advantages! In fact, I felt busier last semester than I did while I was in grad school. Retirement syndrome, maybe? Anyway– back to the whole reading and writing thing. See how easily I get sidetracked? A lot of what I’ve been reading is pretty crappy. Free romances on the Kindle. I went a little crazy with the idea that what I was reading was suddenly anonymous, and no one would know if I was reading some zeitgeisty New Yorker author, or some lofty, philosophical and dry translated thing, or some crazy urban paranormal Buffy-ripoff. Let’s call a spade a spade. If it is free on the Kindle and it is not a classic– there is an 85% chance that it is pretty crappy. Some of them are readable– obviously, since I’ve been reading them. A LOT of them.

Admittedly, I’d really like to be one of those crappy books on the 100 Most Downloaded Free Kindle list. Let’s get that straight. I’m self-conscious about my reading habits of late, but I’d totally be lying if I even omitted the idea that I want to be out there, selling free or otherwise. I mean, those people have done something I haven’t. They’ve finished something and put it out there. One more clarification: I have also read some awesome genre books, but I don’t feel I’ve learned anything from them, not enough to write about. I mean, this isn’t a review site.

So here’s a resolution for you: I’m going to stop reading the free books on Kindle, and use that time to finish up my own book. That might sound like two separate resolutions, but it’s really only one. Resolution numero dos? Write more about reading and writing.

About a week ago, I finished reading Headhunters, by Jo Nesbø. I’d downloaded it a long time ago, in September (!) and promptly forgot about it. But once I picked it up again, I devoured it. Nesbø gets unfairly compared to the ghost of Stieg Larsson, but really they are two completely different sorts of authors. Larsson blurs the line between journalism and mystery, and his writing– or at least the translation– is very matter of fact and dry. Almost stilted. While reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I often wondered if I wasn’t getting the full effect somehow. Was it the author or his translator that sounded that way? But as an English-reading American it doesn’t really matter. There’s only one translation, and I was reading it, and so there you go. Nesbø (and his translator, naturally) have beautiful language. It often does not even read like stereotypical genre fiction, but like lit. And good lit, too.

This was taken in 2005, so it's old, but I liked that it was from a book fair in Helsinki.

But, so, Nesbø. Ooh! Writer crush alert! One, I rediscovered my love of the unreliable  (and while unlikable, also oddly likable) narrator. Remember Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley? Both the movie and the book did that wonderfully, and Nesbø really pulls that off, too. Also, just as with Ripley, even though the main character makes horrible decisions (in Ripley’s case, treacherously evil decisions– but in Nesbø’s case, sometimes morally ambiguous, sometimes just plain wrong decisions) you root for that bad boy. What will they get away with? Are we, the reader, complicit in it?

The second thing I learned was that I shouldn’t shy away from the ugly and the visceral when I write. It’s a murder mystery, for Christ’s sake, you know? I tend not to like gore in movies and books, but if I really think about it, my favorite shows and books, while not swathed in blood, do have flickers of shocking moments of either sex or blood. It’s a TV show, but Misfits is a good example of this. It has, for the most part, really good writing (except for poor Kelly’s gorilla episode. I mean, what was up with that? I love her character. She got gypped.) punctuated with frequent shots of sex and either unexpected or deliciously anticipated violence. So why, when I write, do I shy away from what I like to read and watch? Headhunters accentuated this realization for me. The violence made me cringe. There were pages where I was grossed out– but it was well written, and so I cringed through and enjoyed it. You know that bit in Trainspotting, where Ewan McGregor dives into the shitty toilet to rescue the suppositories, and it should have been too much. It sounds like it would be too much. And reading it, how in the world would you film it? But it works, and you cringe a little bit, and then you identify, and then you are there and it works some more. It was a lot like that.

The third thing I took from Headhunters– wasn’t there a third thing? Now I’m blanking out. I’m still snoterrific, so I’m a little bumbly in the brain. If I remember what that third thing was, this paragraph will disappear, and you won’t even know I couldn’t remember in the first place.

And because I was sad and lonely– husband MIA for New Year’s Eve, then again this afternoon (I have a text! I must flee! Somebody more fun than sitting around with you is calling!)– I baked Mexican Chocolate Biscotti with the Babyhead. I can’t find a link to that, but it is from the Jan/Feb issue of Everyday Food. For once, I made no alterations or substitutions whatsoever. They are so simple and easy– perfect for making with a kid, or when you don’t feel like being fussy. Rustic recipes are best, don’t you think? Well, that’s what I think. Fussiness is overrated. As is, you know, measuring and stuff.

Mexican Chocolate Biscotti

1.5 c flour

1 c sugar

2 t baking powder

1/4 t salt

3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

pinch of cayenne pepper (mine is ancient! must replace! ASAP!)

1 t ground cinnamon

3 eggs, beaten

1 T vanilla extract

1/2 c roughly chopped bittersweet chocolate (okay, so we used chips)

Blend the dry things together, then make a well and put the beaten egg and vanilla in there. It is a very stiff dough, but it does incorporate eventually, so don’t add water. I was tempted.

Divide the dough into two, then on a parchment lined sheet, shape into two logs, roughly 2 1/2 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick. Bake at 350 for twenty minutes, or until firm to the touch. Take out and let cool for 20 minutes. Slice about 1/4 inch apart, then lay them flat and bake them again for about twenty more minutes. I had to do this in two batches, but it’d be okay to do it all at once if you had two sheets.

Easy peasy, and thank you, Everyday Food! They have such simple recipes. Wouldn’t this have been good for Christmas treats? A bunch of different kinds of biscotti in a tin or something? Well, I know I wouldn’t mind getting that for Christmas, anyway. This girl drinks a lot of coffee.

As we baked, and as I’ve written I’ve been listening to:

and

and this. But I’ve been listening to the whole albums on Spotify, naturally. All of them I’ve bought, but for ancient computer technical reasons, it’s a bit easier playing them in that format.

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