Thursday, December 16, 2010

Moving On

When I began Attic Salt in August 2009, I was living in DC, working for a newspaper, and blogging about my adventures at a personal blog, Ms. Cavanaugh Goes to Washington. I began that blog since I had things to say about the arts, restaurants, and events going on in DC that I wasn't writing about for other outlets, and I began Attic Salt because I had things to say about books, authors, and reading that I wasn't writing about for other outlets.

And then I moved to Chicago this summer, so I shut down Ms. Cavanaugh Goes to Washington, and kept Attic Salt around to use as a space to write about my project of reading all of Jane Austen's novels, and a space where I could reprint author interviews that had run in other places. But there was a problem with Attic Salt — I have too many interests to devote significant time and energy to just one of them. When I had my other blog, I could write there about an art show I saw or my new favorite food discovery. With just a book blog, I felt limited and began to distance myself from it.

Writing for publications in two cities means I'm already feeling like I'm here, there, and everywhere, so I want my Internet presence to be centralized. I want it to be a place where I can link to my articles, print outtakes from interviews, wax about restaurants I loved, and share thoughts on books, visual arts, culture, and any topic that strikes my fancy. And with that, I am unveiling a new eponymous blog, hosted on tumblr: Amy Cavanaugh. I am still going to keep up my personal Twitter feed, but I'll be shutting down the Attic Salt one. Anyone interested in keeping up on my thoughts on books should bookmark my new blog and follow me on Twitter here, @AmyCavanaugh.

Thank you for reading Attic Salt — it's been fun to write about books and get moral support during my Jane Austen project. I loved doing the Catching Up With An Old Friend series and sharing author interviews and beautiful book covers. Happy Reading!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cover Candy: Penguin Classics for Children

I spotted these at Anthropologie. How beautiful!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Favorite Halloween Books

I love a good scary story now and then, and today's the perfect time to pick one up. Here are my four favorite spooky/scary/Halloween stories:

Friday, October 29, 2010

In the Attic with Myla Goldberg

Originally printed in the Washington Post Express

If there's one thing Facebook stalking old middle-school classmates can teach us, it's that people change. Reconnecting with those ghosts of friendships past can provide some insight into our former selves, which is what Celia Durst learns in Myla Goldberg's third novel, The False Friend.

"Part of what inspired me was that I remembered something very mean I had done in elementary school," Goldberg recalls. "I remember being the kid who was picked on all the time, but one time I threw a pair of scissors at my best friend at the time and scratched her on the leg. She didn't tell anyone and I blocked it out, but as an adult I remembered having done that."

Kids don't always turn into the adults you'd expect. "You have people you knew in high school, like the guy you're sure is going to be a Hollywood star but 10 years later he's a podiatrist," she says. "You never know what course we're going to take."

Goldberg's third novel follows Celia as she pieces together the disappearance of her best friend, Djuna, who vanished when they were 11. At the time, Celia told everyone that Djuna got into a stranger's car. Decades later, Celia remembers that Djuna fell into a hole — and she told no one. When she returns home to confess, no one — family, old friends who were there that day — believes her. Celia has a difficult time realizing that her memory may be fallible, something Goldberg says we all have to accept.

"I think, ultimately, we can never know ourselves and people we love can never know us," she says. "Memory is not this sacrosanct, golden thing, and if you talk to other people about your past you can figure out what memory's failure can teach you. Memory's failure is as good a way to learn about ourselves."

Goldberg's husband grew up in upstate New York, where she set the novel.

"The area fascinates me," she said. "It's a place of fallen empire, which ascended when the U.S. was making stuff and factories — cites and cultures sprang up around that. Now the U.S. doesn't make as much stuff, and the area is dead, depopulated and boarded up. It tied with my thinking about the people we are now versus what we were."

She also drew on her own childhood neighborhood in Laurel, Md.

"I attended high school in Greenbelt and I used it in the book," Goldberg says. "The great thing about fiction is that you can make a patchwork and draw from wherever you want."

Friday, October 22, 2010

In the Attic with Edwidge Danticat

In my journalism, I never have the luxury of including every quote or topic that comes up in the course of an interview. I recently interviewed Edwidge Danticat for a piece in Express (which you can read here) about her brilliant cultural criticism/memoir Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work and I had to cut out this question:

In Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, you write that “the immigrant artist, like all other artists, is a leech and I needed to latch on.” You also mention in the introduction that the executions of Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin are one of your “creation myths.” How much of being an immigrant artist is telling other people’s stories, and how much is telling your own?

I think any artist is sort of a sponge and a lot of the re-creation of experience is a re-telling of your own experience where it encounters other people’s experiences. Being from an immigrant family, and with the past my family has, there’s always a person who tells it. As a result, people are often cautious around you. Even when I was a kid, I was the kid who told everything. I was shy, but I was a big observer and people were cautious around me when I started writing. My parents and my aunt spent much of their adult lives under the dictatorship, and even at the dinner table, where it was private, they would say, “is it safe to say this?” Having a writer in the family is counter-intuitive to that. Often when my relatives in Haiti read things of mine, they say, “how do you know that?” I always say, “I was listening when you didn’t realize it.”

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Persuasion, Chapters 13-24

Whew, it's high time I finish up Persuasion, isn't it? I've been really busy these past couple weeks, taking the second road trip of the summer as Todd and I moved my things (including hundreds of books) to Chicago. Now we're getting settled in an apartment that has an office/library — it's kind of an amazing room.

What's also amazing is that the Jane Austen Challenge is over! It took six months, but I haven't read this many books by a single author since I took a Henry James class in college. Reading all of Austen's books so close to each other helps illuminate themes and aspects of her writing style, so I'm really glad I did this. And thanks to everyone who played along! If you finished all six, please send me an e-mail with your mailing address.

I'll be revisiting themes that recur throughout Austen's oeuvre in the coming weeks, and after that I'm going to be starting a new reading project — Chicago writers. I hope it'll be a way to get to know something about the city I just moved to, plus a chance to discover new authors. I'll issue a more formal call for ideas later, but I'd love to hear any ideas for books by Chicago writers past or present, or those that are set in Chicago.

And now onto final thoughts on Persuasion:

Louisa is still at Lyme recovering from her accident, the Musgroves go there to be with her, and Anne decides to go visit Lady Russell. Anne is distracted while she’s with her friend because of the situation with Louisa, but Lady Russell tells her how she looks physically better. Anne tells her that Captain Wentworth is smitten with Louisa.

The ladies go visit Mrs. Croft, and it hurts Anne that someone else lives in her old house. Admiral Croft tells her to look around, which Anne declines, but he tells her that he made some improvements to the house, including removing mirrors from Sir Walter’s room. The Crofts tell Anne that Captain Wentworth praised her to his sister and brother-in-law for his help with the Musgroves. They also tell her that they’re planning to go to Bath for a few weeks.

Charles and Mary come back from Lyme and report that Louisa is improved, thought still week. Anne asks about Captain Benwick, and Charles implies that he has feelings for Anne. Anne hears from her sister Elizabeth that their cousin, Mr. Elliot, is in Bath and he has come to visit Sir Walter. Anne and Lady Russell set off for Bath. Anne is depressed to be there, but her family welcomes her by showing off their new things. Mr. Elliot has been visiting them often, and they have forgiven him for marrying his first wife who was rich but ill-bred. She died six months previously, and contrary to appearances, Mr. Elliot is in mourning. Anne surmises that he wants to marry Elizabeth, but when he visits, he recognizes Anne from their meeting in Lyme. They hit it off.

Mrs. Clay proposes that she leave Bath, now that Anne is there, but Elizabeth and Sir Walter decline her offer, which makes Anne worry that her father is interested in Mrs. Clay. Elizabeth isn’t worried, but Lady Russell is.

Lady Russell likes Mr. Elliot, and isn’t suspicious about why he’s made amends with his relatives. Anne, realizing that she and Lady Russell often see things differently, still believes that Mr. Elliot wants to marry Elizabeth.

Word arrives that Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret, cousins of the Elliots, are in town. Their relationship has lapsed, but since Lady Dalrymple is noble, Sir Walter decides they should rekindle it and improve their social standing in Bath. Anne can’t believe it, but Mr. Elliot tells her that it’s a good idea. He also shares her concerns about Mrs. Clay.

Anne learns that Mrs. Smith, an old school friend of hers, is in Bath as well. Mrs. Smith had married a wealthy man, who burned through his money. He died two years previously, leaving his widow in serious debt. Shortly thereafter, she got a fever and was crippled. Anne goes to visit her, finding her friend’s situation terrible but her spirit unchanged.

Anne turns town a visit to the Dalrymples’ in favor of visiting Mrs. Smith, which bothers her father. At the party, Mr. Elliot tells Lady Russell how highly he thinks of Anne, which makes Lady Russell think that he plans to marry Anne, not Elizabeth. Lady Russell approves, since it would make Anne Lady Elliot of Kellynch Hall, which was her mother’s place.

Next the Elliots learn that the Crofts are in Bath and that Louisa is engaged to Captain Benwick. The odd couple fell in love while Louisa was recovering in Lyme, which surprises everyone. Anne is thrilled though, since it means that Captain Wentworth won’t be marrying Louisa like she imagined.

In Bath, Anne runs into Admiral Croft, who tells her that he and his wife also expected the Captain to marry Louisa. He adds that his brother-in-law doesn’t seem upset about the news. Anne bumps into Captain Wentworth the next day when she is walking with Mr. Elliot. His friends assume that there’s something going on between Anne and Mr. Elliot.

The Elliots attend a concert and Captain Wentworth is there. He tells Anne that he doesn't think Louisa is smart enough for Captain Benwick, and that he’s amazed his friend was able to get over his first love so quickly. Anne sits with Mr. Elliot, and he’s very complimentary of her. During intermission, Anne goes to find Captain Wentworth, but Mr. Elliot interrupts their conversation. Anne, always polite, goes with him, but realizes that Captain Wentworth is jealous is Mr. Elliot.

Anne goes to visit Mrs. Smith the next morning. Her friend thinks Anne is in love with Mr. Elliot, and Anne tells her that it isn’t true. Mrs. Smith then tells Anne that Mr. Elliot is “without a heart of conscience” — he was a friend to her late husband, and the Smiths would help him out financially. He refused to marry Elizabeth in order to marry a wealthy woman, and he often spoke slightingly of his Kellynch baronetcy. He also encouraged Mr. Smith to run up a huge debt. He was the executor of Mr. Smith’s will, but refused to help out. The reason he’s upset about the possibility of Sir Walter remarrying is if he and Mrs. Clay were to have a son, he would no longer be heir to Kellynch. He came to Bath to break them up, but soon decides he wants to marry Anne. This obviously upsets Anne, but she’s glad she found out before it was too late. When she sees Mr. Elliot that evening, he tries to talk to her, but she brushes him away. He says that he’s planning to leave Bath for a couple of days.

Charles and Mary come to Bath with the other Musgroves, since Henrietta needs a wedding dress for her marriage to Charles Hayter. While Anne is visiting them, she sees Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay speaking on the street. Mary wants to go to her father’s party the next night to meet the Dalrymples and Mr. Elliot. Anne stresses how little interest she has in Mr. Elliot, which Captain Wentworth picks up on.
Anne goes to visit the Musgroves, Captains Harville and Wentworth, and Mrs. Croft the next morning, and Anne and Captain Harville get into a discussion about love. Anne says that women are more faithful and that women continue to love even when hope is gone. Captain Harville counters that men never forget women, even when women have moved on. Captain Wentworth passes Anne a note, then heads outside to mail a letter. In the note, Captain Wentworth declares his love for her, which makes Anne leave at once. One the walk home she runs into Captain Wentworth and she tells him how she’s loved him all along. They’re both elated.

No one objects to their engagement, although Mr. Elliot leaves Bath. Mrs. Clay leaves as well, and there’s a rumor that they’re together — he had been flirting with her in the hopes that she would not marry Sir Walter. Captain Wentworth helps Mrs. Smith get some of her husband’s money back, and only Elizabeth remains unmarried. Anne and Captain Wentworth live happily in their marriage.

Moreso than in her other novels, Austen punishes characters who strive for social improvement and mobility. Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot are driven out of town for their attempts to social climb through marriage. It's one thing to pursue acquaintances from a higher social standing, like Sir Walter does with his cousins, but it's another entirely to use marriage as a means of doing so.

And that’s the end of Austen’s most mature love story and final novel. I think it’s a fitting end to this project, since we’ve seen Austen become a more assured writer who presents more assured characters. Though Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of Austen’s books, Persuasion is great for an older reader (Anne is the closest heroine to me in age) who isn’t clueless about the way love works. But there's something in every Austen novel that's worth getting at, which is why this has been such a rewarding project.

What's your favorite Austen work, and why?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Persuasion Update

Since I've gone ahead and just finished Persuasion like I did with Northanger Abbey (this is what happens with shorter books!) I'm going to save my thoughts for a final post on the novel at the end of the month. I'm also brainstorming ideas for a couple of posts for September that will address themes and topics in all six of Austen's books. If you can think of something you think would be fun to discuss here, please let me know or leave a comment! Good luck finishing up your Austen reading!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

In Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, food emits the feelings of the person who made it to 9-year-old Rose Edelstein. Distraught when she realizes that her mother is unhappy by tasting the emotion in a lemon birthday cake with chocolate frosting, Rose's happy-go-lucky nature begins to dissolve as she starts to question what's going on around her. Food, for Rose, lays bare the dark secrets of everyone she knows years before she should know them.

It's a strange family. Besides Rose, there's her oddball mother, who tries to follow various passions, her loving but distant father, and her unusual brother, Joseph. Joseph is older by a few years, and to Rose he's a genius who somehow can't get into the handful of colleges he applies to. Secretive and always irritated, he spurs the novel's tension with his disappearance shortly after he moves out.

Bender tracks Rose through those years when food tells her particularly startling things -- her mother's affair, her brother's strange disappearance -- ultimately until she's in her early twenties and trying to find a way to use her "gift" for good. It's been a barrier between Rose and a normal life, as she forgoes college and other things in order to save herself trouble, but she ultimately learns to accept both her taste buds and her brother's situation. His "gift" is one that divides the family and can't be hidden, as Rose's can. If the symbolism seems heavy handed, it can be at times, though Bender balances it with the mystery that each "gift" produces.

Food is a terrific character in its own right. Its personification is sometimes twee and at other times seems to mock food criticism and obnoxious food blogs, but its main role is the conduit for change and self-discovery as Rose grows up. There's nothing gimmicky about this, just a novel way of getting to the heart of family issues. As strange as Rose's abilities are, Joseph's are even stranger, but the family is unwilling or unable to talk about them. The one person who will listen, Joseph's friend George, is Rose's crush and the only character who provides some balance to the family's troubles. As a food writer reading this book, I wanted Rose to embrace her strange ability and launch a new type of food writing, one that explores the passion in restaurant's kitchens and whether they use locally sourced ingredients like they promise.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is engaging and Bender creates a world that's easy for readers to inhabit. I've always been drawn to magical realism, and this book is no exception.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cover Candy: F. Scott Fitzgerald Editions

You've probably noticed that Attic Salt has become pretty much just a Jane Austen/Coralie Bickford-Smith appreciation blog. Well, the Austen project may be winding down, but at least we've always got great Coralie content to post. Herewith, some gorgeous new covers she designed for F. Scott Fitzgerald's books. I would like them all.