Monday, August 2, 2010

The Dante Club

Having finished The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl about a month ago, I have been mulling over the brute-force-research and immersion required for him to complete it. This is probably the most thorough work of fiction I’ve ever read. I mean, it’s like a non-fiction study with a serial murderer thrown in! While the fairly extensive exploration of the setting and characters could be a slightly arduous task for me, they were indeed necessary to the tale itself. This is certainly a murder mystery for uber nerds.

The Setting: 1865 Boston...
the city and its citizens' (and denizens') struggle against the uncomfortable weight remaining in the wake of the Civil War. Veterans are unable to regain their easy place in society after everything they've the book they gather together, because in other veterans' company they feel understood. This phenomenon occurs after any war, but I think it is a testament to Pearl's ability to truly depict life in this time period and to truly create a Boston I felt I was experiencing first hand. I can't help but think of all the various stories I've read or heard on NPR detailing the difficulties faced by our new veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I really appreciated his presentation of the differing attitudes in Boston regarding slavery, immigrants, and the different classes. As I read I could not help remembering my own studies in this area (a long, long time ago) and was pleased to find it as accurate a portrayal as I could imagine.

What is so striking about this book is that it could easily be a non-fiction research project (although, much better written) and you cannot help but learn a little something while enjoying the story. At the end of each of Pearl's book Pearl includes a Historical Note section where you learn which components of the story are historically accurate and which, though consistent with some figure or another, are fiction.

The Characters...
While some are invented (although based usually on several real figures and using common experiences of the time), many are historical. As an attorney I found Oliver Wendell Holmes (Jr.)'s brief appearances interesting. But Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.) was even more enlightening (I mean, parents have a significant impact on their children). He’s a funny guy…and I love how delicately “Wendey” (Jr.) tries to protect his father regarding Sr.’s writing and rather fragile ego.

Engraving of the poet/professor Dr. Oliver Wen...Image via Wikipedia
I had to put in this engraving of Dr. Holmes.  It looks like an awkward senior picture complete with weird facial hair!

The "Club" in composed of four primary members: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.), and J.T. Fields. They all gather once a week to discuss and assist Longfellow in his translation of the Divine Comedy into English. There are other satellite members who pop in occasionally as well.

Pearl provides an interesting view into the lives of immigrants, more specifically Italian immigrants in Boston. It is fascinating to me that the Club’s translation of the Divine Comedy faced so much opposition from the old men running Harvard. I think it is something along the super-enlightened, mature line of “Protestants Rule, and Catholics (especially Italians) and their Literature Drool.”  It's odd that what many of us deem today to be a romantic language spoken by cultured people was thought vile.  That Latin and Greek were everything and Italian had no place in any Harvard student's education.

My favorite character is the invented Nicholas Rey, a half-white/half-black policeman-the first policeman of color in Boston. He has a difficult task before him: to catch criminals without being able to carry a gun, or to arrest white people.

Living Dante…
There are several Italian characters in the book who virtually live Dante. The Club members seem to as well. Then there are the veterans who also are drawn in by the powers of Dante. I have never lived a book before. I’m not sure I want to. It’s something to think about.

Another neat thing to note is the The Dante Club site includes the "lost" chapters that did not make the cut for the final book.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Nurdle Wars

Until this morning I lived my life in ignorance.  I did not know the name of the swipey-glob of toothpaste on the Aquafresh packaging, in fact, I was so ignorant I didn't even know that thing would (or should have a name).  But it does.  And the name is wonderful, "nurdle." 

Toothpaste and toothbrushImage via Wikipedia
Failed nurdle attempt.  Of course I'm not using a picture of an actual nurdle. I don't want these titans of toothpaste coming after me next!
A toothpaste fight (er, a legal battle) broke out yesterday morning. Colgate-Palmolive is suing GlaxoSmithKline (Aquafresh) because they say Glaxo is hogging the nurdle.

The best part I gleaned from The Wall Street Journal is that Aquafresh alleges Colgate is attempting to exploit the "commercial magnetism" of its iconic nurdle.  It's funny to me that this toothpaste has one huge ego! 
Your assignment, should you chose to accept it, is to somehow work the words "nurdle" and "commercial magnetism" into your conversations today.  There are other "nurdles" in the world, but use it in the toothpaste sense of the word.  Everyone uses toothpaste (hopefully...fingers crossed) and plastic pellets just aren't good conversation people! 

Similarly, don't believe everything you read in the Urban Dictionary about nurdles (as if you would).  Definition 5 is particularly enlightening, "idiot a dumb trick someone who is being retarted [sic]."  Use it in a sentence? Yes, the Urban Dictionary does that: "Stanley is acting like a nurdle hes walking around in circles nd talking to himself."  Dear Clara and Steven: If you (a) cannot spell simple words, perhaps contributing to a "dictionary" is not a good use of your time, and (b) that is kind of offensive.  (If you check nurdle out on Urban Dictionary, don't stop at 5, move on to the sixth definition.  Apparently someone is under impression a hush puppy is also a nurdle...I love slang.)
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Eat Spot

I met my friend Summer for lunch downtown at The Eat Spot.  Despite its generic name, this restaurant is not your typical place to grab a bite.  A number of menu items are calling my name, and I hope to return soon. 

The atmosphere is good, it's you typical downtown restaurant with the tables closely situated to one another.  A self-described gastropub (which I know is a trendy term, but for some reason the word makes me think of gas--the embarrassing kind--and snobby hipsters), the atmosphere is not too intimidating.  Our server was extremely nice, which is the true measure of a place's atmosphere.

I had the Carolina Crab Cake Sandwich, and while I'm not sure what makes it "Carolina" it was pretty good.  It wasn't the best crab cake I've ever eaten, but it was good for lunch and good for the price.  It came on a Kaiser roll, with bacon, romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, and what is described as a Dijon "tartar" sauce (with capers!).  While I liked the sauce a lot, it did not taste very tartar-y. 

Also, while I liked the bacon, lettuce, and tomato, I'm wondering when someone decided crab cake sandwiches needed these "traditional" sandwich fixings.  What happened to lump crab, a few breadcrumbs to hold it together, tartar sauce if you wanted it, and a roll?  The additional toppings are merely to distract from the fact that most restaurants' crab cakes can't hack it served the "old" way. 

I love crab cakes.  Yes, even those that require toppings.  If a menu has crab cakes on it, that is what I will order the first time.  Which I probably shouldn't do, because even wonderful restaurants sometimes have a less-than-inspiring crab cake and it can sour my opinion of the entire establishment.  I have had to train myself (and sometimes I am successful) to give restaurants another shot.  This is one such restaurant I am looking forward to trying again.

They make their own fries, chips, and PBR onion rings (yes!).  Next time I've decided to try the SBLT (shrimp, bacon, lettuce, and tomato) with the grit fries...I'm intrigued. 

What made me the happiest with this restaurant was that it is among the slowly expanding number of establishments who offer gluten free items.  The menu says gluten free bread is available!  I'm always looking for places to take Mom, who has celiac disease, and am definitely putting The Eat Spot on the list.
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Monday, November 3, 2008

My Favorite Book

There are so many great books out there (and a great many more that aren't worth the time), but my enduring favorite is Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). I read and re-read it several times a year. It's actually embarrassing that I love P&P so much. Why? Because I'm not unique. Millions of people call it their favorite too. I can't say I blame them, but no one wants to be typical.

I should say my favorite book is something more academic, like The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner). Unfortunately, that would be a huge lie...I never even made it to the second chapter. You'd think as a Southerner I could decipher the vernacular, but I haven't yet. It's a personal failure, I know. Every year I resolve to read it and every year I fail to follow through. (I haven't made that apple pie from scratch either.)

P&P is my coping mechanism.

Stressed out? Read P&P.

A little lonely? Read P&P.

At the beach? Grab Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell or something easy and light. (You can't read the same book all the time!)

P&P should be read alone in a quiet place. I find nestling in near a window with a hot cup of black tea really enhances the experience. If you can arrange for a nice, steady rain (one that makes every color in nature vibrant) you've hit the mother load.

My life is one of over-stimulation. I multitask all day long. Watching a little TV at the end of the day includes working sudoku puzzles, checking my e-mail, and working on my sketches. It's too much--I never have anything to show for my evenings (and that includes relaxation). The few stolen moments with P&P restore me.

I'm convinced multitasking will come back to bite our entire generation in the ass. We're running ourselves ragged doing too many things. We're distracted and that means everything we do is mediocre at best. It's only a matter of time before we can't carry on a real conversation with one another. Want a tutorial on the art of conversation? Read P&P.