'If a book is well written, I always find it too short.'
- Jane Austen

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Butler went on vacation, and all he left us were his favorite things

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Aug 19, 2016
Category: Beyond Classification

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It’s time. Every other media-maker in New York has fled the jurisdiction, and now it’s our turn. I hate to leave you without refreshment, so on the way out I’m serving up a few of my favorites, just in case you’re in a place where there’s a comfortable chair and a pitcher of something cold.

I’ll be back on August 29th. Until then, take good care.

V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks — from Artichokes to Zucchini
Pete Wells, the extremely hard-to-please restaurant critic for The New York Times, just gave Michael Anthony 3 stars for his cooking at Gramercy Tavern. He writes: “Mr. Anthony gives you a sense of what’s going on that week in the vegetable patch that few chefs can match.” Good timing — this is the month the vegetable patch is at its most bountiful. And this vegetable cookbook from Michael Anthony and Dorothy Kalins is like no other. First, in its format — as the subtitle suggests, it’s organized like an encyclopedia, with lovely illustrations and helpful pictures. Second, in its simplicity. These are recipes that require no esoteric ingredients or elaborate preparation — this is gourmet home cooking. Most original of all is the point-of-view. A great many cooks have adopted the vegetables-at-the-center-of-the-plate religion, with animal protein as a side dish, garnish, afterthought — or non-presence. Michael Anthony hasn’t surrendered to the Meme of Vegetables. He includes fish and meat recipes “because that’s the way I eat.” He just happens to like to eat vegetables more: “I am a cheerleader saying, ‘Hey, you can do this. Give it a try.’ I tell readers, ‘Set yourself up like this in the kitchen and you’ll be able to cook this quicker.’”

Amy Schumer: “The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo”
I dance like all other white girls: in a sexually suggestive way that says, ‘’This is what it would be like to mount me.’” Yeah, that’s Amy Schumer — the Amy Schumer you know from “Trainwreck” (which grossed $140 million) and “Inside Amy Schumer” (which won an Emmy). And there’s a lot more where that came from in her new book, “The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo” (just published, and on its way to #1). The book opens with a story that’s right in that vein: her one-and-only one-night stand (read it here). But Amy Schumer is about much more than self-deprecating humor. As these pages reveal, she’s about commitment and hard work and decent values. About surviving her parents’ divorce after her mother had an affair with… well, I won’t spoil that bummer. About the kids who were shot to death in a movie theater as they were watching her film. About real pain and hard-won understanding and always, always, the blunt truth. I devoured this book. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Night Work and Night Life
A rare event: two thrillers I could finish and admire. They’re by David C. Taylor, and they must be read in this order: Night Work, then Night Life. The continuing character is Michael Cassidy, a New York cop whose his father is a rich theater producer who lives on Park Avenue and whose godfather is a Mafia don. Cassidy went to good schools, has no reason to be a cop. Which makes him independent, principled, mouthy. In the first book, we’re in the McCarthy years. in the second, Castro is coming to power. In both, you turn pages quickly.

One of These Things First
I’ve known Steven Gaines for so long it seems like we were college roommates. Along the way, I’ve read and admired his journalism and his books, which cover turf as varied as Calvin Klein and Hamptons’ real estate. I thought I knew him. I didn’t. So his memoir, “One of These Things First,” was a revelation for me. At the story level, it’s about a 15-year-old Brooklyn boy who tries to kill himself, masterminds an upgrade to a fancy mental hospital (Payne Whitney), and spends a decade in therapy trying not to be gay. On the writing level, it’s clear-eyed, funny and wry. At the end, you’ll know him. And want to cheer.

Pu-erh tea
Alice Waters drinks Pu-erh tea. And swears by it. “My cholesterol went down 100 points since I started drinking this,” she says. ”It was extreme.” Pu-erh is one of the higher grades of tea grown in Yunnan province. It’s fermented, aged, then pressed into an inch-thick circle. It has an earthy aroma. But not unpleasantly so. You break off the leaves you need, crumble them into a pot, douse them in very hot water for 30 seconds, pour off that first steep, and then brew your tea. Not for long. Bonus: you can use the leaves for as many as eight steeps. If you like, chill, add ice.

Levels of the Game
Many believe that John McPhee’s account of a single match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner in the semifinals at the U.S. Open in Forest Hills is the best book ever written about tennis. It certainly has drama. Ashe was not the Jackie Robinson of tennis; when he emerged in the 1960s, he was the only African-American player of note in America. Graebner was a dentist’s son and a ringer for Clark Kent. In 146 pages, you’re inside the game and inside the player’s heads at the same time as you get a revelatory portrait of a sport — and a nation — in transition. How great is that?

The Tender Bar
I just got a thank-you note from a friend: “This book is slaying me. His prose, the impeccably drawn characters, the arc. There’s a lump in my throat more often than not.” Yes, it’s that good. J.R. Moehringer’s father, a noted disc jockey, was out of his mother’s life before J.R. was old enough to remember that he was ever around. (“My father was a man of many talents, but his one true genius was disappearing.”) His mother, suddenly poor, moves into her family’s house in Manhasset, Long Island. In that house: J.R.’s mother, grandmother, aunt and five female cousins. Also in that house: Uncle Charlie, a bartender at Dickens, a Manhasset establishment beloved by locals who appreciate liquor in quantity — “every third drink free” — and strong opinions, served with a twist. A boy needs a father. If he doesn’t have one, he needs some kind of man in his life. Or men, because it can indeed take a village.

Anthelios with Mexoryl
Dr. Vincent DeLeo, Chairman, Department of Dermatology, Founding Director, Skin of Color Center, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt and Beth Israel: “It produces a product which gives us almost perfect protection against sunshine.”
Dr. Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University: Mexoryl “is the No. 1 individual ingredient in terms of protection from Ultraviolet A radiation.”
You want a technical answer? Here: “The UVB range of sunlight is 280 to 320 nanometers, and the UVA range is 320 to 400. Mexoryl sunscreens protect against UV wavelengths in the 290-400 nanometer range. Since Mexoryl doesn’t cover the entire UV spectrum, it is usually combined with other active sunscreen agents such as titanium dioxide, avobenzone (stabilized with octocrylene) to ensure broad-spectrum UV protection.”
And Mexoryl is convenient: It doesn’t degrade in sunlight. One application, and you may be good for 24 hours — even if you swim or exercise.

Mental Clarity
I wanted a edge, and a wise friend suggested one: Mental Clarity, a tablet with Ayurvedic ingredients. I’m a little calmer now. I’m dealing with situations with less of the hysteria and desperation that used to afflict me when I didn’t get my way. And the idea factory is working overtime. A Head Butler reader reports: “The effect is subtle but I feel notably more alert. Somehow I just articulate and think more fluently.”

Beautiful Ruins
The Hotel Adequate View is a six-room, three-table nothing in Porto Vergogna, Italy, a resort village accessible only by boat. There you’ll meet a young American actress who was briefly in “Cleopatra.” And Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. A Hollywood publicist turned producer. A novelist who can’t get beyond the first chapter. And more. A riveting read.

My Mrs. Brown
When I met Billy Norwich, all those years ago, I thought: He’s much too nice to be doing that job. Now he’s written a novel that’s also too nice, about a simple, decent woman who lives in a neat, small house in a drab town in Rhode Island. Her dream: to buy an unaffordable ($8,000) Oscar de la Renta suit. There is something about Mrs. Brown and about Billy Norwich’s writing that is quietly extraordinary, and although there were any number of pages when everything seemed just a little too neat, I never found myself putting the book down. I did find myself crying. As you may.

Married Sex
My novel is a year old. And in a year you haven’t read it? Shame!

Life Is Meals: A Food Lovers Book of Days
Earlier this summer I was banging on about the liabilities of a digital life. “I want my life back,” I said. “My real life.” And when I thought how much of the pleasure of that life is about cooking for others and being with others at a table of course I’d soon re-connect with “Life Is Meals: A Food Lovers Book of Days,” a record of James and Kay Salter’s lifelong interest in food. When they name-drop, it’s more often the name of a long-dead French chef than a celebrated friend. When they share a recipe, it’s usually for a dish that’s already an old favorite of yours. Their household cookbook is handwritten. Their book of days is casual: a personal anecdote here, a recipe there, a memory. They make you feel, in every sentence, that if you aim high, read widely and throw yourself into new experiences, you can create your own, equally tasty book of meals.

Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life
Tracy Tynan is the daughter of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Really. Her father, Ken Tynan, was the bad boy of the English theatrical world. Her mother, Elaine Dundy, was a gifted novelist. But their real talent was for excess. They were loud. Drunk. Unfaithful. Whatever they touched, they broke. But they didn’t break their only child, who should be a basket case. I thought Tracy was surprisingly sane when I met her in 1973; as I got to know her story, my admiration increased. It is no surprise to me that all these years later she has written a book that presents itself, modestly, as a memoir organized around the clothes she wore along the path and, when she realized she could make a living using her fascination for clothes, the clothes she chose for the movies she worked on. “Memoir” and “Fashion” are too small a frame. This is a textbook about pluck, personality
and survival.

The Late, Lamented Molly Marx
How did Holly Marx die? Molly knows — and from the afterlife, she’s the narrator of Sally Koslow’s novel. The investigation of her death is her first concern, and as she has plenty of time, she follows the ongoing lives of the suspects and other players: her philandering husband, her mother-in-law, her lover and the women who are bringing tofu casseroles to her husband in hopes of replacing her. Sally Koslow’s witty novel is the bargain of Amazon: a $1.99 Kindle.

Read all these? Want more? Want different? HeadButler.com: The 100 Essentials.

Short takes

“Suddenly Single After 50: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Navigating Loss, Restoring Hope, and Rebuilding Your Life”

I often quote a line from a nurse during the Vietnam War: “If they gave a parade for people who survived their lives, the marching would never end.” Put Barbara Ballinger and Margaret Crane near the front of the American marchers. In 2000, Barbara’s husband of 31 years announced “The passion is gone.” And then it took her 4 years to be divorced. Margaret and her husband were an unbreakable couple. Then he got sick. Five years later, in the 42nd year of their marriage, he died.

What next? Barbara and Margaret are old friends. Both are writers. Married in their 20s. With aging parents and grown children. And, at the start of “Suddenly Single After 50: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Navigating Loss, Restoring Hope, and Rebuilding Your Life,” both alone — and both refusing to be broken.

Their book is part self-help, part-memoir. It’s much more personal than you expect from this kind of book. Barbara: “I needed validation that someone wanted me after being dumped. When I got online and started looking, I realized it was like a supermarket, with a lot of merchandise on the shelf. I quickly became hooked.” So hooked that she had to create a spreadsheet to track her dates: “I mixed one guy up with another, so I knew I needed help. ” For Margaret, the biggest challenge was taking charge of things her husband had handled, especially finance: “I had no idea what we had. I overreacted at first and started dumping everything — club memberships, subscriptions, cable. I would take two-minute showers to keep my water bill down. I never completely filled my tank with gas. I clipped coupons. Finally, I decided to interview financial planners.”

“We’ve learned that endings change,” they conclude. Very hopeful. Very helpful. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Words on Music: Introducing Robin Meloy Goldsby

When I launched Head Butler/Jesse Kornbluth Creative Services, I didn’t expect to be editing a manuscript by a Times best-selling writer — but that happened. Even more unlikely: I didn’t expect to be editing a collection of short stories by a writer who could be praised in the Times. The disclosure is that Robin Meloy Goldsby sent me ‘Manhattan Road Trip’ and paid me to suggest edits. The more important disclosure is that I made no more than a dozen marks on her manuscript.

Robin Goldsby is an American musician –– a Grammy-nominated lyricist, composer, author of four books and a children’s musical, with half a dozen CDs to her credit ––- who lives in Germany. Her stories are about musicians, some famous, some not, all burdened by the issues that artists (and many of us) face: the hunger for recognition, the challenge of excellence, the unfairness of time and age, the money thing.

What’s terrific about “Manhattan Road Trip” is her empathy for every character. In “Rouge Noir,” my favorite story, we follow Samantha Lockney, a world-class concert pianist. She was once the “It” girl of classical music; now she’s aging and her looks are fading. She has returned to her childhood home to perform the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Also in town: a pop celebrity so famous she’s known by one name (“Baby”). Here come envy and competitiveness. Samantha on Baby: “Saw pictures of Baby in Vanity Fair last month. She was wearing a latex mermaid costume. Even with flippers and fishtail, she’s a looker. I remember how that used to feel. Seas parted, doors opened, and men with coffee breath and thinning hair told me I wasn’t just extremely talented, I was lovely. I believed every word. Fans surrounded me like fruit flies on a ripe peach.”

Baby, the ass-shaking star of the second story, has interrupted her international tour to attend the Pittsburgh funeral of her elementary-school music teacher, Mrs. Melozzi, whose daughter has asked her to perform Mrs. M’s favorite Debussy prelude for the funeral service. She’s having a crisis of confidence: “Goddamn Debussy. Why did he have to write complicated music that sounds so simple? ‘La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin’ — ‘The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’ — won’t sound good unless it sounds effortless. Effortless takes years.” Will Baby conquer Debussy? I held my breath on the last page. Anyone would.

If you play music at any level or know someone who does or is even contemplating a career in music, or if you like smart, reality-based fiction, or whatever, “Manhattan Road Trip” is at least as worthy as name-a-bestseller. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Summer is the best time to read John Cheever.

You’re sitting in a beach chair with his Collected Stories— the book, not the Kindle. At your elbow, a cool drink. There’s a breeze. Time slows.

Start with the first story in the book: “Goodbye, My Brother.” It’s about a WASP family with one of those big houses on the bluffs of Nantucket. The family’s three grown sons, a daughter, a mother, various spouses and kids have assembled for a late-summer vacation. Swimming, drinking, family dinners, club dances, game nights at home: This reunion should look like a Ralph Lauren commercial. Why it doesn’t: Lawrence — the youngest brother, the one who “looks like a Puritan cleric” — has arrived.

We all know people like Lawrence, people who try “to spoil every pleasure.” We endure them because we don’t see much of them. But to share a house with Lawrence, to have your two weeks of vacation darkened by his omnipresent scowl — it drives the narrator, an otherwise mild-mannered high school teacher, to spill the blood of his blood.

Lawrence departs in a huff on a gorgeous late-summer morning — not that, from the ferry, he’d see its beauty. And the narrator? The ending of his relationship with his brother is inspiration for a final look at much more than a family drama. Here’s the last paragraph:

Oh, what can you do with a man like that? What can you do? How can you dissuade his eyes in a crowd from seeking out the cheek with acne, the infirm hand; how can you teach him to respond to the inestimable greatness of the race, the harsh surface beauty of life; how can you put his finger for him on the obdurate truths before which fear and horror are powerless? The sea that morning was iridescent and dark. My wife and my sister were swimming — Diana and Helen — and I saw their uncovered heads, black and gold in the dark water. I saw them come out and I saw that they were naked, unshy, beautiful and full of grace, and I watched the naked women walk out of the sea.

And then you start to read the next story….

Trump: What’s the Deal?

25 years ago, I wrote a documentary about Donald Trump. He huffed and puffed, and the documentary was never shown. He’d kill it again if he could. But “Trump: What’s the Deal?” is now available on iTunes. The new trailer gives you the idea right off: “The old Trump. The new Trump. The same Trump.