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Ramen, Really: Chang’s Lucky Peach

So after a couple of excellent pizzas at Vapiano, we walked over to the Strand for some book browsing. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the Strand; surely everyone who has ever set foot in NYC has been to its 55,000 square feet containing over 18 miles of books. And if you haven’t been there in some time, you should return – a recent(ish) renovation has left the store more spacious and easier to navigate than in years past.

We didn’t plan to buy any books. Famous last words, right? After our recent trip upstate, we returned with a shopping bag full of fiction, economic theory, Richard Scarry and the odd embroidery stitch dictionary. It’s not like we need any more books. But I have a weakness for the children’s section, and the last time we went I hadn’t had enough time to do any browsing for myself. As my high school math teacher often said, “You people can rationalize anything.”

We exercised restraint. Mr Apparently discovered the exact book I was planning to give him for his upcoming birthday. Apparently Jr came home with Picasso and Minou"" “>a lavishly-illustrated book about Picasso. I found Lucky Peach, a new food quarterly conceived and executed by Momofuku’s David Chang, writer Peter Meehan, and the team behind Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

And to seal the deal, the first issue is almost entirely devoted to ramen. In a previous iteration of this blog, I wrote a post outlining the Apparently family’s mid-2000′s obsession with the noodly stuff. It turns out that in NYC, we have barely scratched the surface. Japan offers no fewer than 20 regional variations – on what is originally Chinese fare – and even has a museum devoted to ramen history and lore.

I can’t think of the last time I’ve spent so much time with a magazine, and I’m only halfway through its thick, glossy pages. Did you know that the Deep South has its own variation on ramen? Or that Ruth Reichl used to toss the packets, doctor up the instant noodles and serve them to her son’s friends? Next in my queue: two articles by Harold McGee (whose classic On Food and Cooking, by the way, is illustrated by a Sunnysider). And then off to McSweeney’s for a subscription, which they wisely begin with Issue 2.

See a peek of Lucky Peach at the Huffington Post. (Steel yourself for some profane language, although in a surprise move, it’s Bourdain who comes off as the soft-spoken one in this lot.) And let me know what you think in the comments.

I Have No Opinion About My Neck.

nora ephron

I’ve just finished reading Nora Ephron’s new book, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. Of course, this book is not actually new. It came out in 2006, but I got pregnant the same month it hit the shelves and so I’m several years behind on all popular media and culture. Yesterday at the gym I finally saw a Lady Gaga video.

I came across Ephron’s book at the library and felt I should read it based on the fact that it is dense with stories of living in New York City, which are exactly the sort of stories that I love, and also because I sat next to Nora and Rebecca Pidgeon at a Ricky Jay performance in 2009, on the day my cat died. The cat is irrelevant to this story but I’ve just read two hundred pages of Nora Ephron and so extraneous details are bound to make it into whatever I have to say for the next forty-eight hours. I also have no great love for Rebecca Pidgeon, but as long as I’m name dropping I might as well get Nick Pileggi, Nora’s husband, in there as well. He sat to her left.

Another reason I thought I should read this book is that Nora’s two favorite topics at the moment are aging and New York City, and since I am not getting any younger and live in Queens I thought she might have some erudite advice. It turns out, however, that Nora Ephron is not like you and me. She may rationalize all her purchases based on amortizing them to the cost of a cappuccino, but she still owns a home on the Upper East Side and has her hair blown out twice a week.

I like the way Nora thinks, but perhaps I’m just not old enough for her insight yet. I’m older than twenty-six, the age at which she feels, in retrospect, that one should parade around wearing a bikini as often as possible, but I’ve yet to replace all my shirts with black turtlenecks. I do, however, agree that “The reason you’re waking up in the middle of the night is the second glass of wine,” and I currently have a blackberry-yogurt pie with a Keebler graham-cracker crust in the oven, because “There’s no point in making piecrust from scratch.”

In writing this post, I discovered that Nora has a new book, by which I mean one that came out last year. It’s apparently about aging and memory. I hope to read it before 2015, but only if I can remember.

Are You Into Graphic Novels?

nathan sorry

Because I’ve just finished reading the story-so-far of Nathan Sorry, a nebbishy junior Wall Street paper-pusher whose plans go awry on September 10, 2001. Author and illustrator Rich Barrett evokes the tense, nihilistic mood of that fall while revealing the story of a displaced man hiding out under an assumed identity. Five chapters are available online, and new pages are posted every couple of weeks.

You can read Nathan Sorry online, or purchase the first volume in a trade paperback.

Full disclosure: Mr. Barrett may or may not be the Creative Director at the firm where I may or may not have been (and remain somewhat) employed. This should not have any effect on your thorough enjoyment of his fine work. I just read all 83 pages in one sitting.

A Bit of Seussian Digression

I’m a bit late on this – Dr. Seuss’s birthday was on March 2 – but two links worth sharing have crossed my path today:

From Mental Floss, 10 Stories Behind Dr. Seuss Stories, in which we learn more about Mr. Geisel’s political views and the degree to which some of his books are allegories.

And from Buzzfeed, What Dr. Seuss Books Were Really About, which spells out those allegories via cover art, such as this:

On Steve Martin

Steve MartinLike several other men I have loved, Steve Martin irritated the crap out of me when we first met. Not that we actually met, of course, but when I was a young camper in the early 80s and he was a wild-and-crazy guy with an arrow through his head, I thought he was the most obnoxious, most absurd, and least likable performer I could spend my precious $5 to see at the local multiplex. His out-there energy and ploys for attention just did not mesh with my twelve years of innocence and love of ballet, unicorns and the Muppets. I dismissed him as gimmicky. I was not interested in his comedy or his films. A few years later, I reluctantly saw Roxanne and eagerly saw Little Shop of Horrors. Something started to stir.

Thirty years later, I love the man. Oh, we have our differences, and our one-sided relationship is marked with the occasional understanding that helps keep us together (namely, that I no longer read his Twitter feed), but for the most part I now find Mr. Martin very curious, endearing and admirable.

The Spanish PrisonerMy opinion changed when I saw The Spanish Prisoner. Martin plays an elegant businessman who may or may not be what he seems. His understated performance made me reconsider my previous impressions.

I’m fickle. Or rather, I don’t have a television and I do have a small child, which means that I rarely see movies. Mr. Apparently introduced me to some of Mr. Martin’s older works, to which I did not respond favorably, and I’ll confess I have not seen his most recent films, although I’d like to. In the 90s I was given an audio copy of Cruel Shoes that I wore out.

What I can speak to, however, is his writing and his musical skill. I’ve read all three of Martin’s novels/novellas as well as his autobiography, and they are written in utterly compelling voices. The fictional plots all take wildly unexpected and occasionally nonsensical turns, and the last ten pages of Shopgirl angered me in a way that no other book has pissed me off. But would I have gotten so furious if I didn’t care? I have read each of his books in one or two sittings; I simply can’t put them down.

“My mind has always been independent of my plans for it.”
- from The Pleasure of My Company

One suspects in reading his books that he must know at least something about the obsessions of his characters to write so convincingly. His thorough knowledge of the art world led to his latest work of fiction, An Object of Beauty. It’s a delicious read. The Pleasure of My Company makes for a fascinating evening. Neither left me with the deep satisfaction of having read great literature, but both left me wanting much, much more and, upon waking the next day, offered that vague sense of unease that comes with missing fictional characters one has just gotten to know. I didn’t particularly like Lacey Yager, but I certainly wanted to know what happened to her next.

Characters! Perhaps that’s the connection here. The man is brilliant with characters.

Most people know that Martin is a master banjo player. If you haven’t heard him play, listen to The Crow: New Songs for the Five String Banjo.

His web site is brilliant. His Twitter feed is so fervently absurd that I had to stop following him. His autobiography is replete with anecdotes and wisdom that made me like him even more.

The more I noodle on the topic, the more I realize that my love for Steve Martin is based neither on his prolific output, nor even necessarily on his talent, for I think his books need a heavier-handed editor and his script choices are hit or miss (and perhaps chosen with an eye towards commercial success, which is, of course, his prerogative). I’m not always crazy about his pieces in The New Yorker, but it was a class act when he read one of them several years ago in a live revue, wearing a perfectly tailored suit when Andy Borowitz could barely be bothered to tuck in his shirt. But I love his characters and his concepts, and how he dives into new endeavors with confidence and enthusiasm.

“Despite a lack of natural ability, I did have the one element necessary to all early creativity: naïveté, that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.”
- from Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Why do I adore Steve Martin? Because he’s a renaissance man, and he’s not afraid to fail. And he wears sharp suits.

Freedom: A Novel

freedomI’ve waited nine years and endured two books of sludgy nonfiction for Jonathan Franzen’s latest offering, Freedom: A Novel.

It’s delicious.

I don’t want to say much about it yet, but if you’d like to read the first chapter, you can find it at The New Yorker. Another chapter was also published in The New Yorker, but I don’t know that it stands on its own. Just buy the book. And then set aside as many long sessions of reading as you can manage. It’s hard to put down.

I am currently suffering from that unsettling mental state that occurs after closing a book that’s occupied you for some time. Despite the fact that the characters lean towards the officious, self-involved and occasionally downright absurd, I already miss them. Fortunately Barnes & Noble was kind enough to send me an email today with a link to a video interview with Franzen, which has scratched the itch. Here’s twelve minutes of Franzen on writing for your viewing pleasure:

Franzen on Freedom

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