Reading, traveling, lodging, dining New England

I ate and drank and traveled and read my way through December and early January. Here’s what I enjoyed:

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, which turned out to be my favorite read of the year. It’s about young lovers in an unnamed country that falls into civil war. The two must flee, leaving family behind, first to Greece, then England and finally, the United States. It’s a harrowing journey, of course, but the magic of this book is their passage, through doors that lead them to their next stop. I loved this read because it was both intimate — we see the two grow and change and part — and universal, a story of migration.

I’m a fan of Edward St. Aubyn, especially his Patrick Melrose novels which, if you’ve never read, you must: they’re disturbing (as a boy, he’s repeatedly raped by his father, and later he’s a drug addict) but they’re deliriously funny and beautifully written. (Thank you, Georgia Dent, for recommending them.) St. Aubyn’s latest work is Dunbar, a modern retelling of King Lear. I liked it a lot but was oddly unmoved, given that the play leaves me in tears. Dunbar is a corporate titan shelved by his daughters in a rural sanitarium so they can take over his empire. Along with a comic drunk and an “inmate” who has cash, Dunbar escapes the place. But Dunbar is separated from the others and wanders the English countryside, close to freezing. Dunbar’s ravings and paranoia and the true peril he faces in the outdoors made for good reading; the reunion with the one faithful daughter is thin. Even so, no one writes like St. Aubyn: his story never lags and his sentences are a marvel.

I tried to read Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing but got bored after a few chapters. Same with Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, which I put down after a few pages because I hated all the characters. Frustrated with fiction, I picked up Reckless Daughter, a biography of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe. What a great read! I’ve always loved her music, but I didn’t know anything about her life, about contracting and recovering from polio as a child, her disinterest in school, a terrible early marriage. I knew she’d given up a child; I didn’t know the extreme poverty she was in at the time and the shame she thought an out-of-wedlock birth would bring upon her parents. I didn’t know that she doesn’t read music, that she tunes instruments in a way that no one else does, that she’s a genius. Yaffe is a smart, sympathetic biographer. A wonderful read.

Just after New Year’s I traveled with my daughter to Hanover, New Hampshire, where she was starting her second term at Dartmouth College. It was supposed to be a quick trip for me but the cyclonebomb storm on the East Coast kept me in Hanover an extra day. The snow there, though constant, was pleasant and pretty: a winter wonderland.

Again, I stayed at the Hanover Inn, a perfectly run hotel opposite the college. It’s my third or fourth visit; I’m always pleased by its quiet, its clean and attractive rooms and bathrooms and lobby, the excellence of all staff, from the valets to the front desk. The servers in their Pine restaurant are especially thoughtful to weary travelers.

Hanover is a compact town, about two blocks long, with many dining options.

Most mornings I had a double latte and house-made croissant (as good as any I’ve had in Paris) at Dirt Cowboy. One afternoon we were especially cold and stopped in for chai tea, cafe au lait and cookies. Everything we’ve tried on their vast menu — they serve breakfast and lunch and dozens of drinks — is delicious.

We went to the industrial chic Market Place for an excellent dinner (pasta ragu, vegetarian curry) and the next morning for scrambled eggs sided with smoked salmon and frothy lattes.

For lunch one day (before the storm) I drove about 15 miles to White River Junction, where I met my childhood friend LGD, who made the drive from her home in Burlington. That’s a good friend. We ate at Tuckerbox, a glassy, sun-filled spot that serves mostly Mediterranean food.  Yum! And so reasonably priced. We shared chai tea, a meze platter, lentil soup, baklava. All for $40.

Other spots we enjoyed in Hanover: The Canoe Club, for its supper club vibe, good service and pleasing food. Also Murphy’s on the Green, a book-lined pub that’s rightfully known for its burgers. We planned to have lunch (soup, salad, sandwiches) at King Arthur Bakery & Cafe in Norwich, but the snow kept us in Hanover.

Also in the blog

  We took our daughter Alex on a college tour that began in Berkeley and ended in New Orleans, with stops in between in Austin and Houston. Along with the touring, we did a lot of good eating. Here’s a report. Our host in Berkeley did all the cooking (thank you, Carl!) so I have


I settled in for a bar lunch the other day at Joe’s, an elegant seafood and steak house off Michigan Avenue with my friend and colleague Barbara. I’d been to Joe’s (60 E. Grand St.) several times, for review or to meet with editors. It’s pricey, but the seafood — especially their signature stone crab


I love uniquely American novels. Yates’ “Revolutionary Road,” Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion,” Franzen’s “Freedom.”  Firmly grounded in time and place, its characters define the time as they’re shaped by the place. Newly published, Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding” could only take place in America. Baseball, a small town, a private college and its


Leave a Reply