Author Archive for Elyse Miller

Brooklyn Then and Now

by Elyse Miller on February 9th, 2017

This morning IPR began a “one-day” fundraiser at 6:00 am. One of the musical segues was “How Deep is Your Love,” by the Bee Gees. Corny, and not altogether appropriate for the circumstance, I thought. We are “living in a world of rules breaking us down,” but public radio fundraising is not that world.

And, I could not get the song out of my head. Dylan, my two-year old silver standard poodle, pricked up his ears as I sang out loud, a capella. Not pretty. Not sure he liked it. And I started thinking about the movie from which the song emanated, “Saturday Night Fever.” I came to work, went to the movie area on the 1st floor, retrieved, and checked out ICPL’s copy of the 30th Anniversary Special Collector’s Edition. I plan to immerse myself in the song and eliminate its worminess. At least that is my hope.

I asked a number of staffers if they had seen SNF, and, being alot younger than I, to a person all had not seen the movie. And I was a bit disheartened. I was asked if it was about dancing. And it is about dancing. And it is John Travolta’s breakout role. But it is also, and more importantly, about socio-economics, and finding a way out of the neighborhood, in any way you can. In this case, the neighborhood is Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In the 70’s. When it was not hipsterish to live there. When it was a place one yearned to leave by whatever means possible. Paint store clerk loser by day, dance floor king at night.

Times have changed. Now Brooklyn (okay, I was born there) represents the arts, and craftiness, and cooldom. But I like to think the spirit of Tony Manero lives on, despite Brooklyn’s renaissance and emergence as the hippest place to be (okay I was born there).

So I’m gonna go home, put on the 30th anniversary edition, remember where I came from, and how it used to be, and dance my a off.



Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

by Elyse Miller on July 12th, 2012

Jennifer Reese has wallsful of cookbooks and in part to justify their existence came her blog,¬†When Reese found herself unemployed in 2008 she wanted empirical data to support her economic choices, “taking into account the competing demands – time and meaning, quality and conscience, budget and health – of everyday American family life.” She spent time raising chickens, all kinds of vegetables and a couple of children. From the blog and the data emerged this well-written, funny and surprisingly compelling book. Which foods and drinks are worth making from scratch from important perspectives: How much of a hassle is it to make, and if it’s a big hassle, is it worth the experience…at least once? How much does it cost to conjure it up compared with purchasing it at a big grocery store or Whole Foods or some other healthy food store?

Lest you think this is a dry, fuddy-duddy kind of book, know that Reese is smart, modern, funny, and tells it like it is. Yes, there is science – after making baking powder by sifting 1 part baking soda with 2 parts cream of tartar (another science altogether) and comparing it with Clabber Girl double acting baking powder, the resulting cookies tasted the same, but the homemade baking powder made sprawly less cakey cookies. This chemistry lab resulted in Jennifer’s decision to purchase aluminum free baking powder such as the Rumford brand going forward. And there is math, 2.5 pounds of Camembert costs about $9.00 to make. Purchasing this much cheese in Reese’s neighborhood would cost about $50.00. “Even if you blow it and lose your whole investment in this cheese, it’s not a big one.”

There are 120 recipes in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter ranging from breads and spreads to desserts, having people over to duck eggs, junk food to canning. There’s a short list of resources in the appendix. It’s worth taking a gander at the book just to see what’s worth making and what’s worth buying. It’s worth lingering over the book because it’s funny, well-written and informative.

Spoiler alert: make the frankfurter rolls, buy the hamburger buns.



Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books

by Elyse Miller on April 20th, 2012

Happy list:
Books about Writers
Books about Libraries
Books about Writers’ Libraries

This lovely little book, edited by Harvard English Professor Leah Price, is delightful in a number of ways. First, it’s smaller than the average book at 8″ x 5.5″ or so. Second, it has images and lots of white space, perfect for weary eyes at the end of a day. Third, the images are books on bookshelves. Fourth, it has lists of books.

Price asks a group of writers these questions: How much do you mark up your books? How far back does your collection go? What books were not on the shelves that you permitted us to photograph (wink wink nudge nudge)? Do you use an e-reader?

And then there are the bookshelves themselves. Some super organized in lovely custom white cubes (Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker), and some overflowing and outgrowing readymade wooden bookshelves (Edmund White).

But the ultimate delight is what’s on those shelves. I found myself peering at every title, rotating “Unpacking My Library” for optimum snoopability. The photographs, although just two-dimensional, have the quality of a third dimension; you can nearly put your hand on each title on the shelf. You can nearly touch the space between titles. You can nearly take each book down and discover its contents for yourself.

Each writer also offers a top ten list of books from their shelves with a photograph of each cover on the recto page.

This book is like taking high tea, without the crumpet but still delightful.