Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mr. Chef & Ms. Librarian - by Melissa Yi

Can a white-bread librarian on the rebound find true love with a Pakistani chef who promised his parents he'd find himself a nice Muslim girl?

Ivy Appleford is new to her job as a public librarian, as well as new in town and has recently been dumped by her boyfriend. She signs up for some cooking classes and falls for the sexy chef/instructor, Tariq, who is equally taken with her. It doesn't take long for the two to become swept up in a hot, and spicy romance. True to romance novel genre there are some ups and downs in the relationship, but all is well in the end.

The author played around a bit with some librarian stereotypes and fantasies. Even as Ivy notes that being a librarian no one ever expected her to be "a wild party" readers see someone who finds it thrilling to have sex outside, where anyone could have come by, and when Ivy surprises Tariq by deftly opening a condom and sliding it down on him she simply shrugs and says "I should be good at this stuff. I'm a librarian." Neither does she hesitate when her swarthy lover suggests that they have sex on the circulation desk. When Tariq shows up unannounced at Ivy's house late one night and sees her in red flannel pajamas for the first time, his mind, of course, goes right to the uptight librarian fantasy.
He grinned. "You look adorable." To his surprise, he meant it. The tortoiseshell glasses reminded him of a cat. Or, better yet, the Tina Fey, take off your glasses and let down your hair, buttoned-up sexiness."
Ivy's ex-boyfriend, Stephen, is a professor, and apparently she was not completely at ease with him because of it. With Tariq
She didn't have to prove that librarians were as smart as academics. She didn't have to pretend to like his friends. She could just hang out.
I thought about this passage a lot, not so much because I think I need to prove anything to my professor husband (he knows how smart I am, after all) but more because I am an academic librarian. I suppose that I sometimes feel that I have to prove that I'm as smart as my colleagues. This can be especially frustrating when I'm dealing with faculty members (or administrators) who may not, in fact, be as smart as I am! Librarians do know everything, after all.

Early in their relationship, when Ivy isn't so sure she should be getting involved with anyone, she tells Tariq that what she needs is more of a friend "an avuncular type". She specifically suggests that my favorite fictitious librarian - Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be a good person for her "someone who won't take advantage of me - or tempt me." Really, Giles wouldn't tempt her? Has she not seen the show, especially the episode called "Band Candy"?!

I must say that Ivy is as much of a multi-dimensional character as one can expect in a romance novel. She has a variety of interests, and cares about her community, plus she is smart, sexy, and witty. This was a fun read for Read-a-Romance month.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cavedweller - by Dorothy Allison

When 10-year-old Cissy Byrd's father dies her mother, Delia, packs up Cissy in her Datsun  and drives from their home in southern California to Cayro, Georgia. Cissy loves to read, which is a good thing because it is one of the few things that helps to keep her from going crazy as she meets her half-sisters for the first time, and watches as her mother cares for their dying father, a man who once abused Delia. Cissy reads a lot and  finds reading material from a variety of sources including

  •  "pilfering" paperback romances from the mean-spirited twin daughters of her mother's friend M.T. and trading them in for science fiction at Crane's (a downtown book exchange)
  • the public library (natch)
  • borrowing from Nolan, the young man who is lovesick for her sister Dede, and who "meticulously" sorts and shelves his collection

Nolan also introduces Cissy to spelunking, which she discovers she loves perhaps more than reading. The book's most poetic (and sensuous) mention of libraries (which had little to do with books or reading) comes in a description of Cissy's dream about flowstone "the slowly moving rock beneath the dirt" that "comes in shades from pure white to calcium yellow to mottled red"
In her dreams flowstone was not hard but thick and soft as stale meringue. That white paste found in grade school libraries, dense and cloying and slowly stiffening against the skin, that was the flowstone of Cissy's dreams. She lay back into it and it took on the shape of her body, the warmth of her skin. It settled beneath her, gently crept between her fingers and toes, and rose to cradle her hips. Compressed, Viscous. Alive. Growing slowly, but growing. Flowstone made a white noise in Cissy's head, intimate and safe. She waited for it to wrap her around, slowly encase her body, and by that motion season her soul.
Like Cissy I like reading, too,  of course, but I do not share her interest in caving. I tried exploring a cave once and I am really not interested in doing it again. I will, however, occasionally find my way to a cavern tour, the kind in which there are perky guides, lots of colorful lights and other gimmicks, and no belly slithering.

Pam and James crawl out of Breathing cave Bath County, Va. c 1986

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks her way through Great Books - by Cara Nicoletti

This lovely memoir brings together my two favorite hobbies: reading and cooking. Nicoletti is not only an avid reader, she is also a chef. In each of these self-contained chapters the author reflects on a book and what it meant to her, and also provides an appropriate recipe. The work is divided into three sections: Childhood; Adolescence and College Years; and Adulthood so there are chapters about well-known children's favorites as well as darker adult-themed books. I read this one aloud to my husband. We very much enjoyed it and liked that the chapters were short enough that we could read two or three at a time and not be tired afterwards. I read many of the books she writes about which made this even more fun for me. The recipes run the gamut of fairly easy (Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg from Jane Austen's Emma) to rather complex (Chocolate Éclairs from Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dolloway). Many of the recipes (including the éclairs) called for mixing something in an electric mixer using a paddle (or some other kind of) attachment. Much as we love to cook, we are not prepared to invest in some of the equipment needed to make some of these recipes, although we will be trying some of them out, which we will most certainly post on our Nueva Receta blog. Stay tuned.

Of course no book memoir would be complete without at least a few libraries sprinkled in. One of Nicoletti's early library memories is of watching the 1978 movie Puff the Magic Dragon in her school library in first grade each time it rained too hard for the children to have recess outside. She really hated this movie
Not only did the entire premise of it terrify me, but it gave me the saddest most anxious feeling deep in my gut...with those dulled psychedelic colors and Peter, Paul, and Mary's eerie crooning creeping into my nightmares.
After many viewings of the film her intense dislike for it finally caused her to ask her teacher, Miss Walker, if she might perhaps read a book in the library instead of screening the movie yet again. To which Miss Walker replied "Pick a book and you can read quietly until the movie is over." Nicoletti reports that this memory is "one of the happiest of [her] childhood-not only because [she] escaped Puff, but because of Miss Walker's infinite and quiet understanding, and her gift...of thirty minutes surrounded by books." The book she chose "that day, and for many many days afterward was the first installment of the Boxcar Children series..."

I never read any of the Boxcar Children myself. And honestly, much as I love books I imagine given the choice, I would have watched "Puff" for the umteenth time over reading a book as many times as I could as a child. I really love Peter, Paul, and Mary. And I truly dig that '70s animation. Although I must say, this film fails the Bechdel test horribly. There aren't even two women in the film, much less two that have a conversation.

The author also makes note of the fact that the Boxcar Children series "caused quite a stir at first. Parents objected to the children's happy, adult-free world and the tragic backdrop of their story-all very real, scary stuff". She also points out that perennial children's favorite Charlotte's Web has had its share of censors as well.
...it's been banned in Kansas for including talking animals, which some educators deemed 'unnatural', and avoided by others who think the themes of death and sacrifice are too heavy for its young audience. It has also been challenged in England by teachers worried that the discussion of eating pork would be offensive to Muslims.
Nicoletti has a few other places in which she specifically mentions getting books from the library. She biked to the library in fourth grade to find out about Sylvia Plath, and "spent hours on the floor of the library that day, trying to make sense of just one line of Plath's poetry, but...left with only a vague sense of dread that [she] would never be happy again once [she] turned ten.

In her discussion of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice she makes note of the library within the book itself, as well she discusses the fact that she found the book's "lack of food description excruciating" (emphasis in original). She was particularly frustrated by the fact that there is no information about what, exactly, white soup was. So much so that that "one scene...had [her] searching for Regency-era cookbooks whenever [she] went to the library."

And, finally she describes sobbing "ugly, messy cries in [her college] library" following the break-up with her long-time boyfriend while translating The Aeneid for Latin class.

This fun book is based on Nicoletti's Yummy Books blog.