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Five Discoveries, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:42am

Syllables of the Briny World, a photo of a book

I don’t know about you, but I love recommendations from online friends. The world is crammed full of “recommendation engines” so it’s nice to come across the favorites of non-machines. Here are six things I’ve really enjoyed lately: books, a TV series, a movie and as a change, two cooking websites.


I’m guessing many of you have read James, by Percival Everett? A retelling of Huck Finn, from the point of view of the enslaved man known as Jim in Mark Twain’s story. I’m not going to tell you much more than that, because so much of the novel’s brilliance stems from a choice of narrative imagination the author makes. If it is possible to be delighted and horrified at once, in one fraction of a second, that’s what the book accomplishes. I read it in a very short time, even staying up past 11pm one night, entranced. Unheard of.


I guessing very few of you will have read Syllables of the Briny World, by Georgina Key. Yet. It’s only recently published, the story of Hurricane Ike and the devastation wrought on a small community in Texas on the Bolivar Peninsula. Several points of view, a story in the compressed timeframe of the disaster, oh, and including the spirit of a dead child, living like an underwater Peter Pan, called to (and by) his mother. Beautifully written, I read this before publication was assured and knew immediately we’d see it in the world.


Because brilliance comes in many forms, some tragic, some poetic, and some ridiculous and heartening, I will now recommend to you the series Girls5Eva, on Netflix. I am not even sure why I started watching, because it looked stupid, but I loved it. Not remotely stupid. I can do no better than Wikipedia to describe its premise: “A 1990s girl group that managed to score only one hit gets an unexpected chance at a comeback when their song is sampled by an up-and-coming rapper.” I mean, it doesn’t sound great. But it turns out to be a show about women, and friendship, and art, and selfhood, that’s also supremely funny.


Sometimes brilliant is just that. Even better when played by brilliant actors. American Fiction, now playing on Amazon, is the story of a Black novelist, a highly intellectual college professor (Geoffrey Wright) who writes a satire of what he perceives to be the limited world of Black fiction, absent fathers, abuse, guns, death and all. The satire pitched just because to an editor under a pseudonym, sells. However, the movie is not a big farce of mistakes, it’s a small, beautifully observed family story, and the publishing drama is essentially a counterpoint.


Change of pace. I have been cooking Chinese food for 40 years. I started with Western-style stirfries Chinese only in their use of a wok, progressed to China Moon’s Barbara Tropp’s insistence that I make my own chili oil, lived from China Express when my kids were young, and now take my inspiration from two websites. The first, Woks of Life, is written by a family and I’ve found the recipes highly reliable. Have you ever wondered how to make that light and delicious steamed fish you’ve had in your favorite restaurant? Here you go! Then just the other day I happened on Red Spice House, and at my age and level of interest (read: lack of) in “kitchening” of any sort (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping) I appreciate their Easy section.

Anything you’ve read, watched or eaten likely that has stuck with you? In a good way? Ribs or heart or mind?

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

8 Responses

  1. What a wonderful list. Thank you. I also love recommendations from online friends. I finished a re-read of Erasure, and am now reading James. It’s a pleasure to find someone who shares my experience with Girls5Evah. Netflix kept suggesting it, I kept thinking, “This looks terrible,” until I got hooked, and started worrying about what I would do when it was over. Thank you for reminding me of the gifted Barbara Tropp, gone much too soon. China Moon was heavenly.

    My recent focus is films. I re-watched Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy: Blue, White, Red in one day on the 30th anniversary of the release of Red at Cannes. After, I realized I’d switched my favorite status from Blue with Juliette Binoche to Red with Irène Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant. In our current political climate, I appreciate films by women. Claudia Weill’s 1978 Girlfriends with Melanie Mayron, and a stellar supporting cast, is a reminder of where we thought we were going post Roe v. Wade, and where we are now. Last week I re-watched Donna Deitch’s 1986 Desert Hearts before re-watching Todd Haynes’ 2015 Carol. Deitch recreates a 1950’s Nevada so vivid I kept thinking it was filmed then. The two stars of Desert Hearts are riveting. Helen Shaver still works as a director. I first saw her name in the credits for an episode of Station Eleven. Also recently watched Ray’s Calcutta Trilogy and Antonioni’s modern world trilogy of L’Avventura, L’Eclisse, and La Notte. I love immersing myself within the work of a director in an era.

    In a class by itself, I loved the new version of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley in black and white. It was another series I was sad to see come to an end. The use of black and white when showing an Italy we’re now used to seeing in its blues and terracottas was fascinating. The series features a scene-stealing Maine Coon cat. I re-watched the 1999 Damon/Law/Paltrow Ripley after, and it paled in comparison despite its bright color palette.

    After years of its unavailability, I was delighted to find Mike Leigh’s 1996 Secrets and Lies on Max. It’s a wonderful film with stellar performances. There’s a single scene by Lesley Manville, which was my introduction to her, that illustrates what a charismatic actor can do. I continued my Manville streak with Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, a 2022 film from a Paul Gallico novel, which I didn’t know existed. It’s a small, charming film.

    In streaming services, I’m enjoying Max and Criterion in particular for films, along with Apple+ when I’m willing to rent or buy a film in order to see it. Max currently has some impressive films in its catalog.

  2. Thank you for the shoutout Lisa Carnochan

    I’m going to check out your other recommendations I also loved American Fiction (found the ending puzzling) I just began Them on Amazon—wow! A challenging watch but worth it—so well done on various levels, but just be prepared!

  3. ComPLETELY off subject but I HAVE to tell SOMEONE about the thrill I’m having while reading An Unfinished dLove Story, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s story about her beautiful husband and his early, genius days of being Kennedy’s speech writer. There are fascinating bits of history as she tries to tell the story of a the President’s genuine attempt to create a finer world. Her husband Dick hung out with Che Guevara, moved the Isis Temple of Dendur from it’s doomed home in Egypt to the Met in New York, and persuaded the Kennedys to host Pearl Buck, James Baldwin, Linus Pauling and all the other Nobel recipients to a dinner at the White House. The recent history already feels strangely innocent and I love returning to it at the end of each day. Doris Goodwin’s story is about her husband who passed on. I also just read From Scratch, a stunning love story by a Black woman to he rSicilian husband who died from cancer. And lastly, I REALLY recommend Just kids, Patti Smith’s tribute to Robert Maplethorpe. AS he was dying, he asked her to write their story. So she did. It’s called Just Kids and you’ll love it.

  4. You may already know that American Fiction is based on another novel by Percival Everett: Erasure.

  5. I already have James but have not yet read it, and I too thought American Fiction was excellent. Have you read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese? (About a surgeon, not a sculptor.) I also liked his Covenant of Water. Both are long but thoroughly engrossing. I find I mostly read work by women writers, but I try not to be totally one-sided. I also really enjoyed the mini-series of A Gentleman in Moscow (on Paramount +, I think?). I read the book some years ago and thought it okay but not great, but loved the adaptation – maybe because two of the main characters were quite different from how I had pictured them. I also enjoyed 3 Body Problem on Netflix, even though it’s science fiction, but was disappointed that it is only part 1 of a trilogy.

  6. I always appreciate book & movie suggestions. And it seems we have similar tastes.

    On a related note, I’m happy to see you are still blogging. There are not many of us left. :)

    Thanks, Lisa!

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