Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Fifty Shades Darker

Which shall henceforth be known as Fifty Shades Better.

It is shockingly, amazingly better than the first.  Better written - I didn't feel a need to keep a list of the very worst quotes just to maintain my sanity - and its depictions of independence, bodily autonomy, and gender roles are far less horrifying, even approaching rational.  It turns out that reading only the first book is the worst thing you could do (sadly, I think most people only do read the first book).  A lot of the necessary criticisms about the unhealthy relationship idealized in the first book are addressed, even reversed, in book two.  It became clear, partway into book two, that the trilogy was conceived as a single book, much like Lord of the Rings, such that splitting it up is not only unhelpful but downright deceptive.  Perhaps I'll even read the third book to see where the truly dreadful first book was originally aiming.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Baking and Books: Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies

Forget any brownies I've made before (we certainly have) - these ones take the cake!  A little more labor-intensive than my typical brownies, but completely and utterly worth it.  I made these for a choir party yesterday and they were a perfect addition to our outdoor (rainy) barbeque.

The book is Ann Bridge's Illyrian Spring, which came highly recommended by Rachel, and because I misread her original post, I'm enjoying it far more than I expected.  I've been alternating it with Victor Hugo's Les Miserables (my current bedside book) and several of Brian Jacques' Redwall books, childhood favorites that have helped keep this busy end of the semester calm and enjoyable (and are just as good as I remember, though I notice different things in them as an adult).

On to the brownies!  I've never baked with mascarpone before, but if it makes things taste this good, I'm going to have to search out more things to do with it!

Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies

1 cup unsalted butter
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (extra-dark, dutch processed cocoa is best)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
3 large eggs, at room-temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325°F and prepare a 8-9" square pan with a little nonstick spray and line the bottom with parchment.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Once melted add the chocolate to the sauce pan and pull off the heat. Give the pan a little jiggle to submerge the chocolate and then allow to stand for a minute then stir until smooth.

Sift the cocoa powder into the chocolate mixture and then add the sugar and salt, mix well and set aside.

In your stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat the mascarpone, eggs, and vanilla on medium speed until smooth. Pour the butter and chocolate mixture into the mixing bowl and mix until no streaks remain.

Remove the bowl from your mixer and gently fold the flour into the batter. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and spread evenly with an offset spatula.

Bake the brownies for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Place the pan on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bookish News: The Library of Unborrowed Books

The Library of Unborrowed Books by Meriç Algün Ringborg: an installation of hundreds of books that have never been borrowed from the Center for Fiction’s library.

"The Library of Unborrowed Books bases itself on the concept of the library as an institution manifesting language and knowledge, of the passing of awareness and the openness to all types of people and literature. This work, however, comprises books from a selected library that have never been borrowed. The framework in this instance hints at what has been disregarded, knowledge essentially unconsumed, and puts on display what has eluded us. Why these books aren’t ‘chosen,’ why they are overlooked, will never be clear but whatever each book contains, en masse they become representative of the gaps and cracks of history, or the cataloging of the world and the ambivalent relationship between absence and presence. In this library their existence is validated simply by being borrowed, underlining their being as well as their content and form by putting them on display in an autonomous library dedicated to the books yet to have been revealed."

My husband, the anthropologist, was immediately fascinated by the question of why these books weren't checked out.  Who decided to buy these particular books, and what agenda did this person hold?  Was he or she trying to shape literary taste through the purchase of these books, or was he or she catering to the whim of perceived popular taste?  Many libraries face budgetary crises, so book purchasing is no longer so automatic.  Individual books represent a much more significant investment in the library's growth.

I, however, find myself incredibly taken by the symbolism of these unread books as unconsumed knowledge.  Does the knowledge truly exist if it isn't ever disseminated?  (If a tree falls in a forest...?)  As an academic, I intend to publish books, but I recognize that academia is a small market and that it's likely very few people will ever truly read my work.  Does that make it worthwhile?  If my books sit unread on library shelves, were they worth writing in the first place?  Has my work truly been shared?

This installation makes me desperately want to go to Manhattan and rescue a few of these unloved, unread, unconsumed books.

You can read more about it here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Medieval autobiographies, letters, and more!

This is one of the reasons I love being a graduate student - periodically, professors who retire or, terribly sadly in this case, pass away, pass along their books to upcoming young scholars.  My husband was working in the Divinity School library the other day as usual when a new cart of free books was put out.  Like the wonderful fellow scholar that he is, he snagged me a copy of a 15th-century primary source that I've quoted in conference papers but have never had the chance to read fully for myself.  I've been dying to read The Book of Margery Kempe and thanks to him, now I own a copy (and in modern spelling, no less!)  When I came to meet him later, I found a few other books on the cart that will be either useful for my research or just really interesting summer reads.

 Three of them are part of a standard series on the history of England, but the other three are less textbook-y.  I debated whether to bother posting these finds on my blog - after all, most of my readers probably aren't terribly interested in a book like "English Society in the Early Middle Ages" - but then I realized that despite their age, several of these books actually might be of interest to book bloggers.  Who among us doesn't love a good autobiography or set of letters?  Well, The Book of Margery Kempe is the earliest known English autobiography and a fascinating look into the life and faith of a medieval woman.  The Pastons: The letters of a family in the Wars of the Roses promises both historical interest and an intimate portrait of domestic life.  Finally, Christine de Pisan's The Treasure of the City of Ladies is an early 15th-century book directed at women, a sort of etiquette guide and survival manual for the practical realities of living as a female in a patriarchal society.

My summer reading list is enormous but I will cheerfully add these three to the pile!  And in about a week, my summer will officially commence!  Until then, I just have to turn in seminar paper #2, finish edits on paper #3, and turn my detailed outline into paper #4.  Best of luck to everyone finishing up their semesters.  Does anyone have any fabulous summer plans?  What do you hope to read this summer?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Saturday morning in Durham

As the semester winds to a close, I find myself constantly working.  I awake each day planning the hours I can use to write papers and prep presentations.  I'm actually relatively on top of things, so I'm not terribly stressed out, but paper-writing will hang over my head as a constant obligation for the next three weeks or so.  Which is why it's important to also take time to step away from the work and away from campus.  The farmer's market on Saturday mornings has become one of my husband's and my favorite activities, a place to get away from our academic selves and enjoy time together choosing delicious food for the week, a chance to feel connected to our community outside the limits of the university.  Now that it's spring, a lot of new vegetables have come into season, and I'm absolutely delighted by the beets, brussels sprouts, asparagus, and strawberries.  We're also planning to start growing herbs in our window boxes, so one of these weekends, we'll come home with a tray full of little herb plants.  Furthermore, there's absolutely wonderful breakfast to be had downtown - if not from the bakers who sell at the farmer's market or the food trucks nearby, from one of the many coffee shops or bakeries downtown.

Today was a particularly wonderful morning in downtown Durham.  Not only did we come home with fresh strawberries (I see a strawberry pie in my near future), asparagus, tomatoes, and potatoes, we also came home with books!  The Durham Public Library is having its semi-annual sale this weekend.  You may recall my excitement last semester when I found the sale quite unexpectedly and brought home a number of Viragos.  This time, I knew about the sale in advance (and may have been counting down the days...but hey, when you're an overworked graduate student, you have to have something non-academic to look forward to!)  I even persuaded my husband to come along, and he enjoyed browsing the religion and sociology sections.  As usual, the music and history sections yielded nothing useful for my research, but the fiction section is always bound to have something interesting.

Disappointingly, there were almost no Viragos to be had.  No green spines jumped off the shelf.  Happily, there were a couple of black Viragos.  Two of these were Antonia White's Frost in May, which I already own.  The other, E.H. Young's The Misses Mallett, promised a Jane Austen-style comedy about English spinsters, so it promptly jumped into my bag.  Since adoring Wives and Daughters, I've been trying to pick up additional books by Elizabeth Gaskell, so this copy of Ruth similarly caught my eye.  And then, I branched out a little, and bought Russian novels for the first time.  Between the many people recommending Anna Karenina to me lately - the recent film must have put it more in the public eye - and a dear friend who is currently in Moscow researching her dissertation on the history of tea culture in Russia, I've been meaning to put aside my fear of the enormous Russian novels.  Once I finish Hugo's Les Miserables, my current bedside table book, I will start either War and Peace or Anna Karenina.  Finally, the nondescript brown book is a copy of Cassell's Latin dictionary.  It's awfully foolish to be a scholar of sacred music but unable to do my own Latin translations, so I'm taking two Latin classes this summer.  This edition is older, so it doesn't have the handy tabs to help you jump from letter to letter, but I'm fairly sure the content is the same...after all, Latin hasn't changed that much in recent years!