Inventive retellings of ancient tales can be a joy to experience: the old is made new in crazy, sexy, wondrous ways.

Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult is such a show; its U.S. tour ended recently with a two-week run at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, where I saw it. I’m glad I did, in part because I’d forgotten the details of this doomed lovers’ story, which dates to the 12th century and informs both the Arthurian Lancelot and Guinevere and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

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The story of Tristan and Yseult goes like this: an Irish king invades Cornwall (the craggy arm of land that juts westward from the base of England) and is slaughtered. For the spoils, the Cornwall king asks his nephew Tristan to travel to Ireland and return with the dead king’s sister. She will be the Cornwall king’s bride.

Tristan is injured on his journey and nursed to health by Yseult, the king’s sister. Before they set sail to Cornwall, Yseult asks for a love potion, as she fears she will be unable to love the King. There’s a mix up, and both Tristan and Yseult drink the potion. Theirs is a heated romance.

Still, Yseult is promised and delivered to the King, who falls deeply in love with her. Tristan and Yseult continue their affair; they can’t help themselves. (Is it true love? Is it the potion?) When the lovers are discovered, the King spares their lives. Finally, though, the King banishes Tristan and keeps Yseult. The lovers vow to be reunited, but that comes too late.

This story lives on, currently Off Broadway, in Richard Maxwell’s contemporary play Isolde. Too, it was a 2006 movie starring James Franco. Calling it a tale of “the bliss and wretchedness of love,” the German composer premiered his Tristan und Isolde in 1865. It’s been on a world tour ever since.

But back to our show: Kneehigh is a Cornwall-based experimental theater group, since 1980.  Their Tristan & Yseult is head-spinning: it’s loud, colorful, musical, and intensely physical. For a story seeped in sadness, their reworking of the story is madcap, even silly.

The actors rarely stop moving, and turn seamlessly from royalty to “the unloved” others on stage. Yseult’s maid Brangian is played by the barrel chested actor Craig Johnson; his/her “morning after” speech is a very quiet moment in this raucous work, and holds the audience in its grip. Stuart Goodman’s King Mark is similarly captivating; his bearing and grace and ability to forgive when betrayed are well-played moments.

I have some gripes about the Kneehigh production. Tristan (the character, not the actor) is a simpering fool. Never mind love: I couldn’t even summon a “like.” And Yseult (the actress, not the character) is miscast: I hate to be an age-ist and a fat-ist but a younger, slimmer actress should have played the Irish princess. Tristan was fresh-faced, fit and sexy; the King was magnificently handsome…so, why a hefty, middle-aged Yseult?

That said, a dazzling night of theater. Bravo, Kneehigh! Thank you, Chicago Shakespeare Theater.‎


The fight for Algerian independence from France began in November 1954. That brutal guerilla war would continue until 1961, when French president Charles de Gaulle gave up Algeria, an African colony France had ruled since 1830.

Among the French, the war was unpopular and misunderstood. Still, they had as many as 450,000 soldiers in Algeria. There is an unforgettable film about that time, “The Battle of Angiers” (1966) but little or no literature, which some blame on a collective wish to forget. Le Permission, a novel by French journalist Daniel Anselme was published in 1957, but found no audience and fell out of print.

Little wonder: this is a beautifully told but uncomfortable read about three soldiers in Paris, home from the front for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I read the recent English translation, by David Bellos, titled On Leave. (In his introduction, Bellos provides a rich history of the events that led up to the war, and the complications that ensued once the French departed.)

In the literature of war — the “shelf” — this novel takes a place.

Forever changed by the war, the three soldiers find a Paris disinterested in their plight: their friends and family wish the war to be over, of course, but do nothing to rally support for its end.

Most of the story concerns Lachaume, the eldest of the three and a former English professor. He comes home to the apartment he’d shared with his wife, who has left him. (He has been away nearly two years.) He spends a day and a night waiting there, reliving their sunny life, preparing a favorite lunch, remembering her beautiful thighs. Late the second night he ends his delusion and leaves, checking into a hotel.

“‘Let’s suppose she’d agreed to wait for me until the end (but when wlll the end come?…) Suppose she was brave enough…foolish enough, it would still have been a deception, because the boy she loved…is dead, well and truly dead. It might have been different if we’d changed together. But how could I ever have got her to understand what has happened over there…’”

Lachaume spends the week awkwardly meeting old friends and former students. (Also his mother, in one of the trippiest sections of the book.) He won’t pretend to be anything other than he is: a foot soldier with a failed marriage. He is angry, bitter — and very funny.

The three soldiers seamlessly reunite: they are most comfortable with each other. They set off on a drunken odyssey through an unfeeling Paris that leaves them, at last, on a train returning to the front.

There they join other protesting soldiers, hanging from windows, banging the sides of the carriages as trains pull out of the station: “Send us home! Sends us home! Send us home!”


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Life: Winter Meals from a Dutch Oven

by anneMoore on March 16, 2014

I know: cooking? I never write about that. But I haven’t had a good read since Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and I don’t like writing “bad” reviews. I will say I was underwhelmed by Edna O’Brien’s memoir Country Girl, which lacked a unifying thread. I learned too little about her writing life and too much about casual flings with unnamed movie stars.

I’ve picked up and put down Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light and Susan Straight’s Between Heaven and Here. There’s nothing wrong with these reads; they’re all beautifully written. None held my interest.

And so, to the kitchen.

This winter I’ve been making warming soups, stews and pastas in one awesome pot, the Le Creuset Dutch Oven.—braisers/oval-french-ovens/5-qt-oval-french-oven. It is never stored; it lives on our cooktop. For me, its value exceeds its obvious function: I don’t like washing pots and pans, and with a Dutch Oven, there’s only one vessel to clean after a meal.

The Le Creuset Dutch Oven is enameled cast iron. And while it seems expensive, at $200 or more, it is our most used kitchen item outside of a coffee maker.

For years I’ve used it to prepare my son’s favorite “spaghetti sauce,” a quick ragu from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria, and another son’s favorite pasta, fusilli with sausage, fennel and red wine, from her At Home in Provence. It is employed for a Sunday dinner favorite, pork cooked in milk, from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook. I use it to make a lemon egg-drop chicken soup — my own creation — for anyone who’s ailing. Too, it’s the pot that holds the quickest meal — 15 minutes — I can get from the pantry to the table, a pancetta pasta. Also gumbos, and Ina Garten’s any-time-of-year saffron vegetable soup.

But as this winter has gone on and on, I’ve had to expand my repertoire of one-pot weeknight meals.

We’ve been savoring a butternut squash and arborio rice stew from Cucina Rustica, by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman. I cook often from the Soupbox Cookbook, by Jamie Taerbaum and Dru Melton, who run Soupbox restaurants in Chicago: chicken with wild rice stew, Italian vegetable soup. This winter I tried their lemony green lentil soup, halibut chowder, “big occasion” bouillabaisse. Mmmm….

Who knew I would come around to brown lentils? (My siblings and I hated lentil soup so much as kids we called it “mental soup.”) So, thank you Lidia Bastianich for this one : It is the most pleasing pasta with lentils (really, it’s lentils with pasta) dish I’ve ever had. I make half and still have leftovers for weekday lunch.

And finally, because I had run out of ideas, I found this arroz con pollo recipe the other day, perfect for a one-pot meal. With a dash of cayenne or other heat, it’s a keeper.

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Books and Life: Reading in Ottawa

by anneMoore on January 23, 2014

“I use Grammarly’s plagiarism detector because no one likes a capy cot!

I don’t especially like reading on a Kindle — click…click…click — but I’d pressed the Amazon wireless “buy” for Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings: A Novel so that’s how I read it. Click…click…click…all weekend, flying to and from Ottawa, Canada, where I was visiting summer friends and family. (A shout out to that great capital city follows.)

I am new to Wolitzer, though she’s written a half-dozen novels. Published in 2013, this one was getting good reviews, so I took a chance. I’m glad I did.

The Interestings is a long read full of — yup! — interesting people. It concerns a group of New York teenagers who meet at summer camp, and follows them for the next 35 years. They lead rich lives: one is an animator whose creation becomes a hit television series. The girl he marries is a theater director. Their gay friend Jonah, the son of a famous folk singer, is an engineer. Another flees the country, accused of date rape. The main character, Jules, struggles in Manhattan, embittered by her friends’ extreme wealth. A talk therapist, she becomes her family’s sole provider when her husband is crippled by depression.

Did I love this read? No, but I can recommend it. Wolitzer writes nicely; I was never bored. These are smart, decent people who — though they could — do not hurt or betray each other.

My sole complaint: it could have been more interesting. Wolitzer creates provocative characters whose relationships create a tangled web. Instead of keeping them in close quarters, she dispatches them to other parts of the city, country, world. They’re not in each other’s hair, let alone the same zip code.

From books to cities: let us now sing praise for Ottawa, a place where people embrace winter. Blanketed in white, under grey skies, it is home to the Rideau Canal, the world’s longest skating promenade. The canal’s location is central to the city; it is common to see people on downtown streets, walking to and from, ice skates slung over their shoulders.

Other highlights: the National Gallery of Canada, with its Louise Bourgeois giant spider “Maman” haunting its entrance. Also its collection of Canadian art and Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet, an installation within the museum’s Rideau Chapel. Not to be missed.

Dining and shopping: For a club meeting dinner for 60 or so, friends chose the historic Courtyard Restaurant in Ottawa’s ByWard Market district. Perfect! Tasty farm to table food; excellent service. For lunch the next day we headed to the same area, to The Black Tomato, for creamy red pepper soup and smoked salmon on baguettes. Skip lunch at the Chateau Laurier; the service is maddeningly slow, the menu fussy. Grab a drink at the bar instead; no trip to Ottawa is complete without a leisurely stop in this celebrated hotel.

Finally, we found chic boutique shopping in the walkable ByWard Market.  A perfect weekend.

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Books: Reading in Florida and Chiberia

by anneMoore on January 7, 2014

Doesn’t matter if it’s balmy (ahhh, Florida in December) or bitterly cold (Chiberia, Day 2): either place you’ll find my head in a book.

I’ve read some really good ones lately. No duds.

First, Dave Eggers’ The Circle. I loved Eggers’ last, A Hologram for the King. That’s the kind of reader I am, like a girl dating: if you showed me a good time, I’ll go out with you again. If I threw your book across the room, no second date.

Back to The Circle. Eggers is a master at drawing you in. Right away we know where we are and who we’re with and maybe where we’re going. His writing is smart and smooth.

Here’s the story: Twenty-something Mae Holland joins The Circle, a technology company gobbling up privacy. This is full-blown satire, so Mae dives in deep, ignoring obvious red flags. In the process she both saves and alienates her parents, sends her high school boyfriend far from society and to his crowd-sourced death (really) and causes her best friend Annie — who brought her to The Circle — to lose her mind.

Mae becomes an automaton for the corporation; she is self-serving and cruel. Unlikeable? Of course! Through her we experience the hideous effect of knowing everything about everyone at all times. This book is overly long — but please, read to its outrageous and fitting conclusion.

Next I read A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. My friend Jennifer thought this a dumb read — and it certainly is by its confusing end — but I found it interesting to see a polished professional come undone and plot the murder of her husband, who has left her for his pregnant college-age girlfriend. Does he deserve to die? Gosh, no. Set in Chicago.

My favorite recent read is an old one, from 1958. Alfred Hayes’ My Face for the World to See is set in Hollywood. At a party, a screenwriter rescues a young actress who has drunkenly tumbled into the surf. He is married — his wife is in New York — but later seeks out the girl. After all, he saved her.

I love a train wreck, and this is one from the first page. It’s a short read — 130 pages — richly told. I was so taken by Hayes (1911 -1985) and his world-weary style I ordered his other books, In Love, and The Girl on the Via Flamina.

It will take me forever to get through the essays in Sari Botton’s marvelous collection, Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. I’m not complaining. I read one essay a night, as the soup or stew or tagine cooks. These are funny, sad, smart tales of creative beings coming to, and giving up, New York.

Finally, I am enjoying Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. I’ll let you know.

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Art and Life: A Year in Review

by anneMoore on December 20, 2013

It’s fun checking the “best of” lists that come out this time of year. Did my favorite books make the list? Movies? Museum shows? Plays? Restaurants?

Yes and no.

Let’s start with books. On everyone’s list is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and it’s on mine, too — an oversized, engaging read — but there’s another New York orphan whose story enchanted me. Cathleen Schine’s Fin & Lady pairs an 11-year-old boy with his achingly beautiful and overly fun 24-year-old half sister in 1964 Greenwich Village. They become a family, of sorts — until Lady leaves Fin and her many suitors for Capri.

Another New York tale I fell for was David Gilbert’s & Sons. At the end of his days, a celebrated writer and his teenage namesake are united with their estranged family: grown sons, a caring ex-wife. I didn’t want this read to end: these are worldly characters caught in outrageous situations.

Finally, a shout out for Robert Stone’s Death of the Black-Haired Girl. Yes, that Robert Stone. At 76, his first thriller. Perfect.

My favorite museum show of the year — and I traveled to Rome, Florence, Montreal — was (and still is) in Chicago, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine, through January 27. It was a joy to move through the rooms of this well-curated show.

Movies: where’s the love for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine? It shows up at number 16 or so in most “best of lists” and yet it’s my Number One. Not a wasted scene! Twists and turns! Great acting and storytelling, set in beautiful San Francisco. His best in years.

Another overlooked gem: Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, which I found on pay per view. It didn’t last long in the theaters, which is too bad, because it’s a true story expertly told by Coppola. Hollywood teens burgle and hang out in the homes of stars, trying on clothes and jewels and bags, lounging. It’s wonderfully paced; a brilliant commentary on our celebrity-soaked culture.

Plays: An Iliad, at the Court Theatre, which I saw for the second time. A one-man show, about war, that brings me to tears. Also Strawdog Theatre’s masterful staging of Great Expectations.

Meals: Memorably, I dined at Sofi Restaurant in Printer’s Row. Also Riccardo’s Trattoria and its charming Enoteca across the street, in Lincoln Park, where I feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie. Too, I am always happy to find myself at Toni Patisserie in the Loop.

Within my own home, I am savoring the work of my sons, my nephew and my niece. Evan Dent’s sports columns in the McGill Daily are smart, funny, brave and beautifully written. This one’s a favorite. Also, Mason Dent’s exquisite and intriguing photographs Ryan Arthur’s luminous book of photographs, The Height of Land Lucy Knisley’s much-praised food memoir Relish, a graphic delight.

I loved the reporting and writing I did for Crain’s Chicago Business this year. I wrote about a chalk artist, $100,000 mattresses, second homes, a Holocaust documentary, spinal implants, Miss Manners, the economic impact of same-sex marriage. Wonderful, interesting assignments. (Thank you Michael Arndt and Jan Parr.)

Finally, I am proud of myself for putting out two linked novellas this year, with the help of Mason Dent (cover design and photography) and the awesome Michael Campbell, who designed the e-books.

They’re in Amazon’s Kindle store and other e-outlets, getting 5-star reviews.


Because of You

A Prince of Persia

It has been a very good year. Thanks for reading.

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Ah, to finish the year grieving the end of a book: Robert Stone’s Death of the Black-Haired Girl. This is a town-and-gown noir thriller, not at all Stone’s usual fare. I loved it.

“A cloud of resentment,” Maud Stack is a beautiful brainiac undergraduate in love with her advisor, Steven Brookman. It’s mutual — but Brookman ends the affair, clumsily. His wife, returned from a visit to her Saskatchewan home, is pregnant. They had wanted another child; this news seems a blessing.

Maud is a swirl of anger, about a lot of things. It’s not just Brookman. It’s the right-to-lifers picketing outside the local hospital, about whom she writes an incendiary piece hastily published in the college newspaper. It’s her retired New York City cop father, who milks his brief appearance at the 9/11 Twin Towers. It’s her mother gone, died young.

She has friends, good ones: her roommate Shelby, a starlet ducking Hollywood for an education. Also Jo, a former nun who runs the college counseling center. Each tries, and fails, to keep Maud from her end.

Distraught and drunk, Maud confronts Brookman outside his home; they struggle, sending them into a street crowded with fans leaving a college hockey game. A car hits Maud; in a flash, she’s dead.

Did the professor kill her?

Of course not. But Brookman suffers. He will lose his job. Maud’s cop father seeks vengeance.

“He did not believe that he had killed Maud by loving her…. Still, there was some kind of blood debt, something to be endured as a result of what happened … a mystery he was compelled to live out.”

This is a rich, compact read. Beautifully told.

My sole complaint: I wanted more. More Maud, more Shelby, more Jo, more Mary Pick, the dean’s wife, a practicing Catholic who ensures Maud is put to rest beside her mother.

Stone, who’s 76, is known for longer, prize-winning fiction about men and war and international adventure, including Dog Soldiers, which won the National Book Award in 1975.

This is his first thriller.

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To and from Montreal last weekend I carried Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a 771 page hardback. No regrets.

I had a wonderful time in Montreal, visiting my sweet son Evan, who’s a student at McGill University. I was smiling ear to ear at the prospect of spending a weekend with him in a world city, eating steak frites and drinking bols of cafe au lait. Also, stopping in at the Musee des Beaux Arts for a mostly forgettable exhibit of Venetian art and musical instruments from the Renaissance and a wholly memorable show of photographs, by Canadians, from the 70’s.

Even with all the touring and eating, I had lots of time to read: waiting for and during Porter Airlines very civilized flights and at my chic hotel, Le Meridien Versailles. I read mornings before our day would begin and nights after the day had ended.

It’s a behemoth of a book (Kindle, I know! But I don’t like reading on a device.) Truly, I should have been charged a baggage fee.

I’m not complaining! I love an oversized read. Like a Charles Dickens’ novel — and this is most certainly a twist on a Dickens novel — this book kept me company.

Thirteen year old New Yorker Theo Decker loses his stylish mother in a terrorist blast at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, Theo is given an unusual gold ring from a dying man, the name of a shop, and a priceless Dutch painting, Carel Fabritus’ 1654 The Goldfinch, no bigger than a laptop.

The ring brings Theo to a Greenwich Village address that will one day be his home and place of work. Before and after that, the story takes our hero — and that painting — from New York to Las Vegas to New York and on to Amsterdam. Along the way, Theo steals and abuses drugs and alcohol, rescues a dog, fakes the provenance of antiques, falls into a disloyal love, loses the painting, and gets involved in a fatal shoot-out over that painting. Suicidal, he receives a ghostly visit from…

This read is best understood as a mash up Dickens’ Great Expectations and Dan Chaon’s gothic thriller Await Your Reply.

Tartt is a smooth writer. I never once lost interest in the story, in spite of her preachiness, her tendency to tell instead of show. (Theo is in love with Pippa: got it. Art is worth saving and sharing with all mankind. Noted.) I didn’t even especially like Theo — mmm, a drug abusing art thief — but I stayed with this story.

What a cast of characters! I especially enjoyed the well-drawn Barbour family, and Hobie, the antique-furniture expert who opens his heart and home and business to Theo.

I finished The Goldfinch on the last leg of my journey back to Chicago. Did I love it? No. Can I recommend it? Yes. It was a fat long read, a welcome travel companion.

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Life: Films, Food, Reads, Books

by anneMoore on October 23, 2013

Films: I can’t stop thinking about Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. It is perfect; not one wasted scene. The story he tells, the actors he employed, sets and wardrobe, its twists and turns. Mmmmmmm…

Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine has lost her la la life in New York City, where her husband (Alec Baldwin) ran a money fund. He’s dead, she’s penniless; starting over, she heads to San Francisco, where she barges into her sister’s not so la la life. This film is — as the best comedies ought to be — both funny and sad. Bring a hankie.

Another film I loved, and caught on pay-per-view: Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring. There’s so much energy in this movie, a train gaining speed until its final wreck. Hollywood teenagers invade stars’ homes; unlike typical burglars, these kids lounge around, try on clothes, gasp over shoe and jewel collections, then stuff designer bags with star loot. Running from these homes, bouncing their bags: they look like Halloween trick or treaters. A true story that offers a priceless window into youth, and the pull of celebrity.

Food: Friends — thank you! — treated me to dinner at Sofi Restaurant in Chicago’s Printer’s Row neighborhood (616 S. Dearborn Street). It’s a Milanese trattoria, warmly furnished. Every dish we ordered — mostly salads and pastas — was delicious, expertly prepared and presented. Professional service. (Don’t miss the Torta della Nonna for dessert.)

Fourteen foodies gathered for an engagement dinner at Chez Moi, a French bistro in Lincoln Park (2100 N. Halsted.) Perfection all around, though some complained about the noise. Hmm…it’s a lively restaurant on Saturday night. Excellent service, divine wines, well portioned dishes. My favorites: duck rillettes, tarte aux lardons, bouillabaisse, gateau Breton salidou. A flawless meal.‎

Reads: David Sedaris on loss and family. Lovely.

Weird and wonderful, a story from David Gilbert.

Books: I liked Gilbert’s & Sons, a sprawling novel set in present-day Manhattan. A story of sons and fathers, fame and its price. Also, bullying. Its narrator is the least likable; everyone else I fell for — hard. Andy, the teen namesake, is in hot, hilarious pursuit of his father’s publicist. Richard, an L.A. screenwriter, is forever entangled and tripped up by his father’s renown. Jamie, a documentarian typically on the other side of the world, is lured back to the East Coast to record his prep school sweetheart’s dying days, at her request.

This book is hard to get into — a dreary funeral scene is its start — but after that, hang on to your seat. It’s a wild ride. The best fiction I’ve read all year.

I also liked a memoir, Michael Hainey’s After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story. Hainey is a GQ editor; he’s a velvety writer, smart and smooth. The truth he uncovers — about the night of his father’s death — is ugly. But Hainey keeps us in this marvelous world, Chicago in the late 1960’s and on. We come to know his “don’t look back” mother, loving immigrant grandmother, brother and extended family — some of whom know more than they’ll say, at first. Also his father’s colleagues, newsmen who “don’t recall.” Solid reporting, beautifully told.

Finally, Ben Dolnick’s At the Bottom of Everything, a novel. Two precocious teenage boys cause a fatal accident; neither tells his parents or the police. They graduate from a prestigious D.C. prep school, they head to Columbia and Penn.

Thomas breaks down, drops out of school, makes his way to India. Adam finishes school and tries to live his life as though “the incident” can be ignored. Ha! Adam follows Thomas to India, and it is there that this story finds its humor, rhythm and forward motion.

Adam is the story’s narrator. His observations about overnight travel, Third World congestion, hipsters who choose to live on the verge of poverty: funny. Together and apart in India the two seek forgiveness, solace, enlightenment. Each travels to a cave, where they come together during a near death experience. (Convincingly told.)

Do these young men change? Thankfully, no: not much. Like an unshakeable cloak, the dead girl and her grieving parents will forever haunt them.

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Pythonga reads: A thrill and a bore

by anneMoore on August 26, 2013

Our dog was misbehaving in Pythonga so every morning after breakfast I’d take him for a long walk up the road. There he’d run ahead of me, into the woods, then scamper back, checking in with me. It was raspberry and almost blackberry season, so I brought a small tub with me, filling its base. That gave me uber-fresh berries for my midday salad, for my morning fruit and yogurt.

I didn’t like the reason for the walk — that our dog couldn’t be trusted alone — but the (ha!) fruit it bore seemed some kind of karmic payback. Bad dog; good fruit.

Some days that 20 minute walk was my sole exercise. My Pythonga this year was lazy: no hike up the mountain, no portage into Stony Creek, no morning kayak to Lac Moore. It was cold some days and nights; I’d make a fire indoors, curl up beside it, read, nap. I swam, but not my usual to the island and back. It was still Pythonga, of course: shore lunches, star gazing, before and after dinner cocktails and conversation. Reading: on the porch, on the dock, in a boat on a beach. Also talk of books: last year’s hits, this year’s maybes, the forevers.*

The read that made me happiest: Cathleen Shine’s newly published Fin & Lady. Eleven-year year old Fin is orphaned; he leaves his Connecticut farm to live with his 24-year-old half-sister, who is fabulous, beautiful, undependable. It is 1964. They live in Greenwich Village and become a family, of sorts, along with Lady’s three suitors, who invade at cocktail hour. Who is narrating this smart, sweet tale? To find out, you’ll have to follow Lady, and then Fin, to the sun-kissed ancient island of Capri.

Coming-of-age novels come in all varieties: James Salter’s A Sport and A Pastime (1967) tells the story of a Yale dropout’s erotic liaison with a beautiful but not very bright French girl. Salter’s writing is exquisite; his descriptions of rural France and Paris are cinematic. My sole complaint: erotica, in general, is a thrill and a bore.

More pleasing in the canon of unequal-love literature: Junichiro Tanizaki’s Naomi, first published serially in Japan in 1924. An engineer from an upstanding family takes in a teenage waitress whose family runs a brothel; he aims to make her over into a woman who could be his wife. Naomi is an unusual beauty, often mistaken for the American actress Mary Pickford. Naomi plays along, pretending to study English and ballroom dancing, overspending on delivered food and clothing…all the while keeping up love affairs with younger men. When the engineer discovers her duplicity, he runs her out of their home…but she keeps coming back, teasing him. A strange, intoxicating read.

I picked up and put down and picked up Lara Feigel’s The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War, a non-fiction account of London writers during the Blitz. Every day could bring death…how would you behave? (This is a scholarly work, well written and researched.)

Never a bore and always a thrill: the fiction of Carl Hiaasen. His latest, Bad Monkey, sets a disgraced Key West detective on a hunt for a Medicare fraudster who fakes his own death. Of course there’s a monkey involved…and he is very, very bad. Also a voodoo priestess and a hapless Northerner, trying to flip a waterside monstrosity. A smart, sleazy read.

I’m back in Chicago; my (bad) dog still in Quebec. I go to the farmer’s market alone, and buy peaches and string beans and flowers. It’s good to be home, but I am missing my dog, and that walk, and those berries, and unbroken hours to read.

Canada, by Richard Ford. A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers. John Updike’s “Rabbit” series.

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