February 26, 2017
Long ago, when a girlfriend fired me without notice, I started each day by writing “She doesn’t love” me 50 times because until I burned the fact into my head, I didn’t believe it. I feel that way about Frank Delaney’s death. I can grasp, with difficulty, that he had a stroke and died. What I can’t grasp is that his mind died as well, because Frank’s mind was about the greatest piece of living architecture I’ve ever encountered.
He got the Great Man obit in the Times — deservedly. As a broadcaster for the BBC, he interviewed 3,500 writers over three decades so knowledgeably and crisply that he was described as “the most eloquent man in the world.” As a writer, he published 16 novels and 6 non-fiction books. And as a champion of Joyce, he was devoted — each week, he did a podcast that dissected a line or two of “Ulysses.” That was, he estimated, a 30-year project. Readers were happy to take the ride: The 300 episodes of “Re:Joyce” have been downloaded more than 2 million times.
Re:Joyce is a good demonstration of Frank Delaney as a reader’s reader — a popularizer. Here’s a bit from Episode 1, in which he tackles the famous opening sentence (“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed”):
“Stately” means dignified, especially in ceremonial. In important processions, people adopt a stately way of walking, but here, the word ‘stately’ is followed by the three words, “plump Buck Mulligan.” Nothing stately about the word “plump,” is there? In fact, it’s a term you poke fun with.
So here’s a man with a stately walk and he’s called “Buck,” which indicates some capacity to roister, and he’s plump. So what’s going on? If you ever want to understand multitasking in prose, James Joyce is your man.
Every sentence in “Ulysses” has more than one meaning, and sometimes many meanings. Here, he’s poking fun at this character Buck Mulligan, who is something of a fun-poker himself, which is why his walk is stately. So the man doing the mocking is also being mocked.
But what made Frank Delaney a treasure was the force and vitality of his personality. Here he briefly profiles James Joyce — in rap:
And he compares beating writer’s black to an affair that strengthens a marriage:
Imagine this personality at dinner. For a great talker, he was a great listener. Once I went on a bit in praise of John le Carré. Frank heard me out and then told some personal stories about the legendary writer which, if repeated, would get me sued in England. He didn’t present this information as a corrective or a rebuke; he just thought I might like to know.
To wear erudition lightly, to not intimidate, to reject intellectual snobbery — in my world, these are rare gifts. Liberating gifts, at that. When I was writing my play, I didn’t hesitate to send Frank the first act, and he didn’t hesitate to point out its flaws and urge me to keep going — just what I wanted and needed. When a writer who downplayed her stunning good looks served up precious sentiments about Art on the Web, Frank and I traded retro male comments with a glee that generally inspired Diane Meier, his adoring wife and partner, to step in with a schoolmarmish “Boys…. boys…”
It was glorious to be his friend.
February 22, 2017
When I met Erick Yi, he was an investment adviser at Merrill Lynch in Los Angeles. (I can personally attest: honest, creative, successful). And then he was gone — to launch a hot sauce. I thought he was having a pre-midlife crisis. In fact, he was having a genius insight: He invented Nam Prik, an Asian chili sauce that was both spicy and sweet. Erick launched Nam Prik at farmer’s markets in LA, and was soon as popular as Adele. Again, deservedly: Nam Prik (pronounced: nam-preek, literally “fluid chili”) isn’t like all the other smartly-labeled sauces you see on grocery shelves. It delivers fire and flavor, adding personality to eggs, Mexican food, Asian dishes, meat and chicken entrees. Now Erick’s in the big leagues —you can buy Nam Prik on Amazon as well as on his web site. And in the full-service spirit of the banker he used to be, Erick offers some recipes. Try the crispy Nam Prik chicken wings — you’ll forget all about Buffalo.
February 20, 2017
At 36, Dr. Paul Kalanithi was finishing his residency as a neurosurgeon. At 37, he died of cancer. In the final year of his life, he wrote a book, “When Air Becomes Breath.” It’s dazzling and important, less about death than you’d expect and more about love — love of his work, his wife, their child, of life. As Janet Maslin wrote in the Times: “Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.” Read Paul Kalanithi on his last day as a surgeon. Read Lucy Kalanithi’s op-ed about a marriage that didn’t end when her husband died. And then… [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here. For the Audible audio book, click here.]
February 14, 2017
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 17, is the BBC Young Musician of 2016. He has a record contract. And he made Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” new.
February 1, 2017
This runaway favorite on Amazon is a pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, and more — and it cooks 2 to 6 times faster than other methods. And now it’s official: It’s been anointed by the New York Times.
“I already own a stovetop pressure cooker, the conventional kind that you would heat over a burner and then regulate yourself,” Melissa Clark writes. “It is currently supporting a colony of dust bunnies in the back of my highest cabinet, behind the panini press. I never got over my fear of exploding split-pea soup to use it with any regularity. What makes this newest generation of electric pressure cookers different is that it is designed with a slew of self-regulating safety features, including sensors to monitor the unit’s temperature and amount of pressure. All you do is plug it in and tap a button, and it does everything else. It’s as user-friendly as a slow cooker — except that it gets dinner on the table a day or so faster.”
Butler readers agree. Jean Barrett: “Steel-cut oats take 25-30 minutes normally, but you have to keep an eye on them when you cook on the stove. Cooking oats in the Instant Pot really doesn’t save much time because of the time to warm the cooker and the time to let off steam, so to speak. But it’s time you can be doing something else entirely. In the morning, I put steel-cut oats into the pot with water and a dash of salt, set it for 10 minutes (the pressure-cooking time), then leave for a 35-minute walk. When I get back, the IP has the cooked oatmeal waiting for me — hot.”
Note: This is not a small item. It weighs 14 pounds. It has a 13” footprint. It will not roast a chicken to your satisfaction. To buy it from Amazon, click here.