Wednesday, May 25, 2005

5 books that mean a lot to me.

Finishing up Loup's book meme tonight -

4. Name 5 books that mean a lot to you:

This was an interesting question - there are an awful lot of books I love reading, books that I've been carrying with me since high school, books that I've read until the covers are long gone & rereading sometimes involves getting the pages back in order. I finally ended up scanning my bookshelves just to see what jumped out at me (or in one case, called out from clear out in the kitchen). Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the finalists.

The All New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook - Tenth Edition
Circa 1959. Actually as far as physical books go, this is probably the one I'd pick if for some horrible reason I had to choose one of all of my books to keep & give away the rest. This cookbook belonged to my maternal grandmother - who was a wonderful cook in the Pennsylvania Dutch pinch-of-this dash-of-that comfortable food tradition - I don't know that she would've used this cookbook all that much! However, after she passed away my grandfather had to learn his way around a kitchen - in fact he may have started when my grandmother was in her final illness & he was taking care of her. And that's where this cookbook became so very special. I think this Fannie Farmer was his mainstay, along with advice from my mother & my aunt (both of whom had learned to cook from Grandma). My grandfather was a pharmacist, and like any good pharmacist, he was a very precise person. So in keeping with that, he would type himself instructions for even some of the simplest recipes (minutes to fry a slice of smoked ham on both sides, or how to bake potatoes in their toaster oven) on slips of paper, and put them in sensible spots in the cookbook. At the very front, there's a note to my mom, May 12/85, in his shaky handwriting that starts "You are my 'Julia Child' or 'Fannie Farmer' when it comes to the culinary arts" - it's just a simple request for for a good recipe for deviled eggs - but the cumulative effect of these little notes scattered through it, every time I use it, I can almost hear him again.

The Bodhran Makers
by John B. Keane

A bodhran is an Irish goatskin drum. The Bodhran Makers is a wonderful story of impoverished (but culturally wealthy) farmers in 1950's Ireland, who find themselves opposed by the pious & controlling parish priest as they prepare for their traditional (but in the eyes of the priest, wicked and debauched) annual St. Stephen's day Wrendance. It's a fun book - but it was the direct cause of my being ushered into the New York traditional Irish music scene by someone who started out as a co-worker at Carnegie Hall and now qualifies as one of my oldest friends. She's from an open-hearted Brooklyn Irish-American family with a penchant for adopting people who find themselves far from home & family. It was around St. Patrick's Day that year that I found this book in a Barnes & Noble St. Patrick's Day display. My folks were finishing up their last Navy assignment, which was in England; they'd bought a copy of this book on a trip to Ireland, so I'd read it & was delighted to see it. Well - Am was also familiar with it & she had not realized it had been published in the States yet. She saw it sitting on my desk & the exchange went something like so:

Me: "Oh, it was on a St. Patrick's Day display at Barnes & Noble, my folks got a copy in Ireland & I really liked it"
Her: "If you like that book there is something that we have to do."

And I believe it was the very next Wednesday we were sipping a couple of pints at Muldoon's, listening to Brian Conway, Don Meade, and a small group of other assorted musicians playing some music the likes of which I'd never thought I'd hear outside of a Chieftains album.

Since then, I've had a lot of fun with Irish music. I don't dance as much as I used to - I've attended more than my fair share of ceilis, actually got to be a pretty good dancer, I had a regular partner for 2 years & I loved dancing with him more than, well, almost anything (blush...)...after that ended it was just hard to dance with anyone else - but Am also brought me back a tin whistle from Ireland one year & that's stuck. Tin whistle's a great instrument - chuck one in your backpack & it's there whenever you find yourself with a free moment that seems to call for a tune.

The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle

This one takes a little less explanation - I just loved it when I was a standard-issue unicorn-happy teenager and it's still a story I can float away in right from the first paragraph - The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.

The Terrible Hours , Peter Maas

Note to Wenley - Wenley, if you have made it this far,'s the payoff, this actually ties in to that unanswered ? re being a navy brat - plus I think you would LOVE this book!

This is the story of the rescue of the crew of the submarine Squalus, which went down off the New England - and of Swede Momsen, the brilliant & dogged Naval officer who was the first to develop the technology to rescue the crew of a sunken submarine (before him, crews died), and of the actual development of the Momsen lung, the escape hatch, and the rescue chamber that together spelled the end of the days when a boat going down was an automatic death sentence. As a Navy brat of the submarine variety, following in my father's footsteps was never an option - I suspect my life might have been extremely different had I been a boy, the submarine community is a unique & close-knit one & one in which I was very comfortable growing up. I was fascinated with the boats when I was a kid - suspect I would've at least tried to go that way as a career (no guarantee I would've made it of course, only the best get to be submarine officers). As it is - well, I still like reading about submarines. Plus it gave me the shivers to discover that my birthday happens to fall on the very same day as that historic first-ever submarine rescue. May 24th (yes, been and gone, I had so much going on this year I totally downplayed it).

Eclectic enough collection for you?

Last but not least...what character in literature speaks of the river rat philosophy more eloquently than the Water Rat in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows?
"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing", he went on dreamily: "messing - about - in - boats; messing -"

"Look ahead, Rat!" cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

"- about in boats - or with boats," the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. "In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matte, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere aelse, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not. Look here! If you've really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?"

Hear hear!

And now I get to tag 5 people - but I think I will mull those tagees over for a bit. First question - do I have any bibliophilic volunteers who would enjoy this as much as I did? Please leave a comment!

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