Thursday, August 26, 2010

Decision 2010: TOMS

Ok, faithful readers, I need some advice. I really want to buy a new pair of TOMS shoes because a.) they are super-comfortable and b.) I like the smug satisfaction that comes with TOMS'(s) brand of philanthropy. Given that these both cost the same, and keeping in mind that I live in Florida, where "summery" styles stay in style far into January, which of the following should I buy?

Plum Cord Classics

These are made of corduroy!


Morocco Vegan Classics

These are not made of animal!

Please cast your vote in the comments section. Now that Primaries are over, this may be the most important thing you vote on until November. And even then, my choice of footwear probably trumps at least a couple of Senatorial elections.

Oh and while you're at, feel free to weigh in on whether TOMS when possessive should get another s, and if so, should it be capitalized?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Recommendations

Because I am a rather literary person, I've just added a section to the blog for book recommendations, complete with links to Amazon. But since only the title of each book is listed, I wanted to say a few words about each to round out my recommendations.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand - This is one of those books that makes you feel sort of accomplished after you read it because you've read a large piece of highly acclaimed literature, but more than that, this book is very entertaining. Rand's Atlas Shrugged may be considered to be her greater work, but it tends to drag in places. The Fountainhead has all the same philosophy with a story that never quits and a main character you could fall in love with.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon - This is the story of two young men in the 1930s who create a superhero and change the course of their own lives. The main characters are modeled after the creators of Superman and inhabit a fictionalized New York City that sometimes seems truer than life. The book follows them throughout their life, weaving in love, war, and a healthy supply of comic books.

To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust - Fashioned as a prequel to John Milton's Paradise Lost, To Reign in Hell imagines life in Heaven before the big rebellion by Satan and his ilk. How does it change our perception of the Fallen Angels if Satan and God were once best friends? It's an interesting idea which makes for a story whose mythology is occasionally hard to follow but is essentially fascinating.

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald - A classic of the Roaring Twenties, The Beautiful and the Damned is full of rich, privileged people who are, for some reason, full of ennui. Who hasn't been there?

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier - Thriller, romance, ghost story. Rebecca is all these and more. The novel is told from the viewpoint of the second Mrs. de Winter, who is herself never named, haunted as she is by the memory of the beautiful, graceful, perfect Rebecca. The book spawned a great Alfred Hitchcock movie and has long been considered one of those classic novels that continues to thrill seventy years after its publication.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman - I have a bit of a thing for superheroes. This is a new take on the classic hero story because half it is told from the viewpoint of a super-villain. The other half is told by the newest member of a team of heroes working against said villain. Both are outsiders in their own right and both demand the reader's sympathy, making it impossible to choose a side in this battle of "good" versus "evil."

The Coffee Trader by David Liss - This is the first in a series of historical fictions by David Liss that combine the business and politics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the excitement and thrill of a mystery novel. Liss's other books in this same vein include A Conspiracy of Paper and A Spectacle of Corruption. While The Coffee Trader follows the exploits of fictional Miguel Lienzo in Holland, these latter novels focus on his grandson Benjamin Weaver in England. I think I actually prefer the Weaver books, but The Coffee Trader is still really good and a nice introduction to the family. If you like mysteries but also like to learn something while you're reading, look no further than Liss.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold - I never saw the movie they made of this book; I'm told I made a good decision. Based on the trailer I saw, I thought this book was a straight-up murder thriller. That's only half right. The beginning of The Lovely Bones is very dark, but as the story goes on, it becomes less about the death of a 14-year-old girl and more about the lives of those she leaves behind. Told in the voice of the murdered Susie Salmon, The Lovely Bones is at times horrifying and heart-wrenching but also incredibly moving. In the end, it's not about solving a crime so much as learning to live in the aftermath.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine - If you never read this book as a child, you have missed out, but it's not too late! Even if you did read it as a child, you're still missing out if you haven't read it as an adult. Don't let that horribly campy movie version starring Anne Hathaway put you off; Ella Enchanted is a delightfully deep and thoughtful fairy-tale about youth, love, free will, and learning to be your own person, even when others try to make you into someone else. Even now, the climax of this "children's book" has the power to make me cry.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind - Have you ever thought about how smell affects the way you relate to people? Unless the smell is particularly strong (either good or bad), you probably haven't. In this novel (yet another thriller), Suskind suggests that smell is actually the most powerful of the senses, influencing us in ways we don't even realize. Smell is so powerful, Suskind says, that it could even lead to... murder!

Okay, that's it for now. If you're looking for a new book to read, I recommend you start with one of these. You won't be disappointed.

B&G's Soup Stop

One of my favorite Florida hideaways is B&G's Soup Stop in Sarasota. Nestled in the corner of an obscure strip mall on Webber Street, B&G's features at least nine fresh soups daily, and though it may be a bit difficult to find, I have never found a better place for soup. 

To give an example of the kind of selection you can expect, here are the nine soups B&G's is offering today (according to their website): 
     - Creamy Chicken Noodle
     - French Onion
     - Ham and Bean
     - Sausage Cabbage and Potato 
     - Chicken and Lemongrass
     - Tomato Basil
     - Cream of 5 Onion
     - Chili
     - Gazpacho 
On other occasions, I have also been privileged to sample their Corn Chowder and Vichyssoise. The possibilities are endless! 

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be a tie between Tomato Basil and Cream of 5 Onion. The owner of B&G's, Brent Williams, once told me that if they had a "signature" soup, it would be the Cream of 5 Onion. It has all the rich oniony flavor of French Onion, but with a smooth, creamy consistency. Add a few French-fried onions to the top for texture, and you've got a soup that I've never seen anywhere else. As for the Tomato Basil, I've had good Tomato Basil soup elsewhere, but this ranks among the best. It's classic comfort food. 

I could probably eat soup for every meal, and if I lived in Sarasota, every meal would probably take place at B&G's. But if you're craving more solid food, they also feature a wide array of pre-cooked meals that you can take home and heat up AND a really nice Chipotle Mac N' Cheese. 

I wish I had pictures, but I don't because I ate it all, so if you're in Florida anytime soon, you should go there and see for yourself.