Jun 24, 2010

Paul's Perfect Paella

Acknowledgments
On Monday evening, we were invited to dine in the hills of Larkspur—or, as one of our more parochial members put it, the rump of Marin. The address was not 32 Avenida del Tibidabo, the venue was not the Aldaya Mansion, and none of Fermin Romero de Torres’ signature sandwiches was on our menu. Instead, Paul’s home and his hospitality met and raised Zafon on every count. His beautifully rebuilt house, nestled atop a ridge with views of both Mt. Tamalpais and San Francisco Bay, exceeded anything described in Daniel Sempere’s post-war Barcelona.

Once inside, the literary atmospherics escalated. Paul printed out menu cards, featuring selected quotes from The Shadow of the Wind, for each place setting.  Other excerpts from the book were typed up and strewn around the kitchen.  Nice touches, yes. But while his prominently displayed Library of Forgotten Books may have struck some as a clever riff on Zafon’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books, others were not amused by this cruel jab at the collected works of the Man Book Club.

As always, though, our evening was sustained by food. In this case, excellent food. From the Spanish cava to the Catalonian bruschetta, our appetites were duly prepared for a well-rehearsed and perfectly executed paella, preceded by gazpacho and followed by a Catalonian custard. Buen provecho, Paul!

The Book
The Shadow of the Wind traces the parallel lives (and forbidden loves) of Daniel Sempere, the young narrator, and Julian Carax, a local author whose disappearance becomes Daniel’s obsession and very nearly his undoing.  Despite the sound and the fury that followed our selection of The Shadow of the Wind, the surprise was that most of us actually enjoyed reading Zafon’s international bestseller. (And that includes Doug, even if he did liken the book to Harry Potter.)

We argued whether it was high lit, low lit, or even good lit (with takers for all three), whether the characters measured up to the florid prose (yes for me and Tom J.), whether the book was memorable (Paul) or forgettable (Glenn), and—most polarizing of all—whether this novel was written for a young adult audience (Tom A. argued the contrary, while conceding that teen fiction is where Zafon made his name).

Apart from all this disputation, the consensus was that Zafon had created an enjoyable narrative with an evocative and authentic style. This consensus, and our herd instinct (or pussy voting, according to the namecallers), produced a narrow voting range, with a middle-of-the-road result of 6.9. Interestingly, our rating would have been in the 7’s were it not for Stan (6) and Garth (5), the only men who didn’t finish the book.

Next Up
Armando proposed an eclectic set of titles for our consideration for next month's meeting. His absence, however, resulted in an extended debate over our selection process. Without the slightest irony, one of us (who notoriously relies on his father for book ideas) insisted that the upcoming host should first read the titles he puts forward.  In the end, we reverted to tradition and overwhelmingly opted for Tinkers, Paul Harding’s winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Next month we’ll see if this neatly mannered family history meets our exacting summer reading standards.

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