Back-Room Review: Beauty

Sometimes I worry about Back-Room Books. Sure, they’re already on shelf, already established, and don’t need the buzz Up-and-Coming Wonders require. Or do they? Every once in a while I stumble across an ugly paperback that hasn’t been checked out in years. The title’s familiar, but as to being any good, I haven’t the foggiest. Back on the shelf it goes—and I miss something amazing. (Blast that library godmother. She’s supposed to give neglected gems an effervescent glow.) Maybe I’m just ignorant—after all, 1 in 49 people I meet have read “Roller Skates.” But in the absence of signs and wonders, it would be lovely for librarians to shine a little light on back-room stacks. Notwithstanding their dusty appearance, some novels shouldn’t be missed.

Beauty, by Robin McKinley

Beauty isn’t a beauty. Her nickname is only the result of kind, wry humor. She is good, however, and when her merchant father sets sail for foreign lands, she asks him to bring back a rose.

McKinley might not alter much of the original plot, but the reassuring familiarity of her story is like a bowl of steamy rice pudding (the novel is perfectly enjoyed alongside that comfort, by the way. See recipe below). Delicious prose is reason enough to read a fairy tale; small delights, such as a castle library replete with past and future classics, just add to the book’s charm.

Beauty was written long before the recent crop of fairy tale retellings, whose twists and unexpected departures seem necessary to sustain interest in the “same old story.” McKinley obviously did not intend to put a new spin on a familiar plot, but to remind readers of the simple beauty every fairy tale holds, common loveliness, preserved by thousands of peddlers, housewives, cooks, and nurses. Beauty is McKinley’s performance beside the fire, imparting the story to yet another generation of imaginations.

Stirred Rice Pudding

You have never had rice pudding. Seriously. The cool thing this recipe is, you stir for an hour—prime reading time. (Just ask Eudora Welty’s mother. She always read while baking.) An hour into Beauty, and you’re ready to cozy up with a bowl of hard-earned scrumptiousness, never to rise until you’ve finished the book.

2 c. water
1 c. uncooked rice (not instant)
2 c. whole milk
3 c. half-and-half (so worth it)
2/3 c. white sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Bring water to boil in large, heavy bottomed pan. Stir in rice. Cover and simmer over low heat until water is almost fully absorbed, about 25-30 minutes.

Add milk, half-and-half, and sugar. Increase heat to medium-high to bring to a simmer, then reduce to maintain simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until mixture starts to thicken, about 45 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes to prevent sticking, until mixture is thick and all liquid has been absorbed (mine doesn’t absorb completely, but as it sets, it thickens), about ten minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Spoon into serving dish and remove self to deep armchair.

Serves 8 to 10
From Debbie Puente’s Elegantly Easy Crème Brulèe and Other Custard Desserts

1 comment:

Erin said...

Yep, that's one of the reasons I loved Beauty. It was pretty much a novel-length version of the original tale. A really lovely book. :)