Tag Archives: New York Times

Is It Time to Revisit Montaigne?

In the frenzy of caustic political diatribe in the weeks before the vote for President in the United States, Tim Parks offers the voice of reason in his articleShould Novels Aim for the Heart or the Head? in the Book Review section of the New York Times.  

“Montaigne’s position was always that we must be extremely careful about our emotions, in particular our tendency to get emotional about ideas.  He didn’t advise neutrality, but simply that ‘we should not nail ourselves so strongly to our humors and complexions.’ To foster emotions deliberately and habitually was dangerous, because once a strong emotion had kicked in it was very difficult to find a way back.”

The rhetoric of emotional intensity has spilled over from reality show television and action packed books and movies into the political arena, a place where the calm assessment of affairs has been replaced by dyspeptic rants, brutal verbal attacks on adversaries, and “horror for the future.”  Montaigne notes: “No one is exempt from speaking nonsense – the only misfortune is to do it solemnly.”

9781590514832_p0_v1_s192x300   Rereading Sarah Bakewell’s A Life of Montaigne has immersed me into introspection – and a new appreciation for nonfiction.

 It will not stop me, however, from escaping reality and losing myself in the next book of fiction – life seems better when it’s not real all the time.  Alan Bradley has my attention now in the return of Flavia de Luce. 9780345539960_p0_v2_s192x300 

 

 

Obituaries and Recipes

Obituaries are not my favorite reading –  in fact, I usually avoid them – the looming specter of mortality best left ignored – unless it’s news of someone famous.  One in the New York Times today caught my eye – Annemarie Huste, the Chef Who Said Too Much.   Annemarie Huste was able to glean her fame from getting fired by Jacqueline Kennedy, and her obituary prompted me to look for more about her.

Featured in a 1968 Weight Watchers magazine article, “Jackie Kennedy’s Gourmet Chef Presents Her Weight Watchers Recipes,” which led to her dismissal, Huste saw herself as a potential rival to Julia Child, with her own television show. The televised series never materialized but she did make it to you tube.  Here is a clip of her, sounding a little like Arnold Schwarzenegger – Preserving Lemons and Limes with Chef Annemarie.

Her fifteen minutes of fame also led to the publication of her own cookbooks and a cooking school.

Her cookbooks are still available for a penny a pound, and I found one of her recipes in hustebook  Annemarie’s Personal Cookbook – a worthwhile legacy.

Pistachio Ice Cream

4 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
Green food coloring
1 1/2 cups chopped pistachio nuts

Pour heavy cream into a bowl and whip until slightly stiff. Add the sugar and almond extract and beat thoroughly. Add a drop or two of food coloring (easy does it). Fold in the pistachio nuts. Pour mixture into a mold or other container and place in the freezer.

After 1 hour, stir the cream gently so that the nuts are well distributed and don’t sink to the bottom. Finish freezing for at least 6 hours or overnight.

41t3aivw88l-_bo1204203200_  Her recipe for chocolate mousse from her Cooking School Cookbook rivals Julia Child.

Ridiculously Fast Chocolate Mousse 

Yield: 3 servings (can easily be doubled, tripled or more)6 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons Kahlua
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream

  1.  In a small pot on low heat, melt the chocolate in the Kahlua and orange juice, and set aside to cool.
  2. Put the egg yolks, eggs, vanilla and sugar in a blender or food processor; blend for 2 minutes on medium high speed. Add the heavy cream and blend 30 more seconds. Add the melted chocolate mixture and blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into a bowl or individual cups and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

 

She Made Me Laugh: My Friend Nora Ephron

9781476796147_p0_v2_s464x700    When Nora Ephron died, her story became legend; how she influenced lives emerged in articles and books, but none so intimate and revealing as Richard Cohen’s inside look at her life – She Made Me Laugh. Cohen offers his platonic love story with the famous writer – a long valentine detailing her quirks, her loyalty, her genius – but with  snarky asides Ephron can no longer challenge.

With a style purposely mimicking Dorothy Parker, her role model, Nora Ephron not only created an enviable collection of essays, plays, and movies but also reigned over her own round table, like Parker, as a social maven and hostess.    Cohen details the dinner parties with celebrities, embellished with perfunctory  discussion topics and after dinner games designed to entertain as well as intimidate – Diane Keaton famously refused to play and Cohen himself admits to cheating to win.

Although I knew most of her body of work through movies and her most recent books, her earlier essays were a surprise and the sheer volume amazed me.   Cohen covers her career, from reporting for The Wellesley College News to mail girl at Newsweek,  to columnist, essay writer, novelist, screenwriter, director, and playwright.  In one evaluation of her prolific work, Cohen offers his own scorching critique:  “For Nora, the story came first. . . . Telling it was her job, her duty. She rarely let sentiment get in the way. . . . It cost her some friendships. It’s not clear, though, if it ever cost her a night’s sleep.”

I remember seeing her last creative effort, the play Lucky Guy about tabloid journalist Mike McAlary, who won the Pulitzer Prize shortly before he died at 41.  In the play he says: “If you are a doctor or a lawyer, you take the case. If you’re a reporter, you write the story.  I didn’t think about being sick.”  When I saw the play, I was impressed by the trademark Ephron wit, but not by the story or the lead character as played by Tom Hanks.  Cohen notes it as Ephron’s determination to leave one last literary mark, using McAlary as a role model of dying: “{The play} was about  Nora Ephron the beloved writer, wit, public personality, film director…” – the reason so many wanted to see it after she died.  He cruelly adds “…it is doubtful {the play} will ever be seen again.”

Ephron’s long illness and seemingly sudden death came as a surprise to her readers.  Only a few knew of her struggle, but her death triggered an avalanche of grief and an amazing amount of writing – about her.  At first, Cohen could find little wrong with his old friend, but as he wrote about their long relationship as fellow writers who witnessed each other’s lives through marriages and divorces, he seems compelled to humanize her with inside gossip about her flaws.  Cohen,  like so many others he identifies in the book, credits Ephron with his own success through her personal and career support, but can’t help disingenuously remarking “You knew some things; she knew everything…if she turned cold, it was more than an emotional rebuff, it was a failure: You had flunked Nora.”

Although I read the book in one sitting, I had to stop now and then to check the references – watching you-tube moments of Mike Nichols and Elaine May and listening to Ephron’s 1996 commencement speech at Wellesley, her alma mater.  Cohen’s memory did not always survive the fact checking, and his disorganized approach backtracked and repeated, but always adding a gossipy note – not always flattering to his subject.

Ephors died at 71, which seems awfully young to me, and of the same AML my brother died of in his forties.  She had rallied with illness for over six years, with very few knowing about it, and in that time, “she wrote 100 blog posts, two plays, directed a movie.”  She is beloved by readers who enjoyed her wit, and may have a place as patron saint of writers, but her old friend, Richard Cohen, had the last word on her indiscreet and sometimes frenetic approach to life.

His book has all the notes of a long friendship, revealing more than most of us probably should know.  Save us from our friends, especially if they are writers.

Related Review:   I Remember Nothing

 

Revising a Famous Life – The Noise of Time

thinking-clipart-4c9LRXncEAfter someone dies, we often tend to canonize the person, conveniently forgetting the foibles and character flaws.  In Richard Taruskin’s essay for the New York Times – Martyr or Survivor? That Depends  – he questions Julian Barnes’ portrayal of the life of famous Russian composer in his novel The Noise of Time.

In Barnes story, Shostakovich reluctantly agreed to compose for the Russian despots, and managed rebellious chords to preserve his own sound and work his way to worldwide fame.  Taruskin notes the “dubious sources” used by Barnes to create a more positive persona for the composer – a “passive pawn” of politics, and argues Shostakovich should be given credit for a better sense of politics and more intelligence in handling his Russian overseers.

When reading The Noise of Time, I was forced to find more about the life of the famous composer, to compare notes with Barnes’ story.  For the first time, I listened to his famous operas – “The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.”  Barnes had opened a new window for me.   As for the fictionalization of Shastokovich’s life, Barnes produced a testament from his own perception, possibly more positive than real.  But this is fiction, after all.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember how author’s have the ability to change and reframe history in their fiction.  Once, at a book club meeting, a member insisted on Frank Lloyd Wright’s accurate conversation with his mistress in Loving Frank, and it took some a debate to decide the author Nancy Horan had really not been under the bed, but had created a fictionalized version of her own.   The power of the novel to convince the reader is a testament to the author; its factual content can be disregarded or researched – the story still holds.

But the danger is, of course, believing everything you read.  There was a time, when the printing press was first invented, when the written word was gospel.  We have come a long way with critical debates of content, and today the political word is more often questioned than believed.  If The Noise of Time offers a simplistic view of Shostakovich – a Western rationization and a hopeful wish of his leaning away from the terrors of his time, it only confirms what readers want to believe – a view maybe Barnes was shrewd in capitalizing on.

Have you read it?

Review of the book: The Noise of Time

 

 

 

Liane Moriarty Recommends Books

imagesIn her interview for the New York Times “By the Book,” author Liane Moriarty identifies a few of her favorites:

  1. Kansas in August by Patrick Gale
  2. The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
  3. The Dry by Jane Harper
  4. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
  5. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
  6. Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

Only the last two are in my library system, so I am starting with them.

I share Moriarty’s admiration of author Anne Tyler.  When Moriarty was asked which author she would want to write her life story, she answered:

“Anne Tyler, please, because she would make my ordinary life extraordinary and my flaws adorable, and she’d find some beautiful truth that I would only recognize once she pointed it out to me.”

Related Reviews: