Bedside Manner: Pierogi and Potboilers

Smutty and adorable

Bedside Manner: Pierogi and Potboilers

My great weakness in keeping house – if I am allowed to choose only one – is my inability to put my books back on their shelves after dipping into them. I leave incidental cairns in the back seat of my car, on the spine of the couch, and on the scale in the bathroom. The bedside table is fair game, too.

Unlike myself, the protagonist of The Fermata can stop and start time at will, a skill he employs in the service of looking at women without their clothes on. It’s a puzzle how a book can be both smutty and adorable, but Nicholson Baker has a knack for leavening staid moments with sweet lewdness. Having frozen a woman in a department store to remove her wedding ring for examination, the protagonist says: “I had not been aware before that moment of the straightforward erogenousness of a ring: it suddenly occurred to me that the sides of the fingers are sensitive in an upper-thigh sort of way, and that the singling out of that fourth vulnerable shy finger, the planet Neptune of fingers, which otherwise gets no unique treatment in life and does very little on its own except control the C on the high school clarinet or type the number two and the letter X, to be held and gently stimulated forever by an expensive circle of gold is really quite surprisingly sexual.” Well, indeed.

I find it difficult to describe Mary Ruefle’s Selected Poems without lapsing into hyperbole. Her poems start in one unlikely place – a perfume river, a clam shack – and jackknife through an astonishing range of tonal registers, only to end up in another unlikely place, always sticking the landing. Lucky for you and for me, she’s a visiting faculty member at UT this spring and will give a reading sometime soon.

Polish Cookery appears solely for research purposes; since moving from Pittsburgh to Texas five years ago, I have threatened to introduce my loved ones to the charms of the humble cabbage for long enough, and I think the time of action has come. This is no new-fangled foot-noted Thomas Keller-y tome of foodie elegance – it reads with the frank brevity of a church fundraiser cookbook, and many of its recipes direct you to let the ingredients get good and fermented before serving the final product to your brave guests. As the Steelers’ playoff appearance draws near, I advise my intimates to stock up on the antacids; nothing goes so well with football as haluski.

Finally, while I don’t necessarily believe in the concept of the guilty pleasure, Mockingjay, the final volume of the Hunger Games trilogy, might qualify by some estimations. It is, after all, a Young Adult novel, one I first came to know while proofreading the Chronicle’s own feature on said genre. And I, after all, am a grown-ass woman who probably ought to be reading some stoic volume about a German laundress who finds herself estranged from her children. Well, screw that. I read this book furtively over two days, at the gym and at the expense of my various social obligations. The previous two novels I read while in transit between Pittsburgh and Austin during the Great Snowy Airline Fuckup of 2010. I have never been happier to curl up on an industrial armchair nursing an overpriced turkey sandwich than I was while reading the cliffhanging dystopian adventures of Katniss Everdeen, a girl who elects to participate in a televised fight-to-the-death staged by a nefarious future society that (surprise!) is united and pacified by the horrors of reality television. I’m not doing the series justice with this slap-dash summary, but I’ll always love a page-turner, and to me, “potboiler” is never a dirty word.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Bedside Manner
Bedside Manner: Sharing Shelf Space
Bedside Manner: Sharing Shelf Space
My parents' Kindle library and me

Kimberley Jones, June 22, 2016

Bedside Manner: Keeping Up to Date
Bedside Manner: Keeping Up to Date
The search for better cocktail banter

Brandon Watson, June 22, 2016

More by Sarah Smith
Gathering Voices
Gathering Voices
Bernice L. McFadden at the African American Book Festival

June 22, 2012

What a Cut-Up
What a Cut-Up
Kelly Sears collages the uncanny

May 18, 2012


Bedside Manner, Mockingjay, The Fermata, Mary Ruefle, Suzanne Collins, Nicholson Baker, Polish Cookery

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle