Five Friday Reads 3.24.2017

Icelandic Grocery Store
  1. "The Weird Things People Leave in Books" from Publisher's Weekly. You've probably left a ticket stub in a library book, but food? These librarians have found everything from shrimp to raw bacon in their books.
  2. "'London Bridge is down': the secret plan for the days after the Queen's death" from The Guardian. Queen Elizabeth II's death won't just be a national tragedy, but signal an end to an era of British supremacy.
  3. "A Guide to the Texture You Didn't Know Had a Name" from Lucky Peach. QQ is that dense, chewy texture that's similar to mochi or gnocchi. Finally, I have a word to describe my favorite texture.
  4. "From Chop Suey to Haute Cuisine: A Case Study in American 'Ethnic Food'" from LA Review of Books. Oliver Wang's review of From Canton Restaurant to Panda Express explores the history of Chinese food in the US and questions what it means to serve ethnic cuisine in the first place.
  5. "Printing the Ancient Way Keeps Buddhist Texts Alive in Tibet" from The New York Times. An inside glimpse at this traditional printing press in Tibet that is preserving not only Buddhist texts, but a forgotten art form.

What Dumplings and Thrillers Have in Common

Spinach dumplings

I avoid the news in the morning. Russia conspiracies and French elections feel extra jarring without a layer of work, wine and weariness to inure me. But the stories filter through. Usually in the form of thrillers and dumplings.

This isn’t a new form of alt-facts—I’ve simply noticed more discussion of thrillers and dumplings recently. It started with the James Patterson paperback I saw on my next-door neighbor’s stoop, which quickly morphed into a breadcrumb trail of Jo Nesbøs and Donna Leons scattered along my morning walk. I’d return home and peruse a dumpling showdown in New York Magazine before receiving a PR email about The Dumpling Galaxy cookbook and scrolling through Tasting Table’s newsletters filled with recipes for gyoza and gnudi. At first I thought this was all coincidence, but with each new instance, I realized that thrillers and dumplings illustrated how we were responding to political and social upheaval.

Back in February, around elect fell from Trump’s political position, The New Yorker Radio Hour ran an interview with Adam Davidson who mentioned that he read Alex Berenson's John Wells spy novels to cope with chaos in Washington. These are thrillers of the kind that seemed hoary when our president oozed rockstar-coolness and we felt we could overcome racial inequality. New York discussed this point in a feature discussing the novel in the age of Obama. They argued that during Obama’s tenure the liberal novel writing elite felt comfortable enough with the political situation to present realist novels that confronted the thorny social issues that we believed our cooler-than-cool head of state would resolve. Meanwhile Trump and the populist crescendo reminds us that we still need to fight for an equal society. And so we turn to thrillers.

It’s not just escapist literature helping us to cope. Food also offers comfort, though we’ve swapped the tacos and thai food we ordered with aplomb during the election cycle for tortellini and manti and the occasional knish. Within the space of a week, the food website Tasting Table published no less than six articles about dumplings with the tagline “Every culture has a dumpling.” Following Trump’s inauguration and the ban on arrivals from select Arab countries, this slogan read not as a declaration of deliciousness, but as an assertion of unity. If every culture has a dumpling, then there must be some essential underlying essence that we all share that drives us to make them. As thrillers always end neatly, a dumpling dinner concludes with no leftovers.

On one hand, dumplings aren’t a trend because we grew up knowing they were the a safe noodle-wrapped introduction to exotic cuisines. On the other hand, the food world’s recent focus on them parallels the thriller’s newfound superstar status among the literary intelligentsia. As political times turn uncertain, we’re looking for ways to comfort ourselves that still bestow distinction. The most popular thrillers aren’t tatty paperbacks—though as my morning walk proves they’re making the rounds as well. The most popular ones are writen by people with knowledge of the system like John le Carré. Then there's 1984, which has topped The New York Times bestseller list since the inauguration. Dumplings are similar. While a dumpling can a delicious deep fried samosa, it can also be a matzo ball in soup when we’re ill. They can offer consolation or a new way of cooking and being in the world.

Although thrillers and dumplings have so far been the harbingers of the Trump era, that doesn’t mean they’ll stay this way. Soon we might be seeing translations and noodles or science fiction and stir fries taking their place. The next four years are up in the air. But we’ll have to get through them somehow. Let’s hope they’re delicious and deep.

Five Friday Reads 3.17.2017

National Gallery
  1. "Otherworldly Architecture in Japan's Magical Moutainside" from The New York Times. More than there simply stunning lines, these houses boast bare bones interiors that put the landscape on display.
  2. "Photographer Will Scott shoots Britain's endangered seaside shelters" from The Spaces. These dilapidated and unpopulated seaside shelters are haunting reminders that what society values is cyclical.
  3. "13 of Our Favorite Lucky Peach stories" from Eater. Following the news that quarterly food journal Lucky Peach will fold in May, Eater explores the off-beat, in-depth stories that characterized the magazine's 22 issue run.
  4. "Donald Trump is a Gift, and a Quandry for Late-Night Hosts" from New York. Cultural commentators have noted that Trump seems impervious to satire, but that hasn't prevented late-night shows such as SNL and Full-Frontal with Samantha Bee from lambasting the new-President in ways that, somehow, manage to make us laugh.
  5. Hanna Stefansson's blog. After New York got pummeled with another round of snow, I'm dreaming of sandals, shorts and dresses. In the meantime, I'm dressing vicariously through Hanna Stefansson's spot-on style blog—and pretending that scrolling through will help me learn Swedish!

Five Friday Reads 03.10.2017

Glen Falls Park
  1. "Russia’s RT Network: Is It More BBC or K.G.B.?" from The New York Times. Russia's state-run news service might resemble the BBC, but the organization's wide reaching influence and approach reveals it doesn't adopt the same non-partisan perspective.
  2. "Language learners can import and learn using content from the internet" from Springwise. Move over Rosetta Sone, LingQ is inventing a platform that lets language learners and speakers communicate in real time, digitally.
  3. "The Cloistered Books of Peru" from The American Scholar. While ebooks make reading on the go easier than ever, centuries ago transporting books was a struggle and reserved for sacred tomes.
  4. "The Dramatic Process of Writing Headlines at Man Repeller" from Man Repeller. Anyone who works in digital media knows that writing headlines is ridiculous and Man Repeller's tongue-in-cheek rendition of the process is more true to life than you might expect.
  5. "The World's Last Great Undiscovered Cuisine" from Saveur. Azerbaijan is more than just 2011's Eurovision surprise winner—it's a country filled with beguiling rice dishes, richly spiced stews and honey-soaked sweets.