Monday, March 21, 2011

Claudia’s 5 Short Story Collections

Claudia’s 5 Short Story Collections

Short stories are what their names reveal: they are short. But even though they are short and you can finish one probably in less than 30 minutes, good ones can propel you into circumstances you don't want to leave. You encounter characters that become your best friends. And in the end you scream in despair: "Please one hundred pages more!"

Here are five master storytellers who lured me into their worlds with elegant and exquisitely written prose and breathtaking sometimes even shocking endings. In the short and sweet you will encounter pearls of wisdom and humanness that might linger with you for a long time.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (Vintage Books, RH, $15)

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books, $14.95)

Dubliners by James Joyce (Penguin Classic, $11)

The Empty Family by Colm Toibin (Scribner, $24)

Like Life: Stories by Lorrie Moore (Vintage Books, $14)

-March 2011, Claudia Vesterby

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Erica’s 5 Great Novels Under 200 Pages

Erica’s 5 Great Novels Under 200 Pages

Because really, who has time to read anymore? Hey, Dickens, I have a life. Places to go. People to see. Could you maybe cut it down to a tale of just one city instead of two?

Tinkers by Paul Harding (Bellevue, $14.95)
Has the distinction of being the shortest book that it took me the longest to read. I wallowed in its language: lovely, languorous, poetic, effulgent. The final thoughts of a dying man unspool as visceral memory and sensation, intertwined with the life of his epileptic father. 191 pp.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson (Grove, $14.00)

Maybe it’s best if I don’t tell you what this novel is about. If I try to I’ll say things like web-footed gondolier’s daughter meets Napoleon’s cook and walks on water. In lesser hands this strange book, which exists at the intersection of fairy tale and myth, could easily devolve into a circus. Winterson gives us an elegant carnival. 176 pp.

The Stranger by Albert Camus (Vintage, $12.00)

Lots of isms afloat in this book: existentialism, absurdism, nihilism, stoicism. But it’s not the big ideas that keep drawing me back to this deceptively simple story. It’s Meursault, the titular stranger, who struggles with existence outside of the social mechanism and, at times, outside of reason and remorse. 123 pp.

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $13.00)

As a 19 year-old West Indian girl working as an au pair for a white family in the city, Lucy negotiates issues of class, culture and coming-of-age in an unflinching voice that is spare, sharp and lyrical. 163 pp.

Push by Sapphire (Vintage, $13.00)

This is a tough read. I won’t sugar coat it. Precious Jones lives a dark life scarred with abuse and illiteracy. Though she learns to read and write, it doesn’t dull the edges of the brutality that is part of her reality. But literacy does give shape to her experience, allowing her to build and protect her own personhood. 191 pp.

March 2011, Erica David

Saturday, March 19, 2011

5 Cookbooks Mo Thinks Are Pretty Great

5 Cookbooks Mo Thinks Are Pretty Great

Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition by Irma von Starkloff Rombauer (Simon and Schuster, $35)
An oldie but a goodie. Did you know the author of the Joy of Cooking comes from St. Louis where Mo grew up? True story. Also it was originally written during the Depression and included tips on how to cook possum and road kill because that is how bad the Depression was. Today's edition doesn't have much to say about possum but it does have recipes for pretty much everything else including my favorite dairy-free chocolate cake recipe (p.723) and the recipe I use to make clotted cream for my tea parties celebrating Britain's National Health system (p. 1040, you start with raw cream). I've also never managed to come up with a produce item that you can't find in the index, including jicama, pawpaws, and cherimoya or "custard apple" a fruit I learned about from the book. If you haven't looked at this classic in a while, it's time to revisit it. I think if I were trapped on a desert island where I had to cook five course meals morning noon and night and I could only take one book, I would take this one. It just has everything.

The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookie Cookies and other Galactic Recipes by Robin Davis (Chronicle Publishing, $18.99)
I don't actually know much about Star Wars, nor have I actually used any of these recipes but I do know a great food-related Star Wars pun when I read it and this book is full of them. Boba Fett-uccine, Han-burgers, and Hoth Chocolate...also the photos by Frankie Frankeny make the food look pretty good...and fun.

The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen (Hyperion Books $22.95)
I don't really use Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook but I do use this book all the time. She's really great at thinking of ways to enliven classic recipes--like her Potato, Carrot, Turnip Gratin. How were there ever potato gratins that didn't include turnips? She's also great at explaining how to cook veggies using simple methods to bring out all their essential flavors.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (St. Martin's Press, $27.99)
The basic secret of this book is that it teaches you how to make a really wet dough in huge quantities that you can store in the fridge for weeks (see p. xi, "THE SECRET"). Based on this recipe there are tons of baked goods you can make, including pizza and some really awesome cinnamon rolls.

Ben and Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield with Nancy Stevens (Workman, $ 9.95)
It is hard to find good ice cream recipes. These are pretty great ones. Let it be known that if you make Sweet Cream Ice Cream recipe number 2 (p. 29) using the Organic Valley Half and Half from the Co-op you WILL get a tummy ache and you WILL enjoy it. Ben and Jerry also teach secrets like how to put things like candy and chocolate chunks into your ice cream without them all sinking to the bottom and how to convince people who live in cold climates that they need to eat ice cream year round.

March 2011, Mo Speller

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kate's 5 Books That Changed the Way She Thinks About Food

Kate's 5 Books That Changed the Way She Thinks About Food

The following books completely changed the way I think about the food I put in my own body, the way our culture relates to food, the global food economy, and the ethics of how we eat. I have listed them here in the order in which I first read them. They represent, for me, the evolution of my own approach to eating and my food philosophy. I highly recommend each and every one of them!

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser (Harper Perennial, $14.99)

I first read this book when I was in college, right around the time "Super Size Me" came out. It was the first time I ever thought seriously about food.

The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan (Penguin Books, $16.00)
I read this book a few years later, between college and grad school. It made a lasting impression on how I think about the western diet and American food culture.

(Editor's Note: The Omnivore's Dilemma is also one of Nif's April 2010 Picks.)

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan (Penguin Books, $15.00)
I loved the Omnivore's Dilemma so much, I came back for more Michael Pollan! This book prompted me to try to eliminate processed food from my diet.

The End of Food, by Paul Roberts (Mariner Books, $14.95)

This book was recommended by my environmental health professor in graduate school. It opened my eyes to some of the broader aspects and consequences of the global food economy.

Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer (Back Bay Books, $14.99)
Just as a disclaimer, I had already decided to be a vegetarian before I read this book. But I still found it extremely moving and thought provoking. It made me think about things that had never occurred to me, even after all four of the previous books and many others.

March 2011, Kate Musliner

Sunday, March 13, 2011

5 Short Story Collections That Amy Recommends

5 Short Story
Collections That Amy Recommends

Short stories are just right up my alley right now, primarily because I can fit one in while nursing my baby or while my toddler is preoccupied. They are low commitment, high interest, and a good one can be as powerful as any novel. Here are a few collections that I've really enjoyed, (or am still in the midst of enjoying!):

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (Picador, $14.00)

Reading this debut collection by Tower is an experience. I found myself having a visceral reaction to each story, and it was a relief when each one was finished, only to throw myself back in again to the next one. Of the five books reviewed here, this one is at the top of my list.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Random House, $15.00)

The narratives and subjects travel from Nigeria to the United States and paint a sharp picture of what it must feel like to be connected to those two places, but yet not quite fully visible in either. Adichie is very good at adding layers and dimensions to her characters that, in my opinion, are what make these stories stand out among other stories of the Immigrant Experience.

The Empty Family by Colm Toibin (Scribner, $24.00)
The latest work by Toibin, and the first I have read. Beautiful narratives, many of which share similar themes of loss and estrangement from one’s loved ones. The last story, The Street, is probably the finest and most heart wrenching of them all, and ends the book on a redemptive note.

Runaway by Alice Munro (Vintage, $15.95)
Munro is a master of this format, particularly with developing a depth to her characters and a finding a secret portal into their private lives. This collection is considered one of her best.

War Dances by Sherman Alexie (Grove Press, $14.00)
The 2011 One Book One Philadelphia selection. These stories and poems, while fleeting and sparse at times, take the reader on a journey; a brief and often brutally funny look inside Alexie's head.

March 2011, Amy Vaccarella

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Maleka's Top 5 (or so) Vegan Cookbooks

Maleka's Top 5
(or so) Vegan Cookbooks

Get your vegan cooking on in 2011. You don't have to be an anarcho-punk, animal rights activist, or live in West Philly. It's just healthy!

1)Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry (Da Capo, $18.95)
Includes a suggested soundtrack for each recipe. Dope!

2)Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moscowitz (Da Capo, $27.50)
I consider Isa the best vegan chef out there. This is a vegan Bible.

3)Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moscowitz (Da Capo, $19.95)

And this is brunch to end all brunches.

4)The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (Fair Winds Press, $19.95)
Yes! Bake without eggs or milk.

5)Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer Mccann (Da Capo, $19.95)
Vegan Bento Box lunches are cuteeeee.

p.s. I also love Ripe From Around Here by jae steele (Arsenal Pulp, $23.95), full of delicious vegan recipes and emphasizing mindful eating and local foods!

Friday, March 11, 2011

So Nu, 5 Yiddish Books for You (from Janet)

So Nu, 5 Yiddish Books for You (from Janet)

Snow, schmow. So vat's a bissel ice? Do yourself a favor. Come to the bookstore and take yourself a look at some yiddishkeit. Free hot drinks, we offer (a bargain at half the price). Have a nosh. A beauty queen you're not but vat's one cookie gonna hurt?

The New Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten (Three Rivers Press, $18.00)
Inside this vonderful book, you'll find 29 definitions of the word "Oy". With "oy" you can create an entire language.

Jewish as a Second Language by Molly Katz (a nice Jewish girl)
(Workman Publishing Company, $8.95)

Nu? Read carefully and learn "how to worry, how to interrupt, how to say the opposite of what you mean". These are essential additions to learning Yiddish language.

Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary by Uriel Weinreich (Schocken Books, $30.00)
A real dictionary written by a mensch, a professor of Yiddish language, no less. To understand, you need to read Hebrew script. Vat's a matter? Hebrew school you didn't go? You should take a look anyway. See vat you're missing.

Bintel Brief by Issac Metzker (Schocken Books, $12.00)
This book contains sixty years worth of letters to the advice column of the Jewish Daily Forward, a newspaper my grandfather read from cover to cover. From heart-rending letters of separation and loss, to questions about the most absurd sounding superstitions, to advice on how to remain observant in the "new world", the Bintel Brief is a taste of Jewish immigrant culture. The Yiddish language is as much a reflection of that unique culture as it is a language.

Nosh Schlep Schluff BabYiddish by Laurel Snyder (Random House, $5.99)

For the kindeleh, zie gezeint dine cup, (good health on your head), a board book with a few commonly used words.

Nu, mister smarty-pants, a guess maybe you can make on how many Yiddish words are in the schmancy Webster's dictionary? Oy, 15% savings on most books on the second floor, so maybe you're too busy to call your mother who was in labor for 52 hours and worked her fingers to the bone to send you to a fancy school but maybe you can take a minute to visit your local bookstore. We promise not to insult you...maybe...

February 2011, Janet Elfant

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Janet’s 5 Books That Helped Her Breathe

Janet’s 5 Books That Helped Her Breathe

March is here. Some days bring hints of Spring. Some days bring gusts of wind and rain that take the breath away. Enough skidding on ice and trudging through snow drifts. Enjoy the mud and a new read.

Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels (Simon & Schuster, $24.00)

A laugh-out-loud novel filled with wisdom. The author will be reading at Big Blue Marble on March 11th.

The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness by Rabbi Rami Shapiro (Skylight Paths Publishing, $16.99)
Unique to this book is the practical guide to living in the moment, letting go of the past and expectations for the future, and simply increasing the flow of gratitude, appreciation, and humility available to us all.

Landscapes of Light by B. E. Kahn (Poets Wear Prada, $10.00)
Poetry written during a voyage from Greece to Israel which read precisely as implied by the title of the collection.

Dave the Potter, Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill (Little Brown & Co, $16.99)
We need stories of inspiration. Our children need stories of inspiration. Dave the Potter is a new arrival at the bookstore telling the true story of a slave who teaches himself pottery and etches his lines of poetry on his creations.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead (MacMillan $16.99)

We also need cute and heart-warming once in a while. Recent Caldecott Medal winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, is the story of devoted friendship, caring for the sick, and how much weight a city bus can manage.

March 2011, Janet Elfant

Claudia's 5 Winter Mysteries

Claudia’s 5
Winter Mysteries

In the bleak mid-winter ......curl up in front of a fireplace, enjoy a warm drink and devour a couple of relentlessly gripping mysteries.

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell (Vintage Crime, $14.95)
Follow dour cop Kurt Wallander to a remote Swedish farmhouse and become a reading witness how he will solve his first crime.

Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum (Harcourt, $14.00)
Fossum, Norway's queen of crime, introduces Inspector Konrad Sejer, a refreshingly gentle and wise senior police investigator in Oslo. An idyllic Norwegian village is the crime scene and will be changed forever...

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Picador, $15.00)
Meet retired Sherlock Holmes and fifteen-year-old, feisty Mary Russell, and accompany these two sleuths across the Sussex Downs, where they solve their first case.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (St. Martin's, $6.99)
The ultimate Dame of crime will take you to the coast of Devon where chilling murders will let the hair on your neck curl up. Compelling!

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon (Penguin/Grove, $7.99)
Bongiorno commissario Brunetti. May we follow you through the canals of Venice to observe your fine criminalistic sense? A mystery drafted multo bene.

Feel inclined to read more mysteries by the above authors?! You will find their books in our cozy bookstore.

February 2011, Claudia Vesterby

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Erica's 5 Books: As Seen on TV

Erica’s 5 Books: As Seen on TV

I know, I know, it’s Mt. Airy. Most of you don’t even have a TV. You’re busy eschewing television in favor of nobler intellectual pursuits. Well, I’ve got a secret for you: sometimes TV steals your books and turns them into TV shows! All hail the Hell Box and its magnificent cunning!

The Walking Dead Vol. 1 by Robert Kirkman (Image, $34.99).
Who exactly are the walking dead? Are they flesh-hungry zombies roving the countryside or are they the flawed band of humans who have survived the zombie apocalypse only to eke out a brutal, fragile existence that one could hardly call living?

206 Bones by Kathy Reichs (Pocket, $7.99).
Temperance “Tempe” Brennan is a ballsy, no-nonsense forensic anthropologist who finds herself injured and trapped in an underground tomb, making for high drama in low places. Fox’s Bones TV series keeps Temperance as its lead, but uses Reichs’s real life experiences as its basis. So there’s no cheating on this one, folks. If you want to know how she escapes the tomb, you’ll have to read the book.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (Vintage, $7.99).
Dexter Morgan is Jeff Lindsay’s serial killer with a heart of gold—he only murders other serial killers. Points awarded for titular alliteration and for the complexity of Lindsay’s murderous antihero in thrall of a Dark Passenger, i.e., his need to kill. Dexter wears humanity as the ultimate disguise and is played to apathetic, amoral perfection by Michael C. Hall in the Showtime series.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (Penguin, $7.99). The Sookie Stackhouse paranormal romance mysteries are a soft, froofy PG-13, but the HBO series True Blood is definitely a hard, salacious R. I’ve seen more of Anna Paquin’s naked flesh than I ever cared to see, but Paquin for all her nudity, manages to maintain Sookie’s gutsy Southern charm and almost pigheaded sleuthing instincts—a hallmark of the book series.

The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (Random House, $14.00). The first in this gentle, charming series following Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s only lady detective, #1LDA combines a light touch with a penetrating exploration of character, politics and social mores. Subtext steeps along with every quaint cup of red bush tea enjoyed by the resourceful, size 22 heroine, cunningly portrayed by Philly’s own Jill Scott in the HBO miniseries.

February 2011, Erica David

Friday, March 04, 2011

Poetic Profile: Leonard Gontarek

1) How would you describe your poetry?

I am a surrealist, by way of Zen, with East European ancestry. There is
no such school of poetry, but I show up to class every day, nevertheless.

2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

There was a point, after much practice and commitment, I knew I had become a poet.
And so, poetry fits into my life thoroughly. Before that, I wondered a good deal
what place the poet had. I became, I suppose, an inhabitant of earth who wrote poetry.

3) What poets and/or authors inspire you?

It is always, of course, difficult to narrow down such a list. I’ll make it a top-ten:

Ten: Kenneth Koch
Nine: Charles Wright
Eight: Jean Follain
Seven: Carole Maso
Six: Alice Fulton
Five: W. S. Merwin
Four: Yves Bonnefoy
Three: Evan S. Connell
Two: Shunryu Suzuki
One: … Julio Cortazar

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

I have organized poetry readings in the Philadelphia area for twenty years.
I judged a City Paper poetry contest. I co-edited a Philadelphia supplement
of The American Poetry Review. I have published local poets. I conduct poetry
workshops. I edit manuscripts of local poets. Hard not to feel part of an extended
Philadelphia poetry family. I’ll add this about Philly poets: they are brilliant,
visionary, honest and awfully talented. The other part of the community – the cafes,
galleries, bookstores, and the Philadelphia audience – all have been gracious and
supportive of poetry. I moved here from Vermont. In the first year, mountains still
appeared in my poems. Now I think I write Philadelphia poems. And that is how it
should be. Philadelphia is a terrific city. A beautiful cityscape. Home to me.

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.

Winter’s Journey by Stephen Dobyns. A book of only fourteen poems. Here are some
of the titles of poems, to give you an idea: Mourning Doves, Rabbits, Balance, Werewolf, Looking for the Dog, Chainsaws, Spring, Lost. Each are like small novellas. Meditations really. A man taking a walk talking to the dark, himself, God, and we are close behind and able to listen in. What distinguishes it from other prose-poetry is the intimacy of the voice (the poems seem like they are being spoken to you) and the immediacy of its content – what it is like to be alive in the twenty-first century, today, in the falling snow here, while the bombs fall there. They are poems of beauty, revelation, big and small truths, and good humor. But I’ll let Stephen Dobyns pitch his own poems.
Here is the conclusion to Looking for the Dog:

But thoughts like these, if I don’t bring them to a halt,
make my doubts pile up, and the world looks so brief,
so fragile that I start poking my finger through its walls,
its seeming substantiality, as if through a wet tissue;
and if I don’t repair my fabric of opinion and belief,
my illusion of truth, I’ll drop like a rock from a roof,
falling, falling till I come to an abrupt stop. Like this.

Leonard Gontarek is the author of St. Genevieve Watching

Over Paris, Van Morrison Can’t Find His Feet,

Zen For Beginners, and Déjà Vu Diner.

His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review,

Fence, Field, Pool, Poetry Northwest, Verse, Hanging Loose.

His work appears in the anthologies The Best American Poetry,

Joyful Noise! American Spiritual Poetry, The Working Poet,

Dwarf Stars Science Fiction Poetry Anthology.

He has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize

and twice received Poetry Fellowships from the Pennsylvania

Council On The Arts. He has been a cabdriver, movie- projectionist,

teacher and bookseller. He coordinates The Green Line Poetry Series

and teaches poetry workshops at the Moonstone Arts Center.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Featured Poem: Drawing Down

Here's another new Big Blue Marble blog series. We'll be featuring poems from local and beyond poets that we love. Check out this one from local poet Crystal Bacon, for these last days of winter.

Drawing Down

In the woods, the last sun
slants through trunks
bare and spare as bones.
At their feet leaves gather and scatter
layer upon layer bleached dun
and greeny gold. Their upturned faces
behold their downfall.

Here at home, houseplants grow
sickly in the shifted day.
Oxalis droops its winey blooms
on slimy dim stems.
Even the relentless geranium
weeps pink petals
moist as night time tears.

I draw curtains over closed blinds
and pulled shade. The lamp glows
warmly against cloth. Yet moon sings
sweetly full and blue,
bearing its bright message
down upon all creatures,
recipients of light.

-by Crystal Bacon