The Classics, in cooking, in literature

by Brianne

I was thinking perhaps I’d follow the blog trend of snappily listing links on Fridays. I’m reading this. I’m watching this.

But my first link, beginning with the week’s reads, was off and sliding on a tangent.

So I’m going to go with that today, like cooking up a combination based on what’s in the fridge. Please me know if this post was delightful or jarring. Thanks!

I’m on a classics kick. In reading, not in cooking, though perhaps I should take direction from one to the other.

Classics are classics for a reason. (My mother, when I would sniff as a little girl at a holiday tradition, would try to illuminate to me the power of the classic – which I’m only understanding years later. It’s sobering and thrilling at the same time, seeing a familiar face in a new light.)

I missed a great deal of the literary classics somehow, so I’m slowly making up for it. It’s never too late for the good stuff.

Lit classics

Classics, some devoured, some awaiting me yet. What else should be in this stack?

First came “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Then “Brideshead Revisited.” Then “Pnin.” Then a couple of marvelous Wallace Stegner novels, “Angle of Repose” and “Crossing to Safety.”

Each one seemed to draw out human nature and shine a light on it. Each one seemed alive in my head for weeks afterwards. Each one felt both weighty and ethereally light.

And any bit of thought produced a mosaic of truths.

The writing felt more solid than what I was used to, a technique had been honed not for the purpose of flashiness but for the purpose of precision.

Like cooking by the masters.

This week, I read “Of Mice and Men,” my first Steinbeck, I’m embarrassed to say. It was shorter, easier to read than I imagined. I somehow put the mighty American novelists on a shelf of difficulty, but it’s not that way at all.

Maybe I’ll make my first Julia Child recipe soon.

Maybe I’ve underestimated the approachability of the masters.

Maybe it’s just time.

“Of Mice and Men” transports the reader to California in the 1920s, to a world of male companionship and hard knocks and blatantly unfair lives. And yet there’s compassion and sweetness, and your heart leaps for what you see coming.

I also picked up three Richard Yates novels in an Everyman’s Library collection;  Everyman’s are such wonderful editions, with a perspicacious introduction, a timeline, and that lovely Dijon-colored ribbon bookmark. I’m starting with Yates’ “Revolutionary Road,” which so far is filled with startlingly sharp and tight dialogue, the tension between a married couple.

The novel opens with a community play starring April Wheeler, a tall ash blonde of 29, a suburban mother of two who “moved with the shyly sensual grace of maidenhood.” The Connecticut audience is rustling with anticipation, as are you. And then you read, in alarm, the calm recount of how the leading man is suddenly ill, how the director steps in, and how the play unravels into awkwardness.

“It seemed to go on for hours, a cruel and protected endurance test in which April Wheeler’s performance was as bad as the others, if not worse. … When the curtain fell at last it was an act of mercy.”

But then, what makes Yates great is his detailing of what’s going on in the heads of these people. How Frank Wheeler, April’s husband, was originally imagining the triumph of the play, his role backstage “to claim her first tearful kiss” and the drink  in glory with friends afterwards. Instead:

“Nowhere in these plans had he foreseen the weight and shock of reality; nothing had warned him that he might be overwhelmed by the swaying, shining vision of a girl he hadn’t seen in years, a girl whose every glance and gesture could make his throat fill up with longing (“Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?”), and that then before his very eyes she would dissolve and change into the graceless, suffering creature whose existence he tried every day of his life to deny but whom he knew as well and as painfully as he knew himself, a gaunt constricted woman whose red eyes flashed reproach, whose false smile in the curtain call was as homely as his own sore feet, his own damp climbing underwear and his own sour smell.”

And that’s just the first 15 pages.

So many layers, so many things to simmer in my brain while I chop and stir and wash.

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