Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Hundred Food Journey Movie and Tidbits

I completely agree with Ms Rhodes about the joys of book shopping in a bricks and mortar store. That said, when you read as much as I do, (and when you have Crohn's Disease keeping you housebound at times) there is a place for online shopping at Barnes and Noble as well. I also visit used bookstores and thrift shops, garage sales and library sales to feed by bibliophilia. 

"The pleasure of a book can be further heightened by the way in which it
is bought. There is nothing luxurious about buying a book on Amazon,
with its grim efficiency, bright white webpages and impersonal clicks.
Likewise, there's little pleasurable about paying for a book at the
robotic self-service checkouts of the supermarket or WH Smith. These are
places of deals and vouchers, built to maximize speed of transaction. By
contrast, going into a good bookshop--and to have survived, they have to
be good--is a joy. These are places where you are greeted by a real
person, where the air is thick with the dusty smell particular to books,
the hushed enthusiasm of conversations which meander delightfully
unalgorithmically, and the thrill of discovery."

--Emily Rhodes in a Spectator piece headlined "Long Live Bookshops!

I think this is an interesting idea, but I don't know that our POTUS needs such a pledge, as I think he pretty much does all these things already.

President Obama purchasing books at Politics & Prose last weekend.
As part of the SaveOurBooks
James Patterson has launched a petition drive
President Obama to follow up on his highly publicized book-buying visit
to Politics & Prose
Washington, D.C., over the holiday weekend by taking the following

"I, President Obama, do solemnly swear to help draw awareness to the
importance of reading in the following three ways, none of which will
cost taxpayers a single dime. At least once a month, for the remainder
of my term in elected office,

1) I will appear in public carrying a book.
2) I will go to a library or store and get a book for myself, a friend,
or family member.
3) I will go on record (at a public event or on social media) saying
that I am concerned about the state of reading in our nation."

I've been wanting to watch The Hundred Foot Journey for most of this year, but since it only came out on DVD today, I was thwarted until now.
The movie stars Helen Mirren and a gorgeous young man named Manish Dayal who plays a burgeoning chef, eager to learn the ways of French cuisine. Here's the blurb: 
Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is an extraordinarily talented culinary ingenue. When he and his family are displaced from their native India and settle in a quaint French village, they decide to open an Indian eatery. However, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proprietress of an acclaimed restaurant just 100 feet away, strongly objects. War erupts between the two establishments, until Mallory recognizes Kadam's impressive epicurean gifts and takes him under her wing.
The movie was produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, and directed by Lasse Hallstrom, whom I believe also directed the wonderful "Australia" with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. Oprah says in the behind the scenes section of the DVD that she wanted to make a movie about racism and recovery from its effects, and though the blurb doesn't mention it, the Kadam family is burned out of their home and restaurant in Mumbai by racist people, and they experience some of the same at the hands of Madam Mallory's chef de cuisine, who tries to burn the Kadams from their new home in small town France, only to be admonished by Madam and sent packing, while she cleans her chefs written slurs off the rock fence around the Kadam household. What follows is the coming of age of Hassan, who, once under Madam's wing, earns her restaurant two Michelin stars, and then goes off to Paris to earn a third. While there, he realizes that he misses the family cooking of his small restaurant across from Madam's place, and he misses her sous chef, played beautifully by Charlotte Le Bon (I wonder if she's any relation to Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran?). Of course, Hassans father, the elder of the clan, has been romancing Madam while he was away, so romance abounds when he arrives back home, and it is decided that the two restaurants, the Indian and French, will merge and run together, and they will all live happily ever after. While I felt the racism message got a bit lost in the coming of age of chef Hassan, and in all the romance and bickering of Madam and elder Kadam, I still enjoyed the sheer beauty of the food and the French countryside and markets. If you can watch this film and not be hungry for something delicious, fresh and homemade, then you're a lot stronger than I am. And as usual, Helen Mirren delights. She's so classy and elegant and generally impressive as an actress that my heart sings whenever I see her in a movie, where she generally elevates the tone and plot just by being there. She's still gorgeous at nearly 70, and seems to be at the peak of her career. I'd give this movie an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys beautiful movies about food, family and romance.

I just finished reading "The Stockholm Octavo" by Karen Engelmann about an hour ago, and I was surprised at what a page-turner it was, and how fast I blasted through the 400 plus pages. Here is the blurb to get us started:
Stockholm, 1791. Emil Larsson is a self-satisfied bureaucrat in the Office of Customs and Excise. He is a true man of the Town–a drinker, card player, and contented bachelor. That is until Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, fortune-teller and proprietor of an exclusive gaming parlor, shares with him a vision she has had of a golden path that will lead Emil to love and connection. She lays an Octavo for him, a spread of eight cards that augur the eight individuals who can help him realize this vision–if he can find them.
But as Emil eagerly searches for his eight, he comes to the startling realization that finding them is no longer just a game of the heart, but crucial to pulling his country back from the crumbling precipice of rebellion and chaos.
I've never been a fan of political fiction, but the characters, plot and storyline of this novel are so riveting, I could not put it down! Between Emil's search for love and connection and Madam Usane's determination to kill King Gustav with her spider-like machinations and manipulations, I was on the edge of my proverbial seat during the whole book. I was surprised by the use of the "f word" throughout the novel, because I wasn't aware that that kind of cursing was popular in the 18th century. Despite that, however, the prose was so muscular and tense that I was 200 pages into the book before I noticed that I had to stop and use the facilities and get something to eat, because I hadn't moved for hours. There are some scary twists at the end, but I still feel the book deserves an A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical/political thrillers or even historical romances.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is a YA book that has gotten a lot of good ink lately, and since I'd heard and read so much about it, I decided to give it a shot. Here's the blurb: 
Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don't stand out—under any circumstances! Then Stargirl arrives at Mica High and everything changes—for Leo and for the entire school. After 15 years of home schooling, Stargirl bursts into tenth grade in an explosion of color and a clatter of ukulele music, enchanting the Mica student body.

But the delicate scales of popularity suddenly shift, and Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl's arrival and rise and fall, normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her.

In a celebration of nonconformity, Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the fleeting, cruel nature of popularity—and the thrill and inspiration of first love.
In this story about the perils of popularity, the courage of nonconformity, and the thrill of first love, an eccentric student named Stargirl changes Mica High School forever.
 I found a number of parallels between my high school experience back in the dark ages of the late 1970s and the experiences of Stargirl and Leo at Mica High in Arizona today.
I, too did my best to not stand out, so as to be less bullied and beaten than usual, but of course trying to hide never really works with bullies, who will find the weakest kids in the herd by sheer instinct. What amazed me is that she didn't have the administration of the school come down on her antics, and that she wasn't bullied or harmed in a more regular and strong fashion for being so "different." My son is 15 years old, and will be in 10th grade this fall (2015), but I don't believe he's as cowardly, "shy" or cruel as the boys are in this book, because though Leo is attracted to Stargirl, he doesn't have the courage to stand by her when she needs him to. Instead, he tries to get her to be "normal," which results in her being shunned further by the cruel teenagers who comprise her classmates. Once she goes back to being "weird" (playing the ukelele and dressing in costumes created by her mother while carrying around her pet rat), Leo wants nothing to do with her and refuses to take her to the school dance, where she enchants the majority of the student body into doing the bunny hop long into the night. After being slapped by the head b*tch of the popular clique, she leaves and never returns to Mica, or sees Leo again. At some point after she leaves, Leo realizes what a fool he's been to have not supported her for the amazing person that she was, but he is never granted a second chance, and I was glad to read of his chagrin and shame. This book put me in mind of my friend Roger Blakesley who, during our years as friends at Ankeny Senior High school, had occaision to witness what happens when you are different. Roger came to school one day with all of his clothing on backwards, and you would have thought he instantly became a rock star. He was called into the principal's office and forced to change, but that only added to his allure, and suddenly, kids who didn't even know his name the day before wanted to be his best friend. I was even slightly less of an outcaste, because I was his friend and other kids thought I'd tell them why he had done such a bold and audacious thing. Stargirl dealt with that kind of attention frequently, because she was unpredictable, kind, and honest. I have to say that I was saddened that in this day and age, kids who are different, non conformists, smart kids, theater kids, fat or skinny kids are still the target of the cheerleaders and sports guys and other popular kids.  What a shame that teenagers still haven't learned to embrace the different kids for their genius. I take comfort in the fact that most of the popular kids weren't popular or that successful once they graduated from high school, so they were paid back by karma for their short sighted cruelty. I'd give Stargirl an A-, and recommend it to most of the 15 year olds that I know, because it makes some good points about the importance of being your own person, no matter what others say or do or think of you. BE YOURSELF!

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