November might be the best month of the entire year. The weather is finally juuuuuust the right mix of pleasantly brisk but still bright and happy, apple-derived and -flavored things abound, and, of course, November has the year’s best holiday, Thanksgiving! (Sorry, Christmas.) There’s plenty of other great times in November, though! Click READ MORE to find out what’s going on!
November 1st is National Authors’ Day! An author is to book lovers what a great chef is to gourmands, what an oasis is to dehydrated desert travelers, and what a favorite teddy bear is to children. American writers, from Hawthorne to McCarthy, from Poe to Hemingway, have isolated, distilled, described, and defined America, what it is to live here, and what it is that makes Americans who we are.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to pick a favorite American writer, so I’m going to give you my top 5!
5. George R. R. Martin! — Not necessarily part of what you’d call classic American literature, but my fantasy obsession runs too deep for me to mention favorite American writers and not include him. If you love the TV series (i.e., if you have a pulse), give the series that the show is based on, A Song of Ice and Fire, a try! They’re pretty great!
4. Edna St. Vincent Millay! — Since she’s not a novelist, she’s again someone you might not think of as a classic American author, but Millay is my mother’s favorite poet and she is therefore a big part of my literary history. Her work is deeply affecting; a true emotional roller coaster. If you’re not familiar with Millay’s poetry, read The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. It will make you cry, though, so just be advised.
3. Mary Robison! — Her postmodern novel Why Did I Ever is probably my favorite book that I ever read for a class. Reportedly written over the course of several years with each separate snippet/section/vignette on a separate index card, the book is hilarious and touching and the easiest read of any great book ever. Get on it.
2. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr! — To any person who reads English, this man needs no introduction. Cat’s Cradle is one of the best books ever. That is all.
1. Donna Tartt! — Full disclosure, I have not found time to read The Goldfinch yet. I am, however, completely in love with The Secret History. For a person whose other favorite books are LotR and Pride and Prejudice and The Count of Monte Cristo, I never really knew that I could find a (relatively) contemporary, non-historical, non-fantastic piece of literature that I would love as much as I love those other books. But I found it in The Secret History. That book rules.
Everyone knows that the perfect hat is integral to any good costume. Hats make winners or losers. The hat is the king of Halloween. With that in mind, a few customers helped us employees show you some of the best ones. Enjoy!
I think I’ve delineated my feelings about children’s television pretty clearly on this blog. The short version is that I am in love with PBS and all it delightfully educational and adorable programming. And one of the powerhouses in both adorability and educationality is Sesame Street. Seriously, is there a better way to teach children to count than with a purple vampire-type guy with a sweet Eastern European accent? I submit that there is not.
That’s why today, October 9th, is so important! It’s the birthday of Count von Count! Aka The Count! Ah ah ah! The Count was always one of my favorite characters on Sesame Street as a kid. For one thing, he had a cape, which obviously enhanced his awesomeness. Plus, he had a sweet accent! What’s not to love?
I still love all those things about the Count, plus I also love that all his songs have this great Roma vibe that is totally rockin’. Basically the Count is a guy to celebrate. So make sure you keep careful count of your celebratory drinks in his honor tonight! (Thirteen! Thirteen shots! Ah ah ah!)
We had a really great discussion about Aimee Bender’s “The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.” Even though the book left many of us feeling confused and slightly let down, there was a lot to love in Bender’s writing style and the book definitely made us ask a ton of questions about gender roles, the ways different people deal with difficult emotions, and what the heck was going on with the guy who lost his lips.
It was really cool to add such a staunchly post-modern short story collection to our Club’s repertoire, and I for one will certainly be pursuing a few more Bender books in the future, if for no other reason than to find out if she’s always so frickin’ weird. Some of the stories almost everyone liked were Marzipan, about a family dealing with the deaths of loved ones in very strange ways, The Healer, a tale of two mutant girls who grow up in a small town, and The Ring, about a woman, her lover/fiance/thief, and their quest for really great presents.
We decided uncharacteristically quickly that our next book will be Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which is one that at least a few of us have been meaning to read for a long time. Its dystopian world will hopefully sate October’s appetite for the macabre and weird, and it’s definitely a classic, so we’ll be expecting a big turnout and a spirited discussion!
One last point of order: the lovely KU couch will be taking its winter vacation starting today, so our next meeting will be held on October 19th at 6 p.m. at the Shadyside Coffee Tree Roasters (right next door to KU!) and we’ll be sending out our usual email reminder with particulars closer to that date! Hope to see all our favorite book clubbers (that’s all of you!) then and there! <3!
That’s right, friends, September 21–27 is Tolkien Week! (It’s also the best because it’s Banned Books Week, but Jessi will get to that later.) There are plenty of amazing writers in the world. And some day in the future I would love to start Neil Gaiman Week or Robin McKinley Week or something. But one of the only ones (if not the only one) who has his own week of celebration is J.R.R. Tolkien. And it is well deserved.
I’ve talked plenty on this blog about what makes Tolkien such an important author and I don’t want to bore you, so here’s the SparkNotes version:
- Though the fantasy genre has existed pretty much since the dawn of fiction (especially if you consider ancient epics like The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf to be fantasy), Tolkien’s works of the early to mid 20th century gave meteoric rise to the genre’s popularity and inarguably made possible the publication of literally all popular fantasy works since. Seriously, there is not a single writer in fantasy today who doesn’t owe a huge debt to Tolkien.
- Tolkien’s works not only defined a genre, but they also exemplify one of the most difficult and important aspects of fiction: world creation. The completeness of Middle-earth and its inhabitants, down to such details as histories that have no direct bearing on the plots of the major novels, so specific that Tolkien’s languages are equipped with all the trappings of linguistic maturation including etymologies and even dead languages.
- Tolkien’s works and he himself were largely concerned with mythology. Because of this, his work is not not merely telling a story for its own sake, but recognizing and celebrating a story’s significance to the people who told it.
- This list could literally be infinite, so I’m going to leave it at that for now.
This Tolkien Week, we’ll be having our usual Tolkien Quiz contest! Come in and take the quiz! The highest scorer will win a fabulous Tolkien-related prize and everyone who takes the quiz will be entered in a raffle for a $20.00 KU Gift Certificate! So even if you know nothing about Tolkien, you could still win big!
Happy anniversary to one of the most popular and influential sci-fi icons of all time! On September 8th, 1966, the original Star Trek series premiered on NBC. Though its initial low ratings caused it to be canceled after only three seasons (on June 3, 1969), Star Trek’s enduring cult popularity eventually led to syndication and a ton of spin-off material including books, games, five additional TV series and 12 feature films.
Star Trek’s enduring popularity can lately be attributed to the awesome special effects, sterling acting, and excellent writing that have graced the two most recent Star Trek films. Those things were not really a part of the original series, but it garnered and maintained popularity nonetheless. Which brings us to Star Trek’s single greatest attribute: it was science fiction that actually was about science. Sure, the original series may have been laughably overacted. Sure it was incredibly corny. Yes, it literally used the same set every week to portray various alien planets. But none of that matters, because Star Trek’s great saving grace was that it was really all about humanity’s insatiable curiosity. Star Trek taught us that even in three hundred years when humanity is traveling through space with no more inconvenience than what we fly with now, there will still be things to discover. There will still be challenges to overcome. In short, there will still be a search for meaning. Gene Roddenberry was a freakin’ genius.
Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners known to man. There is evidence of humans gathering honey to eat as far in the past as 8,000 years ago (as compared to common table sugar, which, at the earliest, may have been discovered and used around 800 B.C.) Sugar only began to rival honey as a sweetening agent after the Crusades, and it remained a luxury item until the 19th century when it finally completed its transformation to basic human necessity. So honey has been a pretty big deal for most of human history.
And baklava is pretty much the best thing you can make with honey. (Although honey is also great in a variety of beverages like tea and lemonade!) If you’ve never had baklava, let me break it down for you. Baklava is a pastry from the former Ottoman Empire (though variations exist in many of the surrounding cultures and most people think baklava originated in Greece!) and it is made by layering filo, chopped nuts, butter, and a syrup made with honey. And it is damned delectable.
But National Honey Month isn’t all about the amazing treats one can make with honey. Any discussion of honey must include bees, which a) are totally cool, and b) are in decline. Which sucks, both because the cause of the bees’ decline remains unknown and because the loss of honeybee populations would have severely adverse effects on agriculture. (And the amount of honey that might be available for use in baklava and other recipes in the future.)
So make sure you get you some honey this month and make delicious treats with it. And appreciate the bees! They may not be around forever!
And! As an added bonus, here’s the baklava recipe that I use! I generally use pecans or walnuts for my baklava, though pistachios are traditional and I read something recently about using hazelnuts, so I’m probably definitely going to try that some time soon. Enjoy!
1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 pound chopped nuts
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.
2. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 — 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 — 8 sheets deep.
3. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
4. Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
5. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.