Among my greatest fears is this: one of my well-educated, high-brow friends asks me what I’m reading. So today you’ll be my confessor about my checkered life with junk books, and then we’ll talk about the wisdom of PB&J for dinner.
Understand, at the beginning of this confession, a notion that has been drilled into my head: just as Southern girls should be well-mannered, smart girls should be readers. Serious readers of Serious books.
(Side note: the capital “S” in the word Serious through the remainder of this post is for my sister, who is both smart and Southern and who despises random and inappropriate Capitalization of Letters. She will understand; you will just have to deal with it. Sorry.)
Most of the time I try to keep fresh in my mind a Serious book, one with many pages, weighty themes and big words, in case a Serious friend asks me the terrible question. For a while my Serious books were Guns, Germs and Steel and The Year of Magical Thinking, both of which I did actually read. Now I hope The Goldfinch will hold me for a year or two, although the last 80 tiresome pages of that book really should disqualify its position on the Serious literary fiction list. (Norman Maclean, Donna needed you.)
In truth what I am actually reading, at almost any given moment, is mass market, low-brow fiction: easy novels with relatively simple plots, a few twists and surprises, action, mystery, etc.
Between college graduation and the birth of my first child, a span of more than a decade, I probably finished a dozen books total. Half of them were for work (7 Habits, Crossing the Chasm), and a few were gifts from friends (The English Patient, The Unbearable Lightness of Being). And, of course, I read Harry Potter.
I enjoyed all dozen, but reading each of them was a chore. I am a slow reader, so reading is work. At least it was.
By contrast, in the past six years I’ve checked off more than 100 books: all of Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris (every series), Tana French, JR Ward and Jan Burke, most of Michael Connelly, half of Kathy Reichs, and a good portion of the NYT bestseller list. Gone Girl? Yep. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy? Check. Art of Racing in the Rain? Double check (loved that one). Right now I’m plowing through Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, which I somehow had missed.
To be fair and honest, I have managed to work in a few (slightly) more weighty works: The Lotus Eaters, Signs and Wonders, Hellhound on His Trail, In Defense of Food and Never Let Me Go. I even made it through The Poisonwood Bible and was glad I did. I tried three times to get through Wolf Hall, but I just couldn’t do it. And I did finally read one of Jodi Picoult’s (a friend from college), which I enjoyed immensely even if it was a little predictable. Actually, that may be why I enjoyed it.
To be fair and honest, I have also read the Hunger Games series, the Divergent trilogy, and The Book Thief, so I’d know what my children and their friends were reading (no, not really – but that’s the story I tell).
And yes, like practically every other grown woman in America, I read the 50 Shades and Crossfire trilogies.
As I mentioned, I have not always been a voracious reader. I’m a bit slow and dyslexic and made it through high school only by the grace of Cliff’s Notes. If you’re wondering how I then made it through Princeton, remember that I majored in art and archaeology, with a specialty in visual art/photography. No carrel in the library; no written thesis.
When I became a mom, my bookshelf held Guess How Much I Love You?, Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Gorilla, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Rikki Tikki Tembo, Little Quack, and about four dozen other similar titles. Over the course of seven years, with only three exceptions, every book I read did time on display in the picture book section of the library. The three exceptions were Guns, Germs and Steel, The Year of Magical Thinking, and the third Harry Potter book.
Then one day, and this is a true story that I could not possibly make up, I was walking to my car from my daughter’s preschool when another mom stopped me, said “Here, I think you need these,” and handed me a stack of four big, black-bound books.
She was a cool mom, a yoga teacher, a hipster who was in my little sister’s graduating high school class. And she gave me books! Why they must be fabulous!
As soon as I got the kids in bed that night, I opened the first book. The writing was lacking, really lacking, but the story line had potential. There was romance and intrigue. Surely, sometime soon, these two lead characters were going to have hot sex. So I kept reading. And reading. And reading. I would come home from work, feed everyone dinner (WAY before we were planning weekly dinners), get the wee people in bed, ignore my husband and, with great anticipation, dive back into my book.
Because I was so far off the reading radar and tried never to talk to anyone about books, I had no idea that the big, black-bound book was abstinence propaganda, written by a Mormon to keep teens from having sex. And so I read Twilight, cover to cover, waiting for Bella and Edward to get busy. 544 pages.
In the process, reading and reading and waiting for something significant to happen (and thinking about the good work editors do, noticeable there for its absence), I realized reading could actually be enjoyable if I stopped worrying about reading Serious books. It was a great distraction from my all too Serious life.
So I decided to abandon completely the pursuit of reading anything my smart friends would respect and instead to read mostly schlock for pure enjoyment. Note that I quickly moved from Twilight to books with adult characters who cussed and did actually have sex.
So there’s the confession: Mass market fiction is my Calgon, because life is too short to be Serious all the time. Really.
While we’re on the topic of being less than Serious let’s talk dinner, as we usually do here on Saturdays.
“What’s for dinner? Peanut butter & jelly and fruit?” Bernard asked, every day last week. I ignored him. He knew the plan. Hell, he even helped make the plan.
Last night as I started planning for next week’s dinners, as I always do on Friday nights, I asked Bernard for input, as I always do on Friday nights.
“Peanut butter & jelly and fruit?” he queried.
“Ok, what is it you’re trying to tell me?”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to take a week off, to have dinner without really having to make anything complicated?”
So this week is People’s Choice week at my house, for my people. Since our version of People’s Choice may not be quite what you’re looking for, here’s a link to a post from a few months ago with a week of delicious recipes from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa series. I thought it was an appropriate re-post, since we were talking about books and reading.
Here’s what we’ll be having:
Peanut Butter & Jelly | Sliced Fruit
Surely this is self-explanatory and needs no directions, yes?
Our version of nachos is usually a big taco salad: shredded lettuce, tortilla chips (we like Garden of Eatin’ blue chips), cheese, onion, cilantro and seasoned ground meat (turkey and beef, mixed). Kids opt for sour cream on top; Bernard likes fresh jalapenos; I like olives. We’re a weird crew. Which is why we’ll serve with a side of fresh blueberries.
Pizza | Caesar Salad
One of my favorite sections in The New Basics Cookbook is the chapter on pizza (sorry, not available online). If you’ve never made pizza at home, dust off that old book (or get it from the library) and have a go at it. Although there have been plenty of recipes and tips published since, I always go back to that basic instruction. The dough recipe is reliable, the techniques sound, and the instructions are clear for teaching children to cook. You knew there was a method to my madness, didn’t you?
I love that my people ask for Breakfast for Dinner during People’s Choice weeks. It’s the easiest dinner to prepare, and they always love it. Scrambled eggs, bacon, Bernard’s hash browns (God only knows how much butter he uses), and pancakes from the Joy of Cooking. Does not get any better than this.
New Orleans-style BBQ Shrimp | Green Salad with Lemon/Olive Oil Dressing | Bread
Shrimp will have to suffice for our Ash Wednesday fish. And yes, I’ll probably have Ian’s fish sticks in the freezer because I’m not sure my underage people will eat New Orleans-style BBQ Shrimp. If you’re wondering how this item made it to the list for what’s supposed to be an easy week, know that I will NOT be using any fancy official Emeril recipe here. I’ll make it the way my mother did: raw shrimp, in shell (a couple of pounds); 1 bottle of Wish-Bone Italian dressing; 1 stick of butter; 1 can of black pepper; 2 lemons. Put shrimp in a large, rectangular Pyrex; cover with dressing, butter (cut into chunks), and pepper. Squeeze the lemons on top and toss them into the dish. Bake at 350 until it’s cooked (about 25 minutes). Serve with French bread and a plain green salad.