Summer doesn’t officially start for a few more weeks, but that doesn’t mean it’s too soon to kick off another summer reading series! It’s a little too chilly to start those mindless beach reads, but that’s a good thing: you can stretch your brain a tad before the summer heat dulls us all into James Patterson and Lee Child fans. Here are a few titles that are a bit quirkier to ease into your 2013 summer reading:
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, EL Konigsburg
This is not a new read, by any means. But this classic YA book holds up more than four decades after it was published. The specifics of these 1960s runaways (who hide out in the Met, no less) are very rooted in a historical place and time but somehow the details make the story more relatable, even if we’ve never ordered from an automat or bathed in a fountain.
The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon
I once read this book described as the original Tumblr. And if the circa 1000 AD Japanese lady at court and author of this sometimes vicious, sometimes fashiony, sometimes scandalous diary had a blog, she totally would have posted her quotes in helvetica: “I can’t really understand people who get angry when they hear gossip about others. How can you not discuss other people? Apart from your own concerns, what can be more beguiling to talk about and criticize other people?” Amen, Sei. Continue reading
The second thing I ever learned to cook as a 9-year-old – eggs and tomatoes – was the only Chinese dish ever cooked in our home, and only ever cooked by me. Chinese food preparation can be labor intensive, but I believe the real reason was a fear of the smoke from the hot oily wok destroying the paint job in our kitchen. We didn’t even own a rice cooker: it was quicker and more painless to run downstairs to a local restaurant and buy a kilo of cooked rice for a dime. If my mom didn’t feel like cooking, our family of four could stay at that restaurant and eat delicious, veggie-intensive spicy Kunming food for a total of $5.
Restaurants were a special treat for us in 1990s China. The real bargain was getting takeout from our local university cafeteria. For the first few years we were in China, foreigners were legally required to live on a university campus. For me, this meant two things: my sister and I had full run of the campus, and one of my errands was the dreaded cafeteria run at lunchtime Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On the plus side, I was in full control of menu selection. On the minus side, it was an annoying walk down 5 flights of stairs, across the campus, fight through the lunch rush and trek back with a heavy lunch tiffin.
Do not picture your college campus dining hall. The cafeteria was a large, tiled room with high ceilings and long counters on three sides of the room. On the counters were large metal bowls full of food with workers standing behind each bowl to serve. There was a ticket booth where you exchanged cash for cafeteria vouchers, a rice stand and a steamed bread stand. There weren’t seats or tables; most students showed up with a metal bowl and took food back to their dorms or squatted outdoors. The food bowls were not labeled, and the surly cafeteria workers were too busy/grouchy to give a detailed explanation of the ingredients, so the selection involved a great deal of guesswork. Early on, we discovered one of the delicious options was chicken intestines – slightly disorienting, but hey: if it tastes good, eat it!
Now these officials know how to party!
Thank God last week is over. What a week, right? When the best part of the week is paying taxes, you know things are bad. Although no one I know – or even friends of friends – was directly impacted by the Boston bombings, West Texas explosion, ricin letters, Japan earthquake, Boston manhunt/shootouts, Sichuan, China earthquake or any other number of bad things, I spent the week glued to the news. Now the dust has settled (unfortunately literally in the case of some of these things) and the breaking news element of these events has calmed down, people are taking time to reflect.
Much has been written already about why the Boston event in particular has captivated us over the last week. Unlike tragedies in far off places, many of us have spent time in Boston by going to school there. At this point, it seems like at least half of my friends have run a marathon. These are normal things, and when the normal suddenly goes wrong all the normal things we do are suspect. A sunny April day becomes ominous.
The Boston bombing is one of the first big tragedies in our new era of real time news – or real time rumor and speculation. Speculation has always been around, of course, but things you’d say to your coworker at the water cooler can now be retweeted and liked and used as sources for other people’s news. If you don’t have any insights to share, you can read others’ insights – thousands and thousands of them, on Twitter and Facebook and Reddit and YouTube. With so many people weighing in, there’s always something new to read or watch, and those of us who are already borderline addicted to our phones and the Internet have the feed turned up to the highest setting. Continue reading
Ah, spring. When a young man’s fancy turns to love. And when a young woman’s fancy turns to weddings. Not her own wedding, mind you. The weddings of her approximately 37 friends who’ve all gotten engaged and scheduled their special days on one of the six reliably nice weather weekends in May/June. That’s right, folks: it’s wedding season!
Courtesy of spillerena.com
Of course you’re happy for your friends. But as the invitations start arriving, the reality of spending your summer shuttling back and forth across the country, listening to drunk toasts from the groom’s college roommate and eating overdone salmon starts to sink in, and wedding season seems more of a chore than a celebration. There are a couple of ways to handle this. The first is to dedicate an April weekend to Julia Roberts and Katherine Heigl movies, preparing yourself for the worst. Don’t do this: it’s too nice outside. Instead, grab a glass of rose (for <3) and check out some wedding season survival tips that will make the next few weeks more fun than frazzled. Continue reading
When last we checked in with 19 year old bookgirl Alison Lytton, she was about to knock on her first door as a door-to-door book salesperson in Arlington, TX.
I knocked twice on the door of the small suburban brick home, stepped back, and waited. No answer. I knocked again: nothing. Alright. First door down; who’s next, who’s next? I picked up my bag and ran to the next house. Nobody home either. By my third house, the nerves had settled a bit. But when someone finally answered the door, it was Mister Jones, not Mrs, and he was on the phone. I was not prepared for this scenario! “Hi, uh, I’m Alison, and, uh…” “Hold on just a second…what do you want? I’m on my way to work.” “Oh I’ll just come by later!” I responded chipperly, sprinting next door. That wasn’t so bad. He didn’t slam the door. Maybe I didn’t even tell him what I was doing, but in the metrics we were instructed to meticulously track, talking to a human being who could conceivably be a parent was considered a “call”. I’d made my first sales call! This was going to be a great summer! Continue reading