Tuesday, August 25, 2015

     A Peach of a Pair

     South Carolina native Kim Boykin was in Charleston recently, promoting her newest book,  A Peach of a Pair.  I was lucky enough to meet the author at the Blue Bicycle Book Luncheon held at Hall's Chophouse on King Street.  We were treated to a delicious meal and the hospitality that Hall's is known for, as well as an insider's view of the publishing world.  Ms. Boykin is a lively, interesting speaker and a very talented author.

     A Peach of a Pair is set in and around Columbia and Camden, South Carolina in the early 1950's.  It is at once a road-trip book, a love story, and a study of the complicated relationships that can exist within families.
     The "Peaches" are elderly, spinster sisters Emily and Lurleen Eldredge, proper Southern ladies who have secrets to keep and stories to tell.  Enter Nettie Gilbert,  a college senior with secrets of her own.   Hired as the sisters caregiver by handsome Dr. Remmie Wilkes, Nettie soon learns that both love and forgiveness are needed to mend her broken heart.
     Told alternately from the perspective of each elderly sister, the college coed and the young doctor who cares for them all, A Peach of a Pair is a page turner.  I carried the book around with me for three days until I reluctantly finsished it.  I didn't want it to end!
     It's also the first book in a long time that has made me cry real tears over the well-formed characters and poignant storyline.  Jealousy, betrayal, forgiveness and ultimately love shine bright in A Peach of a Pair.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

by George Eliot
(pen name, Mary Anne Evans)

     My path to Middlemarch was circuitous.  I read a review of another book, My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead and although Ms. Mead's book sounded interesting, I couldn't read it.   How could  I read a book written by someone who had spent her entire life obsessed by Middlemarch when I had not actually read Middlemarch myself?   So I purchased both books, then jumped  into George Eliot's nineteenth century, eight hundred page tome.
      My reaction to Middlemarch was one of delighted surprise.  I was entertained and above all, I was enchanted.  Set in the Midlands of England, the same magical countryside that housed the rabbit warrens of Watership Down, Middlemarch is a country town that is at once bucolic and busy.  Inhabited by a fascinating assortment of characters, both working class and landed gentry, the inhabitants of Middlemarch never fail to behave in interesting and surprising ways.
     And whether you are hoping against hope that Dorothea does not marry the much older Mr. Casaubon, which she unfortunately and unhappily does, or you are cheering for young Will Ladislaw to win Dorothea's heart once she finally becomes a widow, there is not a single page that does not draw you into their dramatic lives.

     I'll warn you that reading Middlemarch is addictive.  It is also fun.  Each page pulls the reader willingly along on a carefully crafted ride.  Eliot's storytelling skill compels you to turn to the next page, plunge into the next chapter, and complete the next section, and there are eight sections in all.
      Immersed joyfully in Eliot's plot lines,  I especially enjoyed Book I: Miss Brooke, which introduces Dorothea, a serious-minded innocent, Book V: The Dead Hand in which you hope and pray for Mr. Casaubon to hurry up and die, for goodness sake and Book VIII: Sunset and Sunrise where loose ends are finally tied up, the book provides everything a reader needs for a delightful literary experience.  Eliot creates sympathy where there should not be any, offers forgiveness where there should be regret and judgement, and even inserts sardonic humor into every chapter.  By the last page, I was so invested in the fates of Dorothea, Will Ladislaw, Dr. Lydgate and Mary Garth that I was ready to scream if the story lines were not concluded to my satisfaction.
     Middlemarch has become one of my favorite books and I am already anticipating reading it again.
 I freely admit to being obsessed by the foolishness, the innocence and the wisdom that is Middlemarch.

    Now that I was satiated and enthralled by Middlemarch, I felt comfortable beginning Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch.  I looked forward to reading an analysis of Middlemarch, written by someone who was at least as charmed by George Eliot as I was.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Mead's analysis of Eliot and her prose is lacking something.  Her take on Eliot and Middlemarch is dark and rather unpleasant.
     As much as Mead insists that she has always been obsessed with Middlemarch, I find that claim hard to believe.  Her observations and analysis lack joy.  Wouldn't a literary work that was central to your emotional life bring you joy?  And wouldn't that joy shine through in your description of the book's characters?  I did not see even a glimmer of that joy.
     I did, however, enjoy the biographical aspects of My Life in Middlemarch,  and if this book had been advertised as a biography, I would have been satisfied.  I suggest that you read Rebecca Mead's book on Middlemarch only if you are interested in reading a reference book, as My Life in Middlemarch is at the very least that.





Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Authentic Mexican Hotspot on East Bay

     Are you looking for the perfect tortilla?  Look no more.  Minero grinds corn in house from Geechie Boy Mill (my favorite), Anson Mills and Masienda to make perfect, tender 6" tortillas. Topped with grilled pork, chorizo, pickled vegetables or just folded and dipped in Queso Fundido, Minero's tortillas are tough enough to hold up without tearing yet toothsome enough to melt in your mouth.
     Minero, located at 155 E. Bay St., is an intimate space that fills up quickly.  Reservations are not taken, so plan on arriving early for lunch (11:30am),  mid-afternoon (3pm), or early bird style for dinner.  My dining partner and I arrived at 11:30am and were seated immediately.  Our table was tucked in the corner, up against the bricked wall which made us feel a bit cramped, though.  (Next time we will ask to be seated more towards the center of the room.)  The dining room was completely full by the time we finished our lunch, with a dozen guests waiting to be seated.
      The menu offers three side dishes, along with a long list of tacos, a few burritos, a salad and  Lamb Shank Barbacoa to share.  My menu favorites were the Queso Fundido, the Chilaquiles and the Taco al Pastor.  The Queso, thick, melted cheese seasoned with roasted poblano peppers and moderately spicey chorizo, is served with a stack of warm tortillas.  Riich and filling, there is enough Queso for two people to share.
     Save one tortilla from the half dozen served with the Queso to scoop up what you may miss from Minero's tacos.  Served on a corn tortilla, the taco ingredients overflow and are exceedingly fresh.  Order the Taco al Pastor for a sweet and creamy combination of avocado and grilled pineapple, served atop a mound of marinated and grilled pork and all for $3.50.
     We ordered the Chilaquiles on both our visits to Minero and were pleased with the flavor, texture and size of the dish.  Heirloom beans, pork and avocado were layered over house made tortilla chips. Then alternating crema, salsa and queso fresco were drizzled over all and topped with a fried egg.  Bring your appetite for this one.
      Minero also serves tall, cold bottles of Mexican Coke, made with cane sugar, not corn syrup, a real treat for teetotalers like me.   Executive Chef Sean Brock has hit a homerun with this authentic Mexican hotspot.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

     Go Set a Watchman, 
A Rehearsal for To Kill a Mockingbird

     I would like to say thank you to Harper Lee for sharing her manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, with us, her reading public.  How lucky we are to be given a rare glimpse at the beginning of her literary brilliance.  The sharp, Pulitzer Prize winning prose of Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was born here, in Go Set a Watchman.
     Lee's characters have grown, changed and in some cases, become more real. Scout and Atticus live on opposite ends of the Eastern seaboard and are poles apart on segregation, racial equality, all things Southern and life in general.  "Scout", now known by her given name, Jean Louise Finch, lives in New York City and is returning home by train to Maycomb County for a visit.  Determined to remain true to herself, bound to speak her mind, Jean Louise is torn between her love of family, her affection for her childhood friend Hank and the disturbing revelation of bigotry in tiny Macomb, Alabama.
     Once Jean Louise arrives at her childhood home, no one behaves the way she expects them to behave and nothing is as she remembers it.  The same can be said for the reader's impression of Maycomb County in the early 1960's.  Nothing is the same.  But go beyond your disappointment in the characters and read on.  Remember that Go Set a Watchman was the foundation for To Kill a Mockingbird and enjoy the discovery of Mockingbird's basic structure, its bones, its blood and its muscle.
     And although the reasons behind the original editor's reluctance to publish Watchman become clear later in the book, the story's potential is also evident.  Many passages exist in Watchman that reappear verbatim in Mockingbird.  Some even draw conclusions that are opposite from the ones Lee drew in the childhood stories of Scout.
     Certainly a good editior would have tightened Lee's prose in Watchman, eliminating a few examples of wordiness and repetition.  It is, after all, an unedited first draft.  But I understand why Go Set a Watchman was published "as is." Ms. Lee did not wish to rewrite the book nor do we need her to do that.  The book stands alone as a rehearsal for To Kill a Mockingbird, a story that began and now ends with the wisdom of Scout Finch.