Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Life in France by Julia Child (audiobook)

Well-used audiobook from local library.
Are you a fan of Julie & Julia? That movie made me appreciate the cooking (and eating!) of good food, but it didn't make me want to learn how to cook. Listening to the audio version of My Life In France, however, has made me want to learn how to cook.

My current skills in the kitchen tap out at chilli and baked chicken breasts. I've done the unimaginable (for me) and put a cook book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, on my wish list.

As a kid, I did not watch Julia Child's TV show. When it came on or when I got up off the couch to see what else was on, I'd pause on it, want to like it, but would quickly grow bored and turn the dial to something like Woody Woodpecker or the Cubs game.

My Life In France is about Julia's love affair with France, her discovery of French food, and all the people and projects that they brought into her life. From her first meal in France, Julia was hooked. If you watched Julia & Julia and think you know Julia's story, much of what Nora Ephron did with this memoir is true in spirit, yet there is, of course, much that was left out or slightly altered to fit the film's vision.

Julia's story is an inspirational read for those who are wondering what to do with their lives and offers encouragement to those who are already striving to do what they want to do with their lives. Woven throughout are small snippets of life in France, the political toll of McCarthyism, and the challenges and rewards of creative collaboration. It's also the great love story between Julia and her husband Paul. Theirs is an example of a relationship where both partners support each other's interests. They had much in common, but also had passions of their own, which seemed to be the two main ingredients to their happiness.

I own the paperback version of this book (purchased back in the days of Borders) but stumbled on the audiobook at the library. There's lots of French in this book and French is one language that I have never gotten the hang of (not that I'm a whiz with any foreign language). I no longer try to sound out the words in my head when I come upon French in a book and sometimes when listening to it, it sounds a bit like the teacher from the Peanuts (wah wah, wah-wah, wah), but listening to narrator Kimberly Farr speak the French gave this listening experience an extra flavor that I'm sure would have been lost had I read the print version. 

5 of 5 stars.

My Life In France
Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
Read by Kimberly Farr
Random House Audio
10 sound discs (ca. 677 min.)

Read for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge (see my list here) hosted by Roof Beam Reader.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Library: Public Library of New London, New London, CT

Public Library of New London
63 Huntington Street
New London, Connecticut 06320
Public Library of New London--original structure and addition.

Opened: July 1891
Architect: Henry Hobson Richardson/Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge
Style: Romanesque
Materials: pink granite from Worcester with Kibbe sandstone trimming (both harvested in MA)
Original building: 4,000 sq feet
Cost: $65,000 seed money donated by Henry Philemon Haven
Addition: 1974 added 15,000 sq feet

We were in New London, CT the weekend before winter storm Nemo hit and conditions were rather warm and definitely dry. As you can see from the pictures below the Public Library of New London is a stunner. Although my visit was brief due to having a plane to catch, I was fortunate to get a spontaneous tour from librarian Ellen Paul, head of reference, who noticed me taking pictures. As we walked through the building she told me about the history of the library from its founding to the more recent renovations.

The original building.
Beautiful arches make you feel like you're headed into something important, which you are!
The original front entrance is under the arches. Can you see the sliver of the door to the left?
Bronze relief of library founder Henry Haven by Augustus St. Gaudens.
The original front door is no longer in use.
This plaque is on the corner of the building on the State Street side and reads: "The Public Library of New London . . . was the gift to his city from Henry Philemon Haven, one of New London's most prosperous whaling merchants. Construction was completed and the building opened to the public in 1892. The well-known architect Henry Hobson Richardson is credited with the spirit of the style of the building although actual construction was supervised by his successors Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston. (Construction of the addition to the south began in 1975 and was made possible through funds donated by the city, state, foundations, and public subscription.)"

The original plaque is on the State Street side of the building, near the arches.
The view from the library looking down State Street. The parking lot is behind the library, which is just to the right of this pedestrian.
Details make the building--the beautiful rain gutter, stone carvings, contrasting stone colors, and red paint trim all contribute to the charm and historic importance of this building.
The front entrance is part of the new addition.
Lovely sculpture celebrating New London's past and future. Unfortunately I didn't stop to catch the artist's name.
The back entrance. We parked in back and walked in here.
When facing the back entrance this is what you see to your left, the new addition.
When facing the back entrance this is what you see to your right, the original building.
They ain't lyin', this lot is monitored. When you walk in the back entrance there's a sign-in sheet to list your car's make, model, and license plate number. The library is located in the historic and busy downtown area of New London and I imagine they have to protect parking for patrons on weekends and during tourist season.
This open staircase greets you as you walk in the back door. The landing where the light is streaming in is where you'd enter the library through the front door.
Pay phone next to the front door along with used books for sale to benefit the library. I can't recall the last library I saw that still had a pay phone for their patrons, but just about every library has used books for sale.
The checkout/circulation desk faces the front door.
When facing the checkout desk, the adult section is to your right.
I'm no fan of 1970's architecture (is anyone?), but I was thrilled to walk into the adult section and see these double-decker alcoved stacks that harken back to some of the earliest library designs. This is by far the best 70s era addition that I've seen!
A picture from the top floor of the double-stacks looking at the information/reference desk. The light streaming through the widows that line the back side of the new addition and the plants give the room a pleasant warmth.

Behind these two computers facing out is a double row of computers stations for patrons...all of which were in use. It was a busy Saturday morning.
A view on to Huntington Street from one of the alcoves.
As always, I visited Cather on the shelf.
What's a library without a globe? Globes and libraries go way back together.
Now, picture yourself standing again facing the checkout desk. The children's section is to your left and in the original part of the library.
Window detail.
Reading room. Note the chandelier in the next room.
Beautiful oak paneling.

Archway detail.

More gorgeous oak paneling in the next room. That window looks out onto Huntington Street through the arches.

Window detail.
This stone fireplace dominates the room.

Plaque detail: The gentleman pictured is Henry Richardson Bond, a prominent CT banker in the 19th century. The small placard underneath reads, "The Bodenwein Public Benevolent Foundation, Children's Storytelling Room."

Detail of image on the fireplace.

A photo of the room with the fireplace from the late 19th century. The chandelier that now hangs in that room is a replica of the one pictured here.
A parting glance up at the library's facade.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu

I didn’t get much reading done last week due to working on revising a short story of my own to make a contest deadline while on a trip to coastal Connecticut. During the day we explored the historic port city of New London and nearby towns and in the evenings I worked on my story. 

New London Harbor Light

New London is a wonderful old city full of history, great architecture, and a downtown area that’s on the cusp of exciting revitalization. It was once the second largest whaling port in America. I was fortunate to meet three of the most important (in my opinion) people in town: the mayor, the owner of the local bookstore (Monte Cristo Bookshop), and the head reference librarian of the New London Public Library. Stay tuned for my next post which will focus on the New London Public Library which is one the most beautiful libraries that I’ve seen on my travels. It has an addition built in 1974 that--surprisingly for that time period--harkens back to some of the earliest library designs.

“The Paper Menagerie” is the only short story to win the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. I’m not much into fantasy, sci-fi, or magical realism, but it is a short, short story so I gave it a shot. You can download a free copy here. If you're not into these genres either, do not be put off.

I first heard about this story via Ann Kingman's and Michael Kindness's Project Short Story. "The Paper Menagerie" was their January read-a-long story. If you don't yet know about their book podcast, click here and give it a listen.

On the plane back to Chicago I finally got around to reading "The Paper Menagerie." I was immediately drawn into the story and ended with tears streaming down my face and a huge lump in my throat that took some time to fade. I had other things to read with me but turned off my overhead light and sat back to reflect upon the story for the rest of the flight.

As someone who has recently stepped up her own efforts at writing fiction, I am in awe of the emotional effects that Liu creates. I re-read the story yesterday and picked up even more of the subtleties Liu weaves throughout the story. I went into this story knowing absolutely nothing about it and so I am not going to say much about its content here other than its a story about the magic of love and the pain that can result from a lack of communication and misunderstanding. It has the emotional kick of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and the cultural and generational resonance of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake.

Just do yourself a favor and go to this link and download your own copy. Read it, and then share it with others.
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