The World According to Garp by John Irving

irving_world.jpgHaving finished John Irving's The World According to Garp late Saturday night, I have now read 81 books in 2008, matching my total for all of 2007 with more than three months still remaining. This should put me well on my way to meeting my original goal of reading 100 books this year, and within striking distance of 109, which would make a total of 400 books in the five years I have been keeping track.

It is hard to know where to start in describing Garp. I'm not the first to have this problem; after all, the New York Times review of the book starts with "This is not going to be easy to explain." The novel is at once large, full of characters, expansive in its "lunacy and sorrow," and yet also confined, intimate, familiar. It is more or less just the life story of T.S. Garp. But consider his origin: his mother, Jenny Fields, is a nurse during World War II who wants to have a child without having a relationship with a man. When Technical Sergeant Garp is admitted to her ward in a near-vegetative state after being hit with shrapnel, she nurses him, has sex with him, and after his death, gives birth to a son:

Thus was the world given T. S. Garp: born from a good nurse with a will of her own, and the seed of a ball turret gunner--his last shot.

Clearly nothing in Garp's life will be simple. His mother takes a job as a nurse at Steering School, an all-boys prep school likely modeled after Irving's alma mater, Philips Exeter. Here we are introduced to a number of characters who will play varying roles in the remainder of Garp's life: the wrestling coach Ernie Holm, his daughter (and Garp's future wife) Helen, Dean Bodger, the Percy family. John Irving has discussed the influence that Charles Dickens had on him as a teenage reader, and it shows in Garp: the elaborate plotting, the eccentric characters, and the way those characters reappear in unexpected ways as the novel develops.

Irving's work is noted for its recurring themes and Garp goes 7 for 7: New England, prostitutes, wrestling, Vienna, bears, deadly accidents, and a main character dealing with an absent or unknown parent. And it is no coincidence that Garp is a writer. If this book is about one thing, it is probably (as Irving notes in afterword) "about being careful, and about that not being enough." The anxieties of life, of parenthood, and the inability to fully control the fate of you and your loved ones. But if it is about two things, it is also about the life of a writer, the life of writing:

Garp discovered that when you are writing something, everything seems related to everything else. Vienna was dying, the zoo was not as well restored from the war damage as the home the people lived in; the history of a city was like the history of a family--there is closeness, and even affection, but death eventually separates everyone from each other. It is only the vividness of memory that keeps the dead alive forever; a writer's job is to imagine everything so personally that the fiction is as vivid as our personal memories.

Garp is motivated to become a great writer because that is what teenage Helen Holm hinted would be required to win her heart. He thus produces "The Pension Grillparzer," a story that even Garp will look back on as his best work, and proceeds to marry Helen. Irving uses Garp's work as a frame narrative, reproducing the story in whole (as well a later story, "Vigilance" and the first chapter of Garp's third novel, The World According to Bensenhaver); the content of Garp's writing foreshadows or parallels much of his own life. Yet Garp warns against the temptation to inquire about the autobiographical source of a fictional work:

Garp always said that the question he most hated to be asked, about his work, was how much of it was "true"--how much of it was based on "personal experience." Usually, with great patience and restraint, Garp would say that the autobiographical basis--if there even was one--was the least interesting level on which to read a novel. He would say that the art of fiction was the act of imagining truly--was, like any art, a process of selection... He wrote that the worst reason for anything being part of a novel was that it really happened.

Of course, to wonder whether Irving himself holds this position is to engage in the very inquiry Garp is condemning. Ironically, as Garp gets older and his life is filled with its share of experiences, and more than its share of suffering, his writing suffers. He finds that instead of "imagining," he is constantly "remembering." Considering the ordeals the man suffers by the novel's end, this is an understandable reaction.

Yet for all the pain, all the tragedy, all the death that the book holds (and it holds plenty of each), the book makes you laugh. Even at the pain, the tragedy, the death. Irving manages to make the most unfunny things funny. He does so, I think, at the cost of failing to fully grapple with the meaning of many of these tragedies, which is why this not a perfect novel. But he makes an effort few would attempt, to render comic the deepest sorrows of life, and succeeds where a more ordinary writer could not.

I Don't Want to Own AIG

Cesc FabregasFor not the last time, I'm sure, I strenuously disagree with one of Senator Obama's positions. This morning he released a statement seemingly supporting the U.S. bailout (read: taxpayer-funded purchase) of AIG. Now set aside the economic aspects of this transaction for a moment. The real horror here is that you and I now own the sponsor of the despicable Manchester United football club. With business decisions like dropping $100m on that worthless team, is it any surprise they couldn't stay afloat without our help?

Surely the U.S. taxpayer would be much better off owning a piece of Arsenal's sponsor, Emirates. After all, the airline is putting the fear of God into its industry, with annual growth in excess of 20% and profits in all but one of its twenty-two years in existence, including net profits of $1.37b last year. I may have to send the Senator a note about this. Fly Emirates!

Vanilla Brownies

Today is my first day back in Kuwait, but before I left I notched two more recipes out of the Betty Crocker Cookie Book. The initial plan was to bake each recipe from front to back, but I think my colleagues were in danger of chocolate chip cookie overload. So, I decided to skip ahead to the bars and brownies; I'll go back to cookies once I get back to the States. The first recipe I made was the "Fudgy Saucepan Brownies." They turned out okay, but not worth publicizing. The other recipe, "Vanilla Brownies," was much better.

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This is not a blondie recipe; blondies are like chocolate chip cookies in brownie form. This is actually a vanilla flavored brownie, with vanilla frosting. The recipe calls for vanilla milk chips; these are often called white or white chocolate chips, but make sure that the chips you buy are made from cocoa butter. The Nestle White Morsels that my grocery store carries are not, so I went with the store brand.

1/2 cup butter
1 package (10 oz.) white chocolate chips (1 2/3 cups)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat your oven to 350F. Heat the white chocolate chips and butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over low heat, just until melted. Stir frequently, as white chocolate will burn if it starts feeling abandoned. Remove the pan from heat and let it cool. Stir in the flour, sugar, vanilla, salt, and eggs. Mix in the nuts (I used pecans, toasted in the oven for 10 minutes).

Spread the batter into a greased and floured a 9x13 pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, cool completely, and then spread the vanilla frosting (just mix these four easy ingredients):

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk

These were just as easy as your run-of-the-mill brownie recipe, but serve as a welcome change of pace. The browned edges have a caramel taste, and the homemade frosting adds a nice bit of moisture and give the end product a nicely finished appearance.

The Winds of Change by Eugene Linden

linden_winds.jpgAt the end of the last century, Jared Diamond provoked a great deal of debate with his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, in which he argued that the success of a civilization (and particularly European civilization) is not based on cultural or racial superiority, but environmental factors that are largely out of human control. Even if Diamond is correct (I have no basis for taking sides, as I have yet to read what I'm sure will be a fascinating text), it is no surprise that many were taken aback by a theory that removes so much credit for worldly success from human agency. It would rather undermine the power and purpose of most work previously done by political scientists, economists, and anthropologists.

In The Winds of Change, Eugene Linden posits another element he thinks has received insufficient attention as an influence of human civilization: rapid climate change. He argues that "[e]merging evidence suggests that climate may well be a serial killer of colonies and even civilizations," but notes that this notion has met considerable resistance from the academic establishment:

Many historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists dispute the role of climate as a factor in history. John Steinberg, the UCLA archaeologist, put this reaction succinctly: "Most archaeologists are anthropologists at heart, and most anthropologists hate the assertion that human are not in control of their destiny."

For every example of a historical collapse coincident with a dramatic shift in climate, there is an archaeologist or historian who will argue that technological, cultural, political, or economic factors were more important. In the course of this book, I will try to fairly represent these counterarguments. Climate history if still a very young field.

Indeed, Linden makes clear that most of the meaningful work has been done in just the last couple decades, as the technology has advanced to allow analysis of the climate record with sufficient specificity to connect it to human history. These advances have led Linden and others to two conclusions. The first is that climate change can occur much more quickly than previously believed:

The 1990s saw an extraordinarily rapid advance in the understanding of past climates, and this advance in understanding the past precipitated a dramatic shift in the paradigm of how climate changes. As Peter deMenocal puts it, "When I began my Ph.D. in 1986, the conventional wisdom was that it took one thousand years to end an ice age. By the time I finished in 1991, that figure had been reduced by an order of magnitude to one hundred years. Just two years later, Richard Alley showed that climate could change from warm to glacial conditions in two to five years."

Linden's second conclusion is that rapid climate change has been a significant factor in the decline of several colonies and civilizations in human history. In the book's initial chapters, Linden walks through a series of examples where he thinks this has occurred. The first, and most speculative, was a dramatic cooling 8,200 years ago, just "as tribes in the Levant began to build the first protocities, develop agriculture, and organize themselves into complex societies." Linden, backed by the arguments of Harvard archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef, suggests this "cold event stopped this process in its tracks, interrupting the progress of the first stirrings of civilization," not to be restarted in full until the rise of the first Mesopotamian civilizations, three thousand years later.

There is more evidence to support Linden's argument that the downfall of the Akkadian civilization can be traced to rapid climate change. In addition to the Greenland ice core which has served as one of the foundational pieces of evidence in the field, "dozens of other records have surfaced or been developed that confirm that 2200 B.C. was a period of drought in the Middle East and dramatic climate change around the world." This date is key, because it connects to the abandonment of one of the Akkadian's great cities, Tell Leilan:

One day, when workers were constructing a wall in part of the acropolis, work simply stopped. Half-dressed blocks were abandoned; other materials were left scattered about. Workmen had dropped what they were working on and left in a hurry.

What were they fleeing? Invaders? A plague? Most probably they were fleeing starvation. Those left behind did not fare very well. Excavations reveal a very large spike in infant burials in the years after 2200 B.C. Building that wall was possibly the last act of construction in Tell Leilan for the next three hundred years.

Other chapters are devoted to the fall of the Mayans and the Norse abandonment of their colonies on Greenland. After these historical examples, Linden offers a neat venture into the nature of the scientific process, with one chapter devoted to ice and one to mud (with interesting tidbits about scientist's competitive loyalty to their own source material). Unfortunately, Linden tends to repeat himself quite a bit. He offers bits of evidence as new information in late chapters, apparently forgetting he had already discussed the same data. It's a bit annoying considering the book has less than 300 pages.

One other minor irritation has to do with Linden's calendar scheme. He can't seem to decide whether to use the Christian calendar (500 B.C.) or simply date things from the time the book was written (2500 B.P.). Even worse, he sometimes changes back and forth. On a single page describing the fall of the Akkadian Empire, he dates the abandonment of Tell Leilan to "4200 B.P.," "2200 B.C.," and "4,200 years ago." He even confuses himself, at one point listing "4200 B.C." as the relevant date. It's not that I particularly care which dating system he uses, though the "before present" system seems silly as it requires the reader to know when the book was written. I just want a little consistency.

After an extended discussion of El NiƱo (including a startlingly connection to 19th century famines in India), Linden turns to present-day climate change, what he calls "The Elephant in the Room." He begins with a riff on the ebb and flow of public opinion over the past two decades, in contrast to the growing unanimity in scientific circles. He has particular ire for the media's portrayal of climate issues:

The standard climate-change template for the national media usually begins with a peg--a collapsing ice shelf, a heat wave, retreating glaciers, devastating hurricanes--and then offers a scientist who ties the event to a warming globe. The story usually includes a recapitulation of the basic science (which eats up a good deal of the story), a bit on the many unknowns of future climate changes, and then gives the naysayers a chance to dispute the notion that climate change is a threat... With so much space given over to the rudimentary science and venting by naysayers, the public was left with the impression that there was active debate about the threat long after the scientific community reached consensus.

Sounds a lot like the way the media has been treating the current election, right? Start with an event, say, John McCain lying about something. Give a Democrat a chance to discuss it, give a Republican a chance to obfuscate, deplore the ugly state of modern campaigning, then fail completely to point out that John McCain was, in fact, lying. The profession is, in John Marshall's terms, fundamentally corrupt.

Still, as valid as Linden's 40 page discussion of the global warming crisis may be, it is an awkward fit at the end of this book. While he does connect the crisis to current research being done concerning the possible shutdown of thermohaline circulation, it feels like an extended editorial on the author's frustration with the public and politicians. Well-founded frustration, sure, but the first 200 pages of the book were an introduction to scientific theories regarding rapid climate change and historical examples that had no roots in human activity. So while human activity is surely dramatically influencing the current climate at present, Linden's book actually seems to demonstrate how catastrophically our climate can change without any help from us.

Giant Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookie

Like I said last week, with a new oven, and a new cookbook, I could not resist the urge to do a lot of baking. The next recipe in the Betty Crocker Cookie Book was the aptly named "Giant Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookie."

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The recipe calls for almond brickle bits; the only I have ever seen are Heath Toffee Bits, but I can understand that General Mills did not want to advertise a Hershey product. For some reason, my local supermarkets have only been carrying the version of Heath bits that also has milk chocolate mixed in, so that's what I used; I doubt anyone will complain about a little extra chocolate. I also replaced the mini chocolate chips with semisweet chocolate chunks. Though they are pretty much the opposite of a mini chip, that's what I had.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup honey
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 package (12 oz.) miniature semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
1 package (7.5 oz.) almond brickle chips (1 cup)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Cream together the butter, shortening, honey and brown sugar. Stir in the egg. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and stir until blended. Then mix in the chocolate and toffee chips.

The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of dough per cookie. Rather than fuss with one of your measuring cups, I highly recommend investing in a #16 cookie/ice-cream scoop. It will vastly simplify and speed the process, and ensure uniform size (and thus uniform baking). They are available from Fantes, where I buy most of my kitchen supplies.

Using the cookie scoop, place the dough on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. These spread out quite a bit, so I did 9 cookies per sheet (3x3); there's just enough dough for 18 cookies, so that's just two sheets. Bake 12-14 minutes. Let them cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to wire racks.

These come out soft, thin, and heavy. They are the closest I have ever made to a cookie from Mrs. Field's, with that dense, buttery goodness. I'm tempted to credit the honey, which I don't recall using in a cookie recipe before; the butter/shortening blend surely helped. Too bad it only made 18; next time I'll double the recipe.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

wroblewski_story.jpgReading a book featured on the "bestseller" table at Borders is not a frequent experience for me. The last I can think of was Khaled Hosseini's superb A Thousand Splendid Suns. But there was something irresistibly presumptuous about a debut novelist transplanting Shakespeare's Hamlet to a dog-breeding farm in the woods of northern Wisconsin.

That one sentence almost says too much about the Daivd Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, considering how slavishly he adheres to the Hamlet framework, but there is no other way to describe it. Nevertheless, beware the dust jacket of this book, which could be Example #1 in my portfolio of book covers that ruin the novel's plot. They are getting to be as bad as Hollywood trailers.

For every successful reinterpretation of Shakespeare (think Kurosawa's Ran), several others fail miserably. Wroblewski has ambitiously endeavored to replay Hamlet's family drama in the Sawtelle household in the woods of northern Wisconsin, with a mute teenage protagonist. The first several chapters, which I think are the best in the book, tell the story of how the Sawtelle family originally came to occupy the land, how their project of engineering a new breed of dog was started, and how the current occupants, Gar and Trudy, endured great pains in their struggle to start a family before the birth of Edgar.

Dogs play an integral part in the book, and one of Wroblewski's big gambles is the devotion of several chapters to the perspective of Almondine, Edgar's faithful canine companion. I was surprised at how successful this proved, never falling into gimmick. From the earliest moments of Edgar's life, Almondine plays a central role in connecting this boy to the world:

The baby had no voice. It couldn't make a sound.

Almondine began to pant. She shifted her weight from one hip to the other, and as she looked on--and saw his mother continue to sleep--she finally understood: the thing that was going to happen was that her time for training was over, and now, at last, she had a job to do.

And so Almondine gathered her legs beneath her and broke her stay.

She crossed the room and paused beside the chair, and she became in that moment, and was ever after, a cautious dog, for suddenly it seemed important that she be right in this; and looking at the two of them there, one silently bawling, one slumped in graceful exhaustion, certainty unfolded in her the way morning light fills a north room. She drew her tongue along his mother's face, just once, very deliberately, then stepped back. His mother startled awake.

Right from the start, Edgar's life is intertwined with the Sawtelle dogs, as they are called, and Wroblewski's ability to give Almondine a believable inner monologue adds immeasurably to the portrayal of all the novel's canines. Wroblewski's other great success is his portrayal of Edgar and his sign language. It comes across so naturally that the only times we remember that Edgar can't speak is when Edgar remembers it, when circumstances lay bare the cost of a voiceless life:

He burst into the kitchen and yanked the phone off its hook. He stood for a moment, unsure of what to do. He pulled the zero around on the dial and waited. Almondine was in the kitchen with him; he couldn't remember her running alongside to the house or even following him down from the mow.

After the second ring a woman's voice came on the line.

"Operator."

He was already trying to make the words. He moved his lips. A sigh came out of him, thin and dry.

Having succeeded in credible portrayals of the mind of a dog and the linguistics of a mute boy, Wroblewski clears two of the three major hurdles he places before himself. The last hurdle is the whole scale relocation of a 16th-century Danish royal drama to 1970s rural Wisconsin. In some ways, Wroblewski achieves beyond expectations. The portrayal of Edgar in particular, is tremendous. Hamlet is a Danish prince who flirts with insanity and revenge throughout the play. That Wroblewski plausibly puts a mute American teenager in the same role is a noteworthy accomplishment:

He tried to sort out his feelings. There was the desire to run; there was the desire to stay and put himself in front of Claude the moment he returned; there was the desire to take his mother's explanations at face value; above all, there was the desire to forget everything that had happened, an aching desire for everything normal and familiar, for the routine of the kennel and reading at night and making dinners, just the two of them, when he could almost believe that his father had stepped out momentarily to check a new litter and would be right back.

But at some point, the faithfulness to Hamlet become servile; match the character to their Shakespearean counterpart and they will try to play their role. Yet not all of the Wisconsin actors live up to their Danish ancestors. Claude (King Claudius) never achieves the necessary ambiguity of character, and the creativity of the Almondine character suffers when wedged into Ophelia's part. The entire dog-breeding project, so well-established in the early chapters with Edgar's father, falls by the wayside when it fails to further any Hamlet parallels. Wroblewski's commitment to Shakespearean reconstruction comes at a cost.

This is a four-star book with a two-star finish. I didn't expect a happy ending; I have read Hamlet, after all. Nor did I need one. But this novel's conclusion lacks respect. Respect for the reader who has traversed 550 pages, respect for a protagonist whose journey deserved more than a four-page chapter, treated as a loose end to be quickly tied up. A tragic Shakespearean ending for a 14-year old mute boy requires more finesse than Wroblewski musters. The pacing is just wrong; this novel would be improved immensely if fifty pages were cut from the middle and expended on a worthy finale. A real missed opportunity.

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

Since I had a new oven, and a new cookbook, I did not have much choice but to bake quite a bit this week. I took two steps forward in my effort to bake the Betty Crocker Cookie Book from start to finish. Last night, I made the "Giant Toffee-Chocolate Chip Cookies," which I will post about next week. Before that, on Tuesday, the first night with our new appliances, I took a stab at "The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie."

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I was afraid I was running low on ingredients, so I hopped over to the Whole Foods for flour, sugar, and chocolate chips. Turns out I didn't need any of them, but my next recipe sure will have some high-end organic ingredients.

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped walnuts
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 375F. Cream together the sugars and butter, and stir in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and stir until blended. Then stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. If you have time, it is a nice touch to toast the walnuts in the oven on a baking sheet for 10 minutes before you add them to the dough.

A quick glance at these ingredients should signal that this is going to be a big pile of dough. That usually means there will be a lot of cookies. Not in this case. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of dough per cookie. Rather than fuss with one of your measuring cups, I highly recommend investing in a #16 cookie/ice-cream scoop. It will vastly simplify and speed the process, and ensure uniform size (and thus uniform baking). They are available from Fantes, where I buy most of my kitchen supplies.

Using the cookie scoop, place the dough on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. These need a bit of space, so I did 9 cookies per sheet (3x3). The cookbook calls for 13-15 minutes in the oven, but I found they were ready at 12 minutes. Just keep an eye on them, pull them once they start to brown, then cool on wire racks.

These are very large, thick cookies. All that dough only made about 40 in my batch. They are also a bit cakier than the Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies from Allrecipes I made in July, likely due to the increased white sugar. Very tasty, and very popular.

First Snow on Fuji by Yasunari Kawabata

kawabata_first.jpgOne of the greatest rewards thus far in my effort to read the books listed in Clifton Fadiman's The New Lifetime Reading Plan was the discovery of the works of Yasunari Kawabata. After reading and loving Beauty and Sadness, Fadiman's choice, I quickly devoured the Nobel laureate's other major novels: Snow Country, The Master of Go, Thousand Cranes, and my favorite, The Sound of the Mountain. Kawabata's minimalist fiction looks at big themes of love or death through the small details, a tea ceremony, a game of Go. His novels inhabit the silences, the spaces between, and attempt little resolution to the tensions explored there.

I have found less pleasure in Kawabata's short stories. Some are cut from the same cloth of greatness as his best novels, and are worthwhile no matter the length (like the title story in The Dancing Girl of Izu). But in others, Kawabata's atmospheric glimpses of life prove too elusive to be captured in a mere dozen pages. So it is in First Snow on Fuji, where the best selections are two of the longest: the title story and "Silence."

The title story features a man and woman who were a couple before the war ("the war" is always World War II in Kawabata's work). When she became pregnant, her parents took her to the country where she bore the child, but was forced to give it up. Nearly a decade later, these two lives have moved on, with new spouses, new children, but a happenstance reunion reopens old wounds and sparks ambiguous emotions:

Jiro wanted to see Utako's face as it used to be. It was painful for him to look at her haggard features. And so from searching out the Utako he had known in the Utako before him, from trying not to see the Utako before him, his own eyes came to have a fatigued look to them. He didn't want her to feel that he was staring at her, but he didn't know where else to look.

After this chance meeting at a train station, they agree to travel together to a bathhouse. But while Jiro's attention remains on the physical changes their bodies have undergone, the toll that time has taken, Utako remains psychologically stuck in the past, haunted by the child they had together and lost:

Utako had not heard until after the end of the war that the child had died in the care of the person who took it.

"But--do you think the child really died?" Utako said.

Jiro looked away.

"Sometimes I think that it might still be alive, you know--possibly."

"I'm certain that it's dead."

"If it's alive, do you think if I met it somewhere--do you think I would know?"

As they arrive at the bathhouse and spend an evening there, Kawabata explores the passage of time and the human efforts to reach back through memory to recapture what is lost. He exposes the difficulty in reconciling the image of a person as we knew them intimately in the past with the altogether foreign person they have become after years of separation. And he hints at how much of our thoughts and emotions are lost on those near us for lack of effective communication.

Communication, the power of words and language, is the theme of the collection's best story, "Silence." In a plot with odd foreshadowing of Kawabata's later years (explored by the translator in his introduction), the narrator visits an elderly writer who has been crippled by a stroke. He is able to hear, but having lost the use of his voice and right hand, is unable to speak or to write effectively. He may, however, have very limited use of his left hand to write single letters, leaving the question of why he opts not to employ it:

It is strange, isn't it, that a man who has made his living for forty years using letters and characters to write words should, now that he has almost entirely lost those letters and characters, and consequently come to understand the powers they possess in the most fundamental sense, and with the greatest certainty--now that he as become able to use them with such knowledge--it is strange, is it not, that he should deny himself their use. The single letter "w" or "t" might be worth more than all the flood, the truly tremendous flood of words and letters he has written in his life. That single letter might be a more eloquent statement, a more important work. It might well have more force.

The narrator's visit to the writer's bedside, where the writer's daughter attends to him, raises further questions about language, communication, and understanding. One question is who a story belongs to, the speaker or the audience? The narrator and the daughter discuss one of the old writer's novels, in which a troubled youth asks his mother to read to him from a blank piece of paper that he thinks he has written upon:

No doubt the crazy boy thinks he's having his mother read some sort of record of his memories, something that he wrote himself--that's what he thinks he's listening to. His eyes sparkle with pride. His mother has no idea whether or not he understands what she's saying, but every time she comes to see him she repeats the same story, and she gets better and better at telling it--it begins to seem like she's actually reading a story of her son's. She remembers things she had forgotten. And the son's memories grow more beautiful. The son is drawing the mother's story out, helping her, changing the story--there's no way of telling whose novel it is, whether it's the mother's or the son's.

The same can be said of Kawabata's best works, when it often seems as if Kawabata is exploring our silences and our atmospherics. In several of the longer stories in this collection, Kawabata flirts with this power. In the remainder, however, Kawabata struggles to convey more than a whisper of what he seems to intend. There is little time to settle into the spirit of the scene and grasp the characters or the conflicts that are motivating them. If Kawabata reigns in the spaces between, it is because he has answered an essential question: the spaces between what? A prerequisite unsatisfied in too many of these stories.

Booker Shortlist 2008

The Booker shortlist was released yesterday, and once again I have neither read nor purchased a single book on the list. It looks like the bookies and I were wrong, though having been mildly disappointed by Netherland I can't lament its exclusion. The list:

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs - Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency - Philip Hensher
A Fraction of the Whole - Steve Toltz

Since I failed in my prior predictions, I won't even take a stab at which of these is the favorite. I'll just wait until the winner is announced on October 14, dutifully purchase a copy, and then put it in a box with the rest of my Booker Prize backlog.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

stegner_crossing.jpgWallace Stegner has a wonderfully diverse geographic background, and it is worth spending a moment describing it before discussing his last novel, Crossing to Safety. Born in Iowa, he spent most of his early life in the western United States, including Montana, North Dakota, and Utah. Though not Mormon, he became familiar with the faith and its history, and would later write several nonfiction books about LDS-related subjects. After graduating from the University of Utah, he married his wife Mary; their marriage would last 59 years until his death. He completed graduate studies at the University of Iowa, taught at the University of Wisconsin, and published his first novel. The novel's success landed him a job teaching writing at Harvard, after which he was invited to head the creative writing program at Stanford, which he did for a quarter-century. He also lived part-time in Vermont, where many of his novels were set.

Having grown up in Utah before heading east for school myself, I was rather drawn to this biography. All the better then that Crossing to Safety incorporates so many autobiographical elements. The narrator of the book is Larry Morgan, a novelist who has returned with his wife Sally to the Vermont estate of their friends Charity and Sid Lang. The couples had met decades earlier when Larry and Sid were young, untenured lecturers at the University of Wisconsin, and the book is largely filled with Larry's meditations and memories about this lifelong friendship. Like Stegner, Larry has an unconventional background for a professor at a Midwestern school in the 1930s; coming from Berkeley after studying at the University of New Mexico as an undergraduate:

I was a single cork to plug a single hole for a single season. My colleagues, instructors of one or two years' standing, were locked in and hanging on. They made a tight in-group, and their conversation tended to include me only cautiously and with suspicion. They all seemed to have come from Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

Including Sid and Charity Lang. Charity, the daughter of a Harvard professor and niece of the former ambassador to France ("Roosevelt replaced him--fired him, I guess you'd have to say.") and a graduate of Smith, she met her husband during his graduate studies at Harvard. The Langs evidently come from money, while in the lingering depths of the Depression the Morgans are sharing a small basement apartment where "some bricks and boards" serve as a bookcase. Despite the odd couple(s) element at play, the Morgans and Langs hit it off immediately:

Coming from meagerness and low expectations, we felt their friendship as freezing travelers feel a dry room and a fire. Crowded in, rubbing our hands with satisfaction, and were never the same thereafter. Thought better of ourselves, thought better of the world.

The women find their pregnancies are nearly in sync, and Sid finds in Larry a confidante who encourages his creativity. The book travels forward through the years of their friendships, occasionally sliding back to the Morgan's present return to Vermont, occasionally traveling deeper into the past, such as Sid's first visit to the Lang estate (and his first encounter with Charity's mother, Aunt Emily, the forceful head of the Lang matriarchy). And that, more or less, is it. As one of the characters asks, "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?" Stegner has taken on the challenge of making art out of the usual, the normal, the common:

Since this story is about friendship, drama expects friendship to be overturned. Something, the novelist in me whispers, is going to break up our cozy foursome... Well, too bad for drama. Nothing of the sort is going to happen.

And yet the book is compelling nonetheless; it warms the heart, it breaks it. It is among literature's most authentic portrayals of friendship. And remember that this is a friendship of married couples. Thus it is also a novel about two long marriages, the different ways these marriages were tested, and how they evolved and endured in sometimes disparate fashion. I won't go into details about this, since it is a major part of how the story develops, but Stegner hints early on about tension in the Lang's marriage. Having just learned that one of his own stories will be published in The Atlantic, Larry challenges Sid for focusing on scholarly writing rather than his beloved poetry:

"Why is it so important to be safe?"

He must hear something scornful in my voice, because he looks at me sharply, starts to reply, changes his mind, and says something obviously different from what he has intended. "Charity's family are all professors. She likes being part of a university. She wants us to get promoted, and stay."

"Yeah," I say. "All right, I can see that. But if I were in your shoes I might feel like utilizing the independence I've already got, rather than breaking my neck to get promoted into a kind I might not like so well."

"But you aren't in my shoes," Sid says. It sounds like a mild rebuke, and I shut my mouth.

The way these tensions develop, the effect they have on the Lang-Morgan friendship, and the climactic moments near the book's conclusion are not only riveting but genuine in a way exceedingly rare in modern literature. Stegner does not resort to cliche, unlikely plot twists, or a deus ex machina. He knows academics, he knows writing, he knows friendship, he knows marriage, and he trusts in the power of the basic human experience, his experience. The novel carries this power throughout. A literary delight that I know I will return to many times in the years ahead.

Stegner was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Angle of Repose, published the year he retired from Stanford, and the National Book Award for The Spectator Bird, several years later. If either novel is as good as his last, Stegner will quickly earn a place on my shortlist of favorite authors.

New Kitchen Appliances

This weekend I had one of the most extraordinary shopping experiences of my life. Last year, my wife and I remodeled the bathrooms in our condo, replacing the Hollywood-style light fixtures and mirrors. Several months ago, we decided that our next big home improvement project would be to replace the cabinet doors in our kitchen.

We arranged an in-home consultation with a local "kitchen refacing" company to do this work, and we realized this would also be the ideal time to install an over-the-range microwave. This got us thinking that new cabinet doors and a new microwave would make our old appliances look pretty dingy. We still have the 10-year old base-model white GE appliances that the builder put in every unit in our complex, and the refrigerator in particular has been getting on my nerves lately. With one eye on our own happiness, and another eye on resale value, we decided to make the move to stainless appliances.

The biggest limitation on our shopping was the size of the refrigerator. This is only a 1200 sq.ft. condo, after all, and the space for the refrigerator is only 30" wide and 68" high. No side-by-sides or French Door for us, and even the bottom-mounts in that width would not work well in our space. So that narrowed it to stainless top-mount refrigerators in the 18-19 cu ft. range, with the hinge on the left (or reversible).

After loads of online research, particularly using the wealth of information and photos available on the AJ Madison website, we found the Frigidaire PHT189JKM. It has everything we could ask for in a traditional top-mount fridge that we don't have now: adjustable half-width shelves, adjustable door bins, a freaking deli drawer (don't ask me how we've lived without one of these for three years), and a left-hinge option:

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Once we'd become excited about this refrigerator, it seemed a simple matter just to go out and get eyes on it, make sure it looked as good in person as it did online. Easier said than done. We went to Best Buy, Lowe's, Home Depot, HHGregg, all with no success. These stores seemed to recognize, reasonably enough, that those looking for fancy stainless appliances probably had room for a side-by-side or French Door model. The stainless top-mount selection was modest at best. They all said they could order the model we wanted, but we really hoped to see it in person first.

brandsmartusa_ad.jpgMy wife mentioned that a friend of hers got a good deal on appliances at a discount Southern chain called Brandsmart USA, but I was skeptical. Just look at their print ad. Does this seem like the kind of place that is going to have a refrigerator that no other store carries? Their television ads are even worse. I figured it would just be a low-rent operation that made its money with high volume sales of closeout models. But frustrated with the other stores, I relented and we headed up I-85 to the Doraville location.

Almost impossible to miss from the highway because it is so big, this store is also nearly impossible to describe. It is as if you are actually inside that advertisement. Everything is crammed together, there are bright neon signs for everything, it is highly disorienting at best. Ramps take you one way, stairs take you another. Once the first wave of nausea passes, however, you notice something remarkable: this store has an incredible selection, and the prices are amazing.

We made our way up to the appliances, and as we stumbled amongst the hundreds of refrigerators that line the entire second floor, what did we find? The exact Frigidaire model we wanted; it was even the left-hinged version. It was beautiful. And so was the price, more than $200 less than what Lowe's or Best Buy wanted. We fought off a few hungry salesmen (the only downside to the experience, but what do you expect?), and looked to see if they had the Frigidaire range, microwave, and dishwasher that we wanted to complete the kitchen. They did:

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Of course, not only did they have the GLEFZ384GC range, the PLMVZ169GC microwave, and the GLD2445RFC dishwasher, the prices were lower than anywhere else we had seen. As we were browsing the dishwashers, a soft-spoken salesman asked us if we had any questions. My wife asked about delivery and installation, and we were stunned to learn that it would only cost about $100 total for delivery and installation of all the appliances, and they could deliver as early as Tuesday (today!). This salesman noticed that we were looking at Frigidaire appliances, and he pulled out a rebate form that would entitle us to more than $100 in rebates based on the models we were looking at (I'm usually skeptical of mail-in rebates, but if I'm buying anyway, it's worth a stamp to try). We decided to pull the trigger, and as the salesman was ringing up the purchase, what did he do? He summarily dropped another $20 off the price of each item, for no reason that we have been able to figure out.

Now I'm happily waiting at home for the delivery and installation of our new appliances, just a couple of days later. When the cabinet refacing is done next month, and the new microwave installed, I'll post before and after pictures for everyone to see.

UPDATE: Delivered, installed, wonderful.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe

In an effort to jump start my baking, I went to the bookstore yesterday and browsed through the baking section of the cookbooks. My goal was to find a book that I could bake from start to finish. Though tempted by the thick bibles of baking, like Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours or The King Arthur Flour Baking Companion, I decided to go with something more manageable: the Betty Crocker Cookie Book.

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I know, I know. It sounds a little silly, but it's actually a really nice looking book, with glossy pages, easy to read text, and full-page color photos. The recipes are grounded in the traditional, starting with the basic oatmeal cookie, chocolate chip cookie, etc., before moving into slightly more adventurous territory with the likes of the "Frosted Cinnamon-Mocha Cookie" or the "Applesauce Granola Cookie."

A feature I always appreciate is the inclusion of nutritional information for each recipe. There's also a commitment to ingredients that can be found already in the cupboard or available at the average grocery store. That's important, since the plan is to bake each and every recipe in the book, in order. The first recipe: "The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie."

1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup raisins

Preheat your oven to 350F. Cream the brown sugar and butter, and then stir in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, oats, and raisins, and stir until blended. If you can find them, Sun-Maid makes special packs of baking raisins, which are extra moist and won't dry up your cookies. In the alternative, soak the raisins in a cup of warm water for a few minutes before adding them to the dough.

Using a cookie scoop to ensure the cookies have a uniform size (ensures uniform baking), place the dough on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes (9 for darker baking sheets, 11 for light ones), then cool on wire racks.

These cookies are extraordinarily soft, much more so than my normal oatmeal cookie recipe. I'm a big fan. Next up, "The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie."

The Demon Under the Microscope by Thomas Hager

hager_demon.jpgIn my review of Molly Crosby's disappointing The American Plague that a good medical history weaves together scientific discovery, social history, and biography. Crosby's book fell flat because she focused too heavily on the social history at the expense of a decent exploration of the science.

In The Demon Under the Microscope, Thomas Hager does not make that mistake. His book explores not one particular illness, but the search for a drug that might treat the wide range of bacterial diseases that were taking hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This search, which would lead to the development of the world's first antibiotics, sulfa drugs, was spurred by the frustration of World War I doctors who saw thousands of soldiers die of wound infection:

[E]ven the most heroic and seemingly successful surgeries could go completely wrong a few days later. A soldier could wake one morning to find his carefully closed incisions, which had been fine the day before, now swollen, red, and painful. The edges, perhaps, had started to split open. Sometimes a foul-smelling, dark liquid oozed out. The skin around the wound began to take on a "curious half-jellified, half-mummified look," as one physician described it. These were cases of what military physicians feared most in their postoperative cases: Gasbrand, the Germans called it. Gas gangrene. The doctors knew what caused Gasbrand--an infection by bacteria--and they knew how it progressed... There was nothing much that could be done... Once gas gangrene was under way, the bacteria almost always won. Some patients fought it, railing and ranting for a day or two. Then they usually gave up, went silent and pale, temperature dropping, lips bluish. A day or two later, they quietly died of "green-black gangrene," one historian wrote," which emptied surgical wards into the graveyard."

One German doctor in particular, Gerhard Domagk, led the search and he is the main (but not only) protagonist of the story. Domagk's medical studies were interrupted by World War I, during which he would be wounded and serve as a medic on the Eastern Front, experiencing first-hand the destructive power of bacterial infection described above. After the war, he finished his medical degree, and after several stints in academic research positions, went to work for Bayer as the head of their new chemical drug research program. Hager gives a brief business history of the German chemical industry (including Bayer), which rose on the production of dyes; it was medicinal use of these dyes, pioneered by Paul Erlich, that Domagk was exploring at Bayer.

Indeed, the prominent role that Germany plays in the story leads to a variety of subplots. Crosby's book on yellow fever emphasized the backwards nature of medical education in 19th-century America, particularly as compared to that in Europe. This was part of a larger systemic difference in scientific academia, and the Germans were the innovators:

Until World War I broke the German monopoly on chemistry, no matter where you were in the world, you could not consider yourself a chemist (or much of a physicist, for that matter) until you first spent time in Germany studying with a master. Scientists from around the world flocked to Germany and came home to remake their own colleges. Johns Hopkins, founded in 1876, was the first German-model school in the United States, the first "research university." Hopkins introduced many German-style innovations into American education: undergraduate "majors" instead of a generic liberal arts degree; small seminars with their give-and-take with a professor in addition to lectures; an emphasis on original faculty research, especially in the sciences; "doctoral" degrees awarded to students once they had shown their own ability for independent and innovative inquiry. Soon virtually every major university in the United State was doing what Hopkins did, instituting polices that had been in place in Germany for a generation.

Not only was there a difference in the academic structure, there was also an interesting contrast regarding the perceived legitimacy of industrial scientific research vis a vis academica:

Doing science for a corporation was disdained by most academic scientists, who believed that only in a university setting or perhaps a government laboratory could a scientist follow the trial of pure knowledge, unsullied by commercial concerns. In Germany, however, the situation was different. German science had become the best in the world because German schools were among the best in the world, and German schools tended to have productive relationships with German industry.

If it sounds like there was a particularly close relationship between academia, industry, and the state, remember this was Imperial and then Nazi Germany. There are, no surprise, multiple Nazi connections to the story. Hager examines the folding of Bayer into the infamous German chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben, which would make substantial use of slave labor at Auschwitz during World War II, and produced the poison gas used by the Nazis to massacre Jews. He digs into the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, who died from bacterial infection a week after a grenade explosion sent shrapnel deep into his body. According to Hager, allegations of insufficient use of sulfa as a treatment by Karl Gebhardt, Heinrich Himmler's personal physician, spurred medical experimentation on female prisoners at Ravensbruck. Gebhardt was executed after standing trial at Nuremberg. The Nazi regime even set its sights on Domagk, briefly imprisoning him for the audacity of replying politely to notification that he'd been awarded the 1939 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

While this exploration of political and social history of the era is fascinating, Hager's real success lay in the medical aspects of the story. Though multiple bacterial diseases are mentioned, it is those caused by streptoccus that are most prominently featured:

Strep was every doctor's nightmare. The organisms could be found everywhere, in dirt and dust, in the human nose, on the skin, and in the throat. Most strains of strep were harmless. But a few were deadly, and when they got into the wrong place--beneath the skin, through a wound, into the blood--they could cause at least fifteen different human diseases, each so different from each other that in the 1920s researchers had still not untangled them. The worst strains of strep could secrete three poisons, wipe out red blood cells, raise fevers, eat through tissue, fight their way through the body's natural defenses, and create a bewildering variety of different diseases as they went. A strep-infected scratch could lead to the burning rash of erysipelas, the old St. Anthony's Fire; a bit deeper it became cellulitis, a potentially fatal infection of the subcutaneous tissue; if it got into the bloodstream, it cause septicemia, a blood infection; in the spinal fluid, meningitis.

Not to mention it was responsible for scarlet fever, some forms of pneumonia, and one of the most potent forms of septicemia, childbed fever:

In the 1920s the paradigm for obstetrics--a field that primarily male physicians had finally taken over, during the previous three centuries, from primarily female midwives--was that of illness. "Pregnancy is a disease of nine months' duration," one physician had quipped; another advised, "It is best to consider every labor case as a severe operation." Their remarks underscored the pessimism of caregivers who lost many new mothers after childbirth. The process of birth included a natural wound, deep in the mother's body, where the placenta detached from the uterus... New mothers--especially those in maternity wards--risked a disease called cildbed fever, endemic in many hospitals, that killed tens of thousand of women every year... [S]tudies showed that childbed fever was caused by the same strains of Sreptococcus that had been found in soldiers... the primary cause of wound infections.

After thus reviewing the wide variety of diseases that prompted the search for some way to fight back, Hager returns to Domagk's laboratory at Bayer, where repeated manipulations of dyes led to the almost accidental addition of sulfur to the mix, with great results: the world's first antibiotic drug, Prontosil. Though it would take many months, and the intervention of French scientists seeking their own version of the drug, it was eventually discovered that the healing agent was not the dye but the sulfur, a cheap and abundant resource. This led to an explosion in sulfur-based drugs, and the American experience with these sulfur drugs revealed quite a bit about the state of pharmaceuticals at that time:

Almost any drug, as long as it was not a narcotic, could be sold without a prescription. There was no requirement that labels list all ingredients, proper dosages, or side effects... Patent medicines in the early part of the twentieth century were as firmly established a part of American culture as jazz or baseball. Americans were accustomed to medicating themselves, deciding on their own treatments, and buying their own drugs. It went against the grain to have some doctor or federal agency telling Americans how to cure themselves.

Manufacturers in this field jealously guarded secret recipes and sold their products directly to the public through massive advertising campaigns. They were masters of ballyhoo, filling every newspaper and papering every town with claims for the most amazing cures attributed to concoctions often brewed from the most worthless ingredients.

Efforts had been made early in President Roosevelt's presidency to update the old law, but they had failed in the face of lobbyists, manufacturers, and advertisers. One concoction would change everything and lead to a total transformation in American food and drug law, setting the model for the world. This drug, called Elixir Sulfanilamide, was not wholly worthless. It did, after all, contain sulfanilamide. Unfortunately, sulfanilamide was difficult to dissolve in water, so the chemist who created the elixir decided to mix it with diethylene glycol, which is just as poisonous as it sounds. More than 100 deaths later, Congress passed the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which laid the foundation for modern food and drug regulation as we know it.

Hager has succeeded admirably in crafting a history that plumbs the scientific aspects of illness and medicine, ties these to the political, military, and social history of the early twentieth-century, and does justice to those who suffered, those who slaved, and those who succeeded in advancing the art and science of healing.

Chattanooga

When my wife woke up Saturday morning, she decided we should take advantage of this extra weekend together (I was supposed to be back in Kuwait last week) and go on a spontaneous vacation up to Chattanooga. Neither of us had ever been before, but we had heard good things, and the city is just two hours up the road from us in Atlanta. I went online, found a room available in the Courtyard Marriott downtown, and we hopped in the car. The ride up I-75 is pleasant if dull, like most interstate highways in the Southeast, and we would have made it in under two hours if we had not been waylaid by an outlet mall along the way. Once we got there, however, it did not take long to see why people have been saying such good things about the city.

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A few caveats: our hotel was right by the Tennessee River, and we did not stray much past the two or three blocks closest to each bank This is where most of the museums, shops, and restaurants are. We did not go into the business district or any other neighborhoods, so I can't speak to the metro area as a whole.

But the riverside downtown area is just lovely. The centerpiece is the Tennessee Aquarium, the largest freshwater aquarium in the world after our own Georgia Aquarium. There is also a children's museum, a river walking path, and more than a dozen restaurants within a two-block radius.

Once we dropped everything off at the hotel, we began our quest for the first of two initiation rites I undergo each time I visit a new city: finding local pizza. For whatever reason, I love eating at little, locally-owned pizza parlors, and have made that a must on each vacation. We did it when we went to Boston, when we went to Key Largo, when we went to Chicago (the pizza mecca in my opinion). In Chattanooga, my hunger was satisfied by a visit to Lupi's, just a few blocks down Broad Street from our hotel and the museum district. An order of bruschetta and two slices of cheese later, I was a very satisfied tourist.

After lunch we wandered over to another picturesque area of downtown, centering on the Hunter Museum of American Art, the modern addition of which was built atop the edge of a bluff overlooking the river. In addition to the museum, the Bluff View Art District includes several restaurants and shops, an art gallery, and an inn. From there, a short pedestrian walkway takes you to my favorite part of Chattanooga, the Walnut Street Bridge.

This bridge, first built in 1890, connects the downtown area to the North Shore. Unlike the Market Street Bridge, it is closed to automobile traffic. It is a purely pedestrian bridge. It is wide, well-maintained, with lots of benches to sit on and enjoy the river scene. As we crossed this bridge the first time, it led us to Coolidge Park, where a Saturday night swing-dancing festival was underway. After poking our heads into a few of the shops on Frazier Avenue, we found a shady spot in the park and enjoyed the music for an hour before heading back to the hotel.

In the morning we discovered that not much is open in Chattanooga on a Sunday, and almost nothing is open early. Even after 10am, we wandered past closed coffee shops, walked across the river, passed closed restaurants, but fortunately persisted until we stumbled upon the Stone Cup Coffee House on Frazier Ave. One iced chai and an egg bagel later, I was ready to start the day. We had a riverboat tour scheduled for the afternoon, so we decided to spend the morning hiking the Guild-Hardy Trail on nearby Lookout Mountain. It was a very pleasant trail, and I loved how quickly we could transition from downtown Chattanooga to a mountain forest trail.

After we got back to the hotel and showered, it was time to board the Southern Belle riverboat for a 90-minute sightseeing cruise. This was the only real disappointment of the trip. The portions of the river that the boat cruises are just not very interesting, and the combination of loud music piped through the speakers and a lot of bored children (and bored adults) made for a rather desultory affair. A lovely river breeze, but we could have enjoyed that sitting on the bridge.

That night, still full from a late lunch at an excellent Thai restaurant (the only place we could find open at 4pm on Sunday), we relaxed in an IMAX film about dolphins and whales and then fulfilled the second of my vacation initiation rites: local ice cream. On Frazier Avenue on the North Shore we found Clumpies, and I happily ordered my standard Cookies & Cream milkshake. We took our treats down into Coolidge Park, much quieter than the evening before, enjoyed dessert, and watched children at play. We took a ride on the Coolidge Park Carousel before crossing the bridge to our hotel.

In the morning, we decided we wanted to spend most of the day at home in Atlanta, so we make an early crossing of the bridge, had breakfast once again at the charming Stone Cup, and hit the road. We made great time, and were back home in Atlanta before noon. It was an excellent way to spend a weekend.