Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankfully Reading

Thankfully Reading Weekend starts officially tomorrow, but let's get started a little early.

Thankfully Reading Weekend is hosted by Jenn at and celebrates the fine art of staying in and reading. I do this all the time, of course, but as the holiday season kicks off it's important to take time away from the rushing and madness and just enjoy the season.

I'll definitely be out running around this weekend, but I know there will be time to read, too.

I'm starting with The Lost Estate, a coming-of-age French classic published in the early 20th century and written by Henri Alain-Fournier, who was killed in World War 1. The French title is Le Grand Meaulnes and it came out in 1913. It appears on The Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read as one of literature's great love stories. I'm only a few pages in but I'm enjoying its lyrical writing and rich sense of place. I'll let you know how it goes as the weekend progresses! I have two other books on deck should I finish this one soon.

Are you participating? What are you reading?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading!

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, the winner in the what-book-will-I-read-next contest was Pedro Mairal's short but so-far-delightful The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra.

I decided to take the approach of reading lots of short books between now and the end of the year. The Missing Year is about a man whose father dies and is left to sort out the past. The father, Juan Salvatierra, was an artist whose sole creation was a huge painting made of continuous scrolls of canvas. Salvatierra, as his son refers to him, worked on this project his entire adult life and now his son wants to find a single scroll that's gone missing, representing a year in his father's life and work. The son is trying to complete the work for its own sake and because he and his brother want to find a museum to house the work. This search takes him on adventures that recreate his father's life and help illuminate his own. The story takes place in Argentina.

I'm about half way through right now but it's a short book and I expect to finish it in a day or two. It's just a delightful little book and I can't wait to watch the rest of it unfurl, so to speak.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Salon: NYC Tenement Museum

So the big thing I did this week was a visit to the Tenement Museum, a fascinating place in the Lower East Side featuring the history of immigration and assimilation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Using a partially-restored apartment building where immigrants lived, and walking the streets of the Lower East Side, guides tell the stories of real people who lived there and using their stories to illustrate the larger history of the period. My friend and I did the architectural tour and then a building tour. It was so much fun! The guides were really terrific and we learned so much. One of the apartments even featured things that the actual tenants owned, donated by their daughter years later. (We were not allowed to take pictures inside the building or I'd show you.)

But I could take all the pictures I wanted outside, and whenever I take one of these walks, especially on the Lower East Side or the Village, I'm always on the look out for street art. It's not Bushwick, but there's still a lot and it pops up everywhere.

Oftentimes businesses will also feature intentional fun decoration too. I don't keep track of addresses because it's such an ephemeral art form and I feel like that in order to enjoy it properly you should stumble on it- you shouldn't go looking for it in specific places.

That is, unless you're on a tour. Then the guide should know where to find it! But I love the serendipity of it.
Of course that one is my favorite! Anyway it was a really fun afternoon (the whole thing took from 1:30-5:30 so it was a pretty full few hours of walking) and I can't wait to go back and do more.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Disney World Part 2: ADRs and Dining

Tonga Toast at the Kona Café
We spent 8 days at Disney and Disney's diverse dining options made planning some great meals a high priority. We like to eat out and Disney has so much to choose from, so it was a little overwhelming at the beginning, but I realized quickly that getting restaurant reservations lined up was the first big part of planning a Disney vacation.

You can pay for meals out of pocket or use a dining plan, which allows you to pay upfront for credits you apply to meals onsite. There are five tiers of dining plan and we chose the Deluxe Dining Plan (really the middle tier) which offers 3 dining credits plus 2 snack credits per day. Everyone warned me that this was more food than we could eat, and yes, they were right, and yes we'd do it again. For us it took away the anxiety of worrying about prices every time we sat down.

Disney table-service restaurants can be hard to book and you need to make your reservations (ADRs or Advance Dining Reservations) as soon as you can, ideally six months to the day before your arrival. To prepare, I used my guides, my internet research and some TripAdvisor reviews to pick our restaurants, then I made two lists:
  • one list showing where we would eat breakfast, lunch (on some days) and dinner each day, and
  • a list of meals in the order that we would book them online through My Disney Experience.
I chose restaurants roughly around where we would be each day. When we planned to go to Animal Kingdom, for example, I booked something easy to reach from that park. And so on. Coordinating dining with park plans means less running around- and that makes a difference!

My Disney Experience is the portal through which you plan your Disney vacation. You can do hotel, restaurants, FastPasses, special events and more.

Everyone said to book the most popular reservations as soon as you log on, and book them as far out in your trip as you can. So if you want to go to Be Our Guest for dinner, let's say, book it first but make the reservation for the last day of your trip. Do this because when you go online exactly 180 days from your arrival date (your ADR date), you can book dining for your entire trip, and the days at the end of your trip are going to be available to fewer people than those at the beginning.

The night before our ADR date we opened up a bunch of browser windows to My Disney Experience. We got up at 5:30 am the next morning, had a light breakfast and coffee and got down to business on two laptops simultaneously at 6am sharp.

Fire performer at the Spirit of Aloha Luau at the Polynesian Resort
Twenty minutes later we had all of our desired dining reservations.

I realize not everyone will take this kind of approach, but it worked for us. Among the reservations we got were
  • Chef Mickey breakfast for our first day; Akershus, Ohana and 1900 Park Fare later,
  • Tusker House for lunch on our Animal Kingdom day,
  • Spirit of Aloha dinner show on our last night,
  • Be Our Guest for dinner. We were able to book BoG for breakfast when it became available for our dates later in the early fall.
  • Jiko, Narcoossee's and Flying Fish for dinner.
Except for Tusker House and Tony's Town Square on our first day, we did not book lunches in advance. We both agreed that would be too much and wanted to be able to wing it a little in the parks. We were able to walk into Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom on our park-hopping day, which was pretty great, and had a nice variety of meals during the week. We also tended to book breakfasts early and dinners late, to minimize rushing around.

Try the Grey Stuff- It's Delicious! It's offered for dessert at Be Our Guest.
Overall I thought the Dining Plan was a good deal for us. Nothing is going to be cheap at Disney and the menu prices are outrageous generally, so having most of the food paid for up front was nice. The only thing I would do differently is try to use more of the snack credits. We did use some at the end for treats to take home and I am still enjoying those, I have to say.

The nicest meals I had were at Narcoossee's at the Grand Floridian and Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We ate at Narcoossee's on our first night and it was lovely to dress up a little and have delicious seafood in a Nantucket-style classy-casual place. Then we just got on the monorail and did a nighttime run around the Magic Kingdom. What could be better?

Next week- the travel binder.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Book Club Names

If you're in a book club, how did your club get its name?
  • Do you name it by region, like the Queens Literati, a local club in my borough,
  • Or by what you read, like the Booker Prize Book Club?
  • Do you pick by the gender of the group's members, like Dashing Divas or Book Club for Men?
  • Or age? Like Young at Heart?
  • Or maybe just something quirky and random that describes your unique group?
I'm kind of fascinated by this topic and how it impacts the book club's appeal and possibly even longevity. Does a blander name mean more people can relate to it, or does it mean that it doesn't present a specific enough identity for folks to cling to?

Or, what happens when you go off topic? Like when the Booker Prize Book Club decided to stop reading Booker Prize-nominated books exclusively? What happens then? Should that club get a new name?

Book club naming is definitely an exercise in branding. Can you name your club something if another club is already using that name? I don't mean to ask this in terms of copyright but more in terms of etiquette. Is there etiquette around choosing a name that's already in use?

I can't recall having been part of a club at its inception, so I've never had to name a club, but the question came up because the bookstore where I used to work is forming two young-adult book clubs, one for teens and one for adults. I tried brainstorming some names but I was torn between names that were too age-specific and possibly unappealing to the adults especially, and names that were cool but not specific enough to the topic. What would you name these clubs?

Have you ever decided not to join a club because of its name, even if the topics or affinity interested you?  I've been in several over the years- one for local alumnae of my college, one that was religious and I tried a couple of library book clubs and MeetUp groups in NYC. Some of them have stuck longer than others, but naming always seems to be an issue. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: GHOST LIGHTS, by Lydia Millet

Ghost Lights, by Lydia Millet. Published 2012 by W.W. Norton & Company. Literary Fiction.

Ghost Lights is the second volume of Lydia Millet's "Extinction" trilogy and like many second volumes it serves as a transition from the first to the third. The first book, How the Dead Dream, tells the story of T., a man who goes from capitalist to conservationist and then gets lost in the jungles of Belize after a storm destroys a resort he's trying to build. The second book picks up the action after T.'s disappearance but is told from the point of view of Hal, the husband of T.'s assistant Susan, and Hal is a ghost light of a kind, a transient figure who is seen and then disappears.

Hal has never had a high opinion of T., but he volunteers to go to Belize to find T. after Hal finds out that Susan has been having an affair with a younger coworker and that their daughter is working as a phone sex operator. Confused and feeling like a ghost in his own life, he makes the trip thinking it will just be a chance to get away and that he won't find T. at all. He feels like an invisible presence in the life of his family, whom he doesn't recognize anymore.

Millet is an excellent writer, kind of like a mid-career Margaret Atwood before speculative fiction took over her canon. Ghost Lights isn't as flashy as How the Dead Dream, or the splendid final volume of the series, Magnificence, which I read when it came out and plan to re-read. Those two were unforgettable for me, and I can't say I loved Ghost Lights though I think it plays an important role in the series. It is a crucial pass-through point, not just answering questions asked in the first book and setting up the third, but spotlighting a man who feels unobserved in his own life, a shadow of what he imagined he would be. Hal is a man who's been passed through, passed by.  It is a quiet and quietly profound study of family, mid-life crisis and what happens when you realize the people you love aren't what you assumed they were, and find out they are the people they have always been after all.  If that makes sense, I strongly recommend the whole series.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, November 16, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finally finished The Big Green Tent, by Ludmila Ulitskaya, which I think has to be my favorite book this year by sheer size and volume. It's going to take me a bit to process it but it was really, really good.

I'm still working on Flood of Fire but I only have like five chapters to go. So any day now!

As for what's next, I've got a few things in mind. I did start Cities of Salt, by Abdelrachman Munif, about the discovery of oil in a fictional Persian country, and I'm enjoying it very much. It's another chunkster but it moves and I'm reading 2-3 chapters a night before going to sleep.

Since Big Green Tent was my "purse book" I'm open to new candidates, though I think I might indulge in a quick César Aira to cleanse my palate before another big book. I kind of want to read the new Patrick Modiano, So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood. Or maybe I'll burn through some shorter novels for a while and clear some space on my bookshelf- for new books! What do you suggest?

And what are you reading this week? Tell me in the comments!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Salon

Another week, another- what?

I couldn't even tell you. Event-wise, there were three highlights- my husband's office annual dinner, seeing a Doctor Who episode on the big screen at the Museum of the Moving Image and the annual Momo Crawl.

The Momo Crawl is an event when Queens residents and others gather in the Jackson Heights neighborhood to walk around to the 20+ purveyors of Tibetan food in a six-block radius to eat as many soup dumplings as we can in three hours. Participants include food trucks, sit-down table service restaurants, walk-up counters and basement buffets. This being New York, there is even a Tibetan restaurant inside a cellphone store. My group was the first to pick up maps from organizer Jeff Orlick, who used to conduct food tours in Jackson Heights; this was our second year doing the crawl and at least the third that it's been going on.

Trays of momos awaiting hungry crawlers!
So the way it works is, you pick up a map from Orlick, then go around on a self-guided tour of momo discovery and pay $1 for each momo you eat. Most places had a variety to choose from, usually chicken, beef and vegetarian, and the veggie option could be anything from chives to a mix to potato depending on the place. One restaurant's momos had a kind of curry filling and another had what I swear was lamb. But everything was yummy and one restaurant even had little dessert cakes made from barley flour, yak cheese and butter that they gave out for free. We started early and had about ten momos each.

The annual dinner was fun also. My husband is a First Amendment lawyer and works for an organization that supports journalists; his organization's annual dinner featured documentary films as the subject of a panel and included some very thought-provoking material. Also the food was very good and I got to rent a pretty dress so that was fun.

Later this week we're planning to see "Spotlight," one of the films featured at the dinner, which is about how the Boston Globe broke the story of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese, and get started on Christmas cards. Because it's getting to be that time!

This week I have a bag of books to donate at Housing Works, a big charity bookshop in Soho, and a trip planned to Manhattan's quilt shop, The City Quilter.

What are you up to today?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Disney World Part One: Gathering Information

Before this year I'd never been to a Disney park, but for some reason I got a bee in my bonnet and when my husband and I were talking about where we might go on vacation for 2015, Disney was the winner.

This conversation happened in February and being the person I am, I started doing my research right away. I made a Pinterest board and got to work, and of course the first thing I realized is how much information is available on the internet. Blog posts, discussion boards- you name it. I read so many, about dining, about rides, about hotels, about planning. I pinned a bunch of sites and then I went to the bookstore and came home with two books, Birnbaum's 2015 Walt Disney World, The Complete Walt Disney World 2015 and got a detailed look at a third in the bookstore,The Unofficial Guide.

The Birnbaum book is the official guide- meaning the guide that Disney publishes about Disney, and as such it contains virtually no opinions about the parks besides "everything is awesome." It does have good information on Orlando hotels and attractions that are not Disney-related though, but for us, the wholly uncritical point of view was not helpful. If you want more opinions, I recommend two books, The Complete Walt Disney World and The Unofficial Guide.

The Complete Walt Disney World 2015 helped me a lot in planning FastPasses and picking attractions to make a priority. And it helped me a lot to just get to know what to expect overall. The opinions in this book are those of the authors, an Orlando-area couple who spend enough time at Disney to write books about it. The presentation included lots of photos and the book was easy to use. After the fact I found that my take on things wasn't always the same as theirs, but their opinions and commentary were still really helpful. I couldn't have done my planning without this book.

The Unofficial Guide is like the encyclopedia of Disney World. I didn't buy this book because I had already bought the other two, but I wish I had and if I go again I will. Not only does it have lots of opinions from its readers (maybe too many?) but it has some really helpful workbook pages to assist you in planning the nuts and bolts of your trip. It also has extensive coverage of non-Disney attractions and hotels in the Orlando area.

For our next trip I would also purchase a book on Hidden Mickeys, those images of the mouse scattered throughout the park that are fun to hunt down and find. I thought that was too much detail for the first trip, and I'm glad I didn't get hung up on it this time. I do think looking for the Hidden Mickeys would be fun next time, though!

Other great places to get information include Pinterest and the Disney discussion boards. The Disboard Disney Discussion Forums in particular are amazing and comprehensive, and you can get real-time tips and tricks from folks who have extensive Disney experience- and may be in the parks right now. If you have specific questions that the books don't cover, the Disboard is a great place to get answers.

Come back next week for part two of planning- ADRs!