Saturday, May 23, 2009

Catching Up with Ethan Canin

Ethan Canin's novel America America, which John Updike crowned in the New Yorker "a complicated, many-layered epic of class, politics, sex, death, and social history," is just out in paperback. We caught up with the former local boy transplanted to Iowa to see how the midwest is treating him, and if he misses his former stomping grounds in the Richmond District.

Q- What neighborhood did you grow up in, and how long have you been a full-time Iowan now?

A- I grew up in two neighborhoods, the West Portal/St. Francis Wood area, near Commodore Sloat School, and Jordan Park. Then, in my late twenties, I bought a house as close as I could to Green Apple, in the inner Richmond. Lived there till we moved to Iowa City in 1999. Man, almost ten years ago! Living in Iowa City is a lot like living in a single neighborhood of San Francisco. That's how I think of it, at least. It's a lovely university town and the beautiful old houses are (relatively) cheap.

Q- What are the places you have to go to when you come back for a visit?

A- I love the The Legion of Honor, that whole spit of land out there looking back at the city, and then along the water beneath Land's End. I eat a carnitas burrito at every Gordo's I can park near. Walk at Crissy Field. I try to stop at Village Market to see if Molino Creek dry-farmed tomatoes are in, or at least some concord grapes. At some point I head down to see what the great people at the Writers' Grotto are up to. And now and then, like a real tourist, I take my kids to the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory for a banana split, because when I was a kid that's where my father used to take my brother and me. The kids sense there's some nostalgia involved and of course they milk it for all they can.

Q- You had Danielle Steel as a creative writing teacher at Washington High School- did you learn anything from her that you practice today, or that you teach to your students at Iowa?

A- Danielle Steel was indeed my high school English teacher, but at University High, not Washington, a long time ago when it had just opened. She taught us to write every day, no matter what. Still the most important piece of advice I’ve heard.

Q- During your San Francisco days you were an avid softball player. Now that you're teaching at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, you have the honor of working with some of the most promising young writers in the country- can any of them hit to the opposite field?

A- Hey, the fiction writers just beat the poets in the annual Iowa Writers’ Workshop showdown, for the first time in memory. Weird that a group of poets can beat anyone in softball, but until this year they’d beaten the fiction writers for about ten years running. We of course did have a guy who can hit to the opposite field, a minor-league shortstop, in fact, who’d played, I think, in the old Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization. Still, we barely held them off in the last inning.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Prophet Eggers Speaks: "Print is not dead!"

Dave Eggers had this to say at a fancy Authors Guild event in New York about the state of print media (from the New Yorker):

"Nothing has changed! The written word—the love of it and the power of the written word—it hasn’t changed. It’s a matter of fostering it, fertilizing it, not giving up on it, and having faith.

Don’t get down. I actually have established an e-mail address,—if you want to take it down—if you are ever feeling down, if you are ever despairing, if you ever think publishing is dying or print is dying or books are dying or newspapers are dying (the next issue of McSweeney’s will be a newspaper—we’re going to prove that it can make it. It comes out in September). If you ever have any doubt, e-mail me, and I will buck you up and prove to you that you’re wrong."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fun with used Cookbooks

Some books date well, some don't. Fiction ages gracefully: old paperbacks have charm. On the flip side, who wants a travel book more than a year or two old?

Cookbooks usually do not date well. Food photography evolves as quickly as our palates. Sure, there are timeless classics. But on the whole, most cookbooks more than 10 years old are duds.

Nonetheless, among the many quirky books we see over our used buy counter, I get the most enjoyment out of odd cookbooks. Here are two recent arrivals.

Part I: Bubble-and-Squeak

I love The Sausage Book mostly for the author's bio on the back. Click to enlarge. But the stories herein are swell, too. Here 's an excerpt, lovingly transcribed for your pleasure, which I want to believe is a true story:
There is a famous English dish first introduced to your respondent here by the famous British bank robber and double agent, Eddie Chapman, in a pub in Knightsbridge. We were making the traditional Sunday afternoon pub crawl, and after about eleven gins apiece we felt hungry. "I know of a place where the bubble-and-squeak isn't bad by 'arf," Eddie said, and forthwith led me out to it.
The place was small. I forget its name; it was something like The Queen's Elbow. It was in a mews in a building that had been standing for at least two hundred years, slanting off to the side like its drunken cus
tomers after they left at night. There was a buzz as Chapman and I entered, for everybody recognized him. Before the war, he had been wanted by every policeman and detective in the British Isles, and had been accused of forty-odd bank robberies.
During the war, they gave him a chance to get out--provided he would attempt to parachute into France, offer his services to the Nazis, and then, pretending to act as their man, would blow up a huge industrial establishment. "Anything to blow out of stir," he said to me. "So I took the bastards up on their offers."

The war over, Chapman went completely straight, wrote a couple of books, and launched himself into the real estate business. If I had not known something of his background, I never would have believed, that day in the pub, that he once had been England's No. 1 Wanted Man.

"Try som
e of this, old cock," he said, handing me a dish of bubble-and-squeak. It was greenish, and looked like something the hungriest pig in the world would have turned down.
"You must be joking," I said.

"Try it," Chapman said, rather sternly. I tried it, and it turned out to be delicious. I ate two whole portions, washing it down with some Whitbread's.

When I got home, I tried to make it in my own kitchen. The effort was not successful. I could not duplicate the flavor the dish had had in The King's Truss, or whatever that pub was called.

One day some material arrived from Jones Dairy Farm. In it was a recipe for bubble-and-squeak. I had been fighting the bubble-and-squeak battle for so long I had become convinced I would never be able to master it. Tastebud memories from the Chapman lunch haunted me, however, and I decided to try the Jones
rule. It turned out to be authentic, exactly as I remembered the dish at The Prince's Kidney, or whatever that tiny place was called.

For the recipe, which follows, you'll have to buy the book. $10 seems fair for this gem.

Part 2: All in the Family

Yes, it's Edith Bunker's All in the Family Cookbook. Surely not the first novelty cookbook and surely not the last, it's a gem of the sub-genre. The fun is in comments like this, "Edith's" introduction to Chicken-Peach Bake (p. 93):
"Honestly, I think I could put cling peaches in Archie's coffe and he'd be banging his cup for more. He's jut crazy about them cling peaches. One of his favorite dishes is this thing where I bake them with chicken breasts and broccoli and cheese."
Or the intro to Stuffed Breasts of Veal (p. 80):
"Clara Wiedemeyer gave me this recipe and she says it's sort of Jewish. Archie said, 'That figgers. It's a fact. Women of Clara's particular domination develop stuffed bazooms. They ain't exactly lacking in the posternal area either.'"
Even the chapter headings entertain, like Chapter 3: "You can do the darndest things with chopped meat." And Chapter 5: "Other ways to fix your meat." Oh, Meathead!

I'm tempted to honor the 1971 price of this book, $.95, but our Remainder Guy will be mad if it really sells, so I'll have to price it at the same price as the pint I'll buy him if anyone buys this: $4.

Email pete AT greenapplebooks DOT com if you want either of these. Otherwise they're going back onto the shelves for the non blog-reading public in a few days.

The Richmond District Blog!

Yes, our favorite district is San Francisco has its own blog, chock full of goings-on, historical info, snazzy videos, and some great photos. Together, we will rule the Richmond!! The latest entries cover this year's Outside Lands Festival, Simon Read's upcoming event at a certain totally awesome bookstore, and the re-opening of the Richmond Branch of the SF Library.

Mad props to Sarah B. for sending us the info!