Place Settings #39: May 4, 2014

Pace Settings #39

Eat: Strawberries and blood orange chia seed pudding. I was never sure what to do with chia until I had an orange juice chia seed pudding at Kaffee 1668 in Tribeca last year. After some googling, I discovered that you just mix up some chia seeds with a liquid of your choice (fruit juices and milk were the most popular) and leave it in the refrigerator overnight and it turns into a pudding-like texture. I’m actually not a huge pudding fan, but using juice gives it a lighter, fresher texture than milk does. I used blood orange juice, which is why it’s so dark.

Drink: A little bit of coffee and some goji berry juice from The Berry Company that I picked up on a whim during a Carrefour run. Despite the juice’s bright orange color, there’s allegedly no artificial coloring (or preservatives or artificial sweeteners) in it. It was delicious and I drank the whole glass in about two gulps.

Read: Still on Love in the Time of Cholera, and still enjoying it (my progress got delayed by The Borgias, which took up a lot of my relaxation time this week; all three seasons are on Netflix and I stormed through them). So far, it actually most reminds me of Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual, not so much in the specific subject matter, but in how García Márquez and Perec draw their characters. In both books, each character is given not only a personality, but a full and extremely detailed back story. For a while, you think that these backgrounds extremely long tangents, but after a while you realize that these tangents are in fact the meat of the book (ahem, not unlike life, thank you Monsieur Perec). The first quarter of Love in the Time of Cholera moves in a very similar manner, each new story arc being supplanted by another as soon as you think you have settled into it.The level of detail in these stories within stories amazes me, both because Perec and García Márquez are so good at it and because I am so bad at it in my own writing. Of course, not every literary work requires such detailed backgrounds to be articulated, but it definitely helps to know where your characters came from. I had a minor part in my high school’s production of Much Ado about Nothing, and I still remember how we spent many early rehearsals going over our characters’ backgrounds, inventing and establishing personal histories that were not in the script and that would never appear on stage, but that nonetheless helped us (ostensibly) portray our characters more compellingly. I try to keep this in mind when I’m developing my characters now, but it’s always a challenge for me. One of the biggest obstacles is my fear that I don’t have authority to describe life experiences other than my own, and that by inventing a different one for a character, I might be wrong — or worse, offensive — in some way, and that it is therefore safer to wipe the character’s history clean, leaving only pieces that I require for the story.

But of course, real people are not just the parts that they allow us to see, and there are ways of writing about other lives that are not offensive or presumptuous. I’m also sure (or at least, I tell myself this) that the intricately detailed anecdotes that come spinning off Perec’s and García Márquez’s characters with such grace were actually worked over many, many times. The solution, it seems, is what it so often is when it comes to writing: write more, read more, and pay closer attention to the people around you.

What are you reading this week?


  1. I’m still reading “The Sweet Far Thing” by Libba Bray (part of the “Gemma Doyle Trilogy”. After that, I’ll be reading “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn.

    1. I still haven’t read Gone Girl! It’s on my to-read list for my next beach vacation (whenever that is ;)).

    1. I haven’t read the books (or watched the show) and I’m a little nervous to start because I’m afraid that if I do, the only thing I’ll be able to do for weeks is read Game of Thrones. Are you totally sucked in?

      1. Yes, I’m totally sucked in! I had to watch the first episode before I continued reading because it was a bit confusing at first. Each chapter is someone’s point of view so that is really unique! It draws you in very quickly and all of a sudden you have spent hours reading because you have to know what happens next!

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