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Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar (2012)
Monday, October 15, 2012
Wow. That's what I kept thinking as I read Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things. Just wow.This is the kind of book that is about so much more than simple advice for an individual. As Sugar, Strayed takes her readers' questions and uses them to examine larger questions about love and life that are in many ways universal . She does so in a gut-wrenchingly truthful way. I will be honest, this book is not always a comfortable read. There are stories in it that are painful and horrific. Yet even in these stories there is beauty and hope. It illuminates all that is beautiful and brutal in the world. Raw, powerful, emotional, tender, sorrowful, and hopeful, Tiny Beautiful Things touched me at my core, made me think deeply, and is staying with me in a powerful way. There is a fair amount of profanity (so if that is a deal-breaker for you, be warned) yet the writing is so luminous that it didn't bother me in the least. In fact, given the subjects, it seemed fitting, even necessary. This is a book that I will highly recommend to all my friends and family, but I will not loan out my copy for fear of it not being returned. It's just that good.
The essential guide to culinary creativity, based on the wisdom of America's most imaginative chefs (2008)
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
One night I was preparing dinner from a recipe and, tasting it, realized it needed something. I added an ingredient to a small portion of it – an ingredient I didn’t particularly like – and found it was the perfect flavor foil. This was a particularly favorable feat because I did not even consult my copy of The Flavor Bible but, instead, mentally retrieved its explanation of balancing flavors and considered how I could emphasize or ‘push’ the existing taste to a brighter level. My friend Anne can, amazingly, throw things together off the top of her head and it always tastes fantastic. After a particularly simple but yummy lunch with Anne, I decided I wanted to be able to cook like she -- something she said she’d learned from her mother. However, I wanted guidance to avoid making horrible concoctions and wasting food.
The Flavor Bible is a somewhat strange book to review and recommend. Aside from the first 2 chapters that are comprised of only 33 pages, you don’t read it straight through; the text is most useful in browsing fashion. The first two chapters explain the chef’s mindset. Chapter 1, Flavor = Taste + Mouthfeel + Aroma + ‘The X Factor’ : Learning to Recognize the Language of Food, deals with balancing flavors and understanding how various senses come into play to affect flavor. The first chapter also includes chefs’ personal strategies that not only give specific tips, but also show, in action, what they are considering and pursuing when creating new recipes. Chapter 2, Great Cooking = Maximizing Flavor + Pleasure by Tapping (Body + Heart + Mind + Spirit): Communicating via the Language of Food, discusses the importance of thinking about the occasion, weather, seasonality, weight (heavy or light), volume, and function. While the second chapter was not quite as practical as the first, it was interesting to learn that things I would have considered peripheral to a meal actually had an impact on – or could even aid in – planning, preparation, and the overall experience.
Chapter 3, pages 35 – 374, provide flavor-matching lists. For example, I can look up fennel and find a list of ingredients/flavors that go well with it. If something is listed in bold, it is a pairing frequently recommended by expert chefs; BOLD CAPS means it’s highly recommended; BOLD CAPS* (with an asterisk) means it’s stellar. That’s it. Lists of ingredients. Some entries include classic Flavor Affinities (e.g., fennel + lemon + mint + olive oil + olives + orange; plums + cinnamon + orange; plums + bay leaf + vanilla). Often there are Tips such as “Use to finish a dish” (fennel pollen) or “Gets firmer with longer cooking” (mushrooms -- Portobello). There might also be Techniques such as “Add early in cooking” (cloves), “Add at the end of the cooking process” (tarragon), or “Dry-heat cooking” (pork -- chops).
This is absolutely a time-intensive book, so if you are looking for quick meal ideas, this is definitely not it. If you enjoy spending a lot of time paging through cookbooks and would like to venture into creating some of your own recipes, this is a perfect resource.
(US 2012, UK 2010?!)
Saturday, October 6, 2012
The quick version: The most fun fantasy story--perhaps the most fun novel--that I've read all year, and despite it's "young adult" label, it doesn't feel like a YA novel. Keep reading for the detailed review.
Why is this series not simultaneously published in the US?
Jasper Fforde's The Last Dragonslayer is a perfect start to a humorous, imaginative fantasy series. In the Ununited Kingdoms, magic is on the wane, possibly linked to the dwindling number of dragons. That number has dwindled to one, and the once great wizards and sorceresses of Kazam Mystical Arts Managment have been reduced to using their powers for menial, mundane work, like finding missing cats or rewiring homes.
Jennifer Strange, foundling and indentured servant at Kazam, has been running the company since Mr. Zambini disappeared months ago. She's an enjoyable narrator and character, with all her smarts, independence, and well-delivered quips. Her good humor is very helpful as prophecies surface about the impending death of the last dragon. Does it mean magic will end? What will happen to the magical people in her service? Will the Transient Moose disappear?
This is a terrific blend of fantasy and humor, and though directed at young adults in the US market, it does not feel like a young adult novel--there's no coming of age, no message, no dominating insecurities, and blessedly no romance or love triangles. It's just a light, fun, fast read that I enjoyed so much that I could easily read it again. I'll have to get a copy for my personal collection.
A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening (2012)
Thursday, October 4, 2012
In this book, or rather manual, Mr. Rees adds to the current artisanal fad by presenting (in great detail) the craft of manually sharpening a pencil. He covers ten different types of pencil sharpeners, complete with pictures, sketches and clip art to illuminate the written word. He includes such subjects as warm up tips for the artisan, detailed anatomy of a pencil (I learned that the crimped metal connecting the shaft of the pencil to the eraser is called the ferrule), tools used by the perfectionist, psychological risks of being an artisanal pencil sharpener and how sharpening pencils can enrich your senses.
Mr. Rees believes in taking pride in ones work and gains satisfaction from knowing that people appreciate and enjoy using a masterfully sharpened pencil. He even offers this service to those who desire a hand crafted sharpened pencil, but do not wish to put the effort into it themselves. He offers his own Artisanal Pencil Sharpening service, where for $12.50 plus $2.50 S&H, people can mail in their own pencils to be sharpened by him, or receive a sharpened pencil provided by the craftsman.
His love for his subject is illuminated in his following excerpt:
“Create the proper tension by drawing the faceplate away from the body of the sharpener. You should feel the strength of the faceplate’s springs as they struggle against your fingers to pull the faceplate back to its resting position.
‘Don’t worry, little springs,’ you may whisper, ‘you shall have your rest---but first I have a treat for you to draw into the body of the sharpening mechanism.
Sure enough, with its aperture open and its faceplate extended, the sharpener is finally ready to receive its pencil.”
It is a short book, but includes within its 200+ pages appendixes with recommended web resources, pilgrimage sites and wines that taste like pencils.
I first became acquainted with David Rees through his internet clip art cartoon called “Get Your War On” that became popular during the Bush years One can find this strip, along with other projects by Mr. Rees at his website http://www.mnftiu.cc/
Well worth a quick read for those who like their humor dry.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
A co-worker gave this to me to read because she thought it was my kind of book. I had never heard of it, but boy am I glad she thought of me, this book is amazing! Julia, an 11 year old girl in California, is the narrator of the story and the tale she has to tell is riveting. The days on earth are inexplicably getting longer, what they refer to in the book as "the slowing". There is no explanation for why this is happening, but it is soon apparent that this is not an illusion and it also is not temporary. Each day is longer, as are the nights. Birds start falling from the sky, whales are beaching themselves on the shorelines, crops are being affected; but also neighbors are turning against each other and familial relationships are strained. Many of the events taking place in the book are things that may have happened anyway, but the fact that they are happening with "the slowing" hanging over everything makes you pause to think about it a bit more. An absolutely fascinating & satisfying read!! I loved it!
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Bad Glass has a great premise, especially if you are a fan of “what if” science fiction. The science here is physics, or perhaps metaphysics. We never find out. But weird things are happening in Spokane, WA. The military has separated the phenomena into 4 categories: things that appear that should not be there, things that disappear that should be there, voices/noises that have no apparent origin and “all else”. Most fall into the “all else” category; especially the human body parts that meld into inanimate materials, or that become part of other bodies.
The problem for me in reading this book was that I just could not like any of the characters. Dean Walker is a fifth year college student who cashes his last tuition check from his dad takes and off with his camera to cross the border into a quarantined Spokane in order to get unique pictures that he hopes will make his name as a photographer. His “unthinkable” alternative is to graduate and return home to a job in his family firm. In no time at all, he is in tight with a bunch of other young people. Most are there because they are looking for family members who were there when the quarantine went into effect. One, Amanda, is looking for her dog, which sort of figures into what happens to her. I wanted to like Taylor, who helps others, but none of the characters let you, the reader, in on what they are really feeling or what they are about.
Lots of things happen. Lots of interesting things happen. But they do not go anywhere, nor do they connect. I kept reading, as I wanted to know what was happening to Spokane. The “official” line was that there was a huge bloom of psychoactive fungi along the Spokane River that was affecting the minds of the people within its borders. However by the end, Dean’s pictures are leaked to the outside world by a sympathetic military person and they have an impact on the public at large. (“Bad Glass” is actually a photography term, alluding to a lens that isn’t clear). But did this really happen? We don’t know, as Dean had earlier witnessed the (gruesome) death of this person. The reader is led to believe that the city is absorbing the characters. This doesn't seem to be a metaphor.
This book is compared to Samuel Delanely’s Dhalgren in a cover blurb, but the only thing Bad Glass has in common with that book is a young man entering a strange city. I would recommend skimming this book, just for all the ideas that it might stimulate other budding author’s minds.
Monday, October 1, 2012
Tomorrow is a River is the story of Caroline, who, with her preacher husband Adam, settled a homestead near the Tomorrow River in Northeastern WI in the late 1800s. After being abandoned by her husband, Caroline and her 2 young children struggle to survive the rugged wilderness of pioneer Wisconsin with the help of a Menominee Indian woman who befriends them. Together they weather many storms, the most terrifying of all, the Peshtigo Fire of 1871. This book is full of fascinating facts from Wisconsin’s history and a good choice for any history buff, yet it is also a wonderful story of friendship, family, love and perseverance. I read this story about 15 years ago and it made such an enormous impression on me, that I still recommend it to people who are looking for a good book to read.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Review in brief: A comic book enthusiast and artist documents her senior year in college a page a day. Strongest recommendation to students interested in becoming artists themselves, but recommended generally to those between the ages of 14 and 35. The full review starts now.
I don't think there's any way for me to describe Natalie Nourigat's Between Gears in a way that conveys how much I enjoyed it.
Nourigat took on the ambitious project of creating a page-a-day graphic novel diary of her senior year at the University of Oregon. The ambitiousness of the project comes through the story of this year, as you learn that she has a thesis to write in addition to jobs to apply for, commissions to finish, and cons to attend--which involves lots of preparation in creating and printing artwork, minicomics, and so on. And then there's life--a necessary tonsillectomy, family visits, relationships with friends and her sorority to maintain, dating, college classes, ridiculous neighbors you only find in campustown, some dating, alley cats, partying, TV shows, movies, music, and her intense appreciation for fashion and shopping. Some entries are fun--drunk Natalie or Natalie being harassed by her responsible side are particularly amusing. Other entries are deep and emotional--one that comes to mind presents three gray, still images and the simple line, "Why do I feel this way?"
I was not an art student in college. I was not a woman in college, not part of any Greek organization, and not particularly social and into parties. But I found this story highly-relatable and authentically reminiscent of my senior year in college--on a basic level, being a college student can be a universal experience. Compound this feeling of connection by the little window Nourigat gives you into her personal life, and I challenge you not to fall in love with her a little bit.
And this says nothing about her artwork. Her style is fun and flexible, veering from realism to chibi depending on the tone she wants to create and this harmonizes brilliantly with whatever context she depicts. At times, her work brings to mind Craig Thompson, Kazu Kibuishi, and occasionally Adrian Tomine. At other times, I feel like I'm reading a well-drawn manga. But the style is uniquely hers, and recognizably so.
While I honestly feel that anyone could pick this up and enjoy it, I think readers between 14 and 35 would get the most out of it. This diary was composed in 2010, and Nourigat makes pop culture references that may be out of reach to older readers--heck, I wouldn't be able to identify the Pokemon theme song if my younger brother hadn't watched it growing up. To younger readers, those not yet Freshman in high school, college may seem to be a distant daydream, and they may be uninterested in classes, papers and the like. High schoolers and college students will appreciate this glimpse into Senior year, and those who've graduate in the last decade-and-a-half will enjoy reliving the experience in someone else's shoes.
a novel (2012)
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
In 1923 two sisters set off on a mission to Kashgar, located on the Silk Road, though they speak little or none of the languages in the region. Lizzie is on fire with religious conviction instilled by Millicent, who is in charge of the mission. Evangeline is not convinced of the value of their work, but is coming along to protect her sister as well as to travel and experience the world, riding her green bicycle for hundreds of miles as they travel through deathly heat in the desert, and extreme cold in the passes of the Celestial Mountains.
In present-day London Frieda returns from one of her frequent and lengthy absences for her job to find a homeless man sleeping outside her door. Tayeb is an artist who often draws birds and feathers, as he grew up working with birds in his homeland of Yemen. He assists her when she inherits a flat and its contents, including an owl, from a woman she does not know.
Beautifully written, the two stories wind around each other, linking the challenges and traditions in the lives of the two women.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
A delightful tale of life within the walls of the Tower of London including nuggets of Tower history.
Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater, and as such he must live in one of the dusty, musty buildings within the Tower walls. He and his Greek wife Hebe live in the Salt Tower with Mrs. Cook, a one-hundred-eighty-one-year-old tortoise. Each day Hebe heads off to work at the London Underground Lost Property Office. Using an archaic and secret code known only to her and her co-worker Valerie, she reunites lost items with their owners (among them a glass eye, an urn full of ashes, Dustin Hoffman’s Academy Award, and racks of false teeth). Balthazar spends his day answering the same tourist questions.
One day he dresses in his finest uniform and goes to Buckingham Palace. The Queen has decided to re-establish the Royal Menagerie at the Tower, and Balthazar has been chosen as the keeper of animal gifts from around the world. The chaos which ensues is both touching and hilarious, as the penguins escape, the love birds attack each other with intense hatred, and the Komodo dragon attempts to eat any animal within reach.
A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering (2011)
Monday, September 24, 2012
Meredith Baxter was no stranger to show business. Her mother, Whitney Blake, was an American television/film actress who appeared in Hazel, Perry Mason, and multiple westerns over the years. Meredith’s Pasadena, California family life was highly dysfunctional. Her mother was distant and often was secluded behind a closed bedroom door which Meredith was forbidden to enter. After divorcing Meredith’s father, Blake married Jack, a militaristic man who meted out severe punishment to Meredith and her older two brothers. He also made unwelcome sexual advances toward Meredith. This dysfunctional environment caused her self-esteem to take a dive and she often made poor decisions over the years. Meredith starred with David Birney in Bridget Loves Bernie and she appeared in the horror film, Ben, and the political thriller, All the President’s Men. She played Nancy on the prime time television show, Family, starred on Family Ties and appeared on multiple made-for-television movies. She endured a long but destructive marriage to David Birney. Her self-esteem was further eroded as Birney constantly berated her and physically abused her at every opportunity. She became an alcoholic and endured a bout with breast cancer. By the age of sixty she discovered that she was a lesbian and came out publicly in the hopes of tearing down the societal stigma gay persons experience. Baxter is able to prosper and find happiness despite the hardship. Inspiring.
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