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About Mari Malcolm

If someone dropped a match next to Mari Malcolm’s bed, they’d ignite a pyre fuelled by disheveled piles of books—very select poetry, novels with varying levels of literary cred, and stacks of guides to being a better gardener, crafter, cook, designer, writer, and person. She rarely reads by candlelight.

Posts by Mari

Amy Stewart and Brad Thomas Parsons on the History and Future of Botanical Mixology

Drunken-Botanist-CoverAmy Stewart has a knack for making plants utterly fascinating, and The Drunken Botanist--one of our Top 10 Editors’ Picks for the Best Books of the Month--takes her trademark blend of scientific sleuthery and intriguing anecdote to intoxicating heights. This brisk tour of the origin of spirits acquaints curious lovers of spirits with every conceivable cocktail ingredient, from classic to esoteric. Stewart talked with Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, winner of 2012 James Beard and IACP Cookbook Awards--and an Amazon Best Book of the Year pick--about the medicinal roots of cocktails, the importance of great ingredients (in the booze and in the glass), and the pleasures of testing cocktail recipes.

AMY: Brad, what strikes me about your book on bitters is the close connection between medicine and cocktails. So many bitters started out as straight pharmaceutical formulations, back in the day when the only medicines we had were plants. You and I both know that it's a bit of a stretch to call a cocktail a health drink, but do you get a lot of people asking you asking you if the bitters they're drinking are actually good for them?

BTP: Many of the individual botanicals used to make bitters have their own purported benefits for health and well-being, but remember these medicinal plants people were consuming as a patent medicine were often composed of over 50% alcohol, with claims to cure everything from headaches, rheumatism, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea to malaria. That's my kind of medicine! I do stand by a tall glass of bitters and soda as a most effective restorative after a rich meal. Trust me, it works. And a sugar-dusted lemon wedge soaked in Angostura bitters can cure hiccups. That's a promise.

I loved when you wrote in The Drunken Botanist, "It would be impossible to describe every plant that has ever flavored an alcoholic beverage. I am certain that at this very moment, a craft distiller in Brooklyn is plucking weed from a crack in the sidewalk and wondering if it would make a good flavoring for a new line of bitters." As a bitters enthusiast who lives in Brooklyn, I have indeed encountered some unexpected housemade bitters, tinctures, and infusions. What's the most bizarre botanical-based spirit you've come across in your travels and research?

AMY: Well, all spirits are botanical-based, which is really my point--with very few exceptions, everything in every bottle is a plant. (Those exceptions, by the way, would include milk, which has just enough fermentable sugar for Mongolians to make fermented mare's milk and for a distillery in Vermont to make milk-distilled vodka).

But among the more bizarre botanical ingredients? I'd have to name sundew, a tiny carnivorous plant that was part of the original recipe for rosolio. Nowdays the term "rosolio" is applied to any number of homemade mixtures of wine, brandy, fruit, and spices, but in the fifteenth century, you were actually expected to pick the bugs off some carnivorous bog plants and add those to the brew.

So here's something I'm wondering about. I have this theory that distillers who make such a big deal about their secret recipes are a little behind the times. It seems like the trend right now is towards greater transparency about the botanicals in the bottle. People actually want to celebrate ingredients and talk about what they are and where they come from. I know so many American gin, liqueur, and bitters makers who list all of their ingredients and really explain why they chose each one. Do you see the same thing? It's a real departure from the "Our secret recipe comes from King George, who gave it to his footman to thank him for saving his life" or whatever.

Bitters-coverBTP: You're on point that calling out the botanicals and celebrating anything unique or locally sourced is becoming a way to make your product stand out. Bitters, too, have a long association with proprietary formulas, and it's even trickier as they're classified as a "non-beverage" alcohol product. While 45% alcohol, they're not intended to be consumed on their own, but applied in dashes and drops. Essentially, they're classified as a food product (which is why, depending what state you live in, you normally won't find them in liquor stores). There's a lot of small-batch bitters being sold that don't, in fact, list much about their ingredients at all. Bittermens Bitters, who used to be based out of Brooklyn but now call New Orleans home, set the bar for their bitters-making peers by establishing a Craft Bitters Alliance that helps educate bitters makers about the byzantine bylaws of the TTB and the FDA to encourage everyone to live up to the law and present their products in the best light possible. Certain botanicals must specifically be called out on the label, while others are allowed to be bundled under "spices." But it's more about the specificity of the source--like Seattle's Scrappy's Bitters highlighting their use of cocoa nibs from Seattle's Theo Chocolate in their chocolate bitters.

Continue reading "Amy Stewart and Brad Thomas Parsons on the History and Future of Botanical Mixology" »

Connie Brockway: All-Time Favorite Scottish Romances, Part I

Connie-BrockwayGuest contributor Connie Brockway is a best-selling Romance author, eight-time finalist for the Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA award, and two-time recipient for My Dearest Enemy and The Bridal Season.

My alma mater, Macalester College, used to hold a Scottish Faire during which Bonny lassies would cheer hirsute Braveheart wannabes to their best endeavors in a modern rendition of the Highland games. Now, I’m not claiming that the sight of brave young laddies in kilts heaving telephone poles (aka cabers) around a football field engendered my love of Scottish romances, but it sure didn’t hurt.

Highland-SurrenderAlas, the Highland Fair fell victim to the last economic downturn and it’s been several years since the ghost of Robert Burns has goosed the co-eds on Olin Field. My love of Scottish romance has not dimmed, however, so this past month I asked my readers to submit their all-time favorite Scottish romances. The results were unsurprising (to see a full list of the titles submitted, subscribe to my newsletter), but there were some “Hey! I haven’t read that one,” moments. In fact, there were so many fine suggestions (for both old and newer titles) that I simply can’t do them all justice in one column. So, next month it’s “Hoot Man, Part Two!”

Bewitching by Jill Barnett

Barnett pairs a somewhat inept, always adorable Scottish witch with a chill, pragmatic nobleman in this light-hearted take on Bell, Book, and Candle. I loved watching the cold duke’s heart being melted in spite of himself by the lovely Scottish girl whom he weds in haste, unaware of her magic propensities.

Highland Surrender by Tracy Brogan

Believing her in-laws murdered her mum is a valid reason for Fiona Sinclair to be an unhappy bride. And concern over whether his new bride's going to make herself a widow might dampen the spirits of a lesser man, but—need I say this?—not Scotsman Myles Campbell. Treachery and political intrigue provide a well-textured backdrop for a poignant romance in which a young girl, well out of her depths, struggles to reconcile what she thinks she knows with what her heart tells her. A classic sweep-me-away tale of romance and daring-do!

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

Dumb Connie never read this book, despite the hype. But now that’s been rectified, and wowza, am I ever glad. Heart-pounding suspense, cool arcane tidbits, time travel, hearts afire across the centuries--this book is the whole package! An archeologist in possession of history-altering info is pursued by uber-bad guys and protected across time by a burning hunk-of-gorgeous Knight Templar. I know, crazy. But it works!

Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn

This is as far from the tender Bewitching as you’re likely to find: Paula Quinn doesn’t hold back on the grit and gore in this tale of star-crossed lovers from bitter enemy clans. Callum MacGregor's set on revenge for the genocide of his clan--clearly, not without justification--so when fate delivers a fierce, fiery, and equally justified in hating his clans' guts lassie into his hands, it's up in the air whether he'll bed her, wed her, or dead her. (Couldn’t resist the rhyme.)

The Last Debutante by Julia London

London's in full winsome mode in this lovely Scottish romp. Spinster Daria Babcock hits the Highlands on a mission to rescue her dear old gran, only to discover the old lady tending a bloody laird (no, that’s not a oath--he really is bleeding) who'd come to reclaim the money the old lady had stolen and been shot by the same. The confounded Scotsman takes Daria hostage, and so begins a battle of the sexes and hearts. Great, great fun! --Connie Brockway

Alexandra Fuller Talks with Christa Parravani on Writing "Her," Our Debut Spotlight Pick for March

Her-CoverAlong with our top 10 Best Books of the Month picks, we also feature our favorite new book by a debut author--our way of welcoming and amplifying exciting new voices. This month, we're spotlighting Christa Parravani’s brave, raw, and ultimately uplifting debut memoir, which unbraids the memory of her own life from her identical twin, Cara, who died of an overdose at age 28.

Cara had been the larger, hungrier twin since birth, but they both emerged from a chaotic childhood as magnetic and creatively precocious young women. Cara claimed writing as her territory, so Christa took pictures. They both married young but remained more devoted to each other than their spouses.

In 2001, Cara was viciously raped while walking her dog in a park. She survived, but she was deeply damaged. Christa tried for years to hold her together, and after Cara’s death, she felt as if she became her sister, even seeing Cara staring back at her from mirrors--in warning, and as an invitation to tear apart her life “just as she’d shredded her own.” Such hallucinations are a common delusion among the newly twinless: “they become a breathing memorial for their lost half,” and half of them die within the first two years. Told in part in the voice of her lost sister, Her is the story of how Christa clawed her way back from this gulf of grief and gave herself permission to live.

Here, Alexandra Fuller--author of extraordinary memoirs Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (among others)--talks with Christa Parravani about the "private underworld" she shared with Cara, and how she found her own voice once her sister was gone. --Mari Malcolm

Alexandra Fuller: On one level, this memoir is about the shocking connectivity of being an identical twin and what happens when you tragically lose your twin. But on another level, it feels like a classic coming-of-age story with the most awful twist imaginable: you were unable to grow up and become a fully realized version of yourself until your sister died. Does this feel true?

Christa Parravani: It was nearly comfortable sharing an identity with Cara, almost fulfilling. It’s difficult to imagine now how we tolerated bartering our individualities for closeness with each other. But it was simple at first: I liked chocolate ice cream, so Cara liked vanilla. I wore pink; Cara wore blue. Then adult desires complicated our agreement. Cara wanted to be a writer, and I did too. When we both married, room needed to be made for our husbands. Being adults meant moving away from each other, but twinship impaired our abilities to move up and out in the world. If my attention was diverted from Cara, I felt I was being unfaithful to her.

Now I see my life as divided in half: before and after Cara. The hardest years after Cara's death were full of unimaginable grief. I couldn’t believe that I could live while she had died. Twins were supposed to have the same fate, the same experiences. I simply didn’t know how to go on without her. I looked in the mirror and saw her staring back at me. I’d laugh and hear her. And those kinds of experiences began to define me as much as my life with her ever had, even more so. I look at what has become of me: I’m a happy wife to a loving and brilliant husband. I’m a mother to a sweet baby girl. I’m a survivor. It’s probably hard to believe, but I would relive every painful moment again to have what I do now: my own separate life.

AF: Your story is wonderfully layered, and the layering is almost always expressed as either a kind of sublime twin scenario (a magically connecting experience) or as a duality (a horribly alienating experience). As the story progressed, I found myself seeing ways in which you and Cara often seem to be leading a dark double life beneath that already double life of your twinship. Do you think you felt less lonely in those dark places because you could act as companions and guides into your private underworld?

CP: There was nothing we didn’t share, including the proclivity for dark behavior. It was programmed into us from our childhood, from what we’d seen in our home. Neither of us understood yet that we could control those impulses, and we’d act out blindly. There was a lot of shame because of that, and we’d bounce it back and forth. We embraced each other at the same time we pushed each other down. We truly were ransom holders with each other’s secrets--scorekeepers, always threatening to leave the other or tell on them. But there was also safety in that, a place to return where we knew we’d be understood.

AF: Given the sometimes harrowing subject matter, your writing style is often shockingly matter-of-fact, in a way that gets you through some downright drowning emotional events with admirable clarity and even grace. Were there books, movies, or art that inspired you to write in this way? Did being a photographer help form your voice?

CP: I would have been lost without John Cheever’s stories and Joan Didion’s essays. When I needed guidance, I’d pick them up to be reminded that sometimes we need to be spare in order to earn lush moments. Both writers reminded me that when being spare, you leave the reader hungry for the perfect lyrical sentence. Photographing well is a difficult venture. When I was at my best, I hoped to be removed enough from my subjects to see them, but close enough to allow for a part of me to be transferred into the image. I approached writing Her in nearly the same way. I made room for Cara to come through, but was always mindful that it was my story, and that I wasn’t just a scribe inking her memorial.

Continue reading "Alexandra Fuller Talks with Christa Parravani on Writing "Her," Our Debut Spotlight Pick for March" »

The Lee Bros. on Five Underappreciated Charleston Ingredients

Lee-Bros-CoverIf you're born in Charleston, you absorb the vernacular of its rich local food culture just as you learn to talk. The Lee Bros., who moved from New York to Charleston as kids, found themselves swimming in a whole new language of strange and amazing new food names, flavors, and traditions. As they discovered the pleasure of gorging on mulberries, luring blue crabs with chicken necks on strings, peeling loquats to enjoy their sweet-tart flesh, and so many more food-centered adventures, they developed an abiding sense of wonder about food that's followed them into the kitchen--and eventually fuelled a career as food journalists and writers of award-winning cookbooks.

Their new book, The Lee Bros. Chaleston Kitchen, pays tribute to their adopted hometown's deep and delicious culinary roots. To celebrate its arrival, we asked Matt Lee and Ted Lee to share five unsung, forageable Charleston ingredients--and what they like to do with them. Enjoy, and don't miss the book's beguiling trailer, after the jump! --Mari Malcolm

From Matt Lee & Ted Lee: Charlestonians are no strangers to foraging. We come by it honestly—and early—because as a kid it seems so magical to to climb a loquat tree downtown, and to pick and eat these weird little yellow fruits. (Besides, we learn that it’s also fun to throw them at your friends, and at the occasional carriage tour!) Here, we present five favorite Charleston-foraged foods.

Lee-Chainey-briar-lowCHAINEY BRIAR (Smilax bona-nox) “Chainey briar” is what Charlestonians of a certain age call the tender shoots of the smilax—or cat briar—vine, which can be found growing in the dunes and in sandy disturbed sites and fencelines throughout the area. The distinctive spade-shaped leaves distinguish smilax from other vines growing in the same terrain. Raw, chainey briar has a delicious asparagus- and olive-like flavor that is fresh and green. We typically grill it, then dress it with a vinaigrette or tamari-based sauce. Or we tuck a few tendrils into a baked flounder in parchment.

 

Lee-Loquats-lowLOQUATS (Eriobotrya japonica) No more flavorful than a Granny Smith apple, and a whole lot harder to eat since they’re smaller than a lime and have three big seeds in them, loquats don’t have leagues of champions, even in Charleston. What the most old-school Charlestonians—and we!—love to do with them is load a quart-size canning jar with washed fruit, top up with neutral spirits like vodka or brandy, and let stand for a week, or as some prefer, one year. The fruit will oxidize and the alcohol will become infused with a beguiling cherry-almond flavor that’s a great shot over ice as an aperitif or nightcap, and a superb substitute for sweet vermouth in your favorite Manhattan cocktail recipe.

 

Continue reading "The Lee Bros. on Five Underappreciated Charleston Ingredients" »

50 Great American Love Stories: How They Made Our Map

Great American Love Stories

Of all the projects I've helped launch in nearly 15 years at Amazon, this map of 50 Great American Love Stories, with the heart of each state linking to our picks, felt from the start like one of the most ambitious. But it's also been great fun. Since we unveiled it last week, we've had a steady stream of comments from readers, including some constructive criticism (which we took to heart), but mostly kudos and some welcome contributions. In case you’re curious, here's a peek at how our Great American Love Stories map came together.

Our Mission: To select and map the best books about love ever set in America, from before its founding into its hypothetical future. We sought books that captured the complete spectrum of love: the whole sweet, passionate, messy, ecstatic, devastating, depraved, beautiful universe of human experience.

The Method to Our Mapness:

  • Compile a sprawling list of our favorite stories about love.
  • Weed out all the great love stories that aren't set in America and save those for a future feature.
  • Ask our Facebook fans and a few friends with great taste in books to send us their faves, to make sure we didn't miss anything wonderful.
  • Narrow it down to a more manageable hundred or so.
  • Sleuth out the settings for each of them.
  • Discover to our delight that The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is set in New Jersey.
  • Decide early on that we're OK with inevitable blowback from calling Gone Girl a "Great American Love Story," because it's the most twisted love story we've read in years, and America's really pretty famous for this brand of tabloid weirdness.
  • Realize we have about a dozen terrific picks for states like New York, and none yet for, say, Delaware and West Virginia.
  • Scour the heck out of the web for good books set in Delaware and West Virginia. Find some lovely choices for the latter; eventually decide that Delwarians will have to live with the fact that obsessive, murderous love is still a kind of love, and Ann Rule is the queen of true crime. Secretly hope someone from Delaware will tell us we missed something great. (Not yet--but there's still time, romantic readers from Deleware!)
  • Cull the list again, making painful choices about what to highlight and what will get honorable mentions. (Sorry, Time Traveler's Wife and Just Kids. You're still great!)
  • Notice that John Irving and Tennessee Williams are the only authors with two books in the top 50 (two incredible plays, in the case of Williams). Agree they deserve it.
  • Have the Fifty Shades conversation.
  • Write 50 blurbs that encapsulate why we picked each book in 15 words or less.
  • Make the page pretty.
  • Lose some sleep the night before we go live, hoping people all across America will love--or at least grudgingly like--the books we picked to represent their states.
  • Breathe an enormous sigh of relief when it's greeted with mostly great feedback: only one Facebook fan commenting incredulously on Gone Girl (and, OK, 3 other fans Liking her for it), one lone Deleware resident decrying our Ann Rule choice, and a history buff pointing out that John Smith and Pocahontas were never really intimately involved--so our original Virginia pick needed to go.
  • Feel a little guilty about leaving out D.C. Decide we'll work it in next year (even though it will totally throw off the symmetry of the rows).

Just like our country, our love story list continues to evolve--so please check them out and keep the comments coming. Whether you live in America or Antarctica, we hope you're living your own great love story. And if you've yet to be so lucky, you can always do it vicariously through a great book. X.O.X.! --Mari

10 Ways to Give Books They'll Love

Gifty-booksEvery time a gifting holiday approaches, the Amazon Books Editors get asked this question a lot, sometimes with a whiff of incredulity: Why do books make great gifts?

The many reasons seem obvious to us, but we admit that books can be a risky gift, if wantonly chosen: you can't give a random best seller and be assured it's not going to end up in a garage sale come spring.

The right books make uncommonly good gifts for special people in your life chiefly because they can feel so personal. Through books, you can honor a passion for astronomy, growing food at home, or Game of Thrones. A book can become a medium for sharing what's important to you, sparking a new interest in their recipient, or expressing affection. The right book given at the right time can become a treasure that outlives the most buttery calfskin gloves.

If these reasons sound a little lofty, go with this: books are just plain practical--kind to your budget and easy to wrap.

Backed up by our Amazon Books Facebook fans' memories of the best books they've received as gifts, we present 10 ways to give books well:

  1. Find inspiration on our Editors' Gift Picks list, where we've collected our 50+ favorite gifty books from the past year--the ones we thought were the most fascinating, beautiful, funny, or cool. 

  2. Give the Best Books of 2012. Our team spent many thousands of hours reading and discussing our favorite books this year, and along with our Top 100 list, we picked our 10 favorites in nearly two dozen categories. So even if you know only that your givee (is that a word?) likes Cookbooks or Science Fiction & Fantasy, you can be sure you're giving something excellent.

  3. Visit our Holiday Gifts in Books store, where you'll find fantastic ideas for everyone on your list--including glamour girls and entrepreneurs (or glamourous entrepreneurs).

  4. Take advantage of Holiday Deals, including recent best sellers at bargain prices.

  5. Give a book you've personally loved--especially if it's going to a close friend who's likely to share your taste. Susie Al-Hamed remembers Wicked as the best book she's received, saying that "My friend brought it to me while I was recovering from surgery, and what made it great was her sharing her favorite book with me." And even if it's not completely their taste, some people will love the book because it came from you. Maria Fernandez Yoos says that it's always "The giver, not the book, [that] made it special."

  6. Give books to the kids and teens in your life. So many of our Facebook fans remember a book they got as a kid that inspired a lasting love of reading or turned them on to a favorite genre. Cynthia Conciatu credits her aunt's gift of Heidi in 1951--her first "real" book--for making her an avid reader. Misti Chamberlain cites The Hobbit as inspiring her love of fantasy, and Jeremy Breneman says that being given the first Nancy Drew book as a kid "sparked my life-long love of mysteries." Arleen Dale Kirtland loved getting Little Women, noting that "My Mom made it great by reading it to me," and Franci Henderson shared that "My mother gave me Little Women, which was the book that really made me into a reader. It was the only book her mother gave her (she grew up during the depression). I have since given a copy to my daughter." I recommend Penguin's charming Deluxe Edition of Little Women, in faux-needlepoint paperback.

  7. Give a beautiful or rare book--an indulgence they wouldn't buy for themselves or a replacement for a beloved and battered copy. Loreen Ruault remembers that "Many years ago, my best friend introduced me to A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving and it became my all-time favourite book. This month it was our Book Club choice, and she bought me the hardcover version. Love it. Always." Valarie Katrina Hamlin loved getting Jane Eyre (now available in a beautiful Penguin Drop Caps edition) "from my BFF. She remembered my original copy fell apart from age and frequent reading and she gave me a new copy." Robert Plourde enjoyed getting "an art/coffee table book. They're expensive, might not have bought it for myself, but I like them." See our picks for the Best Books of 2012 in Arts & Photography, or find rare and collectible editions at AbeBooks.com.

  8. Make any book special with a personal inscription. When I was little, my aunt's note inside Make Way for Ducklings suggesting that we go to Boston someday and ride a swan boat together made the story magically real to me. I second Krista Greer Cinato's statement that "the best part of any book that's been gifted to me is the inscription in the inside cover from the gifter," and I think Debi Riordan Riley may have received one of the all-time greatest inscriptions in Why I Love You: 100 Reasons, "A cheesy $14 book turned into priceless gift by my husband when he wrote in the book another 50 reasons. Reminding me of why he is still the very best guy for me, even 34 years later!"

  9. Give a Kindle. Norma Newman says that “Without a doubt my Kindle was the best gift I ever received and it opened the door to a magical world.” Shelia Taylor enthused about "My Kindle Fire!!! All the books at your fingertips."

  10. When in doubt, let them choose their own books. Several of our Facebook fans cited a preference for buying their own books. Student Angela Elizabeth mused, "You know what would be a great gift? If somebody would buy my textbooks for next semester," but we bet she'd be just as happy with a gift card.

Share your stories of the best books you ever got as gifts with us here, or browse gift ideas for book lovers. --Mari Malcolm

Amazon Asks Melissa d'Arabian, Author of "Ten Dollar Dinners"

Ten-Doller-CoverOne of the absolute highlights of the Amazon Books team's trip to New York for Book Expo America was meeting Melissa d'Arabian at the Food Network Kitchens--and noshing on fantastic food from her new book, Ten Dollar Dinners. Based on her Food Network show of the same name, which she's been doing since she won The Next Food Network Star in 2009, her book has an ingenious system she designed to help a home cook make delicious dinners for four people--for under $10. (And yes, that does include dessert.)

A mom of four young daughters (born within three years!), Melissa earned an MBA from Georgetown University, but her passion for streamlining her family's budget is hard-wired from her childhood. Her single mom raised Melissa and her sister while putting herself through college. She recalls a time when the only thing left in the fridge was a jar of pickles, so they stayed up late making candles to sell so they could buy groceries.

Her mom's inventiveness in not just putting food on the table but actually feeding people taught Melissa an invaluable lesson that she passes on to other families every day. This story from Ten Dollar Dinners is especially poignant as we head into the holidays:

"Waste was never a temptation in our house. That said, my mom still wanted to teach me the joy of hosting others, something we rarely had the budget to do. I vividly recall the first time we invited her girlfriends (and their daughters) and my friends (and their moms) over for a ladies' holiday cookie and hot cocoa party at our home in Tucson, Arizona. Even though we had no cushion cash to be throwing a party, we still managed to put together a beautiful celebration on a shoestring budget. We decorated the Christmas tree, ate cookies, drank hot coca, and sang songs around the piano. It was simple and lovely. That single experience taught me how beautiful it is to cook for people. Not to just make food pretty on a plate, but to really make friends and loved ones happy by creating something delicious just for them. My mom passed away when I was twenty years old, and to this day, I still hold our holiday cookie and cocoa memory close to heart--in fact, every December I now host a mother-daughter holiday tea with my four girls and their friends and their mothers."

We asked Melissa about her favorite books, what she treasures, the best place she's eaten recently, and what's she's up to next.

What's your elevator pitch for Ten Dollar Dinners?

It's about so much more than cooking with inexpensive ingredients! It's a full philosophy of spending with purpose and managing our resources wisely while nourishing our bodies.  

Which new cookbooks or chef memoirs are you most excited about?

I can't wait to read Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef and Michael Symon's Carnivore.  

What’s the best place you’ve eaten recently?

I had an incredibly special dinner at Uchi in Houston... truly one of the best dinners I've ever had.  

What's been your most memorable author moment?

Opening the envelope that had the very first copy of my cookbook in it. I opened it with my husband, very delicately, as if it were fragile.  

What other talent would you most like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

I'd love to be a genius at organization. (To do that, I think you have to be able to really think in 3-D, and I'm very linear.) 

What are you obsessed with now?

Doing splits. I'm almost there!  

What's your most treasured possession?

My grandma's confirmation bracelet. She gave it to me as my "something old" at my wedding, and I wear it all the time--unless I'm filming Ten Dollar Dinners. She passed away last month, so it's extra special now.  

What's on your nightstand?

They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, and Alephonsian Deng.  

What's next for you?

After book tour, I'm settling into the new school year with my four daughters--and then get straight back to work on Book # 2!

Thanks for visiting us at Amazon, Melissa! We wish you all the best.

Melissa-Brave-Horse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mari Malcolm, Melissa d'Arabian, and Neal Thompson

Amazon Asks Deb Perelman, Author of "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook"

Smitten-Kitchen-CoverThe eagerly awaited Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (arriving October 30) brings all the best ingredients of Perelman's award-winning Smitten Kitchen blog--enthusiastic and frank guidance for unfussy, delicious home-cooked food--to over 100 recipes, mostly new, accompanied by hundreds of her own luscious photos.

Thanks for satisfying our curiosity, Deb!

What niche do you hope this book fills?

My hope is that The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is filled with your new favorite things to cook--approachable recipes made with accessible ingredients that exceed your expectations.

Which upcoming fall cookbooks are you most excited about?

I am ridiculously excited about Ottolenghi's new Jerusalem book, as I've loved everything he's made so far. I have already tried out a couple recipes from The Mile End Cookbook, and can tell it's going to be an obsession all winter. I just spied brown butter snickerdoodles in the new Baked Elements book; I am pretty sure that needs to happen immediately. And I've been cooking out of the Sprouted Kitchen cookbook and everything has been fresh, wholesome and stunning.

What's on your nightstand?

An Everlasting Meal (Tamar Adler), The Tenth Muse (Judith Jones), A Peace to End All Peace (David Fromkin), and I Want My Hat Back (Jon Klassen), all print. Can you guess which one my toddler left there?

Deb-Perelman-HeadshotWhat’s your favorite restaurant—or the best place you’ve eaten recently?

My husband and I are the last people to get to the Breslin in the Ace Hotel, but it doesn't matter--we fell head over heels and have been back three times in three months. The crispy boiled peanuts, lamb burger, fresh, crunchy salads and their grapefruit gin-and-tonic are unforgettable.

What's been your most memorable moment so far as an author?

The process of planning the book tour--making the jump from someone who types things to strangers who might or might not be listening via her laptop to someone who is going to show up in various cities at specific times to hang out with these strangers--is wild. I am not sure I've gotten my head around it yet, but I still can't wait to get on the road.

What other talent would you most like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

Well, I wish I could dance.

What are you obsessed with now?

I've been on a running kick, although I'm really bad at it. No really: terrible. But strangely, that's my favorite part. Starting my day completely humbled by my inability to run half as long or fast as these people on the other treadmills (who can probably dance, too), well, the day only gets better from there. I'm hooked.

What's next for you?

The moon! Just kidding. I really hope to just keep doing what I'm doing--cooking, writing, having fun with my family and running around NYC like a tourist. My goals are less rooted in a desire for a designer kitchen (though, you know, if you have one lying around...) and balcony overlooking Central Park and more a hope that I'll keep having fun doing what I do, so that it feels as unwork-like as possible.

Amazon Asks Gretchen Rubin, Author of "Happier at Home"

GretchenRubin11Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project, the year she spent methodically testing happier strategies, plays out on a more powerfully intimate stage with Happier at Home, new this week. Rubin opened up to us about her obsession with scent, Flannery O'Connor, and the moment she wrote "one of my favorite things I've written in my whole life."

What's your elevator pitch for Happier at Home?

Studying happiness, I realized that for me—and most people—home was the foundation. I decided to figure out what changes I could realistically make to be happier at home. Marriage, parenthood, my time, possessions, body, neighborhood—I looked at all these elements to find and share ways to boost happiness.

Who’s your current author crush?

Flannery O’Connor. I can hardly read her fiction, because it makes my head explode, but I’m rereading her nonfiction now--I’m reading The Habit of Being for the third time, which is a collection of her letters, then plan to reread her essays and speeches.

What’s your current obsession?

The sense of smell, with a sub-obsession of perfume. In the past, I paid no attention to scent, and now it’s a huge pleasure for me.

What’s on your bedside table?

Happier-at-HomeI’m very cautious when I turn off my alarm in the morning, because I fear being crushed under that stack of books if it topples! I used to be very disciplined about acquiring books, but my husband (easily) broke me of that. Plus I live a block from a library, and you can really be reckless in a library. Sometimes I feel almost panicky when I think of how many books I want to read.

What’s been your most memorable moment as an author?

One of my most thrilling writing moments happened when I was writing the final chapter of Happier at Home: I sat there, thinking about Little House in the Big Woods, about all my feelings for my home, and I was able to bring it together in a way that perfectly expressed what I wanted to say. I almost felt like I was in a trance. That ending changed very little in editing, and it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve written in my whole life.

What’s your favorite fuel while you’re writing?

Diet soda. Lots of diet soda.

Marvelous Books on Marilyn Monroe

"It was a strange feeling, as if I were two people. One of them was Norma Jeane from the orphanage who belonged to nobody. The other was someone whose name I didn’t know. But I knew where she belonged. She belonged to the ocean and the sky and the whole world." –Marilyn Monroe

Metamorphosis-MMSince Marilyn Monroe’s death on August 5, 1962, at age 36, hundreds of books have emerged, some celebrating her legacy, others scrutinizing her life in obsessive detail. Controversies still swirl, but we know many of the facts: She grew up in foster homes, devoutly religious and shy. She married her first husband at age 15, and when he went off to war, she started modeling and found the power in a snug sweater to keep up troop morale. She worked her curves on and off camera, propelling herself from wholesome girl next door to ultimate platinum vamp—a transformation most stunningly depicted in David Willis’s Metamorphosis. We learn from Marilyn in Fashion that she often worked with designers to create looks to enhance the Marilyn image, defining sophisticated '50s style. She had dozens of affairs (some public, others deeply private), but Norman Mailer noted—in his seminal 1973 biography, Marilyn, later paired with Bern Stern’s photographs in a lavish Taschen tome—that her “greatest love affair was conceivably with the camera.”

Much of her life beyond her legend remains enigmatic. Marilyn famously said she didn’t want to be rich, she just wanted to be wonderful, and too often she didn't realize that she already was. On film, we saw Marilyn luminously at home in her body: Lawrence Schiller, who photographed her on the sets of Let's Make Love and Something's Got to Give, describes her in Marilyn & Me as a tough, ambitious agent in her own career and a self-assured model.

But her incandescent confidence was a veneer barely concealing her vulnerability and self-doubt, a conflict masterfully dramatized by Joyce Carol Oates in her novel Blonde. Marilyn grew to deeply resent and resist the prison of the sex symbol role in which she had cast herself. She longed to be taken seriously, and despite her stutter and deepening battles with addiction and depression, she devoted herself to becoming a great dramatic actress (beyond the comic genius so evident in Some Like It Hot), and she showed every sign of getting there.

MM-My-StoryShe made up for a missed education by devouring books, writing poetry, and developing intense friendships and affairs with artists, intellectuals, and, most (in)famously, politicians like the Kennedys. Some believe that her autobiography, My Story, was altered after her death to the point that it’s not entirely reliable, but her genuine wit and intelligence is undeniable. Lois Banner's MM—Personal offers the most revealing look inside her everyday life (photos and art and other objects that mattered to her), while we see the introspective, intellectually hungry Marilyn most directly in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, which culminates in a spread of her most cherished books.

 Many assert that Marilyn was coming into her own as an artist and learning to speak with her own voice just as her life ended. Adam Braver's new novel, Misfit, centering on her last weekend at Frank Sinatra's Lake Tahoe resort, brilliantly imagines her struggle to create an authentic identity and the tragic consequences.  Several writers and historians contend, citing convincing detail, that she was decisively silenced: Donald Wolfe makes a meticulously researched    homicide case in his nonfiction work, The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, and J.I. Baker's The Empty Glass is a breathlessly paranoid noir thriller that draws on much of the same evidence.

MM-Passion-ParadoxI feel the full loss of her when I imagine how a well, vibrant Marilyn—a woman who pushed the cultural boundaries of the 1950s until they strained at their seams—might have expressed her creative and intellectual self over the course of a full lifetime. Her husband Arthur Miller observed that "to have survived,  she  would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” Lois Banner describes in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox how Marilyn's private funeral, arranged by Joe DiMaggio (whom Marilyn had planned to remarry that same week) ended with fans rushing her grave "in one big wave," tearing apart every floral tribute in their frenzied desire for souvenirs—much like people had tried to take pieces of her dress or hair when she was alive. Marilyn gave too much to deserve that. Books make much more marvelous souvenirs. –Mari Lynne Malcolm

See more of our favorite books about Marilyn Monroe.

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

April 2014

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