The Response to the NYTBR Review of Alix Ohlin

Self had been expecting a response of some kind to the William Giraldi review of two books by the Canadian writer Alix Ohlin.  She thought, while she was reading it (in the Aug. 19 issue of the NYTBR):  No way are the publishers going to take this sitting down!  Basically, the review trotted out the names of a whole slew of eminent writers, and showed how Ohlin failed to measure up.  Self thought it was a rather pointless exercise.  She is sure, if someone compared self’s writings to that of Alice Munro, she would come up very, very short.

Today, while self was perusing the 2 September 2012 issue of the NYTBR, she saw, in the Letters to the Editor, a response to the Ohlin review by someone from Santa Barbara, California.  Not the publisher, not the author’s editor, not even someone who knew Ohlin personally, but someone who had read Ohlin’s first novel and enjoyed it.

According to the letter-writer:

. . .  readers are served a steaming bowl of vitriol . . .  that even includes petty complaints about the books’ titles.  While faulting Ohlin for the purported wretchedness of her metaphors, he squeezes out such memorable phrases as “flies around like kites in a waning zephyr,” “stiffened in a morgue of mentation” and “the cosmos takes on a coruscated import.”  He notes that the word “weird” is “the most worthless word in English.”  His preferred descriptions include “insufferable,” “appalling,” “abysmal,” “bland,” “obscene,” and “enervated.”

I don’t care to imagine the small, stale world Giraldi appears to inhabit, but I did enjoy spending time with the characters Ohlin invented for her novel.  Unlike the self-portrait painted by the reviewer, these individuals were vital, complex and engaging.

Wonder when that response from the publisher will be coming.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

So Doreen

Self is re-reading Tikim, a collection of Dear Departed Doreen Fernandez’s food essays (published by Anvil Press of the Philippines).  Here’s a section from the Introduction Doreen wrote, June 1994.  Her husband, Wili Fernandez, was the one she called “the intuitive gourmet.”  But it was Doreen who made Filipino food her vehicle for poking into all sorts of little-known areas of Filipino provincial life.  She was adventurous to the core:

“. . .  he indeed ate, and pronounced judgement.  I ate too, and wrote — and learned.  Soon I was no longer interested in just describing the food; I wanted to know its history, its setting, its meaning.  That was the beginning.

The learning process still goes on.  My teachers are all those who give me information about food:  market vendors, street sellers, cooks, chefs, waiters, restaurant and carinderia owners, farmers, tricycle drivers, gardeners, fishermen, aficionados, nutritionists, readers of my column, friends, food critics and historians, fellow-researchers, authors of books (and cookbooks), writers of columns, food anthropologists —  everyone who eats and cares.

She called self by her Filipino nickname, Batchoy, to the end.  (Batchoy’s the name of a famous soup.  Also, a man’s name.  Also, a short form of “Fatso” — BWAH. HA. HAAA!)

Self still remembers the time Doreen took her and fellow Atenista Lissa M to a new restaurant that hadn’t yet been reviewed.  It was somewhere in Makati.  Probably’s disappeared by now.

After the main course was over, Doreen ordered some tea.  She asked the waiter what kind of tea they had.

“Tea?  Ma’am?”  the waiter asked, looking for all the world as if Doreen had asked him to produce a golden egg.

“Yes,” Doreen said.  “What kind of tea do you have?”

After a long, long pause, during which you could see all the gears clicking in the man’s brain, he finally managed to say, “Hot, ma’am.”

Ta-ra, ta-ra, ta-ra, ta-ra!

Another Doreen Fernandez quote appears in the blog, Burnt Lumpia.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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