21 December 2011

(Some Of) My Favorite Books of 2011

It's been a long year in the library...

I'm not too good at making top ten lists, and when it comes to reading, it's really difficult to narrow down.  Still, among the 60 + books I've read this year, some were more gripping, inspiring, or hilarious than others.  I whittled it down to twelve, in date order.  So I guess one favorite per month isn't bad.  I paired some of these with tea, and the rest I'll leave up to you. 

1. The Sherlockian by Graham Moore
One of my Sherlock Holmes - related reads of the year, except this one is a mystery that encompasses modern times and the detective work of Arthur Conan Doyle. 

2. One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
Since 2001, a year without a new Jasper Fforde book is like a month without ice cream: I'll survive, but I won't like it! Even better of course, is when the new book is a Thursday Next novel - that's a 2 for $5 sale on Haagen Dazs pints! (I know they're 14 ounces now, but we pretend.) The latest installment takes place in the BookWorld, where the fictional Thursday Next looks for the missing RealWorld Thursday Next. The newly mapped out BookWorld (particularly Fiction) is well done, a reference to reading on e-readers is made, and now I'm getting excited. I need to read this one again. Have your mechanical butler bring you a nice cup of Rooibos with this one, because it's 'red' tea. Get it? No?

3. The Way We Live Now  by Anthony Trollope
I'm still working through the Barchester novels, but so far I'd say if you only read one Trollope, this should be the one.  It was astoundingly modern, especially for something written over a hundred years before I was born.  It's long but moves swiftly.

4. The Immortal Dinner by Penelope Hughes-Hallet
Imagine spending an evening with John Keats, Charles Lamb and William Wordsworth without having to pick up a book. This is based on the host, Benjamin Haydon's, account of the dinner and also explains the significance of the subjects discussed that evening. If you're at all interested in writers and artists of that time period, and I am, you'll enjoy this fly-on-the-wall experience.  I'd try Tay Tea's 'Muse' herbal blend with this one...because these guys are some of my greatest inspirations.
5. The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan
One of the sad ones - a mystery, a girl who thinks she can fly as investigator, and mental illness.  If you can handle gorgeous writing and depressing reading, then this is your book.  Also, it takes place in Wales. 
6. Eating for England by Nigel Slater
Food, eating and food shopping habits in England. An Anglophile's delight. Have some PG Tips and some real Cadbury chocolate with this one.

7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I wrote about this one already.  Scroll down.

8. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Oh my goodness.  I can't believe I never read this one until this year.  I'm not a fan of 'hostage situations', but this novel makes the experience almost poetic.  You are warned from the beginning that it won't end well, but somehow you manage to move through it and savor the ride.  Tea with lemon and honey...I just think that's what an opera singer would drink.

9. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling
Fun and funny even if you don't watch the Office.  It's too easy to say she's of an Indian background so drink Indian tea, so no...have some Oolong.

10. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
A Sherlock Holmes story, well done but darker than most.  If you know most of the actual Conan Doyle stories, you'll pick up a lot of references. 

11. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
I love it when men learn life lessons from Jane Austen.  It turns her into so much more than a chick-lit writer. 

12. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
Did I mention I've been to Peru?  It's been years, but reading this more adventurous trip (I just took the train from Cuzco - no hiking.)  It's easy enough to pair with Coca Tea...if you're in Peru.  You might have access to a Pisco Sour otherwise (I've had these in Jackson Heights.)

I feel like I should have spent more time on these books here, but I've moved on.  For 2012 I hope to be more thorough when in 'book blogging' mode.  There's always room for improvement!

09 December 2011

Wish You Were Here 1: Van Gogh's Ear Cafe

When it comes to restaurants, New York has it all? Or does it? In my rare excursions outside of my hometown, I have found places that are exceptional enough to warrant a return trek in the future. Because of this, I'm establishing a 'Wish You Were Here" feature, meaning why don't they have something like this in New York? Readers might object - they may be familiar with something that resembles this cafe or that shop. This is a possibility since I haven't been to every business in the five boroughs. So feel free to submit your substitutes. I'd be glad to give it a go - unless of course it's the horribly overpriced version (which means it's not really a substitute, is it?)

The morbidly-named Van Gogh's Ear Cafe is located in Union City, New Jersey. There's a college nearby, but otherwise this was the only place that seemed to come even close to a student hangout. The neighborhood is almost bizarre: nearly every store on its block and the others nearby were hair salons. I have never seen so many salons in one place. Seriously, if you are ever in this area, before you relax in the cafe, just explore a little bit. You might find a really good deal on a haircut.

With your fresh coif, you can enter the warm cafe and, if it's not too busy, you'll have a choice of plush chairs or a nice table. You could come alone or with a group and be suitably seated. You don't have to be a hipster to fit in here: I saw little kids and elderly folks along with woolen-capped bespectacled youngsters. And this is a relief. In any some couchy places around Astoria, for instance, you're mostly surrounded by "I knew this place before it was cool" types, which I've had up to here and back again. This in itself makes me hesitant about having a Van Gogh's ear in New York. Pretentiousness is inescapable.

I mean, check out the entertainment.  He's just some guy from the neighborhood, no quirkiness, no irony, just playing classical tunes on his guitar.  It was unobtrusive but enjoyable. 

I had a Thin Mint Latte, which would have been dessert enough for me, though the warm and oh-so-perfect for autumn Apple Crumble was wonderful.  There's a full menu of food, drinks and desserts, and it doesn't go overboard on the Van Gogh theme.  Next time I'll have to try the loose leaf teas.

We of course sat by the bookshelves.  The books were on sale, but the selection was nothing to write home about.  To me, this was the only downside.  You want to sit for a while and relax with a book, but if you didn't bring one of your own (and for once I was lax on this end), you might feel a little antsy. Lesson learned.

So, while it would be nice to have a place like this within walking or subway distance from home, it would probably be a disappointment because it'd attract crowds who'd likely buy one coffee and spend hours with their laptops trying to be noticed.  You know what I'm talking about, Starbucks.   Anyway, it's a short bus ride from Port Authority, and honestly the views were worth it.  We passed a library in Weehauken that looked like it was out of a fairy tale.   If you can't get it to come to you, you must make the journey.  I sound like a fortune cookie.
Posted by Picasa