March 31, 2009

March Reads

The month of March was a nice toss-up of books that challenged me and books that were easy, enjoyable reads. A little glimpse into my reading list for March:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I had attempted to read this book years ago, gave up after a few pages, and decided to revisit it for a few reasons: it spawned an important genre of literature known as magical realism and the author won a Nobel prize in literature after the book was published (it's considered his magnum opus); I have this thing where I must finish every book I start (it’s a compulsion I can’t quit); the not-very-literary book club I attend every so often had chosen it as our book of the month. Never mind the fact that most of the members in this pseudo-book club don’t actually read the appointed book (don't get me started), I nevertheless felt like it was an opportune time to give the book another chance. And I'm so happy I did.

Admittedly, it was just as difficult getting into it the second time around as it was the first. The story is very slow-paced. Despite many pages devoted to wars and love-making and death and births, you would think that the plot would move quickly, but alas, it doesn’t. There is a lot of jumping around in time and many of the characters’ names are so similar and they seem to pass on the same decisions and mistakes in life over and over again, from generation to generation. I get this pervading sense that life is devoid of meaning--depressing, right? There isn’t one great plot or one great character with difficult choices to make, no tensions or climax leading up to this choice like there are in other novels. Instead, we get the quiet repetitions of life for the Buendia family in the sleepy South American village of Macondo. It wasn't until I got about half-way into the book when I realized that this is part of its charm. I reached a sort of epiphany and became comfortable with the novel's slower pace, it's gentle rhythms and cadences, and I melted with this strange, magical world that is at once like and not like our own. Very much worth the challenge and a true masterpiece.

American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld. This is a fictionalized account of the life of Republican first lady (think Laura Bush). Admittedly, this isn’t the sort of book I’d normally be interested in reading. And it has nothing to do with political persuasions but rather, quite simply, I wasn’t sure if the story appealed to me. I know for a fact that the book's cover does NOT (a woman reposes in a white dress and it looks like she’s either about to get married or make an appearance at her own coming-out party, both events which hold no interest for me at all). But after listening to a book-reading and interview with the author on NPR, I became intrigued. I especially loved reading about the protagonist's stint as a librarian (my friends like to tease me that I am one, which I consider a compliment; librarians are more educated than most people realize!). Sittenfeld, who describes herself as a staunch Democrat, draws a sympathetic portrait of the first lady and has an obvious fondness for her. While it was an entertaining read, I'm not sure I'd thrust the book into people's hands and say, "You must read this!". Though I'm happy I did, anyway.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. This memoir is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating accounts I’ve ever come across. A woman narrates the story of her peripatetic childhood and life with her two liberal, free-thinking parents who instilled in her and her siblings all the love and self-confidence a child could ask for, but who denied them basic essentials like food (their mother hid chocolate from her family while they were all starving), a comfortable home (the children slept in cars, in cardboard boxes and at one point had no plumbing or heating in the ramshackle house they called home), protection from some rather dubious characters (the father would bring the author to bars so she could distract the men with whom he was playing and betting on a game of pool, thereby winning the jackpot money he gambled...and it was his daughter's money to begin with) in an effort to avoid the rat race and not feel hemmed-in by the trappings of the typical American life. You end up with your own interpretation of whether or not the tale is a cautionary or inspiring one. It was absolutely mesmerizing. If my brief review doesn't compel you to pick up the book, then watch this.

The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I LOVE this book. It's a completely endearing, heart-wrenching love story about a couple's journey over and with time (a perpetual literary topic, the unceasing march of time). Having read it years ago, I decided to re-visit it again through audiobook; I thought the actors did a phenomenal job portraying the two main characters, one of whom is a time traveler and punk librarian. Reason enough to read it, really, and I wholeheartedly will tell you that you should!

Up next...still working on that Victorian writer's biography and a personal memoir about literary life in Tehran. Hopefully, I'll be able to squeeze in a couple other reads for April!

March 30, 2009

The Power of Scent

“Life is simpler when you limit yourself to only one fragrance.” I read this quote in an old issue of Domino magazine (RIP sniff) and I was struck by its insipidness. The author of the quote may as well have added that it’s also more boring. Why limit yourself to a signature scent when there are so many fabulous, beautifully crafted fragrances that beg to be explored, enjoyed, adored? Just like you wouldn’t own one dress or one pair of shoes, why only wear one perfume? Why not build a wardrobe of scent, much like an actual wardrobe of shoes, bags, dresses, trousers, etc? Like fashion, fragrance can fit seamlessly into your life depending on your mood. And why shouldn’t your perfume reflect that? Nothing can change your mood quite so simply as the subtle whiff of a beloved scent. Scent has the power to calm, uplift, seduce, and transform the wearer. It can leave you puzzled, curious, pensive, enraptured. It can also boost your memory and help you perform better on an exam, interestingly enough.

While I’ve always been interested in fragrance, it wasn’t until I delved into a few blogs last year when my interest ultimately gave way to a full-blown obsession. Through browsing perfume blogs like Now Smell This, Perfume-Smellin’ Things, or Bois de Jasmin, I discovered the secret, glamorous world of perfume, where the subtle science of perfumery is considered a true art form and there are people called “noses” who are highly revered, but who few people outside this world even know about. People like Jean-Claude Ellena, Olivia Giacobetti, and Christopher Sheldrake (all of whom have had a hand in the perfumes pictured above). Not many people know, for instance, that Giorgio Armani can’t create a perfume to save his life. He hires perfumists to do the work for him. These noses are the unsung heroes of the perfume world who often put their heart and soul into a fragrance only to have a design house’s marketing department impose restrictions on the perfume in an effort to appeal to a maximum number of people. So goes the business of perfumery.
By the way, Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in the strange and seductive world of perfume and even if you're not, you soon will be. New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr chronicles the making of two very different perfumes--Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil and Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely--from their genesis to their painstaking creation and finally to the finished product. Burr writes with a fluid, authentic voice and keen knowledge of scent and science. A fascinating look into one of the most secretive, glamorous, and lucrative industries.

March 28, 2009

Watching the seasons go by with Linda & Harriet

I've been admiring this lovely calendar from Linda & Harriet on the blogosphere for months, so when it recently went on sale, I pounced. I couldn't resist the beautiful, playful designs. There's something about musing on scenes from nature with each passing month that makes me marvel at this wondrous little planet of ours (not to mention how interminable and unrelenting old Father Time is).

This makes my second letterpress calendar for 2009. And yes, I am aware I have a problem.

March 24, 2009


I joined Twitter today. I'm still debating whether or not this is a wise idea. Is anyone else tweeting on Twitter?

Speaking of tweeting, lately I've been hearing a chorus of bird chatter outside my window very late in the evening. Their timing strikes me as somewhat odd; surely birds of the tweeting variety are diurnal, for the most part? I was always under the impression that nocturnal sounds were left to the owls and other hooting creatures of the night. Even now, I hear the birds chirping away as I type.

A quick Google search later and I find that what I'm hearing isn't so strange. According to
the Boreal Songbird Initiative website, I'm just bearing witness to the birds' musical migration:

"On spring nights, while most people are sleeping, a river of migrating birds flows north from wintering grounds in South and Central America and the Caribbean towards the places where they will raise their young in the Boreal forests of Canada. Few people realize that most birds migrate at night and that the number of birds making this phenomenal journey number in the billions."

Who knew? Reason #9439 why I can't live without the internet.

{Photo courtesy of Boreal Songbird Initiative}

March 20, 2009

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"

Today is the vernal equinox and to celebrate, I'm including one of my all-time favorite poems below. Wordsworth's ode to the daffodil, much like spring itself, evokes such happiness and a sense of promise. Happy Spring!
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay.
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
-William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

{I don't have a photo of daffodils of my own, but I did find this gorgeous image courtesy of Virgin Media}

March 16, 2009

Salad with a side of celebrity (part deux)

Ordinarily, I'd just let this most recent celebrity sighting go unblogged because I just wrote about seeing a whole bunch of celebrities unexpectedly and I know it's not the most exciting of topics and therefore isn't really worth mentioning twice in a row, and I'm not terribly impressed with celebs anyway and I never even notice them, so why are they all of a sudden coming out of the woodwork and who cares, they're just people, for crying out loud! But I thought the latest sighting was too good to not mention.

T and I were walking hand in hand toward R+D restaurant on Montana when we saw a man walking from said restaurant to his hybrid car parked out front. He glanced up and looked straight at me and I realized that I was staring into the eyes of none other than Steven Speilburg. T wants to be Mr. Speilburg when he grows up, so he nearly died.

March 9, 2009

Salad with a side of celebrity

Last night T and I had dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant--this small, unassuming place with twinkle lights and great food in the Santa Monica canyon. A good friend of ours is a waiter there and we frequent the restaurant often; their fettucini with lobster in pink sauce is to die for. Anyway, it was as we were sitting down at our table when we noticed that our cozy little place had Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick in one corner and David E. Kelly and Michelle Pfeiffer in the other. T kept ogling Michelle and I couldn't really blame him because she is absolutely stunning in person (not to mention I had done my fair share of ogling when I spotted George Clooney dining in the same space a few months ago. And yes, he's just as dreamy as you'd expect him to be). An hour later Dennis Quaid walked in and picked up his to-go order.


March 8, 2009

Babies and Wine

I know an awful lot of people pregnant at the moment--three of whom are expected to give birth all in the same week--and at the weekend I was invited to not one, but two baby showers, both of which were held on the same day. Is it something in the water? If so, I'll be sure to avoid it! Unfortunately, I couldn't attend one of the showers, as it was too far away, but I was able to take some photos of the shower I did attend. Just your average blissfully warm and sunny March day in Santa Barbara.

I LOVED the baby book theme and thought it was beautifully done. The mother-to-be is an elementary school teacher, so it was rather fitting.

A party isn't a party without a little cheese. The labels add a nice touch, too.

"Z" cookies in honor of the soon-to-be-born baby boy.

My gift for baby Z? A pair of adorable little onesies. I have a thing for owls. Say it loud, say it proud.

Afterward, my friend L (who insisted on being called "L" on my blog, I think in honor of T) and I took the edge off (as lovely as the shower was, it was three hours long. Case closed.) and stopped by a couple wine tasting rooms near the Pacific where we sampled many different wines and proceeded to get (slightly) inebriated. Or at least I did while L smartly remained sober enough to drive. Thanks, L!

While the wines at the first tasting room aren't worthy to mention here, I was really impressed with the second room, Kalyra. I later realized that I've actually visited the winery in Santa Ynez a few years ago. If you can't make it to the winery, I highly recommend you stop by the tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara. I enjoyed every single wine I sipped, from the chardonnay (which admittedly isn't my favorite grape, but I really liked this one) to the pinot noir. I went home with three bottles. I cannot wait to open these lovelies up in the not-too-distant future. Who knew babies and wine go so nicely together?

March 2, 2009

February Reads

I am happy to say that I've completed five books in the month of February, an ever-so-slight improvement from January. They are:

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. I really wanted to start the year off right by reading our president's most recent book. He writes with an eloquence and self-possession often witnessed in his myriad public speeches. His integrity, vision of hope, and genuine love and concern for our country are very much apparent, as is his deep commitment to his family, which I personally found heartwarming. I feel that anyone who wants to delve deeper into the mind of this brilliant man (not to mention if you're looking for some entertaining stories from Obama's bachelor-esque existence on Capitol Hill that involve a shower curtain...or lackthereof) would do no better than to pick up a copy of this book. I hear his first book, Dreams From My Father, is equally great.

In Defense of Food
by Michael Pollan. There are too many fascinating factoids crammed into this book to mention here, but one that particularly stands out to me is how different our eating culture is from that of a European country. Our propensity for fast, easy meals is what's killing us, while a country like France, with its emphasis on slowing down to enjoy a meal and stopping when you're satisfied, is one of the healthiest countries in the world. Pollan writes: "Fast food is precisely the way you'd expect a people to eat who put success at the center of life, who work long hours (with two careers per household), get only a couple weeks vacation each year, and who can't depend on a social safety net to cushion them from life's blows. Slow food aims to elevate quality over quantity and believes that doing so depends on cultivating our sense of taste as well as rebuilding relationships between producers and consumers that the industrialization of our food has destroyed." Food for thought.

A Mere Interlude
by Thomas Hardy. Ever since watching the AMAZING Masterpiece Theatre production of Tess of the d'Urbervilles on PBS a couple months ago, I've gained a newfound interest in the writings of Thomas Hardy, a Victorian novelist and poet who for some reason or another I haven't paid too much attention to before. I was so moved by his story of poor Tess and the hardships she endured but didn't deserve, that I felt compelled to pick this book up. I can definitely see the parallels between Interlude and Tess. Hardy continues his theme of telling stories of poor, hardworking women, and his sympathy for their plight is keenly felt. Take a look at this book's gorgeous cover--along with the covers of the next two books--here.

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy. I wasn't anticipating such a modern, albeit depressing, view on love and relationships. The protagonist's (and apparently Tolstoy's) open disdain for the ritual of courtship and marriage among the aristocracy and his candor are somewhat surprising to me. But this might simply be an indication that I haven't read as nearly as much Russian literature as I should. I'm considering The Kreutzer Sonata as a fitting prelude to a meatier work I plan on sinking my teeth into later this year, a little novel called War & Peace. Like Hardy, Tolstoy doesn't sugarcoat life, and I find that really refreshing.

Forbidden Fruit
from the letters of St. Abelard and Heloise. Admittedly, I was sorta hoping for a Romeo and Juliet type of love story with this book. Except instead of medieval lusty teenagers, we have in an epistolary format a pair of medieval, grown-up scholars who are torn asunder by their love. I was more intrigued with Heloise's letters because they are teeming with a heartfelt vigor and love for Abelard that I found so endearing. Abelard's letters, on the other hand, reek of self-importance and an aridity that contrasted greatly with that of Heloise's passionate prose. I came away from the book with the firm belief that Heloise was simply too good for Abelard. Most women are, no?

Next up: magic realism, a politician's wife, a biography of a Victorian writer, and reading Lolita in Iran....