The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles

This lovely book reminds me of nothing so much as The Great Gatsby, both in writing style and the way it evokes an era. I had the usual quibbles, which I’ll mention below, but nothing that derailed the book, which I highly recommend.

The story, set in New York in 1938, concerns a year in the life of 25-year-old Katey, a secretary of unusual sophistication (one of my quibbles) and ambitions that she is just beginning to put into play. The action starts when she and her roommate Eve meet the rich and handsome Tinker Grey, falling in with his circle of friends and acquaintances. Despite a temporary setback into bleak, working-girl subsistence, Katey eventually ends up as part of an elite social set, while also finding previously unimagined career opportunities through a combination of her own bold moves and Tinker’s friends. This is no straightforward rags-to-riches tale, however, and the ending is anything but neat. What ultimately happens to Tinker, Eve, and Katey is largely unexpected and yet still the result of the choices each of them makes.

“The writing sparkles.” How many times have we read that cliche? Yet it’s true here. For example, here is a typical Towles paragraph:

On the steps of the Plaza stood the hotel’s officious captains dressed in long red coats with big brass buttons. Half a block away, the epauletted officers of the Essex House wore a sharply contrasting shade of blue. This would no doubt make things so much easier should the two hotels ever go to war.

I like a good plot as well as the next reader, but what makes a book for me is character. Despite my quibbles (like, how did a girl of her background learn to socialize so well with the wealthy and educated?), Katey was well-drawn and multi-dimensional — I wanted to know where she was going, what was going to happen to her, how she was going to confront the various barriers to happiness thrown in her way and, essentially, what she thought. As an introvert myself, I found it interesting that she discovered ways to isolate herself enough to recharge and regroup even when her circumstances made it quite difficult. And there was the atmosphere. Towles brought the late 1930s to life with vivid illustrations of New York’s night life, the various types of housing available to people from different incomes, the daily grind of Manhattan’s lower-rung white collar workers, and the impending war in Europe.

Based on the writing, the storytelling, and the characterizations, I highly recommend this book.

As for animals, there is a reference to duck hunting, but the friend who takes Katey out “shooting” has her shooting skeet. So there’s nothing for animal lovers to worry about here. Enjoy!

November 7, 2011 Posted by | Book Reviews, friendship, historical fiction, literature | , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The New Yorkers, by Cathleen Schine

This book was such fun to read! Cathleen Schine has written a number of books, and I don’t recall how I stumbled across this one, but I really liked it and plan to read more of her work. The New Yorkers fits well into the theme of this blog, since some of the characters are dogs.

In fact, there are many characters in this story about a small group of New Yorkers who live on the city’s Upper West Side, and one of the things I liked was that Schine spooled them out slowly enough and made them different enough that I was able to keep track of them easily. The dogs change their owners’ lives. For example, Jody is a middle-aged music teacher whose pit bull brings new joy to her life and opens her up to falling in love after a long drought. There’s also Everett, the aforementioned love interest, who is a nice but non-perfect guy; George, a young waiter who moves in with his sister Polly, who in turn adopts a puppy; Simon, a somewhat self-absorbed bureaucrat; Jamie, the gay restaurant owner who makes everyone feel at home, even the dogs; and Doris, the dog-hating but comical villain with political aspirations. These people each have their own stories, they keep bumping into each other, and their lives slowly improve or change, so by the end it seems that everyone, including Doris, is where they ought to be in their emotional lives, with a big boost from the dogs. It’s all very endearing, sweet, and normal, giving us a window on ordinary lives and reminding us of the joys therein.

As for the fate of the animals, well, there is some drama and some sadness, because not all of our pets live as long as we do. But there is nothing awful like abuse or neglect that would truly upset an animal lover.

So I am recommending this book – enjoy!

October 31, 2011 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, food, friendship, humor, pets, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

This book featured gallons of tea, buckets of tea, maybe even an overflowing river of tea. Maybe that was the problem – maybe the characters would have been more interesting had they been coffee drinkers. Or if Diana, the wimpy, non-practicing-witch protagonist, had worn something other than black leggings and baggy blue sweaters. And when did it become necessary for every story involving a witch to also include vampires? At least they’re not zombies. I can’t get into zombies at all.

Am I sounding cranky about this book? I actually liked it, for the most part, and just recently recommended it to a friend. It’s not great literature, but it’s good escapism, a classic beach book if you will. I’ll read the sequel. But LET’S JUST STOP WITH THE VAMPIRES ALREADY, OKAY??? I AM SICK AND TIRED OF VAMPIRES!!! I get it, they’re sexy and powerful and mysterious and all that. They’re also over-exposed, and I don’t mean in terms of sunlight. Plus, I like witch books. Can we have more witches without vampires? Please? Look at J. K. Rowling – she did quite well writing a series about witches and wizards, with only the briefest mention of vampires, probably just to shut up the questions about them. It can be done, in other words, and quite successfully.

So I liked A Discovery of Witches, even though it dragged in spots, especially in the middle, which needed to be cut deeply and ruthlessly by an editor with strong opinions about pacing. My favorite characters were Emily (Diana’s Aunt Sarah’s partner) and the Bishop family’s house, which does not talk but is more expressive than 3/4 of the characters who do. I also liked Sophie (the Luna Lovegood equivalent), who comes in very late and is very cute and perceptive. Diana Bishop, though? Eh. Vampire/love-interest Matthew Clairmont? Eh. Matt’s mom, Ysabeau? Eh. The one-dimensional villains? Eh. The ending, which is also the set-up for the next book? Excellent!

So what am I nattering about, anyway? Here’s the plot: Diana Bishop, professor at Yale and last in a long line of extraordinary witches, tries not to use witchcraft for reasons that don’t quite make sense but are eventually spelled out. While doing research at Oxford, she comes across a document that every “creature” – witch, vampire, daemon – seems to know about but her, and they all want it. Since she’s the only one who’s been able to call the document forth, they want her to try again, but she has sent it back to the stacks and there it remains. Only Matthew, Oxford professor and filthy rich vampire, seems to care more about Diana than about what she can do for him. They fall in love, which is expressly forbidden by some agreement made generations ago among the three types of creatures: they won’t date outside of their own kind, if you will. Violating the agreement pisses off both the witches and the vampires – not so much the daemons, who tend to be loose cannons – and unites them against Diana and Matthew. Diana drinks a lot of tea, acts like a wimp, sleeps constantly, fails to make the most basic decisions, and wears black leggings and baggy blue sweaters on most occasions. Eventually I wanted to throttle her, but then the book got interesting again, Diana started communing with ghosts, the mystery of her parents’ gruesome death became a factor, her inability to harness her extraordinary witchcraft powers was explained, and she and Matthew left Ysabeau’s deathly dull French mansion for Sarah and Emily’s delightfully opinionated house in New York. And then the book ended with a set-up for a sequel, which I plan to read despite all the damned vampires that will dilute the presence of my beloved witches.

Speaking of vampires, here’s a question: how did they manage to ride horses before the invention of the automobile? I’ve seen at least a couple of books in which they did, this being one of them. Some vampires fly, which would get around that question. But for those that don’t, how do they avoid chomping down on their live transportation when they go into a feeding frenzy? If the humans they care about are in danger, why aren’t their horses?

Anyway, no gruesome animal stuff happens in this book. Matthew has an entire stable of horses at Ysabeau’s place in France, and they’re fine.

October 24, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, death of a parent, families, fantasy, horses, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, by Jennifer 8 Lee

I ordered Chinese food for dinner one night last week, specifically General Tso’s chicken. I couldn’t keep reading Jennifer 8 Lee’s entertaining and informative book on the topic and continue to eat Italian or whatever else was in my refrigerator. I had to have Chinese food.

Lee, the daughter of immigrants, is a dogged and aggressive investigative reporter. But of what? Essentially, she chronicles her search for the origins of Chinese food in America. If you think, “well, of course, that would be China,” guess again. General Tso’s chicken, chop suey, anything with broccoli in it … not Chinese. As another example, Lee spends a good portion of the book tracking down the source of fortune cookies. Let’s just say they’re not standard fare at restaurants in China. And where do you think the staff comes for the Chinese carryout you phone in, or the little Chinese restaurant at the end of the block that you visit on occasion? Yes, these people may come from China, but how did they end up in your community?

Lee answers all of these questions thoroughly and with animated and energetic prose. I had a lot of fun reading this book, and I highly recommend it.

As for animals, really nothing much bad happens unless you get squicked out by the notion of selecting live seafood for dinner. (I will confess that it bothers me, but not to the point where I’d veto a book over it.) When Lee discusses American cultural issues about dog meat with a Chinese farmer, he says that dogs raised for pets are no good for eating — you should only eat dogs raised for meat. Well, that’s nice. (Does WordPress have sarcasm tags?) Okay, so it’s a cultural thing, I’m American, and Americans don’t eat certain animals. Anyway, nothing awful is shown despite a few concepts being presented, so I’m going to declare this book SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

April 25, 2010 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, food, nonfiction, restaurants | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hodge-Podge

So Domino’s Pizza is advertising that their old pizza was awful. I’m not going to argue with that. I’d give it a D+. And now, supposedly, Domino’s has a new and improved pizza.

Let me say here that I am not a fan of New York pizza. To me, it is a fat delivery system with no flavor other than salt and a texture like cardboard drenched in grease. I much prefer Chicago-style pizza, which is a fat delivery system with many diverse flavors and wonderful textures. Mmmm, Chicago-style pizza!

I mention this because on Sunday, Dave and I returned from New York with a variety pack of beers from Brooklyn Brewery, all of which I will write about below. And the US-Canada hockey game was on that night, and we’re hockey fans. So, to go with our beers, we ordered a pizza from Domino’s.

Good work, Domino’s! You certainly did improve your product. I now give it a B-, which is high praise coming from me. The crust has a hint of garlic flavor and no longer tastes like cardboard. The sauce — who even noticed the sauce before? Now it’s just a tad spicy, which I like. Spicy is good. The sausage still needs some work, but maybe that’s next.

Okay, on to New York. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Brewery.  The latter was not as interesting as a winery, but the beer is good and now I’ve finally been in Brooklyn. For dinner, we revisited a favorite restaurant, Fig and Olive, and discovered a new one, Cookshop. Both were excellent.

What else did we do in New York? We got hypnotized by the Olympics on TV. Who knew the men’s cross-country race could be so exciting? It was, though, with the Swedes introducing a new strategy that really pissed off the other racers and resulted in gold and bronze medals for the Swedes. Good going, Swedish cross-country guys!

The US-Canada men’s hockey game on Sunday was dramatic. I don’t think I breathed during the entire third period. I’m an American, which should surprise no one reading this blog, but I like good hockey most of all. I’m also pissed off that neither the Canadian nor the American team have any of my Washington Capitals on them, while Russia has three. If I end up cheering for Russia, this is why.

Anyway, the Canadians were all assuming this was a two-team tournament between them and Russia. That’s why they lost, and if they don’t pull it together immediately, they’re over. I have little hope for them, because they certainly seemed to lack cohesiveness and it’s kind of late even if they develop it. It is entirely possible that they are now shocked into whatever mental state athletes need to be in to win. But the other teams — the ones like defending Olympic gold medalists Team Sweden — have had more time together in that very frame of mind. Via the Internet I have a good friend from Canada, and I know this means a lot to them, but I am calling Sweden to repeat as the gold medalists, the winner of the Russia/Canada match to take silver, and US for the bronze. Blame Steve Yzerman for listening to Don Cherry * or someone very much like him . I’d like to see the gold medal game between Russia and the US, but we’ll see. There’s lots of hockey to be played this week, and I don’t want to jinx it.

*Cherry is a clown who used to know a lot about hockey but doesn’t anymore. He’s biased against all players born outside of Canada, which is a distinctly 1950s mentality. Take the most bigoted bloviating anti-immigrant politician you can think of, put him in a bright red jacket, and limit him to talking about hockey: that’s Don Cherry. He probably really does think there are only two teams playing in the Olympics. It’s sad when a one-time expert becomes a joke, and that’s what happened to him.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | food, random thoughts, sports, travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holiday Weekend in New York

Way back when, Dave went to Cornell Law School, and this past weekend, some of the guys from his class organized a dinner at The Cornell Club in New York City. So off we went, for another weekend trip. We took Amtrak, which is easier than driving. I have the strongly held opinion that no one should drive in New York unless they are prepared to drive like a Yellow Cab. Otherwise, they just create chaos. The Yellow Cabs may look like they’re playing bumper cars, but they know what they’re doing. The rest of us should stay out of their way.

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on West 35th. It wasn’t cheap, but it was nice and the location was fantastic. It’s walking distance from Penn Station, and just around the corner from Macy’s and the Empire State Building. Yeah, Macy’s is everywhere, but this is the “historical” Macy’s, the one in Herald Square that was part of the story Miracle on 34th Street. We walked over and viewed the elaborately decorated Christmas displays in the windows.

Our first night in New York, we had dinner at the Fifth Avenue location of Fig & Olive, which was a find — excellent food at reasonable-for-New-York prices, especially if you order from the fixed price menu. I had the mushroom and truffle soup, the thyme chicken paillard, and the chocolate pot de creme. Dave had the same thing only with the bell pepper and tomato soup. The serving sizes were just right, too. We’ll definitely go back.

Afterwards, we walked over to Rockefeller Center and saw the big Christmas tree. One thing I love about New York is how the entire city decorates for the holidays. It seemed like everyone had a Menorah displayed in honor of Hannukah, and the Christmas decorations were over the top in many cases. Other things I like about New York: it’s a walking city, and I like to walk; and there are many independent small businesses, moreso than in a lot of other large cities, where the chains seem to predominate. The people are friendly, too. I know that goes against the city’s image, but that’s been my experience.

On Saturday, we visited the American Museum of Natural History, on Central Park West. Being from the Washington DC area with all of its many museums, you might wonder why we’d visit a museum in another city. Well, we like museums. That’s one of the great things about living near Washington, and we especially like to visit the AMNH when we’re in New York. We saw three special exhibits, on butterflies, the Silk Road, and mammals. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon, quite frankly.

Finally, we had dinner with Dave’s law school buddies at The Cornell Club. We had one of the banquet rooms, which was sort of bland compared to the downstairs dining rooms. But the food was very good and the company was lots of fun, as usual.

The next day, it was back onto Amtrak and back home. The weekend was short and sweet, and I can’t wait to go back.

December 14, 2009 Posted by | food, hotels, museums, restaurants, travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment