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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reading Alice Munro on a Blustery Day

Freshly turned soil drew gulls on Monday

Imagine you are home alone with a big tin full to the brim of Oreo cookies. I don’t know if Oreo cookies were ever available in tins, but imagine that they were, and that you have a tinful. You also have a supply of more grownup treats – maybe rice crackers and rolled anchovies or fresh avocadoes and slabs of good bakery rye bread. Whatever you love that gives you a feeling of sybaritic luxury. Something exotic to drink, too, like a bottle of Calvados, taken in small, languorous sips. But those Oreo cookies, too, don’t forget, and no one else in the house. Maybe the wind is from the east, as it was on Monday, a cold, blustery wind driving everyone indoors who had a choice in the matter. Driving you indoors to cozy down with your factory-made cookies and high-status alcohol and upper-class foodie treats. No, I didn't have all those: it just felt like it, reading this book. Alone with adolescent dreams and adult memories -- that’s the atmosphere created by the stories of Alice Munro in Lives of Girls and Women.

It isn’t necessary to have grown up in Ontario. The American Midwest will do, or the South. Why not the Great Plains? The East or West Coast, no, probably not. This is fiction from the interior of the continent, recollected dreams of anticipation, from places young people dream of escaping, although the majority never do.

*   *   *

This coming Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day, but I’d rather think of a week, or at least part of one – beginning, let’s say, on Wednesday, so make that Wednesday through Saturday, this week. Come in any of those days, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and find new titles waiting for you, along with a number of newly arrived used books, some shelved with their subject companions, others – temporarily -- in the “Newly Arrived” section, simplifying browsing for frequent visitors. At Dog Ears Books, every day is potluck and a treasure hunt, to boot.

And now, meanwhile, and à propos of none of the foregoing, if you’re looking for a good movie, I recommend “Bridge of Spies,” starring Tom Hanks. Hanks plays Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer asked to defend a Soviet spy because the Americans want to show that in the U.S., even a spy is allowed a defense in a court of law. (The Fifties were more than Ozzie and Harriet: they were also the Cold War.) The arrangement is more for show than anything else, but Donovan takes it seriously. That's the first complication. Meanwhile, the C.I.A. has hand-picked a group of pilots to fly the new U-2 planes and take photographs of Soviet ground installations. Also, Donovan's kids are shown a movie of the atom bomb in school. They learn about the kind of destruction of brings and get taught the "Duck and cover" routine. (The son, like Jim, takes things seriously: he comes home and fills the bathtub with water, telling his dad there wouldn't be time to do it if they were caught unprepared.) Donovan attracts public hatred for defending the spy, and his wife and children become targets. Then Gary Powers is shot down (and, coincidentally and close in time, a young university student gets caught on the wrong side of the new wall in Berlin), and Donovan is asked to go secretly to East Berlin – not even his family is to know he’s gone, and he has no official government role or protection -- to negotiate with the Soviets for a trade, Abel (the Soviet spy) for Powers. Period details are beautifully done, as is every other aspect of the film, but it's the character of Jim Donovan that carries the story.

And for Paris dreaming, here at last is a new offering on my kitchen blog.

I am not working outdoors today!

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