Checking out Books and Chocolate

Today was all about trying new things. Specifically, trying new things that related to chocolate. A friend suggested we try a chocolate-themed walking tour in NYC that wove through Chelsea, the Village, and SoHo. I won’t bore you with unnecessary hyperbole so I will just say that I really love chocolate. Considering the topic, I must indulge just a bit: I mean good chocolate, the kind made by chocolatiers with names I can’t pronounce; the kind of chocolate so potent and deep that it requires only small amounts to completely change my mood. So this was the tour for me.

The thing was, the chocolate we tried was good, but really served as a backdrop to discovering new parts of the city (new to me, anyway) and to enjoying what was a near-perfect-weather summer solstice. Everybody in the city seemed to be in a good mood, not least of which were the dozen or so members of our tour group, who dutifully and happily followed our very own Willy Wonka between a series of bakeries and chocolate shops.

Chocolate macaron
Chocolate macaron

Of course,this is a blog that is supposed to relate to books and reading, so let me tie this not-at-all awkwardly to the following: one of the stops on the tour was the endearingly named Milk and Cookies, located in Greenwich Village only a few doors down from the house where Washington Irving lived. According to our guide, Americans were introduced to chocolate only during the mid-1800s. To me, this means that Irving, who died in 1859, may never have tasted the confection that now serves to draw more people into his neighborhood than his own historic home, despite his not insignificant contributions to the patisserie of American literature, like Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle.

I had the double chocolate cookie.

Irving House
Irving House

Today’s chocolate tour also led, indirectly, to the purchase of a new book.  After the tour, we kept walking and found our way into the MoMA Design store.  Everything there is fun to look at and play with, and I found a trim little volume  about how to tie scarves.  I hope it will inspire me to try new ways of wearing the many I have collected over the years. Apart from its utility, it has a lovely cover and will sit prettily in my bedroom.

New ways to tie a scarf
New ways to tie a scarf

Finally, the chocolate tour required travel in and out of the city, and on the train taking me home I put away my Kindle for a bit to strike up a conversation with a woman sitting nearby who was reading on hers. She was 75% through Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, the meandering, epic-sized novel that inexplicably won the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year. Personally, I think the 1-star Amazon reviews of this book are more enjoyable to read than the book itself, and they take far less time.

The woman on the train — I never asked her name, so I will call her Anna — agreed that the book tended to go on, but she admitted that she had time on her hands to read as long a book as she wished. Anna had just quit her job — law-related journalism for a news service — and was preparing to move to Denmark to join her husband, who had just started a new job there. Anna asked me what other books I could recommend, and I gave her a couple of titles that have stuck with me with far more force than Goldfinch, though I’d read them earlier: Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

I think what struck me about these books was that they both tried something new — new to me, anyway, as a reader. Atkinson, in particular, took my mind into new places with her tale (or tales, I suppose) of rebirth and second (and more) chances. I finished that book wanting so desperately to talk to someone about it — in particular, Atkinson herself, so that I could demand that she walk me through her process and help me unpack the greater message I think her book is meant to contain. Sweet Tooth should be about a chocolate tour, but isn’t; it’s a fictional account of a woman who works for a wing of British intelligence that interacts with artists and writers during the Cold War. The book comes together so brilliantly at the end that McEwan should host a writing workshop and invite Donna Tartt to sit in the front row and take notes.

Anna, like me, had been an English major in college, and we commiserated a bit about our respective careers following the halcyon days of school until the train reached my stop and I wished her well with her move. I wish that I’d asked her for her own book recommendations, but lacking that, I will have to find an English translation of some Danish classic and read it in her honor. In the meantime, I shall unwrap the chocolate macarons that made it home with me and raise them in a chocolatey toast to Anna and her husband, who are trying something entirely new, and creating their own new story in the process.

 

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