The readings calendar is a barren place for most of December, but there are a few great options tonight before things dry up entirely toward the end of the month.
Tonight in Beaverton (this one's for you, Matthew Stadler), Jack Bishop of America's Test Kitchen is in town promoting The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, a well-organized compendium of pies and cookies and things. One common criticism of the America's Test Kitchen empire is that their recipes lack the personality and—for lack of a better word—soul of a cookbook written by an individual, that it's like cooking by focus group. This very quality, though, is what I appreciate about their baking book: It's idiot-proofed for a beginning baker, full of those little Test Kitchen tricks that sound ridiculous but totally work, and I'm sure Bishop will be sharing plenty of them tonight. They've also just come out with a book called the Cook's Country Cookbook, which resuscitates classic American recipes like Angel Biscuits and Texas Sheet Cake. Jack Bishop's at Powell's Cedar Hills, 3415 SW Cedar Hills, 7 pm
And if you're still indulging in an aversion to the suburbs (aww), tonight at the Powell's on Burnside, the Paris Review's Philip Gourevitch is in town tonight for the release of The Paris Review Interviews, vol. III. My interview with Gourevitch is here, but I didn't have room to talk about the book much: It's a really, really excellent collection of candid interviews with writers as varied as Evelyn Waugh, Joyce Carol Oates, Ralph Ellison, Martin Amis, John Cheever... There's just nowhere else you're going to find writers of this caliber talking this frankly about their work. It's funny, instructive, contradictory, illuminating, and such a good read.
Here's Raymond Carver's response when asked if he thinks his writing will "change anybody":
I really don't know. I doubt it. Not change in any profound sense. Maybe not change at all. After all, art is a form of entertainment, yes? For both the maker and the consumer. I mean in a way it's like shooting billiards or playing cards, or bowling—it's just a different, and i would say higher, form of amusement. I'm not saying there isn't spiritual nourishment involved too. There is, of course... Art is all the things art is supposed to be. But art is also a a superior amusement. Am I wrong in thinking this? I don't know. But I remember in my twenties reading plays by Strindberg, a novel by Max Frisch, Rilke's poetry, listening all night to music by Bartok, watching a TV special on the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo and feeling in each case that my life had to change after these experiences, it couldn't help but he affected by these experiences and changed. There was simply no way I would not become a different person. But then I found out soon enough my life was not going to change at all. Not in any way that I could see, perceptible or otherwise. I understood then that art was something I could pursue when I had the time for it, when I could afford to do so, and I guess I came to the hard realization that art doesn't make anything happen. No. I don't believe for a moment in that absurd Shelleyean nonsense having to do with poets as the "unacknowledged legislators" of this world. What an idea! [....] Good fiction is partly a bringing of the news from one world to another. That end is good in and of itself, I think. But changing things through fiction, changing somebody's political affiliation or the political system itself, or saving the whales or the redwood trees, no. Not if those are the kinds of changes you mean. And I don't think it should have to do any of these things, either. It doesn't have to do anything. It just has to be there for the fierce pleasure we take in doing it, and the different kind of pleasure that's taken in reading something that's durable and made to last, as well as beautiful in and of itself. Something that throws off these sparks—a persistent and steady glow, however dim.
Then there's Chinua Achebe:
There is that great proverb—until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. Once I realized that, I had to be a writer. It's not one man's job. It's not one person's job. But it is something we have to do, so that the story of the hunt will also reflect the agony, the travail—the bravery, even, of the lions.
Gourevitch will be "talking about the book and the magazine, reading from it, discussing the interviews and the approach to them, taking questions, and anything else anyone wants to ask [him]" tonight at the downtown Powell's, 7:30 pm.