A basic roast bird

Roast Chicken

I am a fan of a good roast chicken. Done right, it’s delicious and moist and a great, easy way to feed a few people. It takes about an hour, but most of that hour involves you doing something else while the oven cooks the bird. The hardest bit is carving it, I swear.

Roast Chicken
2T butter, melted
salt & pepper
4lb-ish chicken, preferably kosher

Heat the oven to 375. Brush chicken with butter, sprinkle with salt & pepper.

Place chicken in pan with roasting rack, wing side up. Roast 20 minutes. Flip chicken over, so the other wing side is up. Roast another 20 minutes. Flip the bird so the breast is up, and roast until a thermometer inserted in the breast reads 160 and in the thigh reads 165 (this should take about another 20 minutes). Take chicken from oven, place on a cutting board for 10 minutes. Carve & serve.

Who are you?

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

What’s it about?
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is a true crime novel about a German man who didn’t like who he was. So he pretended to be a series of other people, including a man called Clark Rockefeller. He implied that he was an illegitimate Rockefeller cousin, deceived a many, and conned a lot of others out of their money. He was caught when he tried to kidnap his daughter (after he lost custody of her in a divorce).

Why should you read it?
Because it’s a fascinating story, to think that someone could get away with impersonating American royalty for more than a decade without getting caught. It’s a news-y account – Walter Kirn also has a book about Clark Rockefeller, but his is more memoir-ish. This is a report of who Clark Rockefeller was and how he spent his adult life. I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard about him before reading this book, honestly. It seems like it would be right up American’s true-crime alley. It’s a good, light read.

Wuv. Tru wuv….

Landline

What’s it about?
Landline is an adult fiction book about marriage. It uses the story of a woman whose marriage is falling apart to talk about the emotional connection that two people make in a long-term relationship. It also uses the impossible: a landline to talk to the past. Georgie’s husband and children have gone to Nebraska for Christmas; Georgie has had to stay back in LA for work, an incredible opportunity that came up at the very last minute. When Georgie calls them via her cell phone, it’s the present-time husband. When she calls via an old rotary phone connected to the wall, she talks to her husband from their college years. It’s a magic trick the author uses to get the two of them to talk honestly about all the issues that a married couple has.

Why should you read it?
Landline is cute. I like that it’s about a long-term relationship, in a real way. It’s not about falling apart, not really, and it’s not about falling in love. It’s about the ties that come from a life spent together. You don’t see much fiction that concentrates on that, much less that compares it to a friendship of similar length. (I wish that friendship had been a bit more fleshed out.) Also, I was grumpy that the conflict in the marriage came from a woman putting her career first. Can we please stop that trope? But overall: cute. Fun. Not life-changing.

Science and Ethics

Henrietta Lacks

What’s it about?
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is two stories, really. One story is the history of cell cultures and how medicine uses them to research disease. The other story is about Henrietta Lacks’ family. Her cells revolutionized medical research, yet her family continues to be downtrodden and not compensated. They didn’t even know her cells had been taken for many years. It shows how institutionalized racism was (and is?) still in the US, and how that exists side by side with science.

Why should you read it?
Aside from the fact that everyone else already has? Because it’s an interesting story, particularly in conjunction with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article on The Case for Reparations. The law around who owns your cells that have been taken for medical samples was non-existent for a long time. It’s still very, very young. It’s not just Henrietta Lacks and her family. There are other cases involving other people. Should they be compensated for the cells that would not exist without their bodies? Legally and ethically, it’s interesting. Would it be justice to start compensating the Lacks family? The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks both teaches you science and raises ethical questions. It’s worth your time.

Be yourself

A Wrinkle in Time

What’s it about?
A Wrinkle in Time is a YA classic. If you need a refresher: Meg O’Keefe’s father has gone missing. Her mother and father are both scientists, she is the oldest of four, including twins, Sandy and Dennys, and the youngest, Charles Wallace. Events start one night during a late fall New England thunderstorm, when Mrs Whatsit visits to tell them all there is such a thing as a tesseract. Meg and Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin head off on an adventure with Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which to rescue Meg’s father.

Why should you read it?
It really is a classic. It’s wonderful for any scientifically inclined kids to see how their smarts can make a difference, it also illustrates how being different can make you uncomfortable, stand out in a crowd that you maybe don’t want to stand out of. But it ultimately leads you down the path that being different is what makes you you. It’s what makes us all wonderful and individual and worthy of love. And love is the most important thing. It’s a wonderful book.

A Grand Love

The Last Great Dance on Earth

What’s it about?
The Last Great Dance on Earth is the third of three novels about Empress Josephine. This book remains a very intimate portrait of her and her family, their loves and lives. But it’s probably the grandest part of her story. She’s fully in the palace, living the life of an empress, haunted by what happened to Marie Antoinette. Her continuing inability to get pregnant with Napoleon’s heir (likely because of her imprisonment during the Revolution) leads to their eventual divorce, where she moves to a country house (still a small palace). Napoleon is shown to continue to love her – wikipedia even states that “he had married a womb” (of his second wife). Little mention is made of Napoleon’s love affairs. I suppose it is the French myth that a man can remain married to one woman while having sex with many; a woman must remain loyal to her husband. To be fair, the first book does address this point – Josephine learns that this is what is expected of a good French wife. This volume chronicles her downfall – the complications of life at court, his family’s continuing jealousy and scheming, and her eventual death at her home in suburban Paris.

Why should you read it?
Because the three books together make up one story. There is no drop-off in quality from book to book and they really do read as one whole, split into three to make them manageable. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the publisher releases them all as a single volume some day. They are a lovely portrait of life in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.

Intimacy and Grandness

Tales of Passion Tales of Woe

What’s it about?
Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe is the second of three books about Empress Josephine, of Napoleon & Josephine fame. The three books make up one seamless story of Josephine’s entire life; this volume covers the time she marries Napoleon until just after he is crowned Emperor of France. It’s a surprisingly intimate look at their lives, given the sweep of events that lead Napoleon from a capable general to Emperor of France. We learn about their passion for each other as well as the petty jealousies of the Buonaparte family. Though, I suppose, when an empire is at stake, can the jealousy really be petty? It sure reads like it, though.

Why should you read it?
Because all three books are a good overview of what the French Revolution must have looked like, at least a little bit, from the inside. Not to mention that Josephine is an awfully likable character. You feel for her dread of telling her children she’s remarried, her pain at not being able to get pregnant again, her growing love for her husband. It’s a pleasant historical fiction about a very famous woman.

Towards glamour

Night Circus

What’s it about?
The Night Circus is kind of a romance, kind of a fantasy novel, and it’s a lot about glamour. There are two magicians older than we can know, who are in constant competition. Every so often, they each choose a student to compete against the other until one can no longer stand it. The remaining magician is the winner. For this particular competition Celia and Marco are both constructing a fabulous circus. It has amazing things – a tent that is only ice, a fire that never goes out – and its performers never age. Celia and Marco, of course, fall in love. So how will the competition end? Who wins? It’s worth the read to find out.

Why should you read it?
I mentioned glamour above. Glamour is an idealization. Glamour is beauty – these are both very lovely people. The circus, to its visitors, is graceful and mysterious. But what makes it not glamorous to the readers is that we see how it works. We see what it does to Marco and Celia to create this circus and keep it running. They do not lead rich, full lives. And glamour is also about sprezzatura, the art of making an idealization (the circus) appear easy. The circus is work and it wears on our heroes and it is not hidden. You should read The Night Circus because it can make you think about what goes into amazing creations, be they books or movies or buildings. It can be worth asking: what’s edited out? Why? What does the circus’ audience see? What do we see?

Amuse Bouche

The Pursuit of Love

What’s it about?
The Pursuit of Love is about people who are foolish enough to want to always be falling in love without ever being in love. They only want that first flush of excitement and attraction. As soon as it settles down, starts deepening into a more robust relationship, they get bored and flee. both Linda and the Bolter – Fanny’s mother – are constantly flitting from one relationship to another.

Why should you read it?
It’s a bit slow by today’s standards – again. Life moved at a slower pace before radio and television and the internet. But it is delicious. You probably know (or knew) someone who flitted from relationship to relationship, never settling down, always convinced that the next person would be The One. Is it a quest for perfection? Perhaps. Does it ultimately lead to happiness? It depends on how you define happiness. The Pursuit of Love is amusing and fun to read, sympathetic to all its characters, while endorsing none.

A witty woman

Love in a Cold Climate

What’s it about?
Love in a Cold Climate is ostensibly about a young woman who falls in love with the wrong man and lives to regret it. Really, it’s about ogling the upper classes and their love affairs in Interwar Britain. Nancy Mitford was of the upper class, one of the famous Mitford sisters; many people read her books to learn more about them. The houses are lovely, the people are scheming and beautiful and witty.

Why should you read it?
Because Nancy Mitford is, in fact, a good writer. Forget learning about her life growing up, revel in Polly’s idiocy in her choice of husband. Or in Lady Montdore’s grasping of a new image. Or at Cedric’s flamboyance. This book is funny, if a bit slow-moving by modern standards. If you like P.G. Wodehouse, this might be for you.