life just bounces

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There aren’t many people who read this or even people in my life who will know who Mark E. Smith was. He died at age 60. Surprised it did not happen earlier. But my god, could I ever have imagined how influential The Fall would be to me … since I was 12/13? How vast the influence of people who have been in my life who also felt that The Fall meant something to them?

It’s sad and inevitable.

Tasks and tools

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I have always said that for every task there is a tool, and while I don’t always stand by this (why accumulate more and more specialized tools when you can improvise and accumulate less), sometimes the difference the right tool makes is astounding.

One example that surprised me was when I somehow acquired a little plastic thing that makes holes in the middle of cupcakes to fill them. I thought it seemed like a wasteful wee bit of plastic until I actually used it – the days of ripped-up cupcake tops with holes inelegantly stabbed into being with not-fit-for-purpose paring knives were finally over. And the cupcake “holer” was so much quicker, neater. And for someone who makes filled cupcakes by the hundreds, rather than the dozens, this made a lot of sense.

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On a similar note, for a very long time, I have been using a cheap, flimsy but reliable blender to make my morning breakfast monstrosity (a lot of spinach and a bit of kiwi, yogurt, cinnamon and turmeric). It’s been a loyal and useful tool. I also had a KitchenAid blender, which was much more expensive and supposedly heavy-duty, but it couldn’t handle anything, meaning that I eventually went out and bought another of the cheap blenders when the first one eventually died.

Just before the end of the year, I bought a heavy-duty, rather insane, Ninja blender/food processor thing but put it away until the old, basic blender breathed its last, which happened to be this afternoon, when it spewed a not inconsiderable amount of smoke into the air and smelled of burning plastic. Yes, the time had come to give this trusty blender his well-earned retirement.

Making a smoothie in this Ninja thing is like joining an entirely different world of appliances. Not unlike moving from mixing everything by hand to the magnificent KitchenAid stand mixer (which is, apparently, the only thing KitchenAid can reliably make – my other KitchenAid appliances are weak and fragile).

Once upon a time, I lived in a seaside flat in Iceland and spent my days and nights mixing all my copious baking projects by hand. I know the difference a purpose-made appliance can make. And while this Ninja thing might be overkill, it certainly created something completely different from what I was drinking – using so much less noise.

said and read

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My goal, as stated, was to read 26 non-English-language books in 2018. I am on track, but I didn’t really intend to keep reading other books like a total fiend.  I suppose it’s like when you avoid something over which you have no self-control. (My grandmother might have called this lamentable lack of discipline ‘a potato-chip effect’. She could entirely avoid potato chips, but if she ate just one, she was not able to stop. Then again, my grandmother would also have found this kind of obsessive reading to be intoxicating and its own form of discipline, so I doubt she would have faulted me for it. Books are not, after all, potato chips.)

For nearly a decade I didn’t read much of anything. But crack open a book (or a screen in the case of an e-reader), and I’m done. You can’t pry me away from it. That’s not to say I don’t do anything else. It’s just that I never go anywhere without the Kindle. Every spare moment waiting or riding a train or plane or lying in bed trying to fall asleep is occupied with reading.

To achieve my actual goal I need to read two non-English-language books per month, and I am well into the second of the two. But I guess there must be about 18 other (English-language) books on the go at the same time. I really didn’t anticipate this.

And my one unequivocal recommendation is Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Sure, you kind of have to be interested in Russia, Russian history and non-fiction for this to appeal to you (although she has used several people’s journeys as ways into the story, making it feel more visceral and urgent than a lot of fiction). Several other books have been noteworthy: Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (Bohumil Hrabal)… because it’s Hrabal. There’s no way to explain why it’s good or worth your time (and it might not be if this style doesn’t appeal to you); The Best We Could Do (Thi Bui), which is not my normal style. I don’t care for graphic/illustrated novels (this is more an autobio than a novel), but this was a moving exception. If you have interest in Vietnam, the refugees who left Vietnam after the long conflict and the way these people adapted in their new surroundings and how their children then adapted, this is a fresh and deeply humanizing take on a familiar story (familiar, perhaps, in a firsthand way to Vietnamese and American people at least).

So far I have not read anything I considered truly bad, but there were a few repetitive time wasters (e.g. a handful of books by comedian Frankie Boyle – not time-wasting per se… more just semi-lazy rehashing of his comedy material mixed with some semi-thoughtful left-wing opinions, and the inane autobio of Lauren Graham, whom I dislike anyway, so I can’t explain why I read it. It may just be an extension of my “hate watching” of certain TV shows, notably and related in this case, Gilmore Girls and Parenthood). It could be that I read these because they were readily available as e-books from the library. Yeah, sometimes this potent mix of lukewarm curiosity and convenience/availability will do it. Not just when it comes to books.

white chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles

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What do you do when you end up not only with about five pounds of white chocolate (when you only needed about half a pound and also find white chocolate to be little better than eating crayons) but also with bottles of prosecco (when you don’t really drink, and if you did, prosecco would be one of the last things you’d reach for)?

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Too much white chocolate! And I was wrong. It wasn’t only 5 pounds but 5.5! Fuck! Incidentally I still have quite a lot of these and will make another batch of everyone’s favorite white chocolate macadamia cookies soon, even though my baking days are over… but as white chocolate goes, these are amazing. Thanks, Callebaut quality

You make white chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles. I saw a recipe online at the same time I was 1. stuck with these extraneous, and let’s face it, almost inappropriate amounts of ingredients, and 2. happened to be in a candy-making frenzy for handing over some homemade gifts to neighbors and people who stopped by in the post-holiday period.

So how did we get from there (see the oversized bag of white chocolate) to here (see below)? You can click the link above or follow the recipe below.

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White chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles
1 cup raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup prosecco
red food coloring

2 cups white chocolate (for truffles)
2 cups white chocolate (for dipping/coating)

edible gold glitter

Mix in saucepan on medium, cook 3-4 minutes. Reduce to low. Add ½ cup prosecco. Simmer 2 minutes. Strain to remove seeds. Return to pan, add one drop red food color. Cook 10 minutes ( you should end up with about 1/2 cup of liquid).

Put 2 cups white chocolate chips in a bowl. Pour the cooked raspberry prosecco mixture over the chips. Let this sit 2 minutes, and then whisk until smooth.

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Put in freezer for an hour or two.

Remove from freezer and work quickly make 1 tablespoon-sized balls from the frozen mixture. Place balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze again, at least an hour.

When nearly ready to finish, melt 2 cups of white chocolate chips in a double boiler or microwave.

Using a toothpick, lift each frozen prosecco ball and dip in white chocolate and place on a wax paper lined baking sheet. Freeze 30 minutes.

Re-melt chocolate and put in piping bag. Remove toothpicks gently – 3 at a time, drizzle white choc over – and top each with edible gold glitter.

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One of them cracked open and this is how it looked inside (somehow I think it could be less grey-lavender colored but my luck with red food coloring is lacking.

I can’t tell you how these taste, though, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to eat blobs of white chocolate and prosecco-tinged raspberry goo!

Meow Mix – Random Gum of January 2018 soundtrack

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Meow Mix – Random Gum of January 2018

Follow me on Spotify.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/comraderadmila/playlist/2k0qZu0AIqoePAqcBYeepW

01 Grace Lightman – Halloween is Over
Because Halloween really is over
02 Inspiral Carpets – This is How It Feels
Lonely and nostalgic
03 Robyn Hitchcock – Raining Twilight Coast
“Just one thing, baby, you forgot my heart”. Glasgow in May
04 Soccer Mommy – Switzerland
“i trace and memorize your curves and lines until my fingers start to bleed
we could go some place alone
don’t you see
we could go somewhere it snows
just you and me
we could go to switzerland
never come back home again “
05 Calypso Valois – Amoureuse
06 Luwten – Double for Me …You don’t want to need but need to know what you want/You think that if you need too much you’ll end up with none…
“What you said is not what you meant
You haven’t quite figured it out yet”
07 Lykke Li – Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone
Sweden
08 Nap Eyes – Alaskan Shake
Nova Scotia
09 Moonface, Siinai – The Nightclub Artiste
Pretty prolific Canadian from delightful British Columbia
10 Elvis Perkins – While You Were Sleeping
11 Niobe – Hawaii Duet
12 Summer Aviation – Thrust
Old friends
13 Nana – Gato é Crime, Denuncie
meow… meow…
14 DRINKS – Hermits on Holiday
For beloved grumpy would-be hermits and mugwumps
15 The Amazing – Perfect Day for Shrimp
Why, Swedish, of course…
16 Black Marble – Iron Lung
17 Vashti Bunyan – If I Were
A name-dropping opportunity
18 Lily & Madeleine – Devil We Know …Come the memories, come the shivering cold, let the rain fall…
Better the liar you know…
19 Fats Domino – Every Night About This Time
RIP – 2017
20 Al-Masrieen – Asef Gedan
Egypt. Cheers to Aurélien and Cat
21 Moon Palace – Shapeshifter
Is a person a liar or just a shapeshifter? …Seattle
22 Sylvia Striplin – You Can’t Turn Me Away
23 The Third Bardo – I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time
24 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – The Pilot …A tough-love motherfucker, who was born a clown…
“What could I say? What was I after?
I forgot, but you figured it out for me again with your radio silence”
25 Sevdaliza – The Language of Limbo
Iranian-Dutch
26 Over the Rhine – Faithfully Dangerous
Memories of the 1990s. “I wonder which part of this will leave a scar”. Ohio.
27 LCD Soundsystem – Emotional Haircut
Glasgow in May?
28 Anchorsong – Butterflies
29 David Cassidy – I Think I Love You
RIP – 2017
30 Cults – Right Words
31 An Luu – Pourquoi tu me fous plus des coups?
32 Christopher Owens – Heroine (Got Nothing on You)
33 St Vincent – Sugarboy
34 Sébastien Tellier – Drunk on the Radio
35 Luwten – Indifference
Netherlands
36 Maggie Rogers – Alaska (acoustic)
“And I walked off you
And I walked off an old me”
37 Kyu Sakamoto – Sukiyaki
The old days: Japan
38 Laibach – Drzava
Slovenia
39 Otis Redding – That’s How Strong My Love Is
You can’t not love Otis
40 Eivør – Salt
Much love to very music-loving colleague, Eva
“langt burtur úr landi
hómi eg gráan av minnum
lati aldurnar taka meg
føli djúphavið darra
havið er í mær
er saltið í tárunum”
41 Tropic of Cancer – The Dull Age
42 Helado Negro – Lengua Larga
Ecuador-USA
“Abre tu boca que quiero conocer
Adentro
Y hay un gran vacío
Conocido”
43 Sound of Ceres – Gemini Scenic
For twins of all kinds: birthday twins, astrological twins, lost twins
44 Patio Furniture – Please, Please, Please Let me get what I want
A song for the hardy, sturdy patio furniture
45 Neşe Alkan – Kaçma Güzel
Turkiye
46 Acetone – Shaker
47 Aimee Mann – Knock It Off …You had your chances but now they’re gone…
“Seattle finally couldn’t hold her”
48 Summer Aviation – Angle of Attack
Old friends, lovely sounds
49 Coparck – A Dog and Pony Show
Netherlands
Martina! Here’s to, if not the end of dog and pony shows, at least new and exciting ones
50 Shura – Nothing’s Real
“I’m a dead girl walking
I need medicine”
51 Salma Agha – Barish Men Main Khari
52 Natalia Lafourcade – No Más Llorar
Mexico
“No más llorar
Sé que ya lo nuestro no tiene remedio
Pero no más llorar”
53 Anna Burch – Tea-Soaked Letter
Detroit
“I forgot to fake
The way that I was feeling
I guess it’s too late
Now all my cards are showing”
54 Malena Zavala – Should I Try (acoustic)
Argentina
55 Mdou Moctar – Iblis Amghar
Tuareg/Niger
56 Softer Still – 1993
England, of course
57 Ages and Ages – How It Feels
Portland, Oregon
58 Jaws of Love – Love Me Like I’m Gone
Thanks, with love, to Andreas
59 Heartless Bastards – Marathon
Cincinnati (why are people always surprised that Ohio has not only a bunch of cities but a ton of bands?). Not my kind of marathon, but okay…
60 Marta Kubišová – Cesta
Requisite Czech. Love to Martina, dearest Anne and Mr MI
61 P.P. Arnold – Medicated Goo
Good goo of random gum and love and life
62 Hatchie – Sure
Australia
63 Mattiel – Not Today
“Everything’s okay – but maybe not today”
64 Cinnamon Tapes – Cinnamon Sea
São Paulo.
65 France Gall – Les sucettes
RIP – 2018
66 Xenoula – Tororoi
South Africa/Wales
67 Essaie Pas – Futur Parlé
Montréal, bien sûr
68 Jonathan Bree, Clara Viñals – Say You Love Me Too
Thanks to Tom
69 Julia Holter – Don’t Make Me Over
The simplicity of this song makes me overly emotional
“Don’t make me over
Now that I can’t make it without you”
70 Angel Olsen – Fly On Your Wall
“I found a feeling inside
Or should I say it found me
I turned into someone I
Never imagined I’d be”

in the hundreds

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When 2017 began I set out to read 26 books. I thought this was ambitious because I had essentially abandoned reading for most of the previous ten years. It must have been sometime in the spring, after topping well over 100 books, that I realized I would certainly read a record number of books (record for me, that is). I didn’t consciously set out until later in the year to finish 365 books but crossed that threshold in early-mid December, meaning that I did in the end get to read somewhere between 393 and 400 books (Goodreads, which I used to keep track of the reading, was a bit fidgety and unreliable in recording dates).

I’m a bit stunned by having read so much – feeling some of the material branded on my brain permanently, fresh in my mind since early in the year, while some things were almost forgettable. But it was, as I told a former colleague, enriching. It might not be the greatest accomplishment of the year, and it is certainly the quietest, but it gave each day a new meaning, a fresh story, a new palette on which language was painted in wholly different ways, and of course made, as Firewall likes to say, every day into a school day. In a good way, of course.

I was asked to select my favorite from among these books, but this is impossible. I read from such a wide breadth of topics and disciplines, from literary and scientific materials from around the world, that it could not even be done to say that one single book stood above the others. But among those that I loved, those that I didn’t want to end, those that I learned the most from, those that confounded or stayed with me the longest – making me turn my thoughts to them again and again – here is the rough list in no particular order:

*Advice for a Young Investigator – Santiago Ramón y Cajal

*The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
Was not sure I would include this because I had mixed feelings, although by the end I was convinced/moved.

*The Master Butchers Singing Club – Louise Erdrich
Another one I was not sure I would include. I read most of Erdrich’s books this year and most were middle of the road, but this one stood out for some reason.

*The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon
I read a bunch of Chabon and just like his style (even though it can be quite different in all his writing) and could recommend anything he has written, but this was somehow… the one I liked most.

*Time and Materials – Robert Hass
Poetry, which is not for everyone. This was superlative

*Edwin Morgan: Collected Poems – Edwin Morgan
More poetry; discovered Glaswegian Edwin Morgan this year and loved

*Reality is Not What It Seems: The Elusive Structure of the Universe and the Journey to Quantum Gravity – Carlo Rovelli

*Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

*Go, Went, Gone – Jenny Erpenbeck
Possibly overlooked by many; reminds me slightly of the film The Visitor. Deals with refugee crisis/asylum seekers in Germany with some interesting looks back at how things changed when Germany reunified

*Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
An old one I should have read ages ago but only got around to now. Enjoyed the hilarious absurdity

*The Noonday Demon – Andrew Solomon
A long book on depression – not sure why I started reading it but it was engrossing

*Evolution’s Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins – Peter S Ungar
Part of my obsession with teeth this year

*Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
A surprising and moving book

*If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino
A strange one – but the complexity of Calvino’s style makes me want to read everything he writes (he is listed again later/below)

*Broken April – Ismail Kadare
Albanian book that deals with the Kanun/blood feuds, etc.

*Secondhand Time: An Oral history of the Fall of the Soviet Union – Svetlana Alexievich

*The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano
Surprising – not sure why this book (fiction, Italian) stuck with me – perhaps the descriptions of how people fool others and themselves living a version of themselves that cannot possibly be true

*Pretty much anything by Naomi Klein, of which I read all – very timely and important

*A General Theory of Oblivion – Jose Eduardo Agualusa
An unusual one from Angola

*Tram 83 – Fiston Mwanza Mujila
An interesting one from Congo

*The Sellout – Paul Beatty
Probably one of my very favorite ones this year

*A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
Engrossing – just when you think things cannot get worse or more heartbreaking, they do. As my colleague put it “emotional porn” – a form of blackmail

*The Revolution of Everyday Life – Raoul Vaneigem
Abstract-ish philosophy but somehow resonated when I read it

*All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Fiction

*Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
Fiction from the guy who brought us the TV version of Fargo

*The Emperor of All Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee
A book on cancer – not uplifting but fascinating

*Karaoke Culture – Dubravka Ugresic
Because I pretty much love all of Ugresic’s observational essay work

*Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America – Mary Otto
More teeth!

*Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
More Calvino, whom I have quoted to death this year

*Pretty much any poetry book of works by Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai and Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer

*The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa
This is one that kept me thinking all year long and to which I will return repeatedly

*A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America – Bruce Cannon Gibney
Brewing the Baby Boomer hate…

*The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
Another of my favorite works of fiction this year

2018…

My goal, again, is to read 26 books. The trick this time, though, is that none of them can be in English. I can read books in English, but they won’t count toward the goal.