28 October 2006

The End. Lemony Snicket.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, which seemed to be sliding down a Slippery Slope in its last few installments, here comes to a satisfying conclusion. Sunny's precocious eloquence resolves itself into a one-size-fits-everybody-above-eighteen-months uninteresting but adequate articulacy, while her mantle passes to infant Beatrice. ("Abelard," Beatrice remarks, to illustrate her understanding of the meaning of a broken heart.) An entirely benevolent serpent offers an apple, to sustain life, but it turns out the apple is of use only to those already in the know--the ignorant sail off to, in all probability, their death. Olaf's dead feet poke their toes into the air. Oodles of lexical items are oddly defined ("the sheep, who had Ishmael in tow, a phrase which here means 'dragged along on the sleigh behind them, sitting on his white chair as if he were a king, with his feet still covered in hunks of clay and his woolly beard billowing in the wind'"). The Little Engine That Couldn't makes a gratifying appearance, and paid is put to peer pressure. And for those who like to worry away at puzzles, mysterious hints abound.

Whether life goes on without another Snicket to look forward to remains to be seen, but after seven years maybe it's time to start over from the Bad Beginning.

21 October 2006

Paradise Fields and Artistic Licence. Katie Fforde.

Last week when I was explaining to Jeremy about the romance writing contest, he commented that in order to write part of a romance one must have to have read lots of romances. Whereupon I claimed that other than Georgette Heyer, I hadn't read any in decades.

Maybe this might sort of be true.

I do read books like Katie Fforde's, however, which I would hesitate to call romances only because of their cover design (pastel colors, line drawings of people in extravagant hats--I have a mystery novel sitting around that looks similar, and have a vague impression of having encountered the occasional tale of mild woe between similar covers) and the heroines' distinct lack of glamour (if it starts off with the protagonist standing in a garbage can trying to compact the contents by jumping on them, it might be enough to make it a regular old not-romance novel).

They do involve pursuit by unreadable, tall, dark heroes, though. Then misunderstanding's resolved (either the misunderstanding or the resolution, or both, having been profoundly improbable) and the convoluted story ends.

A lot of cake baking goes on in these books, and there seems always to be a lot of dog hair everywhere, and a certain amount of clothes shopping, and tea is drunk perpetually.

Maybe it's the tea drinking that makes me like the company of these women. It can't be the dog care, and it certainly isn't the tall, dark heroes--not that I have any objection to a tall, dark hero as such, but these ones are just too irrational and inconsistent to be appealing.

But I do like these women and their resourcefulness (one of them keeps matches and candles handy so she can set off the smoke alarm when she needs an excuse to end a tedious phone conversation) and mild eccentricity. I suppose it doesn't matter much that the objects of their affections seem inadequate, as long as those objects are there to throw the heroines into an interesting state of mind.

20 October 2006

The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. Emma Donoghue.

Here are tales of odd-behaved women of earlier times, Donoghue set off in each instance by some intriguing detail in a historical record. There's a story about a prophetess, one about an anti-vivisection campaigner, one about the loyal maid who helped her mistress kill four husbands before being burned at the stake (the murderous mistress escaped). There is on almost every page a deeply satisfying turn of phrase, and Donoghue imagines herself well into her people and their times and places. But somehow I still found the brief historical note at the end of each story the most satisfying part.

13 October 2006

Domesticity

Abbreviations

Joy
Joy of Cooking
. Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker

First
What to Expect the First Year
. Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway, B.S.N.

Instructions

"Brownies Cockaigne," Joy, p. 816

In a large, heavy saucepan over very low heat, melt, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

"Black Stool," First, p. 303

In some children, the reaction between the normal bacteria of the gastrointestinal tract and the iron sulfate in [an iron] supplement causes the stool to turn dark brown, greenish, or black.

* * *
"Banana Bread," Joy, p. 774

Beat in the flour mixture until blended and the consistency of brown sugar.

"Strange Stools," First, p. 424

"When I changed my baby's diaper today, I was really puzzled. Her stool seemed to be filled with grains of sand. But she never plays in a sandbox."

* * *
"Basic Pizza Dough," Joy, p. 752

Roll each piece into a ball and let rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 10 to 15 minutes.

"Using a Pillow," First, p. 497

Though some parents start tucking in their babies with a blanket closer to twelve months, most experts advise holding off until at least midway through the second year.

* * *
"Leeks," Joy, p. 380

Swish julienned or sliced leeks in a large bowl of cool water. Let them stand a few minutes while the dirt falls to the bottom, then lift them out with a strainer. Repeat if there is a lot of dirt left in the bowl.

"Bathing Baby," First, p. 136

The first couple of times you give a tub bath, you might want to omit the soap--wet babies are always slippery, but soapy, wet babies are extra slippery.

* * *
"Saag Paneer," Joy, p. 417

Stir until the milk curdles and separates into bits of solid curd floating in the liquid whey.

"Thrush," First, pp. 128-129

Thrush appears in elevated white patches that look like cottage cheese or milk curds on the insides of a baby's cheeks, and sometimes on the tongue, roof of the mouth, and gums.

09 October 2006

Impermissible Punctuation

I seem to be the most dreadful copycat. Alice made a Blogger blog, so I did too. Karl--well, never mind exactly what Karl did, but I copied him. Brenda reviewed restaurants, and along trotted little cousin behind her.

And then Mistress Bell got obsessed with a romance-writing contest.

I am all too easily influenced.

Thus Friday night found me, large bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter close at hand, typing away at my version of Chapter 4 of the collaboratively-written Regency romance currently under production at the absurdly pink-and-blue Avon FanLit site.

"Ho, clever me," said I to myself. "I managed to produce this lovely Georgette Heyer pastiche in a mere three hours. Now I must go to bed, so I can get up in the morning and do some proofreading. But this I am not going to proofread--why go to all that trouble when no one's paying me?" (I don't properly balance my checkbook anymore, either, now that I do so much arithmetic at the office.) "I'll just run it through the Word spellcheck, and the rest of the mistakes can just stay in."

And so what did Word tell me?

"Semicolon use (consider revising)."

It didn't say there was anything wrong with my semicolon use; semicolon use is just inherently suspect, evidently.

I may be overly biddable, easily led to squander my time at all manner of rather-less-than-clearly-and-obviously-productive-or-laudable pursuits (Alert! Alert! Excessively compounded modifier! Consider revising!), but occasionally I do exhibit a little resolution and backbone.

I did so on Friday.

My semicolon stayed in.