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Posts Tagged ‘goal 1’

If you’ve ever been plagued by those torturous two little words ‘what if’ then this is the book for you. Lionel Shriver’s ‘The post birthday world’ is all about the choices we make in life, and the what ifs that those choices inevitably leave behind them, like shadows, always following us from a discreet distance.

The story is simple- a woman- Irina- is in a long term, content relationship. At some point, during one particular dinner, she reaches a crossroad where she is momentarily tempted to start an affair with another man. She can go this way or that, there’s no two ways about it. What Shriver does is try to answer the million-dollar what if question: so what happens if Irina goes off with the new, exciting, interesting man, leaving behind her long-term partner? What future does that lead to? And on the other hand, what if she decides to stay, and not rock the boat?

Like Shriver’s ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, a disturbing, brilliant book which caused an uproar when it was published, the ‘Post birthday world’ doesn’t offer any easy answers about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choices. All in all, an excellent read, highly recommended.

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A book for food-bloggers

Goal number 1 (reading a novel every 2 weeks) is progressing nicely… I’m already on to my third novel; still not reading any Dostoevsky, but I will get round to it at some point! For some strange reason, I grew up thinking that women who are at the end of their pregnancies (like I am) tend to read overlong, preferably Russian, classic novels. Not sure where I got that idea, but there you go. What I’m finding is that at least for now I haven’t yet got round to reading books that take great concentration, because I’m much more tired than normal. So relatively pleasurable, easy to follow & quick reads are my preference for the time being (any suggestions welcome!)

I thought I’d make some comments then on novel number 2 (novel number 1 since I started my blog is discussed here). This time I read ‘Julie & Julia’ by Julie Powell. I think this book would make a fascinating read (and a great gift) for any food-blogger, but I’m not sure I would recommend it to other people.

In ‘Julie & Julia’, Julie Powell documents her journey to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s 1961 classic cookbook Mastering the art of french cooking, Vol. 1 in 365 days. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? This project was initially documented in Powell’s food-blog (you can find Powell’s current blog here; I’m not sure where the online Julie-Julia project can be found nowadays). The Julie-Julia project became very popular during those 365 days & invited lots of attention, including articles in the NY Times. I understand that there’s also a movie in production, based on the book, to be directed by the wonderful Nora Ephron (who herself has written a great book, ‘Heartburn’, which I highly recommend to all food-lovers who haven’t yet read it).

What ‘Julie & Julia’ is about, essentially, is the journey of a woman who finds her way out of a slightly boring and stagnating life (and job) through cooking & writing about cooking. The most fascinating & interesting bits that will appeal to any food-blogger (or anyone who loves cooking, for that matter) are the passages that document Julie’s struggles with difficult recipes, some of which few of us would even attempt nowadays: cooking brains & kidneys; making aspics (including eggs in aspic!); extracting marrow from a bone in order to make a sauce; braising lettuce; blanching bacon… and so much more. The rest of the book, however, I didn’t enjoy that much. I think Julie Powell makes a wonderful food-writer but not such a great novelist. The non-cooking bits of the book seemed like unnecessary fillings to me, but that was ok, because Julie’s cooking adventures were more than enough to keep my interest piqued throughout the book.

A quick note: The book was actually brought to my attention by a reader of my own blog who suggested I read it since I’m trying to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to eat’, plus have thought up for myself a whole list of impossible-sounding food-related goals! So: thanks Bethany!

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Looking back at my goal setting, I think I’ve been too ambitious in certain things (understatement of the year!) For example, goal 1 is about reminding myself to read one novel every 2 weeks. Fair enough, sounds doable. However, the over-ambitious (and, in retrospect, funny) bit has to do with some of the books I’ve listed for myself as ‘suggested readings’: Dostoevsky, Bronte, Henry James, Flaubert… the list goes on, and sounds a bit like a ‘1001 books you must read before you die’ kind of thing (and we all know the problems with such lists. As William Grimes recently wrote in the New York Times, ‘upon reaching the last page of title No. 1,001… death might come as a relief’).

In any case, I happily and innocently started my ‘one novel in two weeks’ quest, and as I had written here 2 weeks ago, my initial plan was not that ambitious: I would be starting with Nicola Barker’s ‘Clear: A transparent novel’. Well. I struggled and struggled for a few days, trying to be a good, organized reader. The result? A few days later ‘Clear’ ended up in my ‘books to give away’ pile, and I happily turned to a really easy going, fun, laugh-out-loud novel: ‘Confessions of a bad mother’ by Stephanie Calman.

This is actually not strictly a novel- it’s a novel-like, non-fiction account of the author’s experiences as a new mother, starting from her pregnancies and ending when her 2 children are about 7 and 6 years old. What’s enjoyable & refreshing about this book is the author’s honesty & openness about her ‘shortcomings’ as a parent. In a way, this books sticks the finger to those smug, holier than though ‘perfect mothers’ who go on and on about how their choices are the best possible for them, for their children, and for the world at large. In reality, Calman seems like a perfectly normal, everyday, good enough mother to me, with various ‘shortcomings’ which in my opinion are not really shortcomings but a human being being a human being. The point she’s making is that there is no such thing as a perfect, ‘good mother’ who always enjoys every minute of parenthood, and that those who would have us believe such a species exists are not telling it like it is, and are adding unneeded pressure to mothers (or mothers-to-be, like me!)

Anyway. In the end, I don’t regret having read this book and not the award-winning ‘Clear’. Maybe at some point in the near future I’ll take a deep breath and be ready for Dostoevsky… and when that moment comes, I’ll let you know 🙂

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The fantastic weather continues. As you can see from the picture (which was taken at St James’s Park), London is looking amazingly green and shiny– almost glittery- at the moment. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that this weather lasts. But then again, perhaps we appreciate it all the more because it doesn’t last long… It’s bound to start raining again in a couple of days.

So. Tomorrow is day zero of my 202 challenge. I guess I should make a plan about how to start. Perhaps the easiest thing is to get going on the everyday tasks. Goal 25 (PhD related) can conveniently start on Monday since tomorrow is Saturday. Tomorrow I’ll start on goal 1- read a novel every 2 weeks: hoping to finish it by Saturday 24. I’ve decided that my first book to read will be Nicola Barker’s ‘Clear: A transparent novel‘. It was longlisted for the 2004 Booker prize (not that that necessarily means something) and I’ve watched it sitting on the shelf for a while, always thinking I’d get around to reading it at some point. Well, the time has come. Its premise is fascinating- it’s a fictional account of a non-fictional event. The story is about magician’s (or illusionist’s) David Blaine’s mysterious stay in a transparent box next to the River Thames in 2003, with no food for 44 days. I remember being fascinated at the time by Blaine’s decision to do that- fascinated and appalled at the same time. So I’m intrigued to see what Barker has made of the story.

The other thing I’ll do is start working on the every day, small goals: e.g. goal 26 (clearing up clutter for 10 mins every 2 days) & goal 89 (doing a food schedule). The first one sounds straightforward enough & hopefully will help a bit with the messiness in our flat. As for the second, it’ll help us eat a bit more healthily (hopefully).

Anyway. That’s the plan. As they say though, when people make plans, the gods laugh. It’s a good saying, even for atheists like me. But then again I suppose a bit of obsessionality can never harm anyone. So here goes… my 1001 days are about to start!

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