February 28, 2010

February Reads

In a fitting tribute to this month of love, I spent some time with two literary heroines who, after embarking on torrid love affairs, must ultimately make a choice between their passion for another and their need for autonomy and self-respect. As these characters come to realize, choosing between what is right and what comes easy are sometimes mutually exclusive.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. There aren't a lot of books I've read more than once, and most certainly not more than twice, but this book I've read three times. It's that good. And I've only fallen more in love with it with each reading. If you haven't yet picked up Jane Eyre, I urge you to do so. I love the creepy Gothic elements of the story, which have inspired similar-themed stories by Daphne du Maurier (author of my beloved Rebecca) and Jean Rhys of Wide Sargasso Sea, which is based on one of the characters in Bronte's book. Simply put, Jane Eyre gives us one of the best and most satisfying love stories in all of literature (and it gives Ms. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy a serious run for their money in that department). It has one of the most flawed, interesting, and might I add, sexiest, leading men I've ever come across on the page (check out the 2007 BBC film version, starring Toby Stephens, if you want to see just how sexy). And Jane's struggles and choices mirror that of any modern woman's, which makes it as relevant today as it was when it first published in 1847. Furthermore, how exquisite is this hardcover edition of the book? Designed by oh-so-talented Penguin Classics Coralie Bickford-Smith, it has a gorgeous vintage feel to it that can sit majestically on any bookshelf. It's obvious the designer did her homework, as the pattern of the horse chestnut leaf adorning the cover is especially appropriate to the story; I won't tell you why: you must read the book to find out! P.S. You can read an interview in which Coralie talks about her process at Design*Sponge.

The Vagabond by Colette. This book was my introduction into the world of 20th Century French writer Colette. Her style is definitely a departure from the mostly British and American authors I've read; I had to acclimate to the very unsentimental (and to me, very French) way in which the main character, Renée Néré, views the world. Renée is a 33-year-old divorcée and career woman who must choose between settling for a life with a rich suitor who adores her and wishes to take care of her, and retaining a life and identity all her own. The themes and struggles inherent in the story are refreshingly modern. The Vagabond is heralded as one of the first feminist novels ever written, which if you know anything about Colette's life, is quite fitting, as it was one of the first few books published under her own name instead of her ex-husband's, who not only took credit for her previous books, but also took the profits along with it. Colette seems to have had ten lives rolled into one, which makes her a prime pick for a biography.

Next up for March: diving even deeper into my overflowing shelves for books that have been collecting dust months and months after being purchased (guilty as charged). I'm actually quite looking forward to it, as it's like shopping from my very own mini bookshop!

February 27, 2010

Chile aid relief

Another devastating earthquake, another tragic loss of life. And yet, it's also another opportunity to do some good for another human being. Once again, you can donate money to relief efforts for Chile via text message. Click here for more information.

With all these recent earthquakes occurring around the world, I can't help but wonder when the next big one will hit California. I know it sounds morbid, but it's something all Californians should think about and prepare themselves for. It's tragedies like this that make me realize how blessed I am to be healthy and alive. And it's truly a reminder of the brevity and fragility of life.

February 24, 2010

Cuppa tea

Today I've been listening to BBC Radio 4's piece on specialty tea, which I found fascinating, especially since I've recently developed an appreciation (well, a bit of an obsession, really) with loose-leaf teas. Personally, I find the flavor of loose-leaf tea to be greatly superior (read: bolder, more flavorful, with a discernible freshness) to that of tea found in bags. But don't take my word for it! Click here for a listen.

{Photos taken from a tea tasting ceremony in San Francisco, courtesy of T}

February 22, 2010

What's cookin', goodlookin'

This shot was taken last week on the last day of a glorious three-day weekend. T woke up that morning with the urge to cook his own meatballs from scratch and he gleefully set to work while I cheered him on from my perch at the dining table (I like to keep a safe distance from beef and pork, personally). All in all it was a good day: friends came over, Uno was played, pinot grigio was imbibed, twilight walks were enjoyed, and meatballs were devoured...by the males in our party, mostly (alas, I was the only female; story of my life). I, in a very uncharacteristic move, sampled one meatball. It wasn't bad, if you like that sort of thing! T actually thought the recipe was a little heavy on the pork, so he plans on halfing the bacon portions in future. You can find the recipe here.

February 17, 2010

Postcards from Penguin

How cute would these Penguin postcards look hanging in a little cluster on a wall? Sadly they're not available stateside until October, but who's to stop me from popping over to the Amazon UK website and buying a box of my own? That's right, nobody.

February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day Weekend

Hope you had a lovely Valentine's Day weekend. I ended up taking my own advice and indulged in a little pre-Valentine's Day pampering (a massage here and a manicure/pedicure there), after which T and I caught a Hitchcock double feature of Rebecca and Notorious, two of my favorites, at the local theatre. And these gorgeous lovelies below, courtesy of T, were just the icing on the cake. It was such a lovely long weekend all around! Hope yours was just as great.

February 9, 2010

Man-Shawl love

If only more men were secure enough in their masculinity to don a shawl with their blazer, the world just might be a better place. Don't you think? You also can't beat a smile like that.

February 5, 2010

My funny valentines

I always feel a bit conflicted about Valentine's Day. I loathe its crass commercialism, the expectations and subsequent disappointments, the sort of pressure it bears on couples and single folks alike. And yet, I feel like Valentine's Day has gotten a bad rap of late, which is a shame because I truly feel that the idea behind it is rather sound (and interesting, to boot). What's wrong with showing the people we love most just how much we love and appreciate them? What's wrong with a little affection? Nothing, is the answer! I like the idea of celebrating all types of love--romantic, filial, friendship-based, or even self-love--not only on Valentine's Day, but throughout the year. Whether it's booking yourself that deep tissue massage you're in desperate need of or sending little notes to your twin nieces (they sent me the sweet valentine missives above), it's important to indulge yourself and the people important to you with some TLC. And when it comes to sending valentines, I tend to favor the quirky over the saccharine.
Take exhibits a and b: the felines and the unicorn, courtesy of Egg Press. They strike the perfect balance between sweet and slightly oddball that I find so endearing and not at all mawkish. This year, I'm leaving the valentine-sending for those who know good letterpress when they see it (there are so few of us out there), while giving the boyfriend something he will appreciate much more than a unicorn-adorned card (blasphemy, I know), candy hearts or boxers strewn with cupids, and that is a home-cooked meal.

{Images via Egg Press}

February 1, 2010

Bright Star

I saw Bright Star over the weekend and was stunned. Stunned by the exquisite, nuanced performances, stunned that a film could ever rival the beauty and grace and heart ache of John Keats' poetry. The entire film is pregnant with symbolism, every act or gesture contains layers upon layers of meaning. The more I reflect upon it after seeing it, the more in love with it I become. Ben Whishaw's recitation of "Ode to a Nightingale" as the closing credits roll kills me. You must listen to it here. Thank you, Jane Campion, for reawakening my schoolgirl crush on John Keats. I'm off to contemplate some grecian urns now.

(More images from the film here)