I'm in full-out zen mode at the moment. So zen that I'm not actually doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Instead, my attention keeps wandering outside, where snow is falling in the mountains (Fernie, B.C.) and everything in the world seems peaceful and lovely, and it smells nice, and it is quiet.
It's kind of a wonderful world today. And I have coffee.
So, before I get on to what I'm supposed to be doing, a quick share: Read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.
Lahiri writes simply, efficiently and sadly. Her stories would be tales of love if they weren't actually examinations of loss and even, to some degree, emptiness. What looks like a happy ending is always overshadowed by something that's missing, something that's out of reach. In some instances (the last three short stories in this collection), what's missing smacks the reader in the face in a way that's painfully startling even as you see it hurtling toward you. Meanwhile, her prose is overlaid with a sense of place and perhaps home (if we can accept that "home" doesn't quite exist), and certainly with food. Food -- traditional Indian or Americanized -- is weaved in to a degree that I think it stands as testament to a constantly changing sense of diaspora. Lahiri's stories could easily lend to historical study in the future, because they illustrate where a community has come from and where it's going.
Yes, I'm a nerd.
Quick question for you, though -- Lahiri's latest collection of short stories opens with a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne:
"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."
Now, I read this as, to put it way too simply, so true. But indeed, as it's been pointed out to me, the comment does carry a certain imperialist tone -- perhaps not surprising coming from the dude who wrote The Scarlet Letter.
Ok, back to what I'm supposed to be doing....
So, admittedly, I turned to Nick Hornby in hopes of laughter.
Or at least good humour.
Perhaps a moment with a romantic hero reminiscent of John Cusack's character in High Fidelity. (Although, obviously, if you take the Cusack out of the Rob, you end up with, well, kind of an asshole ex-boyfriend.)
How To Be Good is something else. Something I can't quite put my finger on. Something at times repetitive and perhaps unbelievable.... something that strikes terribly close to one's most cynical thoughts and feelings.
I love Hornby's unashamed first-person narrative, warts and all. His characters are, at times, so awful it's hard to believe they are the protagonists. And I suppose there's a bit of humour to that. And I love when an author drops names mid-story. Say, makes passing reference to a character from a previous book. It makes me feel like I'm joining in on an inside joke.
But did I love the book? Well, to put it mildly, it isn't a tale to be certain about. In some ways it makes you wonder about love, and in other ways I suppose it comes off as a titch contrived.
By way of brief summary, How To Be Good is primarily about Katie, an unhappily married woman, and her life with her unhappy children and unhappy husband. Her husband, early on, chooses to change his life; this is hard to explain -- it's not quite a religious experience, but it isn't not a religious experience. It also isn't not crazy.
The thing is, you have to read it. It's actually kind of full of adventure, which isn't really expected. It's also sort of discomforting to watch Katie's husband and his spiritual guru endeavour to save the world, and the effect it has on Katie and her children.
Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.
In other news....
Since Thanksgiving I've been contemplating ways to find the joy in cooking. Yes, I was inspired last week by my dear friend and former roommate in Ottawa, who recently embarked on a lengthy experiment in cooking everything from scratch.
(Hint: Cooking everything from scratch is a time-consuming endeavour that is worthwhile in terms of better understanding your food. I am seriously impressed anyone would ever try such a thing, but after three hours watching a tiny little chicken roast, I could never find such patience within.)
I'm also, to be honest, driven by my long-standing and uncomfortable relationship with food in general. I know that sounds oddly personal, and I think I'll leave it at that for tonight; suffice to say I will not be using this blog to bore you with the details of my adventures in the kitchen. But tonight, I am proud of this roasted chicken, and wish to share with you my first Joy-Luck experiment: roast chicken stuffed with onion, apple, orange and nutmeg, alongside garlic mashed potatoes.