Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Awards, award-winners, hockey

Just a couple of quickies before I go laptop shopping so I can blog on the back deck or in coffee shops or in the middle of a forest or wherever the kids blog these days.  Got to stay hip, you know.

--Save the Deli author David Sax sent me a very kind note about my recent posting on his book.  It's nice to know authors actually check their own websites.  Thank you again, David.

--The National Book Critics Circle award winners were announced.  Fiction award goes to Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall.  If memory serves, when the book won another award a few months ago, I posted that I needed to read her.  I've still no idea who she is but I had better get on it. 

Finally, had you told me I'd ever utter a phrase with 'Margaret Atwood' and 'goalie' in it, I'd have never believed you.  Check out this absolutely delightful video of the Man Booker prize winner in the crease:

(While I'm at it, check this vid from America's favorite all hockey rock 'n' roll band, the Zambonis:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Save the Deli by David Sax

The other day, I caught the end of Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose.  If you haven't seen it or don't remember, it's a bunch of comedians sitting around the Carnegie Deli recalling stories of talent agent, Danny Rose, and the lengths he would go to for his roster of marginally talented performers, among them a stuttering ventriloquist and a blind xylophone player.

The film was one of my father's faves and he and I watched it together a number of times and recalling that made me happy. Too, the Carnegie Deli makes me happy and giant deli sandwiches make me happy, as does the idea of old comics sitting around telling stories in the Carnegie Deli over giant sandwiches.  So I burst into tears.  Deep sobs, actually.  That day was my father's birthday.  He's been gone since 2006 and I miss him.  My father had an appreciation of those things and passed that appreciation on to me.  Bless him.

After reading Save the Deli, I think author David Sax would understand the sobs.  He treats the topic with a lot of love and respect and while I have no idea if his father is alive and well (I certainly hope so), he gets the idea that deli is just kind of in your blood.  As Ken Kesey said, you're either on the bus or off the bus and I'm on the bus.  So much so, that I was hell-bent on visiting Schwartz's in Indianapolis on a recent weekend trip--they didn't disappoint--and I've been looking into flights to Montreal since Sax' description of a smoked meat sandwich has me more than intrigued.  Pair that with a recent Calvin Trillin New Yorker piece on a dish called poutine, said also to be born of Montreal, and I've got a weekend in the works.

Sax gives readers a history of the deli, really an American culinary and cultural phenomenon heavily influenced by Eastern European Jews, the current state of the delicatessen and a glimpse of the future for the deli.  What was once a thriving food culture has struggled for some time and tastes have changed a great deal but he leaves the reader with the hope the cuisine may be poised for a comeback.  However, without some reinvention and real love, it could just as easily go the way of the dodo.  Eating at a deli isn't meant to be a nostalgia trip or a tourist stop.  It's an experience that should be shared, perhaps over a very large pastrami on rye with some Guldens brown mustard and a Dr. Brown's soda.  Save the Deli captures that feeling very, very well. 

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

Some authors write beautifully. Others write sparingly or in a flowery fashion or have a style you can't quite name. Howard Norman writes simply and it works well for his latest, What Is Left the Daughter.

Set in a small Nova Scotia town during World War II, What Is Left the Daughter is really two love triangles laid atop each other and peopled with a small cast of odd but likable characters (the always-blunt Cornelia McTell was my favorite). The author could have written a 'village' novel, one in which we get to know and love the quirky characters of some little town along with their faults, foibles and families, their hopes and heartbreaks.
To his credit, he didn't. What he wrote was a story of murder, obsession, and suicide that is engaging, sad, and funny. It's a story of how people get lost and how they find themselves again.

There were times where it was a little hard to believe--the main character's occupation near the end and the series of coincidences that help shape events were a little too coincidental. Still, this is small beer because the story works. I will be certain to read Howard Norman again.

Favorite line:
"I could write a book--if I could write a book"

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O'Brien

The author, a biologist, was given the opportunity to look after a barn owl with wing damage that had been found by hikers and could not return to live in the wild.  She named him Wesley, nursed him back to health, and they lived together for an astonishing nineteen years.  

There are some wonderful behavioral anecdotes and information about owls.  Wesley seems to have had a considerably broader emotional range than scientists had believed and, in that respect, O'Brien contributes valuable scientific info to the on-going study of owls.  There were also a wealth of Disneyesque feel-good moments where you say 'awwwwwwww'.  

While I did admire her near complete dedication to Wesley,  it gets a little icky at times.  Her infantilization of the bird made me wince more than once.  By the end, she's trying telepathy with Wesley and is convinced it might be working. 

Still, she gave the bird a far better life than he might have had and was rewarded with affection and an insiders view of the life of a remarkable bird.