I find it interesting to learn about the non-work pursuits of people I interact with professionally, so in that spirit, this is just a bit about some of my personal interests.
Cooking is maybe my favorite hobby, though I don’t have as much time to devote to it as I’d like. I have a few favorite “go-to” cookbooks, generally focussed on mediterrenean food. For Greek cuisine–my heritage–I think nothing (not even the encyclopedic Vefa’s Kitchen!) beats Vilma Liacouras-Chantiles’ The Food of Greece. This book is a treasure, if only for her yiouvetsi kritharaki and saltsa kima. My copy long ago began to fall apart from continual use.
Michael Psilakis’ How to Roast a Lamb is also a great one, though the recipes are in general quite time-consuming; a beauty of this book—for me as a Greek-American—is how he weaves the recipes together with vignettes and photos of growing up in a Greek household much, it seems, like my own parents’.
I also love cooking Italian; at least as presented by Marcella Hazan, or as expressed in the variety of ragus in Lynne Kasper’s The Splendid Table, it has a kind of logic that I haven’t found in other cuisines.
I work mostly from recipes, but I do occasionally make stuff up myself. Here are two I wrote down, both vegetarian:
On drink, there is only one book, the perfect reference and ultimate history book—David Wondrich’s Imbibe!. There are no frou-frou drinks in here; these are recipes for elegant cocktails for a more civilized age, together with Wondrich’s insightful histories of each. If you can find yourself some Old Tom gin—not easy to do—make yourself a Martinez (p. 245), kick back, and re-live the origins of the modern cocktail in the pages of Wondrich’s wonderful guide.
For many years, I had two favorite authors in English: George Orwell and Dashiell Hammett, who—if you think about their spare, economical prose styles—have maybe more in common than meets the eye. Read enough of either, I think, and you can learn to write well. Sadly, Hammett is pigeon-holed as a genre writer; The Glass Key is easily better than most of the stuff I read in American Lit in high school. Hammett’s unfinished Tulip is a marvel of economy in its several extant pages; I would’ve liked to have seen the rest. As for Orwell, his gonzo journalism before gonzo journalism was a thing—Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia—are to my mind some of the most incisive explorations of politics and society in the inter-war years. And, if you’re a middle-aged man—like I am, or was when I read it—Coming Up for Air is the ultimate middle-aged-man novel.
After Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for literature, I thought to myself (and I say this as a fan of Dylan’s music) that the few living American writers who might have been Nobel contenders must be pretty bummed by this. Especially so when you reflect that the Swedes (these days) tap an American maybe only once every 20 years or so (and our great writers ain’t gonna make it another 20 years). At that point, though, it occurred to me that, aside from Don DeLillo’s Underworld and some Phillip Roth as a teen, I hadn’t actually read any of the few living American writers who might be Nobel contenders. So I decided to read a bunch of Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, and DeLillo.
Nearly two years and thousands of pages later, I certainly feel that these writers’ best novels—Gravity’s Rainbow or The Crying of Lot 49, the border trilogy, Underworld or White Noise—can hold their own against any American fiction, and those books are among my all-time favorite reads. It’s too late for Phillip Roth, but maybe the Swedes’ll come around to Pynchon or DeLillo before they shuffle off the coil. One can hope.
In reading Pynchon, I was led to the now somewhat obscure western novel Warlock, by Oakley Hall—a favorite of Pynchon’s. This is a great book, that begins with all the outward appearances of a standard, if pulp-ish, western of the era it was written in (the 1950s), but little by little subverts much of the western genre—so subtly that you initially only vaguely realize what the novel’s doing, until the subversion is near total. I highly recommend it.
And finally, for anyone who’s read a bit of McCarthy—especially Blood Meridian—read this, preferably around Christmas-time, and see if you don’t bust a gut laughing.