Tag Archives: books

2011 In Review: Another Year of Books


Well friends, it’s that time again. Time to tally up the year in reading and take stock. Here’s what I read in 2011:

  1. The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, Julia Stuart
  2. The Tiger in the Smoke, Margery Allington
  3. Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz
  4. Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
  5. The Towers of Trebizond, Rose MaCaulay
  6. Ex-Libris, Ross King
  7. In the Shadow of Gotham, Stephanie Pintoff
  8. The Tempest, Juan Manuel de Prada
  9. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, Graham Robb
  10. An Expert in Murder, Nicola Upson
  11. Nightingale Wood,  Stella Gibbons
  12. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
  13. Harry Potter: La Coupe de feu, J.K. Rowling
  14. Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  15. Harry Potter: Le Prince de sang-melé, J.K. Rowling
  16. Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows (UK ed.), J.K. Rowling
  17. Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  18. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  19. The Secret of Chimneys, Agatha Christie
  20. Passenger to Frankfurt, Agatha Christie
  21. There is a Tide, Agatha Christie
  22. A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick
  23. Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh (re-read)
  24. Viles Bodies, Evelyn Waugh (re-read)
  25. The Disappearance at Père La Chaise, Claude Izner
  26. The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise d’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon, Veronica Buckley
  27. Murder on the Eiffel Tower, Claude Izner
  28. The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen
  29. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie (re-read)
  30. Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
  31. Magic and Madness in the Library, edited by Eric Graeber

A bit leaner of a list than last year’s, but alas: these things happen. A couple of re-reads, a smattering of French, some non-fiction mixed in—I like to keep it eclectic. In keeping with last year’s declaration that a year in books is a very personal yet easily (by which I mean generally painless) shared window into the soul, let’s go ahead and ponder what the 2011 list reveals.

First, I have been expanding the mystery writers in my repertoire. Second, I decided to start reading Evelyn Waugh’s body of work in chronological order (sidebar: I also purchased his collected travel works, which are sure to be offensive but amazing). Third, I am embarking on the adult tomes by C.S. Lewis. Fourth, I read a very odd mix of non-fiction.

And the result? The recommendations for your newly born year in books?

  1. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz. I started 2011 off with a hugely enjoyable (and highly anticipated) bit of non-fiction. As you may know from previous posts, I have a crazy dog and in general, I love the canines. I especially recommend Horowitz’s book for readers who have, or have ever had or even liked, a dog. The book is basically a reworking (read: making it readable for people who do not read dissertations for general joy) of Horowitz’s doctoral research on dog cognition. The tome is an incredibly enjoyable and hugely informative journey into dogness, features sections such as “Umwelt: From the Dog’s Point of Nose,” “The Vomeronasal Nose,” “Go Get the Green Ball!,” “…It Either Fits in the Mouth or It’s Too Big for the Mouth…,” “Don’t Bathe You Dog Everyday,” “Get a Mutt,” and “Anthropomorphize with Umwelt in Mind,” among many, many others. I grew up with a dog, I now have a “new” dog with whom—being an adult—I interact and experience quite differently, and I have to admit this book makes her make so much sense to me. For example, I now understand quite clearly that when she looks at me, looks at the food in my hand and then looks pointedly at the floor in front of her over and over again… yeah, she wants me to share that sandwich and she is telling me as clearly as she can—which is pretty damn clear if you think about it, but I never really had before. Maybe that’s just me.
  2. The Towers of Trebizond by Rose MaCaulay. I adore travel literature, and this is a brilliant faux travel lit from 1956, opening with the line “Take my camel, dear,” said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” Roughly, it is the tale of the narrator’s (Laurie’s) journey with her eccentric aunt and minister companion through modern Turkey, peppered with oscillating moments of hilarity and deep introspection. It’s one of those books that just cries out to be dog-eared and underlined. I stumbled upon it thanks to my favorite book catalog, Bas Bleu, and it was one of most fortuitous finds of my 2011. I recommend it constantly. A few choice excerpts I marked in my copy:

    “-Aunt Dot has always had her dreams. They are what take her about the world. She is an adventuress.
    About the world, yes. Tell me Laurie, does she love her country?
    -Not that I know of, particularly. Why should she? I mean, she usually prefers to be somewhere else, when she can. Most Britons do, I think. I expect it’s the climate. Besides, we’re a nomadic people; we like change of scene.'”

    He looked through my passport, turning the pages with covetous inquisitiveness, as if he suspected them of obscenity.
    ‘Profession,’ he then said, very loudly and angrily. ‘Why have you not written it here? You have written independent.’
    -‘Yes, I couldn’t think what else to put.’
    -‘Independent, you have written.’
    -‘Yes,’ I agreed. The conversation seemed rather repetitive.
    -‘You know what means independent?’
    -‘Yes, I think I do. It means no one pays me regularly for working.’
    ‘Independent,’ he said, turning the word over on his tongue in some disgust. ‘That means spy.’
    -‘No,’ I said, ‘Not in English. Spies aren’t independent. They get wages.'”

    “Still the towers of Trebizond , the fabled city, shimmer on a far horizon, gated and walled and held in a luminous enchantment. It seems that for me, and however much I must stand outside them, this must for ever be. But at the city’s heart lie the pattern and the hard core, and these I can never make my own: they are too far outside my range. The pattern should perhaps be easier, the core less hard.”

  3. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb provides a history of Paris through a mixture of obscure and well-known vignettes in the city’s history, ranging Napoleon Bonaparte’s first sexual encounter (with a prostitute of the Palais-Royal) in 1787 to Madame Zola’s personal trials, Marcel Proust’s issues with the métro, Hitler’s singular early morning tour of the city in 1940, on to and beyond Mitterrand’s Affaire de l’Observatoire. Being of the vignette sort, it’s another good read for those looking something to be read over time, bit by bit. It’s perfect for the collector of odd histories and random facts, and, of course, all the many lovers of Paris out there. Endless tomes compile vignettes about the City of Lights (and I own a lot of them), but unlike many of the others, I actually read this one without getting bored and leaving it to sit unfinished for weeks on end. Also, it has some pictures. I love a historic photograph.
  4. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. As I mentioned above, I returned to Evelyn Waugh this year. I first read Waugh back in high school when a copy of Scoop drew my eye at the bookstore (remember those?). I own about half of his works, including that recent compilation of non-fiction. Vile Bodies was his second novel, continuing with some of the characters introduced in his inaugural work, Decline and Fall. Vile Bodies is a bitingly satirical swipe at the youth of upper society in London between the world wars: the ‘Bright Young Things.’ It involves a car race begun humorously but ending horrifically wrong, a party in an anchored dirigible, a cast of singing evangelical angels who aren’t angels (reminiscent of Anything Goes), and a terribly embarrassing event at 10 Downing Street. I am a big fan of Waugh, satire, sarcasm, and of British literature of the period in general. If you have never read Waugh, this one might not be the place to start, but it is brilliant and if the style happens to be your cup of tea… it is very ‘delight-making’ (a phrase construction that will mean more to you if you read Vile Bodies) before a sobering descent into various looming realities that ruin the best of parties.
  5. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. I have always meant to read “adult” Lewis, and when a Christmas order from Amazon needed a couple extra dollars-worth to qualify for free shipping, I decided it was finally time to make it happen. Out of the Silent Planet is the first volume of the Space Trilogy, a science fiction series to which I am now committed. Lovers of the Narnia books will be happily familiar with Lewis’ creation of a new world (you eventually find out to which planet the hero is abducted), verbally painted to vivid perfection. It is a brief read, full of geeky academic-y jokes relating to being on term leave and the sorts of things in which a philologist (the protagonist) is interested. Of course, as should be expected, there is a lot going on beneath the bare surface of the plot.

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Savoy Cocktail of the Week: The Journalist

The Journalist is a mingling of the sweet and dry martini, with a kick of citrus.

The Journalist

2 Dashes Lemon Juice
2 Dashes Curaçao
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
1/6 French Vermouth
1/6 Italian Vermouth
2/3 Gordon’s Dry Gin

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

It’s good. It is also a pretty strong one. Tasters called it “serious” and made comments as to its suitability at the end of (or quite possibly more effective in the middle of) a grueling work day getting the Scoop.

On that note, it would go quite well with a nice piece of Evelyn Waugh literature involving the satirization of the newspaper world, such as the aforementioned Scoop, Vile Bodies, or one of his non-fiction travel writings (which incidentally is available in a very affordable one volume, five or six books inclusive hardcover from Everyman’s—a tome next on my list of reading recreation)

It’s that kind of cocktail, if you grasp my drift.

The first sip produced a bit of a gasp, but things continued smoothly from there on out. The Journalist is the kind of cocktail required when someone declares the pressing need for a cocktail.

Next week I shall enter the realm of apples in honor of impending autumn:

The Kicker

2 Dashes Italian Vermouth
1/3 Calvados
2/3 Bacardi Rum
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

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Savoy Cocktail of the Week: Jabberwock, Jimmy Blang, and the Quinine Flop of 2011

Alas, my optimistic plan for getting around the defunctness of Caperitif (and, incidentally, Kina Lillet) was, in retrospect, a trifle cavalier.

Allow me to explain.

A quick Google consultation yields the following roadblocks to the enjoyment of Savoy cocktails requiring Caperitif and Kina Lillet.

Caperitif, once a South African quinquina (meaning an apéritif laced with quinine to prevent the malaria from afflicting imperial personnel of the various European colonial empires of sticky climes) produced in Cape Town (hence caperitif), is no longer in production. According to the Cocktail DB, Caperitif was a “sweet deep golden quinquina.”

One of the possible substitutes offered to Capertif is Kina Lillet.

Kina Lillet was a classic French quinquina imbued with sweet and bitter citruses, including bitter green oranges from French holdings in the Caribbean. The Lillet house is still in operation, but in the 1980s they decided to update the nineteenth-century recipe for modern tastes. Apparently modern drinkers have less need for quinine laced beverages and more need for liquor that is not bitter; thus, the amount of quinine was radically reduced, Kina Lillet became Lillet Blanc (there is also rouge version which I hear is generally unnecessary to life) and a quintessential classic cocktail ingredient is now lost to the ages despite still being in business. What a tease.

It is a rough world.

To sum it up: It would appear that drinking a cocktail mixed with modern Lillet Blanc is an ersatz impression of the original recipe.


What to do?

As I often do, I consulted Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp blog (formerly called Underhill Lounge), where I found an interesting solution. He (and many other cocktail-centric folks who have caught on to the magic of what I am about to impart) discovered Cocchi Americano, an Italian quinquina still in production using the house’s original nineteenth-century recipe. According to all internet experts on the matter, Cocchi is the substitute for Kina Lillet, a very close taste comparison.

I decided to see if I could track down some Cocchi in Chicago and use it in place of both Kina Lillet and Caperitif, in order to attain my heart’s desire: The Jabberwock, named for the poem by Lewis Carroll, featured in Through the Looking-glass, the second Alice book.

As one might infer from the title of this post, I was unsuccessful in my quest to make a nearing-authentic Alice in Wonderland themed cocktail. Cocchi Americano eluded me.

With my heart set on a “Callooh! Callay!” cocktail, I decided to go ahead with the Jabberwock anyway,  using regular old Lillet Blanc instead of Caperitif quinquina.

I did enjoy my poor man’s Jabberwock, although I am haunted by what might have been. Since last week I found that Ellestad suggests using 1 tsp Amaro Montenegro, 1 oz Dolin Blanc (French vermouth) to approximate Caperitif. I am bookmarking the Jabberwock for a remake in the future, based on his suggestion.

After my Jabberwock incident, I decided to try Lillet Blanc in a cocktail calling for actual Kina Lillet: The Jimmy Blang.

3 Dashes Dubonnet
1/3 Kina Lillet
2/3 Dry Gin

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

The Jimmy Blang takes on warm coloring from the Dubonnet, so the refreshing quality of the Lillet and gin comes as a surprise to the taster who has no idea what they are about to imbibe. We enjoyed it as another great patio apéritif cocktail. I still hope to revisit once I get my hands on a bottle of Cocchi, which I am determined to do.

By the way, Lillet Blanc is a lovely apéritif on its own over ice with a slice of lime or clementine. Once the bottle is opened it ought to be refrigerated and used in a timely fashion. I have been serving it for the past week on non-cocktail nights, and I find myself becoming quite a fan.

Now that we have finally reached the end of this very long blog post, I implore any Chicago area readers who know of store carrying Cocchi Americano to please comment on this post. I am—clearly—very keen to get my hands on a bottle.

As for this coming week, I will be shaking things up a bit by introducing homemade hibiscus syrup to a range of Savoy Cocktails and other beverages. Some time ago I mentioned my interest in cooking with flowers and a fabulous little French cookbook that helps me achieve my floral cuisine goals. Next week I will include the recipe for hibiscus syrup along with those of the cocktails on which I end up experimenting.



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And This Is What Pottermore Is

As promised, an announcement has been made on the Pottermore website. It’s kind of vague and revolves around some sort of enhanced online reading experience.

I just don’t know.

Also those interested must now sit around for over a month if they are selected for early admission, general usage will be open in October.

Hmm, ponderous.

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Busytown Google Doodle: Who Doesn’t Love Richard Scarry?

Sunday’s Google Doodle  was another amazing childhood shout out: Richard Scarry’s Busytown folk brought so much joy to my youth. The tattered tomes still reside in my parent’s basement. It’s a magical place.

Scarry’s birthday was June 5, 1919—hence the Busytown doodle celebration from yesterday.

When I was really  little, I somehow convinced myself that my parents knew Richard Scarry and that the books were actually from him. I have no idea how I came up with this alternate reality, but I it would have been super cool. Super. Cool.

Later today I will probably venture to dig out a battered copy of What Do People Do All Day? and Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town. And I will have a great time reminiscing. I will.

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Update to Little Miss & Mr. Men: Bossy & Greedy Books

I raided my parents’  basement in an effort to locate Lady Lovely Locks and the Pixietails: Silkypup Saves the Day, but instead I came upon my collection of Little Miss and Mr. Men books by Roger Hargreaves, as recently featured by Google and myself.

They’re more than a little battered. There are a few stains. There is also great advice at the end of Mr. Greedy: “Beware of giants!”

It’s just good advice. For children of all ages. Timeless.

P.S. Remember when you could buy a new book for one dollar? Sigh.

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Best Google Day Ever: Little Miss & Mister!

Growing up, I adored the Little Miss and Mr. Men books by Roger Hargreaves. The earliest tomes I recall are Little Miss Bossy Boots (whose boots ran her all over town until she learned not to be bossy) and Mr. Greedy (who ate and ate, got fatter and fatter, but hungrier and hungrier).

When I was in college, Urban Outfitters started selling t-shirts featuring the characters. Guess who owns the Little Miss Bossy tee? I also may have caused a minor scene in a bookshop on Charing Cross Road when confronted by an entire rack of my beloved childhood books, unencountered for many years up to that point.

So much love.

Imagine my delight when I hopped on Google this morning and chanced to spy this logo of joy. Obviously, I clicked through.

Turns out today would have been Mr. Hargreaves 76th birthday, hence the Google-bration.

And there are so many more! So much joy.


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