Book Report: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

I just finished and loved The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which I kept passing over at the bookstore because I thought the cover made it look too cute, too light, too girly.

It isn’t any of those things. Instead, it is a sophisticated, quirky tale about moms and daughters and, in one chapter, a lemon cake. I read it in a day. (And after, you will want lemon cake, absolutely.)

And if you do, I can tell you that The Barefoot Contessa’s lemon cake is fantastic.

Next up: Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot — his latest since he won the Pulitzer for Middlesex in 2002. It’s set at Brown University in 1982, and follows three college seniors as they come of age. It’s also a book about books, so I am predestined to adore.

Also: Nicole Krauss’ Great House, because I loved her novel, The History of Love, to distraction. This one is set, in part, in 1944 — the year my grandparents were married, and is a book about memory, and a big old desk. I can’t wait.

By |2011-10-17T16:41:20-07:00October 17th, 2011|Style|1 Comment

Things to watch and read

What I’m reading . . .

I’m only a few chapters in to The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay, but it’s sweet, smart, literary, and about sisters — which I’m lucky to know as one of the best bonds on earth. (Happy Birthday to my sister Kapri!) Learn more: The New York Times reviews the book here.

What I’m watching:

Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary of the New York Times’ legendary street style and society photographer, who lives the life of an ascetic in a tiny apartment above Carnegie Hall, now in his 80th year. The best movie I’ve seen all year, and even Tyson loved it. I will now be stalking Bill Cuningham on 57th and 5th when I’m in New York this month. Order it on Netflix or Cox On Demand.

Hey, Boo is the story of Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird, one of my best-loved books, and our columnist Ed Montini told me that I’d love this film to distraction. He was right. Also on Netflix. Now, Tyson and I plan to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird together, and I will think of Mr. Kemmer, my 9th grade English teacher at Gilbert High, and try to remember all those great things he showed me in its pages. God bless English teachers.

What are you reading?

By |2011-10-06T16:55:06-07:00October 6th, 2011|Style|0 Comments

Because after August, there is September

In northern California, where I’ve been, the women in beauty shops were talking about fall. The seasons were beginning to change, they said — crisp nights, sweaters in shops, and we watched brave squirrels darting in and out of civilzation trying to stash nuts for the cold.

Our fall feels different, of course, but the experience gave me hope. It’s coming here, too, you know, and I’m looking forward.

1. Tumbled among late-summer peaches and cherries in my grocery basket at the market last night: Hatch Valley chiles. It’s time for those now, too. They remind me of my grandpa and Septembers in his northern Arizona garden. (My favorite Hatch chile recipes here.)

2. New season, new shoes. Sweet Cindy surprised me with an early brithday present when we both lost our heads for these naughty-nice heels at Nordstrom. (October, my brithday month — on the way, technically, wouldn’t you say?)

I’m also having heart flutters for these Tory Burch tasseled glories, $395:

3. My Steve-Martin-as-Renaissance-Man love affair continues, and I’m now heavy into to the actor-novelist-playwright’s joyful bluegrass banjo tunes. (Whither this? I don’t know, but it’s FANTASTIC and I adore.) He’s coming in concert to the Mesa Arts Center Aug. 19. Sample lyric: “Women like to slow dance, they like it for the romance. (Listen here.)

4. School supplies, so full of promise, everywhere you look. (Best movie line ever: “I would send you a bouquet of sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”) A sweet reader alerted me to black and white striped school supplies at See Jane Work and oh my.

I also like this New York Times replica box from Pottery Barn for stashing my paper problems.

5. One last great summer movie: One Day, from the book by David Nicholls, which I’m reading and loving right now. It’s a quirky and literary British love story that stretches over 20 years. Nicholls cool’ structure tells the story episodically by illluminating one day of each year — the same day, actually: July 15. Anyway, read it before Anne Hathaway and Hollywood make everyone forget that it was a book first. The film comes out Aug. 19.  (And thanks Kylie Gad for the recommendation.)

By |2011-08-08T16:22:24-07:00August 8th, 2011|Style|1 Comment

Three Good Books

I’m heartbroken about the end of Borders, because Barnes & Noble might fall next, and what’s after that? Buying books online? I can’t stand it. I need to open covers and read page 237 and walk aisles lined with Hemingway and Alice Munro, touching the spines, feeling encouraged to write better, and more.

What could happen (let us pray): independent bookstores may rise again. Who wants to open a City Lights-Tattered Cover-Powell’s mashup by Postino? I’ll be your first customer, even tap dance out front on the weekends, or bake chocolate chip cookies and pass them out from a basket.

And with that — here’s a peek at what’s on my nightstand, but make me a promise: buy them from a bookstore, OK? Today is Hemingway’s birthday, so if not for me, do it for him.

1. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Hamilton has an MFA in writing, and is chef at buzzy NYC restaurant Prune, and writes sentences about gurgling sauce that made even Anthony Bourdain say nice things. Also: the first chapter is about her family lamb roast — which reminds me that I really need to write the story of my family’s Javelina roast. Anyway, I’m all in.  Buy it here.

2. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

I picked this up at the ever-charming Bay Books on Coronado because I needed something I couldn’t put down, and this book has been sailing around on that reputation. It’s an Amazon jungle-love story-mystery, and Republic reporter Kerry Lengel had a fantastic chat with the celebrated Patchett that you can read here. My writer friends are all asking if I’ve read it yet — so, better start. Buy it here.

3. How Did You Get This Number: Essays by Sloane Crosley


I devoured Crosley’s first collection of sly, quirky stories about being young, and in New York, and bookish, and locked out — which had the best book title ever: I Was Told There’d Be Cake. Crosley was a publicist for Very Big Deal Authors, too — and her literary bent shows through. Also: she’s hilarious. My mother tried to steal Crosley’s new book from me while we were at the beach. Humph.Buy it here.

By |2011-07-21T12:57:11-07:00July 21st, 2011|Style|1 Comment

I need a good book: some contenders

I need something great to read — the kind of something that makes it impossible to do anything else, the kind of book that you take on vacation to read on the beach, and then don’t care if you’re reading in the hotel room, the car, or next to the ocean, because you’re living in those pages. (It’s happened to me: stuck on a sofa in Coronado, the beach blocks away, but I’d have to stop reading in order to find my flip flops, and that wasn’t an amenable option.)

What I’m reading instead: about seven books at once, none of which have hooked me around the neck like The Hours,  Four Seasons in Rome, Everybody Was So Young, High Fidelity, The Imperfectionists.

My editors are looking for lose-yourself books too. Meanwhile, our bookstores are closing and what are we readers to do? Help us: what are you reading?

I’m considering:

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, a novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first spouse Hadley and their years together. When she first meets Hem, Hadley thinks: “I knew I would do a lot of things to keep him happy.” And that line alone is enough for me. Read the NYTimes review here.

My editor Diane adored Goon Squad,  Jennifer Egan’s best-selling novel about rock n’ roll and the music business and friends and relationships — think pop culture with a literary twist. She is bringing it to me tomorrow.

My hair goddess says to read The Hunger Games, but only the first one in the series, not the others. Yes, it’s soon to be a movie, but yes, she says, it’s still good. (And she has good taste in books, so I believe.)

Did you know Steve Martin is a genius writer? Among other things, he wrote Shopgirl, which became a movie in which he starred with Claire Danes. His latest: An Object of Beauty, which is set in the Manhattan art world. I’m a sucker for setting.

On the to-buy list: Room, by Emma Donoghue — the story of a five year old boy who has spent his life in an 11 by 11 room with his mother and the terrifying nighttime visitor Old Nick. My editor, Diane, thinks it sounds a bit like the beauty-in-tragedy story we all fell for in Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful.

Have you heard of any others we should know about? They don’t have to be new, just good. What are your favorite lose-yourself books?

By |2011-04-08T14:09:33-07:00April 8th, 2011|Stories|0 Comments

Alphabet: What I’m Reading Now.

When I need to write well, I read. My editor, Diane, told me that to make music, you have to hear it. To make sentences and stories that are magic, you have to hear those, too.  My friend JR — a writer extraordinaire  —  made me promise that I’ll read good words every night before bed to let them turn over in my mind, seep in.

Almost always, I turn to Anthony Doerr. Tony is one of our best modern writers. What I’d give to live up there in Idaho inside his mind, where snowflakes and Italy and abstract ideas get spun into genius. His latest is Memory Wall. I’m on page 10, and my pages are highlighted with whole hunks of pink and yellow already where the writing is so transcendent that it’s flat unfair.

Another to buy: Four Seasons in Rome, his memoir of a year in Italy, and lucky you — you’re going for pasta and Papal extravaganzas and you didn’t even know it. (Tony: please find a fellowship in France next. Just for me.)

Once, I sent Tony Doerr a fan letter, telling him how he helps me be a better writer. He actually wrote back, which made me love him even more.

Once, my friend Ed Montini wrote a fan letter to EB White. He got a letter back, too. Montini showed it to me. It was written on an old typewriter. I touched it and thought about DNA.

By |2010-10-05T12:41:37-07:00October 5th, 2010|Stories|1 Comment

Book Report: The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman

I’m in the middle of the kind of book that has me calling all my friends who read to say: Now. Bookstore, Amazon, iPad, Kindle, whatever. Call in sick to work/ family dinner/the gym/ life and read this now.

Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists is also the kind of book that has me calling all my book-writing  friends for conversations that go something like this:

“Are you reading it?”


“Did you get to the part where . . . ”


“Did you die over that line in Chapter . . . ”


“Do you hate Tom Rachman as much as I do?”


Rachman (above) is 35, a former journalist, lives in Rome, and wrote the book in Paris. Yes, I know. He’s hard to like already. Also: this is his first novel, and it landed on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review, where a twitterpated Christopher Buckley wrote Rachman a love letter so passionate that it barely made sense.

I hate Rachman because I love him, and would like to be him immediatement. His book is about a newspaper in Rome, and oh, he’s nailed weird newspaper people. It’s witty and observed and filled with genius little twists and moments that make me set the book down and pant for a minute.

This, for example, is a description of Paris that rivals our best Anglophone Paris scribes (Hemingway and Adam Gopnik, I think):

“The grandeur of Paris — its tallness and broadness and hardness and softness, its perfect symmetry, human will imposed on stone, on razored lawns, on the disobedient rosebushes — that Paris resides elsewhere. His own is smaller, containing himself, this window, the floorboards that creak across the hall.”

My head is spinning with Tom Rachman’s brilliance, and his own universe is a lovely place to spend time, filled with snatches of Rome, cups of Italian coffee, vintage typewriters,  Parisian shirts, and a Roman mansion “painted orange and brown, with long yellow shutters, giving the impression of habitable marzipan.”


By |2010-05-10T12:24:22-07:00May 10th, 2010|Stories|0 Comments


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