The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Knopf (February 12, 2019), 369 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $18.87
I haven’t read Toni Morrison before, and I’m not sure that this book was the right place to begin. I suspect that to really appreciate her skills as a writer I should have started with one of her novels.
Nonetheless, this is an important book, reflecting as it does Morrison’s thinking over the past couple of decades. Many of the pieces are speeches, including commencement addresses and her Nobel prize lecture. The book gives us Morrison’s perspectives on race, class, society, and art. Morrison has a lot to tell us.
She makes clear that the work of artists, including writers, must be protected.
Those writers plying their craft near to or far from the throne of raw power, of military power, of empire building and countinghouses, writers who construct meaning in the face of chaos must be nurtured, protected. And it is right that such protection be initiated by other writers. And it is imperative not only to save the besieged writers but to save ourselves.
Some of her essays have the sound of having been written since the 2016 election, but were apparently actually written in the early 2000s. How much we value and appreciate that interlude of the Obama years!
The occasion and date of each piece is not included with the respective speech or essay, but rather all are grouped together at the end of the book. This was somewhat annoying, but perhaps the editor is telling us that what Morrison has to say is important regardless of context.
Toni Morrison is one of the important voices in the arts and society today. We need to listen to her.
I have been baking sourdough bread for many years. When I lived in Gilroy and was getting serious about baking bread Terry met a former boss of hers on one of her business trips so he could give her some sourdough starter that he had been maintaining for several decades.
I was very religious about maintaining it, and kept it going for several years. The starter made the move south with us when we left Gilroy. However, once we got here and I didn’t get back into baking bread I failed to keep it going and it died. I felt bad about that.
With the recent demise of our oven and the purchase of a new stove with a convection oven and a proof setting, I got back into bread baking mode. I placed an order with King Arthur flower for some ingredients not available locally, and that included sourdough starter. As soon as the order arrived I gave the starter a lot of loving attention and made sure to carefully feed it, which involves adding flour and water. I did so for a week and then baked a loaf of bread using the French bread flour I had also ordered from King Arthur.
The result: delicious.
I’m delighted to be baking sourdough bread once again.
Ever since the advent of the e-reader there has been a lot of discussion, sometimes coming close to religious fervor, about e-books vs. paper books. I owned two different early Kindle devices and now read almost all of my books on the Kindle app on my iPad. Terry reads paper books. Yet I love my library of physical books and have no intention of getting rid of them.
A friend of mine, who once upon a time blogged under the pseudonym Boston Pobble, wrote that both/and is a perfectly acceptable mode of behavior. More recently, in the “By the Book” interview in the New York Times Book Review, Janet Malcolm stated:
Why have a large library and not use it? Why keep books, if you are not going to read them more than once? For the décor? The answer isn’t entirely no. A book-lined room looks nice. I like walking into my living room and seeing the walls of books with faded spines that have accreted over many decades.
There you are. Who am I to argue with Janet Malcolm?
I wrote recently that as a result of my surgery I am not supposed to have red meat for three to six months after the procedure. I also wrote that I wasn’t thrilled about a diet of strictly poultry and seafood, and that I was going to want to include some vegetarian cooking in the mix. While my sensibility, as I wrote, is that if you are going to cook vegetarian you should cook vegetarian in and of its own right and not try to emulate meat, I am nonetheless not adverse to a good veggie burger or using soy crumbles to make vegetarian chili.
A former manager of mine read the blog and noted how much her family loved the Beyond Burger. I was familiar with it because the Carl’s Jr. fast food chain had been heavily advertising the product on baseball television broadcasts. Their version is the Beyond Famous Star. What I did not know was that the uncooked Beyond Burger is available in the grocery store.
I was doing a major shopping trip at Winco, our local discount bag-your-own-groceries supermarket and I found the item in the meat department. I bought a package and grilled one of the burgers on our new stove’s grill top. I buttered a slice of sourdough bread, sprinkled it with Parmesan cheese, and added it to the grill. I added mustard to the bread and topped to burger with tomato and onion.
The result: marvelous. It tasted just like a beef burger and was just as satisfying, although it didn’t stay with me as long. It’s a bit expensive: two patties cost me nearly six dollars, but it’s a really nice treat.
I still want to try the Carl’s Jr. version.
When we did our kitchen remodel in Gilroy in 2007 we bought a stove with a convection oven and a proof setting. Before that time I made bread using a bread machine. After our remodel the bread machine was retired and I regularly made bread using the proof setting for the rising phase and the convection setting to bake the bread. Not only was the bread fresh and not only did it taste great, but it was great therapy for me.
After moving here to Hemet I did not take up baking bread. We had a perfectly fine oven and I no doubt could have, but without the convection oven and the proof setting I simply did not have the motivation. I suppose there was an element of sour grapes in all of that, but that’s how it was.
Earlier this year our oven quit working. The cost to repair it would have been $250. We thought that was hardly worth the cost, especially since earlier in the winter a power bobble caused the clock display to stop working.
Terry and I found a stove with a convection oven that we liked at Lowe’s. The white version was not immediately available, but we were promised that it would be along in two to three weeks, and it was nearly half the cost as the same stove in stainless steel. As it happened it was seven weeks, but that all was forgiven when the stove arrived. Especially since by that time I was past my surgery and well on the way to recovery from that ugly complication which arose. I was more than ready to jump in and made good use of our new appliance.
So here I am baking bread once again. I purchased the basics locally and placed an order with King Arthur Flour for the more specialized items that I needed. I am up and running, and am delighted about that.
This memoir was a delightful diversion.
The second world war played a lot of havoc with the lives of many people in England. (There’s a serious understatement.) André Deutsch was a Hungarian who was stranded there at the outset of the war. After the war he started a publishing house with an absurdly small amount of capital. Warned against giving the firm a foreign-sounding in the wake of the war, he called it Allan Wingate. Stretched thin financially and having alienated his investors, he ceded the firm to them and founded André Deutsch Ltd.
With him from the very beginning was Diana Athill. The circumstances of wartime employment and the oddities of wartime personal relationships brought the two of them together and she continued to work for him in spite of his difficult personality and eccentricities.
While the two firms were tiny compared to the U.K.’s big publishing houses, Deutsch and Athill recruited a significant portfolio of distinguished authors, including Terry Southern, V. S. Naipaul, Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, and Simone de Beauvoir.
Those of you who enjoy “inside publishing” memoirs will not be disappointed by Athill’s recollections.
As a result of my surgery I have one really big dietary restriction: no red meat. Not for three to six months from the date of the surgery. Now exactly what that means depends on who you talk to. When my surgeon’s assistant tried to clarify that for me she got varying responses. She told me that two nurses said that it meant only beef, while two doctors told her that it meant both beef and pork. The nurse who removed my staples and who is very familiar with my surgeon said it meant only beef. But when I finally had my follow-up with my surgeon he couched the restriction in the broadest possible terms: no beef, pork, lamb, etc.
Now as a practical matter only the first two affect me (I never eat lamb), but that still creates a huge impact on my diet. It means I am restricted to poultry, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. Given that I’m not keen on a diet based exclusively on chicken and turkey, and since a diet heavy on seafood is not practical, I have to open myself up to more vegetarian food.
Long time readers of this blog may recall that I have flirted with a vegetarian diet in the past, and more than once. This is not exactly new and unfamiliar territory for me. I know a vegetarian diet is healthier for me as an individual and it’s far better for the health of the planet. That is one thing that has not changed a bit since Frances Moore Lappé first published Diet for a Small Planet in 1971.
The question, then, is how to eat vegetarian. It’s the same question I have asked intermittently since the 1970s. The easy path, the path taking the least amount of thought, is to go with meat substitutes. I bought a package of veggie bacon strips which were awful. Some of the meat substitutes aren’t so bad, however. Soy crumbles make a great vegetarian chili when properly seasoned, and black bean burgers can be very tasty.
A vegetarian snob, however, and even a serious vegetarian who is not a snob, would say that one ought to cook vegetarian dishes that stand on their own and which do not try to emulate meat dishes. Perhaps that’s not as easy as it might first sound. Mollie Katzen admits that in her first edition of The Mousewood Cookbook she tried to create recipes specifically so the meat wouldn’t be missed. But that was decades ago (1974) and a lot of vegetarian cookbooks have been published since then, a good number of them with some very tasty, savory dishes. Martha Rose Shulman, one can make the case, is a master of this sort of recipe in her cookbooks.
It’s not an easy journey right now, but it is one that is highly manageable.
La lucha continua, if I may be so presumptuous as to borrow from those engaged in the fight for social justice.