Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on February 13, 2009


typewriter6          So there’s this book that came out in 2001 called The Corrections, right?  It’s written by this snarky dip-shit genius named Jonathan Franzen, and it, like Ron Burgundy, is kind of a big deal around these parts for a couple of reasons.  First of all, when the book was released, it was hailed as the greatest novel of the twenty-first century – which, at the time, I thought may have been just a tad fucking presumptuous considering the fact that “the century” was only about eight months old.  (There was also, you see, a brief window in January 2001 when Save the Last Dance was the highest grossing movie of the twenty-first century – because it’s not that hard to be the prettiest girl at the ball when you’re the only one there – no offense, Julia Stiles.)  Yet, regarding their aggressive prediction, time has proven many of these over-eager critics correct – The Corrections won the National Book Award in 2002, and it’s still at the top of most people’s “best novels of the century list.”  So, that’s reason number one why the book is kind of a big deal – and it’s the more general one.

          The other reason the book is specifically important around these parts is because Franzen is from St. Louis – and has been unafraid in each of his first three novels to let the world know just how much he despises his unfortunate Midwestern upbringing.  Obviously, it must have been tough on poor Jonathan growing up in the horribly underprivileged upper-middle class suburb of Webster Groves – where outrageous property taxes fund one of the nicest school districts in the country.  Throw in the fact that poor Jonathan kind of looks like a movie star and you can just imagine the Hell that must have been his childhood.  D-Bag.  But I guess you can run around saying pretty much whatever you want when you write a book that’s so good you can turn down an offer to be on the Oprah Winfrey show because you don’t need her endorsement to top the best-seller list – even though your chosen genre, literary fiction, typically sells about as well as a Derek Jeter jersey in Boston.  Anyway, I’m getting off point with this rampage.

the-corrections          Where I really want to go is here: there’s an abominable, but brilliant professor character in The Corrections named Chip – and we are told by Franzen early in the novel that his academic success is due to his diligent work every morning while his graduate school peers were sleeping off their “Galloise” hangovers until noon (I believe this is a rather high-falutin’ way to say that they had drunk too much French wine the night before).  And this essentially echoes a maxim that I have seen repeated many times in other college advice books: there is great untapped potential for work in the hours before noon.  Now, according to this ideology – you should all start setting your alarms for 6:30 in the morning, take a brisk shower when you wake up, eat a hearty breakfast in the cafeteria, and be studying in the library by 7:45.  Still, while this may work for some students, biology tells us that for most collegiate-age humans, this philosophy is more or less bullshit.  There is absolutely nothing that says you need to do your work in the mornings if you want to succeed in college, nor is there any scientific proof that you will do better work if you work in the mornings; there is only a law that says this: you have to do your work if you want to succeed in college – and it doesn’t really matter when.

          My father, whom I love dearly, swears that as I grow older I will become more of a morning person, and I will learn to enjoy the brisk pace of the early morning work-day.  I don’t think he’s slept past 5:30 in the last ten years, and neither has my grandfather.  Nevertheless, I’m getting awfully close to thirty years old – and, even though I write professionally for a living, I can’t seem to craft a coherent sentence before noon.  So my schedule is this: I wake up around 9:00, take the dog for a walk, eat a little breakfast, check my email, watch a few episodes of The West Wing, go for a run, and finally, I’m ready to work by the time the sun is directly overhead.  I then put in ten hours at my computer desk banging these 26 little keys (40 if you count the numbers, the comma, the period, the apostrophe, and the dash – I fucking love the dash), and then I pop in The Office and watch a couple of episodes of that.  I’m like a factory worker who works the second shift – because that’s when my brain functions – and, just as my father constantly proposes that he’d have no problem divorcing downstate Illinois from his arch-nemesis, Chicago, I’d have no problem divorcing the concept of morning.  I’d get twice as much done in life if every day had two afternoons.

menudo201981          So, here’s my concluding point.  The hours before noon are no more or less important than any other hours of the day, just as no one member of Menudo was any more or less important than the others.  If you’re the type of person who naturally functions well in the morning, then do your work in the morning, and if you’re the type of person who doesn’t understand how Regis and Kelly wake up that chipper every dawn, then do your work late at night.  Just remember to do your work – and you can tell those college guidebooks, and Jonathan Franzen, to go to Hell.


          Editor’s Note: Today’s post now officially concludes our week of jubilee – and like Pedro Martinez in that fateful ALCS 5 years ago, we are officially out of gas.  It was, however, a super-productive week!!!  As promised, we brought you five main-page posts, and if you check out the tabs on the right, you’ll notice that we’ve added new material in almost every section (including an awesome “WWFF” post on The Transporter that works the titles of sixteen John Cusack movies into a 500-word essay).  Thanks so much folks, we’ll see you next week.    

Learning to Love Grown-Up Food…

Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on February 12, 2009

typewriter5 …or, This Was Supposed to be My Self-Congratulatory Masterpiece on My Awesome Red Snapper

          – A Guest Post by Third Bass


          I suppose I should start with the admission that this post is really just an amalgamation and extension of two Dr. Wizard directives for collegians: “Buy Organic Apples” and “Box Wine Isn’t Real.” Nevertheless, since my posts are geared for those of you who have recently graduated and are already well on your way to purchasing your first Volvo, I think it’s a good idea for me to add my two cents about the ways you can learn to love grown-up food. You see, what Dr. Wizard doesn’t cover in those two posts – because let’s face it, dorm food consists of three to four main staples (Ramen Noodles, Easy Mac, Pizza, and the Salisbury Steak that is being served in the dining hall that day) – is the art of culinary exploration. And once you’ve mastered the concept of purchasing produce that hasn’t been sprayed with poisonous pesticides and wine that comes in some form of glass container, and once you have matriculated from the dormitory to a living-space with a kitchen, it’s time to move one step further and to start enjoying the full spectrum of flavors, textures, and cultures that food can offer.

          As I write this post, I’m lunching on a homemade grilled Red Snapper with Black Olives, Capers, and Tomatoes while washing it down with a glass of Montes’s 2007 Malbec from the D.O. Colchagua Valley, Chile. Wait…actually…that’s a lie. Right now, I’m staring at a horribly charred piece of fish that was supposed to be a grilled Red Snapper – and consoling myself with a whole bottle of Malbec – because instead of paying attention in the kitchen, I was typing the previous sentence. So, lesson number one – when you spend good money on expensive fish at Whole Foods, and are about to tell people why they should be a better cook: don’t burn the fish.

anthony_bourdain32          Now, staring at this disaster, I know that I’ll have to open the fridge, and let me tell you, last night’s Chinese take-out reheated at 1200 watts for three minutes, and that two-liter of flat Cherry Coke suddenly look downright pathetic. And there are a few reasons for my completely explicable change in perception. First, because take-out sucks; and second, because someone else put in the work. Normally, I’m okay with a little delegating from time to time, but like I mentioned in the previous post about reading Ulysses, there is sometimes little that is more satisfying than completing an enormous and potentially overwhelming project. Fish, of course, shouldn’t be overwhelming – but nevertheless, my feeling of completion satisfaction has now been mangled. In this particular instance, because my dialing a phone last night and tipping a delivery guy was exponentially easier than preparing a meal for myself – and now, because I have to re-live that capitulation. Still, I’ll survive to fight another day – once I’ve cleaned the charred black gunk out of my frying pan.

          Where does this leave us? Well, I’m imploring you to start learning to cook. Sure, there will be some occasional disasters, but in the long run, you’ll be thankful that you’ve tried. Instead of watching American Idol auditions for two hours with a microwaved Lean Cuisine, we should all go to the market more often, get our hands on some fresh produce, head home, put on our Sam Cooke records, and enjoy the act of experimentation and creation in our horribly underused kitchens. If we do this, by the time Portrait of a Legend: Sam Cooke 1951-1964 hits track 16, “Bring it on Home to Me,” we’ll be ready to sit down with our sweetheart to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

          So tonight, why not head out to Borders to peruse their culinary arts section? Grab a coffee or tea from the café and hunker down for a couple hours after finding a cookbook you like, one that is simple enough that you’ll actually try some of the recipes featured in it. Personally, I really enjoy cookbooks that have a narrative accompaniment to the recipes so that I can learn something about the indigenous ingredients, traditional preparation, and local customs. This is also the reason that I watch No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain – well, that, and I like his snarky, no bullshit attitude – which, by the way, he would have turned on me in a heartbeat for trying to type this post while I should have been relaxing and preparing my lunch.

          And now, if I’ve inspired you at all to attempt a more intimate relationship with grown-up food, here’s a website to get you started.