Book List and Baked Good · Uncategorized

Chocolate, Fruit, and Empathy: The True Christmas Spirit

MERRY CHRISTMAS, MOVIE HOUSE!!! I’m visiting my family and, this morning, my dad tried to order Beach Body supplements online so he can quote-get a bitchin’ beach body – unquote. How are your holidays going?

Real quick, some news on my writing life. I got an essay published in Ravishly regarding the Randall situation, which you can read here. Incidentally, I stumbled upon another essay on Ravishly by Joni Edelman on surviving the holidays when you have issues with body image and food. It’s an excellent read if you have these kinds of issues (or even if you don’t), and you can read it here.

I’m currently reading a great book my friend Carrie gave me for Christmas that I highly recommend called The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. It’s all about the making of the cinematic masterpiece The Room and it’s an excellent vacation read. Accessible language and also a very funny and relatively well-written Bukowski-esque story about the bizarro land of Hollywood egomaniacs. If you’re looking for books more in the spirit of the season, however, I have included a list below of five works of literature that will make you a better person. Incidentally, all of said works are pretty god damn depressing but I think being a little shocked and sad and then subsequently more aware is necessary to bettering yourself. In addition to that, I created a Christmas cookie recipe this week that ties with my America Cake (WHY DIDN’T WE EAT YOU FASTER?????) as my greatest creation.

Raspberry Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 egg white

1 and 1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tablespoon of raspberry extract

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks

3/4 cup white chocolate flakes

Directions:

1. Mix the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder in a small mixing bowl and set aside.

2. Cream the butter and sugar.

3. Mix in the eggs, egg white, raspberry extract, and vanilla extract.

4. Gradually add the dry ingredients.

5. Stir in the chocolate chunks and white chocolate flakes.

6. Roll the cookies into small balls and spread on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Use a fork or spoon to gently flatten each cookie prior to baking.

7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Verdict: Love them like David Foster Wallace loves footnotes! 

I repeat, tied with America Cake as my greatest invention ever, but with less bitter, bitter memories attached. It has a very strong berry/chocolate flavor, which is great for the holidays. It pairs great with any red wine except for Merlot because Merlot (much like sweetened whipped cream and white bread) is an abomination against our nonexistent God. I asked Mark and Amy (my parents) to rate them. My mom said 8 on a scale of one to 10 and my dad said 6, but he’s a surly 60 year-old man who’s gone full-on curmudgeon and whines constantly about how he isn’t prioritizing fiber in his diet and how comedy was better in his day and he just doesn’t understand “Seth Rogen and you young people comedians” (because it was soooo funny when David Letterman harassed an innocent deli employee who was just trying to do his job…). So, screw him! I give them a 10, at any rate.

5 Works of Literature that Make You a Better Person

5. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

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The alternative title of this book could be How to Teach Your Kid Not to be an Entitled Fuck. Billy wants hunting dogs and his parents can’t afford them. He goes out and earns the money himself. The dogs need training but his parents don’t have time. He trains them his god damn self. Billy is a good kid, self-sufficient and accepting of the fact the world doesn’t owe him shit. But you can’t help but wish God would cut this kid a break on occasion. He does, sort of. The first time Billy actually gets a little fucking help for a fucking change comes when his dumbass dogs tree a raccoon in the tallest, thickest tree in the woods. After Billy puts in, like, a good 95% of the work, God sends wind to knock down the tree in response to Billy’s prayer. This brings me to my one point of contention with this book. (Warning: Stop reading now if you don’t want your nostalgic childhood memories of Red Fern tarnished.) God murders Billy’s dogs. It’s all in the subtext. Billy’s family can’t take the dogs to the city. Billy can’t leave the dogs. Everyone prays on this and God apparently responds by sending a mountain lion to violently murder both the dogs that Billy met him halfway to obtain. Actually, no. Fuck that! God didn’t do shit to give Billy those dogs – getting the dogs was 100% Billy and 0% God.

4.The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

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Loneliness is something most people do not want to deal with, and the profoundly lonely remain a group we all collectively attempt to ignore. Tennessee Williams, as always, tears into human loneliness without hesitance, painting a portrait of three incredibly isolated people in an incredibly isolated family. I think Menagerie makes you a better person because it teaches empathy, especially for an act that would – without context – be viewed as cold and indifferent. Tom had to leave his family. It wasn’t a choice; it was life or death. Some people are not salvageable and some situations will not improve, despite how much you may try, and Tom knew as much regarding his sister and mother. This whole play reminds me of a lyric from a Mountain Goats song – “This song is for the people, who tell their families that they’re sorry, for things they can’t and won’t feel sorry for.”

3. “Gabe” by Holiday Reinhorn

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Remember Louis CK’s stand up routine about how there are some people in the world who there is just no one for? Reinhorn’s narrator tells us the story of Gabe, who seems to have no real place in the world. Her husband’s cousin Gabe, she tells us, her husband’s distant cousin Gabe, and the story continues with this quirky style of writing that would feel excessively gimmicky if dished out by a less talented writer. Out of context, Gabe is a creep. He falls in love with married women, pushing the boundaries of appropriate behavior by lavishing them with unwanted gifts and attention. In context, Gabe is… also a creep, but you can see how his creepiness is born more out of a childlike naiveté than any malicious intent. He eats raw Pop Tarts and turns on the sink full blast so no one can hear him cry when rejected, because he’s hungry for a love and acceptance that will likely never come. Does this make Gabe’s actions okay? A resounding “No” to that, but this story makes you a better person because it forces you to empathize with someone that would come off, without an origin story, as simply reprehensible. The story ends with a prayer on behalf of the narrator. She asks God —  who measured out the waters and divided up the heavens with the hollow of his fucking hands — why some people are put here just to live in torment. She begs him to allow some human anywhere to just love Gabe.

2.Blue Nights by Joan Didion

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The bereaved, much like the lonely, are a group of people often pushed to the margins of society.  We give those grieving a loss a few months to experience devastation, and after that they’re expected to be strong and move on while treasuring their memories. To this, Didion says, “Fuck that.” After the loss of her husband and daughter, she takes a no bullshit approach to grieving. Rather than treasuring them, she notes that memories and mementos sometimes only serve as a bitter reminder of how inadequately you appreciated the moment when it was occurring. This book makes you a better person because it’s the antithesis of catharsis, a raw look at experiencing losses that will always be unacceptable, which can help us foster empathy for those who’ve experienced this brand of grief. The central thesis of this book rests on the fact that, as human beings, we are cognitively incapable of ever truly valuing the present. In a way, it’s almost comforting. You spend your whole life trying to appreciate what you have while you have it, and feel like you’re failing the entire time. Embracing the fact we are, by design, destined to fail at seizing the day is almost a relief.

1. “The Fourth State of Matter” by Jo Ann Beard

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Okay, maybe I’m an asshole, but I’ll admit that the first time I read this essay (I think I was 20) my first thought was, “Oh, great. Another essay about a middle-aged divorced woman where the dog is a metaphor for the dissolution of an unhappy marriage oh my God I seriously, seriously don’t care.” Yeah, so, that’s definitely not what this essay is about, but at the same time all those details that seemed inconsequential (the sick collie, the squirrels in the attic) and those details that seemed very consequential (aforementioned dissolving marriage, how she felt (past tense) about Chris) become tied forever to an unimaginable disaster. The essay’s abrupt turn from the mundane to the tragic reminds us that an individual human life is a cluster of small, often uninteresting moments that are nevertheless precious and invaluable. In that small pocket of time just before dawn, Beard can imagine being suspended in the fourth state of matter, a place of total stillness where the particles stop moving and hang motionless in deep space. All those small fragments that make up an individual life are resurrected for the briefest moment. In a world where mass shootings are becoming increasingly normalized, it can be difficult to comprehend each individual loss. Now more than ever, we need these private laments against destruction.

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