Monthly Archives: August 2009

Piggy Bread? How Cute!

We have a display table here that we used to call our Fun Table and now call Levity (why we changed it is a long story for another day). Though we are an academic bookstore, serving a great University, we (and we think many of our customers) do enjoy a bit of irreverence and silliness and that’s what goes onto this table. Now and then, we get a complaint from someone who is, shall we say, not amused, but it is our bestselling display and we persevere with the amusements. Poor us. Such hard work.

In October, when Cute Cooking with La Carmina arrives, we will add cuteness to the silliness.

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Human Smoke

I was pulling books for returns and noticed this weighty and intriguing tome. After thumbing through it for a few minutes, I knew I needed to read the whole thing. Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke is composed of small individual stories and quotes, presented chronologically with very little editorializing. We are simply offered a long series of short historical snapshots that lead up to the moment the United States formally entered World War II.

The result is a mind-boggling and addictive alternate history that challenges the common understanding that this was the unequivocal “good war.” We all know how evil the Nazis were, and their horrors are certainly on display here. Yet we are also exposed to the strangely childlike war fervor of a Winston Churchill who is literally giddy with excitement to bomb civilians into oblivion. We find a Roosevelt who could scarcely wait for the war with Japan to begin, and who goaded the Japanese into making the first attack. We discover that the Nazis’ Jewish slaughter could have been, if not averted, certainly lessened greatly in scope, if not for the unwillingness of the Allied nations to increase their immigration quotas on Jews.

Despite the balanced reporter-like tone of the book, Baker’s pacifism is certainly palpable throughout. I didn’t end up a pacifist myself: I don’t think war was probably avoidable and I’m not completely sure Baker does either. But Human Smoke certainly changed my perspective on the war. This war seemed to drive everyone involved to some degree of madness, and with the calculated targeting of civilians by all sides and the myopic callousness of even the Allied leaders, it gets pretty difficult to still classify this war as “good.”


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A Special Night in Willimantic: A Reading by Doug Anderson & a Celebration of Judy Doyle Upon Her Retirement from Curbstone Press

Curbstonistas gathered last night for the last Poetry in the Park reading of the summer, though with rain in the forecast the event was moved to the Windham Arts Center on Main Street. The upstairs gathering room was packed with loyal Curbstone supporters who came from far and near, some who were Curbstonistas from the first days.

Doug Anderson read from his newly released memoir Keep Your Head Down (he will be at the Co-op on Sept. 15). The audience was rapt, laughing and holding their breaths, as they listened intently. He’s a good reader with a soft voice that carries.

And then we honored Judy Doyle. I was not there in the first days, but I have been on Curbstone’s Board for more than 25 years and have seen the press change from a tiny operation with a little printing press in the basement to the publisher of Le Clezio, this year’s Noble prizewinner for literature. It was fun to hear the reminiscences, the accolades, the First Selectperson’s Proclamation. I read bits of a profile I’d written of Judy for The Feminist Bookstore News a year after Curbstone purchased a used Heidelberg Kord. Throughout Curbstone’s history, Judy has been master of book production. In the early years, she actually printed the books herself.

Here’s a tidbit from that 1989 piece.
“Judy Doyle pulls a freshly printed page from her press and shakes her head in dismay. She is reprinting Margaret Randall’s Memory Says Yes

Judy Doyle

Judy Doyle

and a nearly invisible ink spot is appearing on the pages. She shuts the press down and cleans the plate. Then she starts the press and it clatters and hisses and fills the garage where she is working with its loud and rhythmic sounds….

“ I love to work with this press,” Doyle says….The miniscule spot is still appearing on the pages and she shuts the press down for a second time and once more cleans the plate. Satisfied that she has removed the offending blotch, she starts the Heidelberg. The machine lifts sheets of paper, one at a time, and takes them inside itself, across the blanket and then spits the finished sheets back out in a neat stack. Doyle snatches one of the first pages. Perfect. She is pleased. Doyle demands perfection in her work.”

I think Judy was pleased with the evening. I know I was. And be assured that Curbstone will live on. But an era has ended. Thank you Judy for all that you have given to Curbstone and literature and to our community. And thank you Sandy wherever you are.

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Horse Therapy???

HORSE BOY by Rubert Isaacson
A remarkable true story about an autistic child named Rowan, and his family. The story tells of the family’s quest to Mongolia to meet with a noted Shaman. The dad hopes that the visits may cure his son. Rowan, has acquired this uncanny gift of horse-bonding. The insight into their day to day trials was emotionally very moving. I really didn’t want this story to end.

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Gina Barreca Drops the F-Bomb

by Dora Wilkenfeld

Feminism is a funny story. All too often, one mention of the F word dropped in casual conversation, even amongst the otherwise free thinking liberal arts students at the University of Connecticut, garners fewer accolades and acclamations than raised eyebrows and awkward silences. Despite a long and tumultuous history of women making strides towards equality and the right to tell a dirty joke in mixed company, the sad stereotype of feminists as humorless man-haters lingers on in the popular imagination. In a world where pole-dancing classes (for weight loss and muscle strength!) and nip-slip-sleekening “body shapers” are the norm, the great advances made by first, second, and third-wave feminists are often all too easily ignored. We’ve come a long way, baby–all the way from girdles to Spanx.

Fortunately for us–and that includes ladies and gentlemen–this is where Gina Barreca enters the picture. “I assume everyone I meet who seems smart is a feminist,” Barreca said matter-of-factly in a recent phone interview. “The culture just needs to be tuned up.”

Barreca’s books, including her newest, It’s Not That I’m Bitter…: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World, touch on subjects near and dear to the heart of anyone who’s ever taken a long, sobering look into a magnifying mirror. Human frailties can seem petty when examined with an eye towards dismissing them as “female problems,” but isn’t there something universal, something that unites us all, regardless of creed and kind, in the epic struggle to pluck that last remaining, long, stubborn, unsightly chin hair?

Instead of stiff and humorless politicking, Barreca’s works explore, and yes, celebrate the little joys and struggles, from trying on bathing suits to decrying the state of modern feminism, of being a female person in today’s America. “Being a feminist isn’t about not doing things,” she said. “It’s not about being dowdy.”

An English professor as well as an author, Barreca knows well the hesitation too many young women feel about publicly using the F word. “Some people think, you only become a feminist if you can’t go to prom,” she said. “It’s very frightening to me… so I like to approach the issues with a sense of humor.”

Deflating engorged male egos with a sharp joke or two is Barreca’s specialty, one she’s dealt to several well deserving targets. The most recent example of her barbed wit comes in the form of an apt rejoinder to the usual tired screed bemoaning modern feminism as illogical, unnecessary, and downright threatening to insecure men. Her riposte, published on, has to date gotten almost eighteen thousand page views. “I’ve never had so many readers,” Barreca laughed, though, as a well known fixture of Co-op readings and events, she’s never been shy about getting her books into readers’ hands. “I love hearing from people, women all over the world,” she said, although women aren’t the only ones who get wrapped up in her sense of humor. At a recent event for the Yale Campaign School for Women, one of the male bartenders came up to Barreca after her talk to tell her, “That sounds like a book my mom would love.”

“It’s about transcending categories of what people find funny,” she said. And if that won’t bring a smile to a readers face, nothing will.

Gina Barreca’s newest book, It’s Not That I’m Bitter, can be purchased at the Co-op or online.

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serious commitment here.

and the rest are here!


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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

i just finished Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith. i have to say that it was pretty amazing–mr.darcy and elizabeth bennet are even more compelling characters when they have been trained in the fine art of zombie slaying in Japan and China.
i love the bio on the back of the book too– “JANE AUSTEN is the author of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and other masterpieces of english literature. SETH GRAHAME-SMITH once took a class in english literature.” i always love an author with a good self-deprecation complex.

another positive about this book is that it has illustrations inside! i loved turning the page and finding a drawing!! i think more classics should be illustrated like they used to be. ALSO–the cover is genius. the credit for this is listed in the beginning of the book as: “Cover zombification and design by Doogie Horner.”

the cover and premise of the next book Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters both look pretty incredible. here is the trailer for the new book:

i can’t wait to read it! i love sea monsters and firmly believe in the Loch Ness and Champ.

everyone is trying to copy seth grahame-smith left and right with titles like “Mr. Darcy, Vampyre,” but thats just lame. zombies are way better…vampyres are soooo stephenie meyer (especially when it’s spelled with a y).

ps. i also gave this book to one of my high school students who never reads, and she devoured it and went on to read more Jane Austin. turns out the addition of the living dead make old classics come alive.


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Life and Food and Love

I just finished reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell and all I can say is absolutely amazing. If you love food and all things cooking then this is a book you have to read. The basic synopsis is that this is a book about Julie, who one day decided that her life was going no where and she needed to do something to make her mark on the world. Who hasn’t been dissatisfied with life at least once? Well Julie decided to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in a year and to write a blog about it. Thus was born the Julie/Julia project. Over the course of the year lots of amazing and horrible things happen, and I have to say that I laughed and cried right along with her. This is a book about so much more than discovering French food through the work of one of the most iconic cooking legends of all time. It is a work about life and love, and learning to love yourself. It is a book about discovery and learning to cut yourself some slack. It is a testament that life is like crepe making; sometimes it is perfect and effortless, but other times it does not matter what you do it comes out all jumbled and falling apart. My only regret is that I did not discover the Julie/Julia project while it was happening. I am anxiously awaiting Julie’s next book Cleaving which is due out in December, and am seriously considering calling out sick on Friday to be first in line to see the Julie and Julia movie.
Happy Reading and Happy Cooking,
Nikki B.


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The Best Blueberry Pie

When I was growing up, there were Fannie Farmer households and Joy of Cooking households. We were a Fannie Farmer household. My mom and grandmother both relied on this classic from the Boston Cooking-School and a copy was given to me when, still in my teens, I left home. All these years later, the cover is falling off and the pages are stained, but I still use and love my first cookbook.


One of my favorite recipes is for Open Blueberry Pie. I am happy to report that despite updates and revisions, this recipe is in the latest version of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook too. If you come from a Fannie Farmer household, you surely already know this pie, but if not, now with blueberries plump from all the rain, and ripening quickly, is the time to try it. Yum.


Open Blueberry Pie

Blueberries and cream in a crisp, prebaked pie shell.


Tart Pastry dough for 9-inch tart.

(My note: your favorite crust is fine or use the one on page 640)

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup water

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

4 cups fresh blueberries

1 cup heavy cream


Preheat the oven to 4250F. Line a pie pan with the pastry dough, prick the dough all over, and bake for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Mix the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and water in a pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add the butter, stir until melted, and let cool. Fold in the blueberries and pile into the baked pie shell. Before serving, whip the cream, adding sugar to taste and spread it over the blueberry filling.


Note: My older copy of Fannie says to fill the pie shell with 3 cups of the berries, using only one cup when you cook the sugar mixture. The thickened mixture is then poured over the fresh berries. Either way, Fannie’s blueberry pie is the best.

Posted by Suzy S.


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