The Last Romantics

“We believe in love because we want to believe in it.  Because really what else is there, amid all our glorious follies and urges and weaknesses and stumbles?  The magic, the hope, the gorgeous idea of it.”

–Tara Conklin, The Last Romantics

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This past weekend I devoured the new novel The Last Romantics from Friday night until late Sunday.  Quite frankly, I didn’t want to put it down.  Tara Conklin does a masterful job of drawing us into the lives of four siblings, weaving a story I found both arresting and vividly meaningful.

Spanning from their childhood in the early 1980s through to a slightly dystopian 2079, the Skinner siblings deal with the sudden death of their father, their mother’s depression that follows they call only “the Pause,” and the lives they lead in the years that follow.  Conklin deftly explores what love means, and loyalty — how family ties bind and break, pull and twist us into the people we become.  Romantic love is peppered into the narrative, but the overarching theme is familial love, how it shapes us, and the heaviness and the light which it carries.

Conklin’s writing reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver by way of Lauren Groff, yet with her own voice and style that make for a deeply engaging novel, one that resonated with me long after I turned the last page.  A rich, rewarding read.

Three great design books

Right now there are so many inspiring books on design to choose from!  If I had to pick three right now, I’d be diving into these handsome volumes.  Each has a unique point of view, but all feature amazing, quirky, beautiful spaces that I’d love to pore over again and again.  Coincidentally, all three are by incredible women that I am proud to support.

It’s Beautiful Here by Megan Morton

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This is Home: The Art of Simple Living by Natalie Walton

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The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney

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The power of girls

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With everything that is going on in the world right now, it is more important than ever to honor, recognize, and support the power of girls.  The New York Times put together a powerful piece in #ThisIs18, a kaleidoscopic accounting of what 18 looks like around the world.  What makes it especially powerful is that the photos and words are all from girls themselves.  I was humbled and awed by the conviction of these young women, and encouraged by their savvy, grace, and intelligence.  Take a look, and let’s celebrate girls and women not just on International Girls’ Day, but every day.  The future is female.

Modern Art Desserts

After admiring the cover and peeking inside virtually every time I visit Blue Bottle Coffee Co., I finally picked up a copy of Caitlin Freeman’s Modern Art Desserts.  I am so glad I did!  Freeman’s book is a gem.  Formerly of Miette, Freeman clearly knows her way around amazing desserts — backwards, forwards, and sideways, in fact.  What made this cookbook stand out for me was the fact that is not only full of stunning recipes, but also it serves as both a personal memoir and a mini-guide to some of the works at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  While Freeman and her beautiful desserts are no longer at SFMOMA, the cookbook that resulted from her tenure there is a pleasure for the pastry enthusiast and art lover alike.

Each dessert is presented with a photograph of the pastry, an image of the artwork it was inspired by, information about the work and the artist, and Freeman’s own experiences creating the dish.  Then follows the recipe, with clear, clean instructions.  Many of the recipes are quite aspirational — the complex Mondrian cake, for example, takes a whopping two days.  However, specialized supplies and ingredients are sourced in the book, out-of-the-ordinary equipment is highlighted and explained, and a section early on gives a great rundown of both the ingredients and cooking tools you’ll likely need throughout.  Freeman somehow manages to make incredibly complex recipes seem both aspirational and accessible.  Mixed in with culinary feats like the Mondrian cake are slightly lower key options like trifle, sodas, popcicles, and even a savory snack or two, so there are certainly options for those who prefer to measure their recipe timing in minutes or hours rather than days.

Overall I was surprised and delighted by Modern Art Desserts.  It is a diverting read above and beyond being a good cookbook.  If you’re a modern art fan, give this one a whirl.  Freeman has given us candy for the eyes and the taste buds in equal measure.

Dog Songs

While I was blissfully meandering in a bookstore in Seattle, I stumbled upon Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs.  I find her work to be meditative, insightful, and beautiful, and this slender volume about dogs did not disappoint.

 

Some of the poems seem to be simple, lyrical observations, but gradually you find yourself drawn into contemplations about life, love, and the simple joys and sorrows of being.  I read the whole book in a single quiet afternoon, my dogs sleeping at my feet — and in hindsight, I cannot think of a more restorative way to spend a Saturday.  Oliver’s keen eye and unabashed incorporation of nature into the fiber of her life make Dog Songs a unique entry in the canine companion poetry milieu.  A quietly moving read.

Like a rocket

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El diamante sonríe por la tarde (1947), Joan Miró

 

“The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

–Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Happy Friday, friends.

Little Free Libraries

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I’m back from Seattle and will have a post about that delightful city soon, but in the meantime, let’s chat about little free libraries.  On our trip we stayed in the charming Seattle area of Ballard, and I saw tiny free community libraries whenever and wherever we walked.  They perched near the street in front of homes like oversized birdhouses, beckoning curious readers and fostering a lovely sense of community.  I. Was. Smitten.

After a bit of research, I found that Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by inspiring book exchanges all over the world.  Statistically, children growing up in homes without books can lag about three years behind their peers with lots of book access, and these tiny neighborhood gems aim to bridge that gap by providing 24/7 access to books in areas where they might otherwise be scarce.  Currently Little Free Library has over 70,000 libraries in 85 countries, with millions of books borrowed annually.  On their site they offer free instructions for building little libraries, support for obtaining free or discounted books to stock them, and a store where you can buy kits and pre-built models if you’d rather not build one for yourself.  On the user end of the spectrum, their site offers a map to help people find and share books wherever they are.  So great!

It makes me deeply happy that people are building their communities around a shared love of reading this way.  If I didn’t live so close to a good public library, I would add one to our yard.  Maybe I still should?  Either way, I know there is a thriving network of tiny libraries in Ballard, WA, to inspire me.

 

Monday reading

Good morning!  Here are a couple great things to start off the week:

Selfishness or survival?  Anne Helen Petersen gets it.  Her piece simultaneously discusses four different narratives surrounding the low American birth rate while also deftly and intelligently peeling back the layers regarding the choice to not have children and the impossible financial position that many young people find themselves in.  A great read.

A brave new world, indeed.  Bravo to Universal Standard and J. Crew for working towards truly inclusive sizing.  Shop the collection here!

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Fates, Furies, and Florida

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A couple weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of attending a book talk by none other than the amazing Lauren Groff.  She was at Vroman’s in Pasadena promoting her new book Florida with grace, poise, and temporary tattoos (!) for all of us in attendance.  As a huge fan of both Fates and Furies and Arcadia, it was a delight to hear her speak about reading, writing, politics, and a love/hate relationship with Guy de Maupassant.

Groff treated us first to a reading from the first story in Florida, “Ghosts and Empties,” followed by a refreshingly direct Q&A session.  When asked about a writer’s responsibility and political engagement, for example, Groff deftly explained how she abandoned a recently finished draft just after the 2016 U.S. elections — that it was a kind of book we could no longer afford to indulge in.  She does not write overtly politically, but rather tries to work sideways to get to the things that really matter right now.  She finds she is writing less and throwing more away, as I am, so I found immense comfort in her assurances that it is okay to admit we are struggling as writers in the current environment.  I was likewise pleased by her encouragement to spread empathy and be kind to each other.

Groff’s writing shows great consideration for words, so I was intrigued but not surprised by her ability with languages.  She spent time in France as a teenager where she discovered and loved the work of Guy de Maupassant, that master of the short story form, before beginning to hate him as an avatar of toxic masculinity.  To this day she tries to read in French at least once a week, and admits that French has deeply affected her English.  She self-deprecatingly says she is terrible at writing in French, although she she’d love to do so.  Or Italian.  Or German.  (I find written German to be deeply satisfying from a grammatical perspective because I am such a nerd, so I can relate.)

An anecdote about reading to her son, and how it created a special bond between them, really resonated with me.  It is amazing how reading together gives you the same points of reference.  You share and can understand each others’ canon.  It crystallized for me how much I enjoy reading the same books as a close friend, or watching a show with someone dear.  It enhances your ability to speak each others’ language.

As far as her new work, Florida is where she calls home, so the stories she weaves in this collection are steeped in a sense of place all the more authentically.  The women she writes about are her but not her.  And while she lives with her novels every day, her short stories orbit in the back of her mind until they demand to be written.  Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes out of her orbit.

Thank you, Lauren Groff!