Brain/Food: now with more cupcakes and jokes, fewer footnotes!

David Alexander is a pleasing study in contradictions; on the one hand, he is thoughtful, very well-read, likes poetry written after 1600 (madness), and is a real live activist. On the other hand, he is hilarious, likes hockey (he once forced me, his wife, an d my husband to sit in one of the scariest bars in Toronto so he could watch an NHL game); when I spontaneously yelled “DANCE FIGHT!!!” at his wedding last year, he and his lovely immediately complied–they were so good at it, it was like they’d been practicing. They had been practicing, but I didn’t know that when I bellowed out that battle cry–I was just inspired in the truest and loftiest and most annoyingly pretentious sense of the word.

David is also a fan of food, which is one of the reasons we get along so well. My genius has previously expressed itself in the annual pie-luck I host, while his genius has been given expression via a taco party/potluck. Pies and tacos are two of the best things in the world, books make a third, and then there’s…I forget. David is on the Twitter and you should probably follow him.

He neither smiled, nor offered me any of his Vegemite sandwich.
He neither smiled, nor offered me any of his Vegemite sandwich.

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What is your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book?

I enjoy contemporary poetry and books with strong animal rights themes, so there’s a pretty long list of relative unknowns. My favourite underappreciated series might be Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, which is revered by comic book fans, but probably deserves to be studied alongside Shakespeare.

Favourite childhood book?

From a young age, I’ve enjoyed epic journeys, but not ones that read like encyclopedias *cough* Tolkien *cough*. My parents read to us a lot growing up and encouraged / mandated reading so we didn’t spend all day with tv and video games. I have very fond memories of the MacDonald Hall series by Gordon Korman. I also enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, so I can only conclude that if Harry Potter had existed, I would have enjoyed that too. In my teenage years, I read a lot of Star Wars and Dragonlance, but few actual SF and fantasy classics beyond Ontario high school curriculum.

What would your ideal desert island book be?

My brother bought me Infinite Jest for my birthday a couple years ago, so being stuck on an island might be a good time to read that.

Amazing (in either a good or bad way) literary collaboration that hasn’t happened yet?

I very badly want Sufjan Stevens to write songs about Michael Chabon books in general, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in particular. I vow today that I will write a letter to his fan club suggesting as much.

It surprises me that so little collaboration happens in literary works when there appear to be so many successful examples in other fields like academic writing, cookbooks, and screenwriting. I’m looking forward to an upcoming collection of co-written poems by Stuart Ross and various collaborators. I don’t know what it’s called or when it’s coming out, but I heard him talk about it at a writing workshop and it sounds like a fun experiment.

Your favourite author writes a book about your favourite food/dish just for you: Title? Genre? Summary of contents?

I met Tom King once in Waterloo when he was touring A Short History of Indians in Canada. At that time I was an aspiring writer and maybe I still am. But back then I had a blog and I was involved in editing WLU’s student magazine and a very small Laurier poetry journal. So after the reading I asked Tom King if he had any advice for a young scribe. His response would be the titular answer to this question: Live on Rice & Beans. The book would be a collection of short stories about writers and wannabes forced to do other things for money.

What was your first cookbook? Do you still have it? How does it reflect who you are?

The first cookbook I received was The Joy of Cooking from an uncle who is famous for… interesting gifts. The all-time best was the time he got my brother a “telescope” which turned out to be a gun sight. The first cookbook I both possessed and used is the only cookbook anyone actually needs, Veganomicon. (This is revisionism, I believe the unfortunately titled Vegan Cooking for One was the first cookbook I actually used.)

Is it okay to write in cookbooks? What about novels or books of poetry? What’s the difference?

That’s all fine, but I think you cross a line when you write on paintings, actors, or in the comments section of globeandmail.com.

Describe what for you would be the bookish equivalent of an ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer day? How about a steaming hot chocolate on a freezing January night during a snowpocalypse?

Paul Quarrington’s books are sweet as lemonade – his characters zip to life right from the start and really wake you up. Their journeys move so quickly that you can just ignore the beautiful weather and find a shady place to ignore the world while you gulp them down. He’s a recent discovery for me, so I’ve only read King Leary and Whale Music, but I plan to read both again in the next few years.

For snowpocalypse purposes, I’m inclined to say something by Chabon since his stories wrap you up in the world of his characters and before you know it, you’re in the mind of a 1940s comic book pioneer, a pothead creative writing professor, or an Alaskan police detective. By my recollection, all the Chabon books I’ve read – Telegraph Avenue, Wonder Boys, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – I’ve read in the winter.

Would your ideal 10-course meal of epic reading comprise? Where would it happen? Under what circumstances?

I propose the following: An Evening of Vigilante Reading and Nonviolent Dining.

Appetizer – Chips with smoky guacamole and chipotle salsa would be served first with some poems. First up is “Re: That Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” by George Elliott Clarke, which can be found in Omar Khadr, O Canada, a collection of writings about that shameful ordeal, followed by “My Osama bin Laden T-Shirt” from Killarnoe by Sonnet L’Abbé.

Soup – A devastating Acorn Squash, Pear & Adzuki Soup with Sautéed Shiitakes from Veganomicon is next with readings from The Walrus. Our third poem of the evening is the “Dark One Rising” by A.F Moritz which appears in the December 2012 issue. Then we’ll go narrative with Chris Hedges’s essay “Vigilante Nation” which explored US gun culture this September. Our final poem will be Ken Babstock’s “Caledonia” which appeared in April 2007.

Salad – Next up is a chopped kale salad topped with crushed walnuts, shredded peppers, carrots, beets, and diced tomatoes in a zesty lemon tahini dressing. This course would be accompanied by wholesome readings from The Power of Nonviolence (ed. Howard Zinn). Diners will be invited to read essays from the likes of Emmerson, Camus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Arundhati Roy, and more.

Main – For the main event, we’ll go with my new favourite pairing from Veganomicon, Chickpeas Romesco with Garlic Saffron Rice. (Note that this is a variation on rice & beans.) This subversive dish will be paired with readings from “An Orison of Sonmi~451” from David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

Dessert – Can you say cupcakes & comics? Brooklyn vs Boston Cream Pie Cakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World aboundComics don’t work out loud, so at this point, we’ll distribute something from Scott Snyder’s current run with Batman, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Grant Morrisson’s Animal Man, and some early DMZ by Brian Wood. Makes you want to skip all that other stuff and just have dessert, doesn’t it?

If you could replace those little Gideon Bibles in hotel room nightstands with any book at all, what would it be? What would you have left on guests’ pillows to replace the ubiquitous mint?

I’ll stick with the proselytizing theme and go with the book I want to convince all my friends to read, which is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Pillows would be topped with Sweets from the Earth cookies as part of the charm offensive.

Alternatively, I think many people would be delighted to open their nightstand to find Jonathan Goldstein’s Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bible! It’s a hilarious retelling of your favourite old testament stories. It’s like the actual Bible, but with more jokes and fewer footnotes.

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