Displaying articles for: February 2012

Leap Year: A Love Story


Dear February 29th,

Boy, I miss you so much! Where have you been? Having a blast, I'm sure! Smiley face!  

This month felt really short without you by my side. Why don't you return my calls? I hope you're not confusing me with some other hot "date." Ha-ha. I hope you're not pretending to be September 31st again. Wasn't that so funny? That was so funny. We laughed so hard!

Those were the days, and now these are the days.
February 28th 

Dear February 29th,


Are you getting this letter? Is my mail caught up on some federal holiday? It must be. 


God, being in a long-distance relationship is the pits. Sometimes I look across to January 28th and 29th and think, wow, you guys have got it so easy. I broke all of my resolutions this year just to spite those ungrateful lovebirds. They don't understand our love, how it lasts for really long intervals of time.   


March 1st heard a rumor that you went to New Year's Eve's big party this year and danced with the hostess herself. But I told him that was impossible. You were observing the Jewish calendar this year, celebrating New Year's in September.

Shalom, baby!       

February 28th
Dear Febby 29th,

Nothing is new here. Everyone says hello. Last night I played cards with Valentine's and Groundhog and March 1st. We were going to invite President's but everyone always forgets that guy. Groundhog says HEY! He says you better be careful, leaving your girlfriend all alone with these choice once-a-year occasions. Ha-ha! 

Oh my god, I just called me your girlfriend! I think we're really moving to the next level.   

I know that you need your space, but I would share a diagonal calendar square with you if it meant you could stay forever.
Winter Love,
Dear February 29th,
Sometimes you fit into my schedule, sometimes you don't. But that doesn't mean our commitment was a one-month stand. I know what you did last winter, and I'm contacting the Ides for advice. And don't ask me if it's "that time of the month." It's always that time of the month -- the time that it happens to be. What is that anyway? Philosophy?
Seasons Greetings,
February 28th
Dear February 29th,
Today, March 1st and I spent the night together. We were hanging out and it was getting late and then we just suddenly meshed around midnight. I'll spare you the details -- no "in like a lion" jokes. After all, he's been close to me all along, literally a second away 75% of the time.


Anyway, I thought you should hear it from me. March 1st and I know you'll need a place to crash in four years. You can come between our shared vertical from time to time, but never between our hearts.  
Your Ex-Girlfriend,
February 28th


Hilary Leichter teaches in the undergraduate creative writing program at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Butterscotch Dust


What follows this Introduction is not a traditional cookbook. There are no recipes, the measurements are imaginary, and the photographs, as you will soon discover, are gruesome images entirely unrelated to food. But ever since my first combination bakery/exotic zoo opened in an abandoned spaceship in 1996, I've been asked by literally tens of diners to put together a guide they could use at home to re-create some of my most edible culinary creations. This is the first of eight incorrectly-numbered volumes.


I never intended to write a cookbook. I'm functionally illiterate, and allergic to the gluten that makes up a deliciously crusty yet still chewy sheet of paper. But ever since I was weaned from my mother's milk at age eleven, food has been a tremendous part of my life. My great-grandmother was eaten by Prussian nobles. My uncle laid his own eggs. Mealtime in my house growing up, there was a series of culinary debates: jelly versus jam, micro greens versus macro greens, whether to remove my sister from the pickling liquid. We foraged for berries in the local parks. We dug for truffles under the railroad tracks. We slaughtered animals in the pet store at the local mall. It was perfection.


I first learned to cook as an indentured servant peeling string cheese at a labor camp for convicted money launderers. I discovered the joys of finding an earthworm in your applesauce, or a bloody sock in the cavity of a Cornish hen, trussed with the hastily-removed vocal cords of a retired opera singer and stuffed with a mixture of moisturizer and marbles. I went to culinary school on a barge off the coast of the Czech Republic, harpooning underwater Al Qaeda operatives and turning them into both sweet and savory miniature cupcakes. These experiences led me to my first restaurant, Gristle, where I served nine-course breakfasts at midnight and spent the rest of the day ghostwriting college application essays for the Somali pirates who hand-pounded our pots and pans from sheets of only the finest radioactive scrap metal.


You need no special equipment to cook the food in this volume, just a centrifuge, a Bowflex exercise machine, and a food-grade elasticized polyester hairnet. Much has changed since I began in the industry. Now most local supermarkets sell many of the ingredients that used to require mules to smuggle them across national borders.  From whole-grain milk to butterscotch dust, the entire culinary world is at your fingertips for as long as they haven't been sliced by a knife-wielding robot sous chef. I'll show you how to preserve your own artisanal body hair and inject flavor directly into your veins, with barely a scar left behind.


From pink peppercorn sausage marmalade to tree stock, and a petrified duck who will scare the filling right out of your peanut butter ravioli, this book will offer a step-by-step guide to creating meals that only the instructions in future volumes will enable your guests to forget. You, too, can caramelize your most valuable possessions, in the comfort of your home kitchen. Enjoy, and happy emulsificationing.


P.S. Many thanks to my book agent, whom I would never have met if not for the introduction from my leavening agent.


Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer and has written for McSweeney's, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications that fall somewhere in between.


Burn Notice


Dear BBA Members,

I write to you with great concern. Like much of the print-book world, our existence is being threatened by the rise of e-books. And while the media covers this issue as it affects publishers, booksellers and authors, they ignore the plight of people like us, the loyal and devoted Book Burners of America. As we approach our Annual Bonfire Gala, proudly celebrating the 80th anniversary of when Brave New World was first set aflame, we offer a guide with answers to your most frequently asked questions about how e-books will affect our mission.

1. What are e-books?

E-books (short for "evil-books") are electronic versions of books that can be viewed on computers, many cellular telephones, and a variety of stand-alone devices, none of which are nearly as flammable as mass-market paperback editions of Lolita.

2. Why are e-books so dangerous?

E-books are dangerous because they cannot be destroyed by conventional means, like a campfire or a warehouse explosion. If print books that we find offensive are like Green Eggs and Ham, easily flushed down a garbage disposal, think of e-books as the mutant, flesh-eating creatures I can only assume populate something that would be called an Animal Farm, complete with adjustable font size and a built-in dictionary.

3. I usually use a thick black marker to cross out the objectionable words in books I read, so that I can safely enjoy great works like Cabin, The Verses, and Moby. Can I do that with an e-book?

No. While ink will indeed black out parts of your screen, skilled amoral e-book users will be able to scroll up and down to see the hidden text. The only way to truly ensure that dangerous material cannot be seen is to black out the entire screen. This, of course, has the side effect of making it impossible to read anything -- a long-term goal of ours, but one which, for now, remains unrealistic.

4. Can't we simply print out copies of our e-books and burn those printouts? There's nothing I would like more than to toss a few copies of Ulysses into the fire -- I expected a presidential biography about a serial adulterer, not smut.

We can, but because e-books exist in computer files, burning one printed copy of an e-book does nothing to change the overall supply of that book--which is, sadly, inexhaustible.

5. I wrote an offensive book about Mark Twain fornicating with a unicorn, and the only copy of that book exists on my flash drive. So can't I destroy my own book by burning my flash drive?

Yes. If no copy of that file exists on any other device, you can indeed destroy your own book by burning your flash drive. However, if you are in the habit of writing about fictional creatures having relations with animals, it may be more effective for us to burn you than your flash drive. Our new Exploratory Committee for Author Incineration may be in touch.

6. I accidentally bought an offensive e-book -- I didn't realize what George would be so Curious about -- and would like to symbolically burn it. May I print the receipt from my purchase and toss that into the fire?
We're sorry -- you "accidentally" bought an offensive e-book? This unfortunately triggers an automatic forfeiting of your membership in the BBA. We'll have someone else bring the potato salad to the after-fire barbecue.

7. I can bring potato salad, but I don't have a recipe. Are we allowed to read cookbooks, or are they on the list of objectionable works?


It depends. We've been burning the ones with recipes for deviled eggs, chicken breasts, and grapes (of wrath or otherwise), but aside from that, you should be fine.


Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer and has written for McSweeney's, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications that fall somewhere in between.


With Child With Child


Russian Nesting Doll: So, doctor? Am I...am I, you know?

Doctor: (looks upset) Yes. Yes, you're pregnant.

Doll:  Oh, that's just wonderful! That's just the most wonderful news. What’s wrong?

Doctor: (glances at his chart) Well, there's more. Would you like to have a seat? 


Doll: I can't. I can't sit down.


Doctor: Oh, right. Well, I want you to brace yourself.


Doll: Oh God.


Doctor: I don't quite know how to say this.


Doll: Oh God.


Doctor: So I'll just say it. Your baby is pregnant, too.


Doll: Excuse me?


Doctor: It's mind-boggling.

Doll: Doctor, what are you saying? I’ve heard of teen pregnancy, but...

Doctor: There's more. Dear Lord, there's more.

Doll: Oh goodness.

Doctor: Your baby's baby is...well, pregnant, too.

Doll: If it could, my jaw would drop.


Doctor: It's truly mind-boggling!


Doll: <Russian expletive>!


Doctor: Exactly. Before we can know anything for certain, we must unscrew your waist and empty everyone out until you are completely hollow.

Doll: (small voice) Will there be pain?


Doctor: Of course.


Doll: Will there be side effects?


Doctor: (nodding) Absolutely.


Doll: Will there be drugs?


Doctor: There is always vodka.


Doll: My husband is in the waiting room. He needs to know about his child, and his child’s child, and his child’s child's...


Doctor: Yes, I think he should come sit down and talk with us about the situation.


Doll: But he can't...


Doctor: (opens door to waiting room, takes a good look at husband) Oh no!


Doll: Sit down.


Doctor: Okay. I'll sit down for the both of us (collapses on exam table). 


Doll: And my three sisters are parked outside with their kids, waiting for the good news.  


Doctor: Good God -- it must be a clown car!


Doll: Actually, it's a hybrid. They're all very compact. My mother fits in the trunk. Should we write that down?


Doctor: I think you need to consult a specialist.  


Hilary Leichter teaches in the undergraduate creative writing program at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Blurb Rules

A guide to the art and artifice of writing blurbs for books.


1.  Use "I should have known" at the start of any quote you decide to give.  As in "I should have known Meghan Askew would write the best vampire-leprechaun novel of the decade." Or "I should have known that I should have known that 'Maura's Tears' would sweep me away into a maelstrom of [whatever]."


2. To keep yourself somewhat closer to being honest, use "of the decade" only for books published in years ending in 1. Or 2, at a stretch.


3.  Use "thrilling," even if the book is about nucleopeptides that mimic topoisomerase. "Thrillingly" is OK, too.


4. Ditto "prodigious" except for books about child prodigies.


5.  Come up with a clever variation of "I couldn't put it down." Some ideas: "I should have known that you wouldn't be able to put it down, and neither would your aunt." "It's so thrilling, you'll be afraid to pick it up. And when you do, you won't be able to put it down." "Go ahead--try it! Go ahead. I dare you. Try to put it down. Oh, you're sure you can? You are? Well, let's see it, then. What's stopping you? Go ahead. There's the table, and there's nothing else on it--plenty of room. No one's looking. You're alone. So go ahead, by all means. See? I thought so!"


6.  Make grand comparisons.  Here is a menu of just some of the many books that may be used for grand comparisons: "War and Peace," "The Joy of Cooking," Deuteronomy, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," "Tropic of Cancer,"  "Gilgamesh," "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," "Peyton Place," any book by Sinclair Lewis or John Irving, "Catch-22," "A Brief History of Time," "Go the F___ To Sleep." 


7.  Always describe the process of becoming absorbed by the book. Some examples: "Fred James is one of the few writers who keep trying to set sail upon thrilling narrative waters alone, only to find readers swimming alongside and clambering to get on board."  "If the prodigious James Fredericks were a literary-journalistic shark, anyone who has started 'The Agony and Ecstasy of Isometrics' would instantly become his pilot fish."


8. "Not since" is always good. 


9.  If you didn't have time to read the book, open it completely at random, read whatever sentence your eye falls on--I just found "The man walked sideways, toward the corner of 7th and A"--transcribe it, and then say "Now, that's what I call writin'!"


10. For funny books, always say, "with an undercurrent of plangent melancholy."


11. For sad books, always say, "with a prodigious comic undertone that in some measure redeems the melancholy."


12. "Redeem" and "redemption" are always good. "Redemptive" is the best. 


13.  Assuming you are a writer, be bitter, as in "I might just as well string myself up--'Damien's Curse' is that good." Or "I threw my computer into the furnace after I read 'Some Statistical Variations in the Populations of Small Towns in Central Nebraska.' " 


14. "Howlingly funny" is always good.


15. "Kafkaesque" is so good that the American Association of Publishers is considering making it mandatory for blurbs for all books--including cookbooks and the Bible. 


See also:  Flap Rules.


Daniel Menaker is the editor of Grin & Tonic.


July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).