Bedtime Stories: October 2015

  • October 16, 2015

What do literary types have queued up on their nightstands and ready to read before lights-out? We asked a couple of them, and here’s what they said.

Bedtime Stories: October 2015

Jud Ashman:

I’m in the midst of a highly contested re-election campaign which will culminate on November 3rd, so while I’m usually a voracious reader, my page-turning pace these days can be best described as “glacial.” Here’s what’s on my nightstand now:

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. I was absolutely in awe of Marra’s debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, when I read it a couple years ago, so I was delighted to get my hands on an advance copy of his new one. Tsar is a collection of short, interrelated stories, and I’m most of the way through. Marra is a writer to keep your eye on. Literary fiction often suffers from the lack of a potent storyline, but this author is showing, once again, that he can put it all together: plot, characters, theme, and symbolism. He’s an exceptional young talent.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I was one of those people upset by the release of Go Set a Watchman. The way I saw it, Atticus represented the ideal; he was an icon for our society whose name had become shorthand for heroes who inspire us by fighting for justice and right. And we can never get him back. So it stands to reason that, because I tend to tilt at windmills now and again, I’m rereading Mockingbird because I want Atticus back.

If Mayors Ruled the World by Benjamin R. Barber. Someone gave this book to me with tongue in cheek, but I think there’s something to be said for how effective government can be the more locally it’s based. Local government tends to be less partisan, more accountable, and more responsive. And, of course, the main thesis is appealing to us mayors because, who wouldn’t want rule the world?

Jud Ashman is mayor of Gaithersburg, MD, and founder and chair of the Gaithersburg Book Festival, now entering its ninth year.

Kathleen Flinn:

I admit that I am one of those people who reads cookbooks like novels. I’m drawn to the large format and the glossy photos just like everyone else. When I go to bed at night, my dog, Maddy, snuggles up to me as I sit in bed flipping through my cookbooks using post-it notes to mark recipes I convince myself I’ll get around to making one day (or writing about on my oft-neglected blog). I go through phases when I only read food books; apparently, I’m in one of them now.

Recently read:

Delights from the Garden of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah. It took me a good month to thoroughly digest this textbook-like tome about the history of Mesopotamian cuisine and its evolution into modern-day Iraqi cuisine. It’s an extraordinary work of food writing and research, and I confess that it made me realize how little I know about Middle Eastern cuisine.

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War by Annia Ciezadlo. I read this wonderful memoir in tandem with the above book. Both are research for a new book that I’m working on. Annia did a splendid job sharing her observations on the culinary life of Baghdad in wartime while also putting it into historical context.

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl. I’d always been curious to find out what happened after Gourmet magazine abruptly folded and how Ruth handled it in private. She puts her shock and sadness out there, along with some great comforting recipes she cooked as she recovered. She’s one of my writing heroes, and I met her in the aftermath of Gourmet and didn’t realize how hard the whole experience was for her. You can actually feel her recovery as the dishes become lighter and her prose takes on a more hopeful tone. I made her version of chicken diavolo, a deceptively simple yet fantastic recipe in which chicken is marinated with chili oil, lemons, and salt, and then seared at high heat. It’s going into my regular rotation.

I’m rereading/cooking from:

Modern Spice by Monica Bhide. I picked up a bunch of late-season eggplants from the farmer’s market and I remembered [that Monica’s] book contained a recipe for cooking them with ginger and honey. I’ve been going through the rest of the recipes for inspiration on jazzing up some of my standards.

I’m currently reading/cooking from:

Rose Water & Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood. I’ve been lying in bed reading my way through this beautiful book featuring Lebanese recipes and learning about all kinds of ingredients that I don’t normally cook with. As I write this, her garlicky lentil soup with Swiss chard is gurgling on my stove. Next on my list: pistachio-crusted whitefish with parsley lemon butter.  

Coming up:

The Food of Oman by Felicia Campbell. I received this copy from the publisher two days ago, and this falls squarely into the research for my next book. I’ve flipped through it, and it’s just a gorgeously produced book. Psyched to get into it.

Le French Oven by Hillary Davis. I loved her book Cuisine Nicoise, on southern French cooking. The weather just turned chilly in Seattle, so I’m eager to see her take on comforting braises and stews.

The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Revolutions, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners by Margaret Visser. I bought this book a while ago and set it aside. I’m always fascinated by any kind of culinary history. Cookbooks don’t travel well, so I’ve set this one aside for my next couple of plane rides.

Kathleen Flinn is an award-winning journalist and author of the bestselling The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry; The Kitchen Counter Cooking School; and Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good. She’s also a Tarot-card-reading former standup comedian who once delivered singing telegrams.

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