Selasa, 22 Oktober 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

The Heart Of The Plate


MOLLIE Katzen believes "vegetarian" should be used as an adjective rather than a noun.

"I like to avoid the labels that keep people in different camps," says the Berkeley, California-based cookbook author, whose 1977 Moosewood Cookbook served as a Rosetta stone of sorts in giving the larger public an awareness and understanding of vegetarian cooking.

Her newest book is called The Heart of the Plate. The plant-centred recipes are designed to be adapted – dairy items, say, can be removed to make a dish vegan. Or, conversely, one might want to pair a piece of leftover steak alongside. Katzen is cool with wherever a cook wants to go. For her today, vegetarian cooking is less about keeping meat off a plate and more about putting on more vegetables.

"Once you buy it and use it, it becomes your book," she explains. "You can turn the recipe into something that is completely yours."

Katzen helps you do that with a chapter devoted to sauces, vinaigrettes, toppings and other touches to allow all different types of eaters to customise a common dish to their own tastes and beliefs.

Don't worry about the "new generation" in the subtitle. It's not a reference to age, she says, but an attempt to stress how important it is to learn new things and new flavours. Katzen, too, has been evolving as a cook.

"A beautiful plate of food, simply cooked, maximally flavored, and embracing as many plant components as will harmoniously fit" is how she defines her cuisine in the book. "My food is sharper, livelier, spicier, lighter, and more relaxed than it used to be."

"I still cook from the Moosewood Cookbook sometimes," Katzen says. "I'm much more inclined to keep the food as different components where I once put it all into one place, added sunflower seeds, eggs and cheese, and baked it.

"My initial cooking was to swap-in for the meat ... Now, my cooking is more confident. This idea has been around enough. And ingredients are so good. There is brighter, prettier produce and beautiful olive oils now. It was hard to find even fresh broccoli then and you couldn't find good olive oil when I started cooking." – Chicago Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Related story:

Recipe: Brussels Sprouts Gratin With Potatoes And Spinach

The Luminaries


This year's Man Booker prize winner is an intricately crafted shaggy dog story.

The Luminaries

Author: Eleanor Catton

Publisher: Little, Brown & Co, 848 pages

ELEANOR Catton is an extraordinary writer. Her first novel, The Rehearsal (2008), was a marvellously peculiar and technically perfect story of a story within a story – or stories, actually – that had the reader's mind spinning with the complexities of its narrative invention. The plot – a group of teenage girls acting out the consequences of a sex scandal at their school – was set loose from the very premise of storytelling.

Whether what was taking place on the page was an account of events or only words in a script, no more than a rehearsal for what may or may not have happened ... none of it mattered. It was wild.

The Luminaries is every bit as exciting. Apparently a classic example of 19th-century narrative, set in the 19th century, with all the right-sounding syntax, clothing and props, the project twists into another shape altogether as we read, and continue to read.

The book is massive – weighing in at a mighty 832 pages. But every sentence of this intriguing tale set on the wild west coast of southern New Zealand during the time of its goldrush is expertly written, every cliffhanger chapter-ending making us beg for the next to begin. The Luminaries has been perfectly constructed as the consummate literary page-turner.

But it is also a massive shaggy dog story; a great empty bag; an enormous, wicked, gleeful cheat.

For nothing in this enormous book, with its exotic and varied cast of characters whose lives all affect each other and whose fates are intricately entwined, amounts to anything like the moral and emotional weight one would expect of it. That's the point, in the end, I think, of The Luminaries.

It's not about story at all. It's about what happens to us when we read novels – what we think we want from them – and from novels of this size, in particular. Is it worthwhile to spend so much time with a story that in the end isn't invested in its characters? Or is thinking about why we should care about them in the first place the really interesting thing? Making us consider so carefully whether we want a story with emotion and heart or an intellectual idea about the novel in the disguise of historical fiction. ... There lies the real triumph of Catton's remarkable book.

As in her first novel, Catton manages her multiple storylines with deft assurance, winding up a skein of a mystery that's rich with secrets, sex and opium, a doomed love affair, murder and double dealing. It opens like a play, in a town called Hokitika, late at night – with an English gentleman blown through the door of the local inn, out of the weather and straight into the midst of a very strange crowd indeed.

"The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met. From the variety of their comportment and dress – frock coats, tailcoats, Norfolk jackets with buttons of horn, yellow moleskin, cambric, and twill – they might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of the city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them."

The sense of staginess here, of set design and costume and figures placed in a room, recalls Henry James's The Art Of The Novel, when he writes about managing plot and drama as though directing a play. Full of theatrical detail and action that reads as carefully as stage directions, everything about the way this story is presented makes us think of James's "divine principle of the scenario".

In the same way, this drama relies on the confessions and revelations of its players who relate their version of events – it's both a realistic-seeming account of characters' individual actions and a melodramatic, highly wrought, artificial piece of tale-telling.

The way that tale is told changes throughout the book, too, moving from a story told by insiders to an outsider, to the narration of a series of connected events, finally ending with its beginning. All the time, Catton wants us to be aware that this is fiction we are involved with (an authorial presence is generally referred to; there are numerous hypertextual moments that underline that fact, with the word damned appearing as d---ed; introductory summaries are given at the start of every chapter). Her commitment to the artificiality of her project is complete.

But the problem is that as we read on, we don't read in. It is a curious act of double-writing that Catton has achieved – that she could write more and more about a thing, only to have it matter less and less. The characters don't gain depth as the story proceeds; they slip further away from us. The more words given to them, the less we know anything much about them. The last section of the book is an act of bravado analepsis, with chapters thinning out into mere pages as the backstory is laid out.

The same intriguing, undoing kind of writing works on the world of the book, too; its setting and details. So we may read and read about the weather, about the interiors of rooms, the costumes people wear, the food on their plates, the New Zealand riverbank and mists and waters, the sound of its rain hammering on a tin roof.... Yet these details don't come together to be compressed into a reality we care about and inhabit.

If the book has been made as a kind of stage, then these are the stage sets – not real to look at, only made of paper and glue. In the end, Catton's wondrous 19th-century New Zealand and its rivers of gold may as well be as far away from us as the colony would have been once to a British reader. Out of sight, out of mind.

Those girls in Catton's first novel, literary constructs though they may have been, gathered up our concern as the story went on. We were involved in what happened; we cared about those words on the page. Here, it is as though the opposite is made to be the case.

Catton has created her own world in The Luminaries – an upside-down, southern hemisphere place with its own astrological calendar that casts its own kind of influence, its own light. The clue is in the title, after all, and in the confusing frontispiece that the publishers might have made more of, to alert the general reader to the fabulous trick of the book they hold: that this great, intricately crafted doorstopper of a historical novel, with its portentous introduction, astrological tables, character charts and all the rest, in fact weighs nothing at all.

Decide for yourself, Reader, at the end of all your reading, what you think of that: is "nothing" enough? – Guardian News & Media

The Burgess Boys


The Burgess Boys

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 320 pages

ELIZABETH Strout is a Pulitzer prize-winning American writer whose reputation has grown steadily since her first novel, Amy And Isabelle, which was shortlisted for the Orange prize (now the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction). She also works as a lawyer, and her expertise informs the plot of The Burgess Boys, where a legal drama is at the centre of the story.

Among her greatest achievements is the creation of the fictional small town Shirley Falls, Maine, the setting for several of her works, including this remarkable novel.

Shirley Falls represents many places where the manufacturing industry has died, the young people have left and newcomers, in this case Somali immigrants with memories of atrocities and loss, have made their homes.

The Burgess boys, Jim and Bob, are New York lawyers on the verge of mid-life crises. They are remembered in their hometown of Shirley Falls for two reasons; the first is that when they were children, little Bob caused the car accident that changed all their lives.

Until then, the Burgesses were a picture-perfect family who lived in a yellow house on top of a hill.

Then came the day their father left the children in the car for a few minutes while he fixed the mailbox, and it rolled down the hill and killed him.

Bob, disobeying strict instructions, had been fiddling with the gears. It was an event so terrible that the family has never spoken of it.

The other reason for the Burgess family's local fame came later, when Jim, as the defence lawyer in the celebrity trial of a popular singer, obtained an acquittal. That case, later overshadowed by the OJ Simpson trial, launched him on a glittering career.

Jim is the golden boy to whom all the family looks for salvation: brother Bob, in contrast, works for legal aid, is divorced and childless.

Then there is Susan, the third sibling, who has stayed behind in Shirley Falls. Susan was a pretty child but nobody liked her very much. Perhaps if her daddy had lived she would have blossomed, but as it is, her husband has left her and she lives with her teenage son Zach, who precipitates the crisis of the novel.

Zach, fatherless, friendless, fits the profile of the kid who turns a machine gun on his classmates, but instead he perpetrates a hate crime of the most monumental offensiveness, ignorance and ineptitude during Ramadan.

Susan calls her brothers for help, and Bob and Jim return to Shirley Falls when Zach is arrested and the incident gains nation-wide notoriety.

It might come as no surprise that Jim, who habitually belittles his little brother – his terms of endearment are "Knucklehead" and "Slob-dog" – is not all that he seems, or that his snobbish wife,

Helen, though she is accorded her own poignancy, is essentially hateful, or that neither was the perfect parent they supposed themselves to be.

Their hubris, complacency and, on occasion, malice, will be punished, and yet they are not condemned entirely.

In the end, though, this is not a story of good versus evil but a complex and bold examination of political and family relationships, of the long-term effect of guilt and lies, of people's motives and failures and muddled intentions.

The image of the Ramadan incident persists, like the yellow house on the hill, as strongly as anything in this engrossing, memorable and, despite everything, hopeful bulletin from Shirley Falls. – Guardian News & Media


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