Friday, November 10, 2017

     I'm keeping track of how many books I read this year, just for fun.  I follow a few reader/writer Facebook pages that ask for a monthly accounting of that number and I am humbled by the sheer numbers of books read by dedicated readers.  As of November 1st, I have read fifty books, far below the tally of many, but right on track for me.  My yearly total for 2016 was 54 - my goal for 2017 is 60 books.  So I need to keep my eye on the prize.
     I generally prefer the classics in fiction.  I am listening to Charlotte Bronte's Villette right now on Audible, unabridged, brushing up on my conversational French. But this year, I have veered off my usual path to read modern fiction titles.  I guess you could say that modern fiction is my 2017 reading theme.  In the process, I've discovered some wonderful books, the best of which is John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany.
     It's hard to talk about A Prayer for Owen Meany without getting sentimental, even a little tearie - I loved the book that much.  The prose is real, something I love about Irving.  The characters are people that you would like to know, people you wish were sitting in your living room right now.  Such is the case with Owen Meany.  Owen was a completely good person.  Not without faults, granted, although his mother and father believe he was the result of immaculate conception.  He had a temper, exhibited occasional bouts of pride, but all in all, Owen was the type of person anyone would want as their best friend.
     The story is set in the fictional New Hampshire town of Gravesend, a place familiar to anyone who has lived in New England.  I was partially raised in New Hampshire, and I recognized the feel of the town immediately: small, quiet, severe and conservative on the surface and bubbling with ebullience and rebellion underneath.  The book covers the time between the end of World War II and the Vietnam War, and the story is told in flashbacks, from the point of view of the narrator, Owen's friend John Wheelwright.
     Owen Meany is small in stature, oddly made, with a big heart, a sharp intellect, and an outspoken manner.  His opinions garner righteous indignation in fellow Gravesend residents, even though they know that Owen is 100% right.  Owen's lifelong best friend was John Wheelwright, although Owen was the cause of John's mother's death.  If these two facts seem incongruous, you are correct.  They are.  But A Prayer for Owen Meany is just that, a prayer for his safety, in thanksgiving for his innate goodness,  his love and ultimately, his forgiveness.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

     Last night I said goodbye to a close friend, Vikram Seth's book A Suitable Boy.  I began reading the 1474 page tome on June 22, 2016, slightly more than a year ago.  During that time, other books have come and gone, books that I have loved, liked, or merely tolerated.  But none became a part of me the way that Seth's A Suitable Boy did.  Every night before closing my eyes, I picked up "the book" and was transported to the India of the nineteen fifties, to Brahmpur and Calcutta, to the banks of the Ganga, onto dusty trains, into shaded gardens and crowded alleys.  The last words I saw before sleep were Lata and Maan and Pran and Savita, Mrs. Rupa Mehra and Mahesh Kapoor, Kabir and Amit and Haresh.  They peopled my waking and sleeping dreams.
     Each day, I counted my reading progress in page numbers, willing the characters to move ahead, to bring me closer to the end of the book. I had to know.  Who was a suitable boy for Lata?  But then, when the final page was in sight, I hesitated.  I had been carrying the two and a half pound book around the house with me for a year, but now I put it down.  I didn't want to read that last page.  I didn't want to find out who Lata Mehra had chosen as her husband, her "Suitable Boy." For 1400 pages the suspence had been killing me and now, right at the finish line, my horse balked.  A suitable boy was chosen.
    "No, she can't choose him!" my mind wailed.  Maybe something terrible will happen, I thought in desperation.  Maybe the wedding will be called off.  Maybe no one is suitable for Lata Mehra...but I won't spoil the book or its ending.   You'll just have to read A Suitable Boy and find out for yourself if Lata's choice was suitable!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dining updates for Piccolo Spoleto

     Concerts, plays, art shows, performance art - Hoorah!  Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto have begun, with theater-goers and concert attendees working up an appetite for more than Charleston culture. So, while dashing between performances, plan to sample the culinary gold of the Lowcountry.  Most of the restaurants I have reviewed on my blog are still thriving and worth a visit but a few, alas, have closed or are no longer what they once were.  I've also added four new mini-reviews.

     Restaurants that have closed, and will be sadly missed:
P.I.E. Bake Shoppe
Brasserie Gigi
The Smith Street Bull Street Gourmet, but the King Street location of Bull Street Gourmet is thriving.  

New favorites to try:  
Poogan's Smokehouse - Located in the space vacated by Social, P's Smokehouse excels at Lowcountry comfort food: barbecue, cast iron skillet cornbread, and collards.  Their bar makes the best mint juleps in town.
Lewis Barbecue - Delightful atmosphere, with dining inside or out and a full bar with bar menu.  Their pulled pork and brisket is moist and flavorful, and especially good when paired with the creamy lemon slaw.
Carmella's Wine and Dessert Bar -  I have been eyeing this delightful dessert/wine/coffee bar for some time and was recently charmed down to my socks by their Italian Rum Cake.
Worth skipping dessert elsewhere and finishing your evening at Carmella's, or better still, skip dinner altogether and just eat dessert!
Twenty Six Devine - Full English tea.  Need I say more?  

Reservations required, as this lovely tea room prepares just enough to share with those who plan ahead.  

Restaurants that Charleston E. Diner can no longer recommend:
Poogan's Porch - (Hoped the quality would improve with the new chef in 2016, but sadly it did not.)
3 Matadors Taquileria - (same menu, poor quality)