CCCB: Oliver Twist

It’s Thursday, so it must be time to bake something and read a book I’ve avoided reading for a couple of decades.

I’ve done cake and cookies, so why not bread? Nutty bread. Looks like the flour:nut ratio is 25:10, and I have no idea whether that’s like totally nuts.

I have baked a couple of loaves of bread before, but they’ve never been like actually any good.

So much ingredient.

I got to use the fud professor attachment to the kitchen machine. I may not have picked the right blade, though, because the nuts came out very unevenly chopped. On the other hand, the recipe said to do that to give some textural variety, so… Probably a bit on the coarse side, though?

Making the bread dough is a breeze with a kitchen machine with some oomph, so I don’t have to actually use any muscles. Except when cleaning up, as I seem to have smeared the machine with honey.

D’oh!

Wow, that’s some active yeast… it… like… quadrupled in size.

I’ve never handled dough that’s this sticky before. It’s absolutely impossible to do anything bready with, so I just kinda scooped the d’oh into the forms and hoped for the best…

And, yes, it’s a arisen again! Raise the bread!

Cool, baby.

Oo. I thought this was going to be very dense because of all the nuts, but it’s kinda fluffy.

Mmmm… butter on the bread while it’s still hot…

And some brown goats cheese.

And how does it pair with the book? Excellent! The nutty buttery goatey chocolatey (OK, I made hot chocolate to drink with this) goes great with Dickens’ witty and exciting book about that hapless waif.

I have to say (well I don’t I just told a lie ha!) that I’d rate this bread a “well, that’s quite OK then”. It’s the first thing I’ve baked in this blog series that’s like successful.

Am I getting better at this or is this just a fluke!? Tune in next week for

oh I have to talk about the book, too.

For this week’s eeney meeney miney mo of books that’s been sitting in my bookcase, unread, since the late 80s/early 90s, I choose… well, you’ve read the title of this blog post, so it’s probably no surprise. It’s Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

And the reason that I have it but didn’t read it is because I WON”T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME. I read tons of books, but whenever I have to read something, it’s just torture to motivate myself to read it. It’s insane and counter-productive and weird, but there it is. I remember once in like fifth grade we were assigned a book to read over the holidays and write about and we could pick pretty much anything we wanted. I picked a book I’ve already read, and the teacher asked why, and I said “well, then I don’t have to read it”.

Instead I read dozens of other books.

What can I say? I’m counter-productively lazy.

This book is an artefact of me taking English at the university, and I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. And looking at that first page, it does look a bit eh.

Whaaa? I’ve never seen an upside-down y typo before.

Anyway! As you all know, it’s a very funny, very angry book. Dickens is relentlessly witty, and is scornfully sarcastic about all persons in charge. And it’s an exciting, classic adventure story, to boot. I’ve seen several movie/tv versions of it, so I know just about what’s going to happen, but there’s so much pleasure to be had from Dickens’ writing. It just flows so well: It’s entertaining and smart.

It’s such an effortless read that I started wondering whether this edition had been updated to modern English or something, but no: I found somebody that had helpfully shot a picture of a 1837 page, and it’s pretty much identical, except for some slight changes in punctuation, as far as I can tell.

Oh! An ear! So I didn’t bail at the first page, but made my way to chapter 13 before I stopped reading back in… 1991? Something like that?

I have no recollection of having read bits of it before, so apparently reading a novel as a required assignment was so traumatic that I’ve suppressed the memory.

It’s a delight to read now that it’s unrequired reading.

But while it’s fun, in the final third I got to the “I want to read this book forever” slash “bored now” point. Dickens is padding out the storyline quite a bit with atmospheric bits (like the above). While it’s fun in isolation, the loss of tension in the third part is palpable.

So Dickens is nice, but what about the edition?

The reproduction of the artwork is shockingly bad.

But worse are the footnotes. Here’s a footnote after “crowd at the execution”, and I innocently flipped to that to see what the editor had to say, and…

Boom! Spoiled the next-to-last chapter of the book. Nice work, asshole. So I had to stop reading the footnotes and never found out what a “paviour” was.

Bamboozled

I cracked open a paperback of The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White and:

Huh, apparently a child had been checking whether their pen worked? Oh well, that’s what happens when you buy used books.

And then I flipped to the back cover:

Uhm.

Right.

Are either Brust or White doctors, by any chance?

CCCB: The Place of Dead Roads

It’s Thursday, so it must be time for some baking and an old book.

I decided on ginger nuts, and I wanted a recipe that would give me slightly soft cookies. So I went for one with syrup. Does that makes sense? I don’t know? Do I look like I know what I’m doing?

There’s an extraordinary amount of butter in this… 250g butter vs. 400g flour. Does that even make sense?

Melting the butter in the syrup… Look how delicious that looks! LOOK!

Eww.

Fold fold.

Yeah, that’s an appealing colour. I took one quarter of the dough and added liquorice powder, because I wanted to experiment. But no matter how much powder I mixed in, the dough tasted like… dough… So I may be giving myself a heart attack.

Most important of all, I got to use one of the attachments to my kitchen machine that I’ve had for a while but never found a use for: A spice grinder thingie. It works well, but it’s fiddly: The finest powder seems to migrate to underneath the rubber sealing ring, no matter how hard I fasten it…

Roll roll…

Bake…

Er… flattening…

Growing!

Totally flat!

Well, that was a bust. Not only did they flatten out way too much, but I burned them. I tasted a couple and they were… not very good. To the trash can.

I should perhaps add more flour? I don’t know? But the dough is super-hard and that doesn’t seem likely to happen, so…

Paper cups!

Now then!

Uhm…


Mushrooms!

And…. I undercooked them.

Next try!

Ok then!

And… they turn out to just not be very good. If I bake them X amount of time, they taste like dough, and if I bake them X+3 seconds, they get hard and greasy at the same time.

And the liquorice batch weren’t much better. I’d rate them…. almost edible?

That’s an awful recipe. Or I did something really really wrong.

I hope the book’s better!

It’s The Place of Dead Roads by William Burroughs.

I remember when I bought this: It was one of my first trips to London, in 1993. I went there with a friend to see a week-long series of concerts called The Thirteen Year Itch. It was a showcase for the British record label 4AD, and I was all agoggle.

I was in my early 20s and made my way to all the record shops and bookstores in London, I feel, and had a suitcase filled with goodies when I left. I remember… Sister Ray on Berwick Street? And several other record shops around that area. Sister Ray was mind-boggling. I remember buying a bunch of Angela Carter books at… Blue Moon Books?

And then I bought a bunch of inter-leck-tuals books at Foyle’s. Just the size of that place intimidated me. I remember getting… I think Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow there at the same time? And a couple of Burroughs books because I had read Naked Lunch.

But I never read this book, because… I was kinda over Burroughs already, but bought it because it was something to buy. It’s not that I didn’t intend reading it, but you know.

It’s not quite what I expected slash dreaded. This is a book from 1983, and is much more subdued than Burroughs’ well-known 50s/60s work. It’s a fairly straight-forward narrative novel about a gay Western gunslinger, and has all of Burroughs’ ticks. It’s an entertaining read.

You gotta love these anti-dog rants. “… ingratiating, cop-loving …” There’s also long loving descriptions of all kinds of guns.

The narrative drops into dreams and fantasy without much preamble, so you gotta pay attention. It takes a while to get into the rhythms of any writer when starting a book, and that Burroughs takes a bit more time than most isn’t that surprising.

It’s written in third person most of the time, but Burroughs drops into “I” at particularly exciting points, and things get perhaps a bit more verbal? I thought that we were going to see Kim Carsons killed. Instead the bit after the colon is just a description of what reputation that punk was looking for.

But once I got into it, there’s so much fun stuff in here. Burroughs is funny and he writes exciting bits when he wants to. But, of course, he’s more into confounding the reader than telling gunslinger stories, which is fine.

Burroughs plays a bit with dialect, which is fun, but he also uses odd spellings in non-dialogue text. Or is “opponenet” just a typo? If so, there’s an awful lot of these, so perhaps it’s just bad proff-readding?

It’s all of Burroughs’ obsessions (guns and drugs and sex) quite condensed, but it’s a sometimes-exhilarating read. The bits about taking out mobsters and fashioning a new world were a lot of fun.

But then there’s the third part:

It’s a time slip thing, and we go forward to the present (i.e. 1984) through a series of not very developed scenarios, and then to Venus, and then we slip back again…

… and this part of the book was a bit of a slog for me.

But I was overall surprised at how enjoyable a read this was. Nine thumbs up. Makes up for those horrible cookies.

And I’ve got one more Burroughs to do in this blog series.

CCCB: Haunted

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It’s Thursday, so it must be time to pick an ancient unread book from the bookcase and bake some cake.

The lucky winner this week is Haunted, a short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates. This is a collection of horror stories published in various magazines:

It’s time for a shocking confession: I’ve never read anything by Joyce Carol Oates. She publishes about 75 books per year, but I’ve still somehow managed to avoid all of them. And it’s weird, because I enjoy reading her essays in The New York Review of Books, but it’s just not… happened.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve had two of her books sitting unread on my bookshelves since 1996.

But still, I didn’t know what to expect here at all. And this turns out to be a pretty grisly collection of horror stories. Let’s give you a flavour:

Spooky, Gothic, unnerving, and it’s sometimes a bit on the horrific side for me, and I used to be a horror movie enthusiast. But still, thrilling, and I’m looking forward to reading the other book of hers that’s on that shelf.

I don’t have anything interesting to say about the book, though, so let’s get to the cake:

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Eek.  That’s whole lot of cream on the cake.

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But it’s banana-ey deliciousness from Betty Crocker.  And it’s delicious.  Mmm.  Bananas, banana bread, banana frosting…

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And look how well it pairs with the book. Excellent.

Banana.

CCCB: Mind as Passion

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Eenie meenie… It’s Thursday, so time to pick another book to read from the cache of my most ancient unread books and bake another cake.

And this time the lucky winner is Susan Sontag: Mind as Passion by Liam Kennedy. Which I apparently bought at a sale in mid-90s (so it’s a bit newer than most of the books here, I think).

Back when I was pretentious teenager (before maturing into a pretentious adult), I used to read books written by all kinds of intelligent people (preferably in places where people could see me reading them), and Susan Sontag was one of them. I vaguely remember On Photography and… er… Notes on “Camp”? Was that a book or just an essay in a book?

Oh, yeah, it’s in this one:

Isn’t that a stylish edition?

Anyway, I was a fan, so I picked up this book about Sontag and never read it. Because you know.

It’s not really a biography, but it’s an overview of her writings. Here’s a sample:

But the thing is, I’m not really that interested in reading about Sontag’s writing. It’s interesting to have it contextualised to see what she was writing against, I guess, but it just mainly reminded me that I probably should be re-reading Sontag instead of reading this book.

It’s refreshing to read a British take on her writing. And, I mean, it’s well-written and all.

Let’s look at the cake instead:

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The cake to go along with the book is ginger layer cake with rhubarb fool.

Look at my expert decorating skillz!

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It turned out pretty delicious, although I over-baked the ginger cake by a couple of minutes.  (I was watching Xena, and I couldn’t find the time buzzer thingie.)  And the rhubarb for the fool could probably have been a little less wet — the fool turned a bit more runny than was probably warranted. I mean. A lot more runny.

But it was pretty delish anyway.  Mmm.

CCCB: Larque on the Wing

Like everybody, I’ve got a bookcase of unread books, but perhaps weirdly, mine is organised along a simple principle: Older books sink towards the bottom. That is, as I read books, I compact the rest and move them towards the bottom left.

It’s a sedimental journey.

The last couple of years I’ve read very few books, and have instead been reading comics and comics and comics, and I’m totally burned out on that. So what better way to get back into reading books again than to take a whack at those books that I’ve been avoiding reading most of my life?

That’s the selection. I think the oldest ones here have been with me since the late 80s, probably… and somehow I’ve never gotten around to reading them because other books have seemed more urgent.

Oh god. One of them’s fucking Ulysses, and now I have to read it…

But to entice me to make headway here, I’m also going to teach myself how to bake cakes and cookies. One cake, one book. Cake, Cookies, Crumpets and Books: CCCB.

Let’s aim for… one per week? And I can read other books in-between while finishing off the cake.

I started with this banana mocha cream cake, which looks very scrumptious in the pictures at least…

Do I have all the ingredients? Yes!

I ate too much of the dough. I’m allowed!

Bake baby bake.

So shiny.

For the book I chose Larque on the Wing by Nancy Springer, which I’ve always pronounced in my head “Laroque” when I’ve decided not to read it, several times per month, the last 24 years.

It’s a very witty, and strangely unclassifiable book. It’s not quite a fantasy, but it’s not quite a non-genre book either. It reads more like a magic realism book? But it’s marketed as a a fantasy book.

Just read these three opening pages:

But how does it pair with the cake?

Hm, it came out dryer than on the picture on that blog… but it’s been in the fridge, so I should probably let it sit on the table a few hours to get back to room temperature.

But it’s really more like a banana bread with a chocolate covering than a cake, really, which isn’t quite what I wanted. But it’s a pretty good banana bread, anyway.

And it pairs well with the sinister whimsy of the Nancy Springer book. Which is very good, indeed. I never know where it’s going.

One thing I find upon returning to books after this hiatus is that I’ve aquired some bad reading habits, probably from spending too much time reading blogs: My eyes have started skipping past text I think I know what’s going to say. They slip into skimming mode for short periods of time. And that doesn’t work with this book at all, because just about any sentence here doesn’t go the way you think they’re going to go.

It’s published by Avon Books, and this is what they usually publish:

So it’s somewhat out of their normal remit, but I seem to remember them also publishing weirder stuff like this. It’s got a very exciting plot, with the most horrifying monster of all time as the main antagonist: A mother who can change reality by just refusing to see whatever is in front of her eyes. But it’s also a somewhat frustrating read, because for most of the book, things don’t much develop as repeat themselves, so reading it feels like we’re stuck in molasses. Which may be Springer’s point, but…

But you can’t fault the fabulously climactic confrontation at the end, wart hog and all.

I ❤ The Paris Review

My favourite thing to read while travelling is The Paris Review.  It has like full-spectrum literature that’s perfect for reading while getting slightly drunk on airplanes.

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So I just bought a whole stack of old issues from the sixties, seventies and eighties.  You can still get them pretty cheap from sources on the interwebs.

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Man, look at those covers.  Makes me want the next holiday to happen now.

NOW!