Okay, this is ridiculous. That list on the right sidebar of unblogged books just gets longer and longer and I’m getting more and more stressed about it. So I’ve decided to sit here in my kitchen and write short little pieces about all of those books while I make potato salad. As a bonus for sticking with me I will also give you my potato salad recipe which I adapted from one at epicurious.com (to omit the bacon and make it vegetarian-friendly).
1. Boil 3 lbs. small new potatoes for about 15 minutes, until tender.
Servants of the Map by Andrea Barrett
Good. Old fashioned writing, stories about explorers and scientists from the 19th century through the present. Develops themes of science and exploration, and how the two overlap. Also raises questions about the conflict between science and religion. Sounds dull but isn’t. Grade: A
2. Drain, cool, and peel potatoes. Slice and place in a bowl, preferably an old yellow bowl that belonged to your grandmother.
The Map Thief by Heather Terrell
A mystery about an ancient map which has been stolen from a Chinese archaeological dig. The main mystery features a modern-day woman who specializes in recovering stolen art, but we also get chapters from the POV of the map’s 17th century creator, and various characters throughout history who have stolen or made use of the map for their own purposes. I was kind of in the mood for this after reading Servants of the Map but this wasn’t as good. The writing was a little pedestrian and I’ve forgotten a lot of the story already. Grade B.
3. Finely dice one small onion and two cloves garlic and sauté in ¼ cup vegetable oil. Allow to cool.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Really really good. This is a fictionalized story of Mary Anning, a 19th century working class woman who was a skilled fossil hunter in Lyme Regis, in England. Anning found the first ichthyosaurus skeleton, among many other important fossils, in the chalk cliffs on the beach in Lyme Regis. Chevalier writes beautifully from the POV of Anning’s friend Elizabeth Philpot (also a real person and a fossil hunter). Anning’s struggles for recognition by the male scientific establishment are infuriating; frequently her discoveries were appropriated by others (men) and only in the last few decades has she gotten the notice she deserves. Like Servants of the Map, this book also raises questions about the relationship between science and religious faith. Chevalier has a nice web site about the book and about Anning. Grade A.
4. To the saucepan containing the onions, garlic, and oil, add: 2 ½ cups vegetable stock, ¼ cup cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons brown mustard, and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce. Bring to boil, boil 1 minute, then cool.
A Proper Education for Girls by Elaine DiRollo
Very funny, very original. Two sisters in Victorian England are raised by their father (who is a collector of scientific and natural miscellany), their eccentric aunts, and an odd assortment of hangers on, including a mysterious man who is building a flying machine on the roof. One sister, after a youthful indiscretion, has been forced to marry a missionary and is banished to India; the other sister works as her father’s curator, spending her days documenting the depth and breadth of his collection. The bulk of the story is the sisters’ efforts to reunite while their father conspires to keep them apart. This book has a high level of whimsy. It reminded me a lot of Daniel Handler’s Series of Unfortunate Events, but for grownups. Grade A.
5. Pour liquid from saucepan over the cooled, sliced potatoes. Toss. Add freshly ground pepper. Serve at room temperature.
Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
Wow, what was this about? I can’t remember even one thing. Oh, wait, now I remember. This was pretty good. It’s another archeological mystery (clearly I am on some kind of roll with these), about some Irish farmers who discover a preserved body in the peat bog. Is this a modern murder or is it an ancient body that has been mummified, like the other bog people found around northern Europe. My one complaint is that the author wasn’t satisfied just pursuing the identity and story of the red-haired bog woman, but had to throw in another complicated mystery as well, which I thought was just a big distraction. Grade B.
That's all for now. I still have a few more to write about but I think I can get to them in the normal course of events.
(Books 29-33, 2010)