Phew. Getting through this week’s book, Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem was tough. So tough that I really deserved this massive burger at the end! While I certainly appreciate Lethem’s wit and imagination , which was in full display in this book, it was still difficult to get through. The book is filled with dense dialogue, either in the characters heads or with each other. The book is seemingly about nothing but perhaps also about everything - i.e. the search for "truth." At the center of the book is the friendship between Chase Insteadman (there is that wit with the name), a handsome former child actor, now somewhere in his thirties, living on the upper east side of NY, party hopping, and living off of residuals from the family TV show he starred in, and Perkus Tooth, a strange former rock critic/provocative poster maker, who smokes a lot of pot and watches a lot of obscure movies, but it is unclear what else he does. Perkus also lives on the upper east side, in a rent control apartment. Perkus is the type of guy everyone knows - a bit homely looking, not good at personal interaction necessarily, has the most extensive, random, obscure taste in books, music and movies, and is always anxious to tell you about these books, movies and music and is shocked and appalled when you admit to not having a clue of what he is talking about. Surrounding Perkus and Chase are a few other eccentric characters but most importantly the City of New York. In Lethem's book New York is surreal, but also not so far from reality (for example, the Mayor, Arnheim, is a short Jewish billionaire). The surreal part comes from an escaped tiger that is terrorizing the city, knocking buildings down, from the City's obsession with Chase's girlfriend, an astronaut, Janice Turnbull, stuck in a Russian space station and unable to return to earth, and with newspapers that come in war-free versions. There is a lot to take in here, and it is difficult to know what details matter and what don't. There is not much a plot, and what I found missing from this book as opposed to the others I have liked of Lethem's (Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn) is a heart. None of the characters are likable and none of them, except maybe Perkus towards the end, are going through anything that makes you care about them. I am glad I read the book because it does make you think and there are some really funny aspects of it, but it isn't a book I would recommend to many people, except maybe those friends of mine that are into obscure books, music and movies... The burger was inspired by Perkus, he subsists entirely on lots of pot, lots of coffee, and cheeseburgers from the Western themed restaurant around the corner from his apartment.
Just for fun, here is a recipe for a delicious sweet potato soup I recently made that is perfect for fall. I found the recipe in a round about way. I love reading pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz's blog (davidlebovitz.com). He recently went to Ireland to the Ballymaloe Cookery School. His pics looked amazing so I went to the school's website and found the weekly letter from an instructor, Darina: http://www.cookingisfun.info/saturdayletter/. Here I found this sweet potato soup with southeast asian flavors. It was easy and yummy. When I make it again I would add more chili for a bit more kick!
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a literary phenomenon. Over and over when I spoke with friends about the blog, they enthusiastically recommended that I feature "The Help" and make a chocolate cream pie. I was intrigued that so many people recommended the book - it must be the #1 book club this year - so was happy to find a copy at my summer house in Maine (thanks cousin Susan!) I thought the book was great, an accessible and emotional story about race in the South in 1960's. While I really liked it, part of me wished that a book that dealt with race issues today was so popular. Such a book would obviously have a lot more edge, and would stir more controversy. This book, because it was set in the 60's, even though it dealt with real issues, was uncontroversial. The book is told from multiple perspective, and anything that gets you thinking about an issue from multiple angles is a good thing. Anyone who has read the book knows that the chocolate pie is part of a great story in the book. I wouldn't want to give anything away, so won't say anything more about it, other than this pie is just chocolate and cream, nothing else ; )