Interesting story that could have been told in 200 fewer pages. There is a lot of detail about the photographer (the 'inventor') that just isn't inter...moreInteresting story that could have been told in 200 fewer pages. There is a lot of detail about the photographer (the 'inventor') that just isn't interesting or compelling, particularly his early years. Even the murder he committed is off-topic compared to the most interesting story, which was his work in early photography. Much of the relationship between Stanford and Muybridge is guesswork. The author tried hard to make this relationship into a book, but ultimately there wasn't enough there to make the story compelling.(less)
The few chapters about raiding Osama's compound are interesting, but a lot of the book is filled with BS machismo and banal scenes. I don't doubt that...moreThe few chapters about raiding Osama's compound are interesting, but a lot of the book is filled with BS machismo and banal scenes. I don't doubt that SEALs are studs but the rah-rah ruminations of the author were tiresome and predictable. The logistics of the raid are fascinating but do we need to relive the Taco Bell run afterward? At the end of the book, we know very little about the author or his family, expect that he’s a good solider (who’s donating the “majority of the proceeds” to charity).
I respect the author's service and his accomplishments, but the book seems rushed and opportunistic. Although the author was in the room with UBL at the end, I suspect that better accounts of this event will emerge from more gifted storytellers.(less)
Amazingly detailed account of the Iran hostage crisis, with a look inside the minds of the hostages, in the style of Gay Talese. The amount of researc...moreAmazingly detailed account of the Iran hostage crisis, with a look inside the minds of the hostages, in the style of Gay Talese. The amount of research that must have taken place is daunting to imagine. Some of the characters jump off the pages and are some of the most vivid I have ever read, especially Michael Metrinko, who never yielded in 444 days of occupation.
Although the event took place more than 30 years ago, it's interesting to reflect on current affairs after reading this book, particularly our relationship with Iran. The failed rescue attempt is interesting to compared to the recent capture of Bin Laden and shows how difficult and fraught with danger thess missions can be. I also thought of President Obama and how is political style combines some elements of both Carter and Reagan (and probably others).
The subtitle aptly describes the premise, ‘The True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession.’ The main narrative is interestin...moreThe subtitle aptly describes the premise, ‘The True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession.’ The main narrative is interesting and the book also functions as a memoir, as the author adds personal details related to books and collecting. She also includes several historical stories, mainly about book thieves and the obsession of collecting. I enjoyed her writing style, which is informative and conversational.
While I enjoyed this book, it didn’t really stir emotion the way great books do. The story focuses mostly on the idiotic thief, who has delusions of grandeur, and the author’s deep exploration of his motivation wasn’t that meaningful or interesting to me. He’s just a common thief who likes books. One of the bookstore owners thought the discussion of the thief’s activities glorified him and I couldn’t agree more. Looked at another way, the author is using this lunatic and is exploiting him for a good story and our benefit. As a result, the experience of reading this book is somewhat unsavory.
Anthony Bourdain’s memoir, ‘Kitchen Confidential,’ was a revelation for me. I had never been exposed to the hidden world of restaurant kitchens. His p...moreAnthony Bourdain’s memoir, ‘Kitchen Confidential,’ was a revelation for me. I had never been exposed to the hidden world of restaurant kitchens. His personality can be grating and his style is exaggerated, but he had a story to tell, and told it well. After reading his book, I wanted more of this insane cooking underworld.
I thought of his book when I purchased ‘Blood, Bones & Butter,’ (BB&B) a memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef and owner of Prune restaurant in New York. In fact, his quote is on the cover of the book, “Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.” (Italics on the cover) Is he saying this with a sense of sarcasm since his memoir was so popular? I hope so. While there are flashes of inspiring prose and some compelling stories, the complete package is uneven and disappointing, like a collapsed chocolate soufflé.
As the title suggests, the book is broken into three sections. The first is called ‘Blood’, and presumably refers to the author’s family. Initially, I was seduced by Hamilton’s very ‘writerly’ style. Early on, I flipped to the back cover and sure enough, she has an MFA from the University of Michigan. She has legitimate writing chops. Her style is a mix between elegance and grittiness, which is somewhat of an odd combination, and yet works well at the beginning. In the first few chapters, I had difficulty adjusting to her style, which is somewhat dense, yet I was intrigued enough to keep going, and eventually found a rhythm.
In the first chapter, Hamilton paints an idyllic view of her French aristocratic mother, dreamer artist father and her siblings. She describes an annual party that the family threw, around her ninth birthday I believe, which seems to be the last happy memory she has of her family together. She masterfully includes poignant details, like keeping drinks chilled in a nearby stream, word play with her father’s nickname, and vivid descriptions of food.
The fun ends with the first chapter, as her parents seemingly abandon her and a brother, to literally fend for themselves, in a big house in what seems like a somewhat rural area of New Jersey, but not far from a small town. Forced to earn a living at thirteen, she lies about her age and begins working at a local diner, as a dish washer, and then eventually works as a waitress in New York. These early chapters work because Hamilton has interesting stories to tell about her rough and tumble early entrance into adulthood. The last chapter in the section describes the author’s gruesome killing of a chicken after a retreat from New York, while staying at her father’s house. And she ends this section with a funny and memorable way, which shows her ability to turn a phrase:
“There are two things you should never do with your father: learn how to drive and learn how to kill a chicken. I’m not sure you should sit across from each other and eat the roasted bird in resentful silence either, but we did that too, and the meat, as if scripted, was disagreeably tough.”
The section called ‘Bones’ is the longest (about half the book) and I’m guessing that the title refers to her fully growing into adulthood, but there could be multiple interpretations. This section starts well, with some interesting stories, like her amusing work as a chef for a kid’s camp (poor lobsters!) and the opening of Prune. I found her non-traditional training as a chef, during her romp across Europe (particularly the little restaurant in Serifos), enduring and particularly insightful for understanding her cooking.
While the story of Prune is compelling, the author’s voice changes throughout the chapter, and sometimes she seems to be channeling Anthony Bourdain. The rants about cooking seemed forced and fake, and they seem to come out of nowhere. Like the following passage,
“Sunday is an order fire day. Every ticket comes in and is shouted out and is picked up immediately. We do not wait patiently while the customer enjoys a section of the New York Times over a nice bowl of homemade granola before firing up his sour cream and caraway omelette. We do not. We are sometimes laying down omelette pans on the flames by the half-dozen, and delivering that many omelets in as many minutes.” She’s a professional chef with 20 years of experience. Is it really that hard to cook a bunch of eggs? Everybody thinks that they have a stressful job, but not everybody does. I don’t know what it’s like to be a chef, but her tough attitude seems inauthentic and wildly exaggerated.
When she meets her husband, on page 159, the book starts to fall apart. A couple things happen at this point. The stories start to become more infrequent and it’s replaced largely with the author’s ruminations. Her restaurant is already open and seemingly successful, so these stories start to trail off. The narrative arc where Hamilton overcomes long odds to become a successful restaurateur is over and the new one is her failing marriage, which is somewhat of a bait and switch.
Did she just run out of material? The last half of the book seems like a therapy session and her internal dialogue grates after awhile. She describes a visit to her mother’s house, after not seeing her for 20 years. Nothing happens, except the author’s vivid depictions of her mother as a spider queen and other terrible incarnations. Some scenes made me cringe, especially the resistance to showing her mother any physical affection seconds after nursing her own child. Give your mom a chance. If she doesn’t deserve one, explain why … otherwise I can’t empathize!
The final section, ‘Butter’, ostensibly describes her love of the simple life in Italy, but seems to focus more on her sham marriage. This un-love story is the most painful part of the book. She marries her Italian husband on what seems like a whim, despite the fact that she is in a relationship with a woman and he is legitimately in love with her. Huh? Okay, fine, I’ll go with that, but then she proceeds to tear him apart with some vicious comments that took my breath away, like,
“In all the years we have spent together … he has never, incredibly, incomprehensibly, said anything important to me.”
Then, why did you marry him? Why did you have kids with him? She continued to take shots that seem unfair and snarky, and I couldn’t really sympathize with this mess of a marriage that she got herself into. And what sends her over the edge, the dagger in the heart of this relationship? Her husband says he wants to buy a new iPhone.
The author’s relationship with her husband is a balloon with a hole, which slowly deflates with each passing chapter. Yes, she also develops a special bond with her husband’s mother and the people of Italy and their food, yet I was more distracted by the marriage spectacle. I had trouble concentrating on the negroni’s and the warm barratta cheese, while she ripped her husband to shreds.
BB&B has some compelling stories that are beautifully told, but the narrative lacks cohesion. While she starts the book ‘in scene’, she seems to devolve into her own head, which is maddening and one of the first lessons that I ever learned about writing effectively (rumination is not interesting). My wild, unsubstantiated guess would be that the first portion of the book was written while the author was getting her MFA (heavily work-shopped) and was the basis for the book contract. Then, she had to write the rest of the book, while running a restaurant, taking care of two kids and dealing with a failing marriage. I’m not sure if that’s what happened, but I wouldn’t be surprised given how the book degrades with each passing chapter. Too bad, because the first few chapters were really promising. (less)
When I saw ‘Will Write for Food’ on a bookshelf in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, I was surprised and excited that a book existed for such a nar...moreWhen I saw ‘Will Write for Food’ on a bookshelf in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, I was surprised and excited that a book existed for such a narrow topic. I don’t usually do this, but in this case, I bought it immediately without even browsing the chapters and rolled the dice that the author (Dianne Jacob) had done her homework. As I was walking home, I realized how easily a book like this could be slapped together and sold to people like me, who just started a food blog (WithoutTakeout.com).
I shouldn’t have been worried. ‘Will Write for Food’ is smartly organized and offers a wide range of advice for all types of food writers. The author also included opinions from several established food writers, which was particularly helpful. For example, the chapter on restaurant reviewing had advice from all the major food reviewers that I’ve read over the years (Frank Bruni, Michael Bauer, etc.). This book has already been incredibly useful and should be a resource for me as I look to expand my food writing.
(Disclaimer: I’ve only ready about 75% of this book, only the chapters that apply to me)
This book is a collection of essays written in the late 1990s and for full disclosure, I have not read it cover-to-cover. His writing has the same tone as his television personality but somehow he doesn’t grate in print. He's still a little grumpy and bitchy. He's also insightful and totally committed to the exploration of food. I haven't read anybody more passionate or obsessed about eating and this single-minded focus is interesting to behold. The lengths he will go to bake the perfect bread or find the best steak is truly inspiring. He also seems to dig deeper and truly analyze more than other food writers.
So, I recommend his book, despite his prickly television presence. (less)
I picked up ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ because I thought this would be an interesting science story and, instead, I was sucker punched by...moreI picked up ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ because I thought this would be an interesting science story and, instead, I was sucker punched by the story of the family behind the ‘HeLa’ cells, which is heartbreaking.
The science covered by the author is fairly easy to understand and can be found in multiple sources outside of this book. Even the basic story of Henrietta Lacks has been covered by other journalists. The more interesting part is the story of the author’s slow courting of the descendants of Henrietta Lacks and her deep desire to tell their story.
The author’s evolving relationship with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah is the main narrative, which I found compelling for several reasons. The author and Deborah couldn’t be more different and the contrast through is stark. Despite this, they develop a fondness for each other over time, almost a mother/daughter relationship, and we learn more about the history of the family as the relationship grows stronger. The author’s main skill here is developing this relationship over time, despite the significant challenges she faces along the way. She portrays Deborah and the other family members with care and without judgment, despite their often erratic behavior.
While the science is interesting, the family’s painful struggle across multiple fronts is what resonated.
‘Country Cooking of Ireland’ contains a comprehensive collection of Irish recipes, with mouth-watering color photos and fascinating bits of history wi...more‘Country Cooking of Ireland’ contains a comprehensive collection of Irish recipes, with mouth-watering color photos and fascinating bits of history with each section. In my hands, it felt weighty and substantial, as the dimensions of each page are about 8X11 inches and there are more than 350 pages. There are 15 chapters and in the back there is a resource guide, list of recipes, bibliography and an index.
Colman Andrews, one of the founders of Saveur magazine, wrote and compiled this volume, which seems designed to win a James Beard award, if it hasn’t already done so. The author approaches the topic of Irish food with earnestness not usually found in other cookbooks. I particularly enjoyed the wide range of photographs of many of the recipes, but also of raw ingredients and Ireland, past and present (photos by Christopher Hirsheimer).
I tried 3 recipes: boxty, Shephard’s Pie and ‘Sultana Scones’ (though I used dried cranberries instead of raisons). All were easy to understand and to follow. For each of the recipes that I cooked, I could have probably found a similar recipe on the internet. However, each dish was really enhanced by the history and photographs in the book. Overall, I would highly recommend for those interested in Irish cooking.
This is the second book that I've read on the 2008 presidential election, with the other being Game Change. Buy on Amazon
This book focuses on Obama and...moreThis is the second book that I've read on the 2008 presidential election, with the other being Game Change. Buy on Amazon
This book focuses on Obama and is less sensational. The journalist who wrote the book had close access to Obama from the announcement of his campaign for president to his first days in the Oval office. If you want to find an intimate and nuanced portrait of Obama and his inner circle, this is an excellent book.
I thought the structure was interesting, in that it's not strictly in chronological order. The writer jumps back and forth between the democratic primary versus Clinton and the general election versus McCain. I liked this structure during the book because the discussion on certain issues was more complete. However, there was no coverage of the voting on election night, only a brief section on Obama's acceptance speech. As a result, the tension in the book dies toward the end.
That said, amazing detail and some quotes and insights that you won't see anyplace else. (less)
'The Emperor of All Maladies' is a comprehensive review of cancer and the quest to find treatment and a cure. The author discusses the first known ob...more 'The Emperor of All Maladies' is a comprehensive review of cancer and the quest to find treatment and a cure. The author discusses the first known observations of the disease and describes the evolution of research over the years. The range of cancer topics is broad and includes fund raising, turf fights among different physician groups, scientific minutiae, legal cases, among others. The span of the book is impressive and I walked away with a deeper understanding of the disease and the reasons that research over the years has been so frustrating. In fact, the first 400 pages of the book discuss more failures in research than successes.
On the negative side, I found the narrative somewhat forced and the authors description clinical and cold in some parts. The patient stories added some heart, but I get the sense that the author is interested in the abstract, intellectual concept of cancer more than the humans with the disease. At the end of the book, I was more informed about cancer and yet my empathy for the patients afflicted with this disease was not stirred up as much as I expected. (less)
The ‘$12 Million Stuffed Shark’ is an articulate, thoughtful and revealing look at the economics of contemporary art. I have not come across any other...moreThe ‘$12 Million Stuffed Shark’ is an articulate, thoughtful and revealing look at the economics of contemporary art. I have not come across any other book (or source) that explains the dynamics driving the price of contemporary art so clearly. After reading this book, I now understand why SF MOMA has a blank white painting on their wall, despite the utter lack of artistic merit of such an item.
Each chapter is structured around a theme, mostly the players (people or institutions) or gatekeepers that allow the prices to increase for a given artist. I found the structure within chapters somewhat looser, with the author adding frequent tidbits or tangents that were interesting along the way.
As a result, my only criticism was that there was no a dominant narrative running throughout the book -- felt more like a collection of essays on a theme. For example, had the author picked an artist’s rise over the years and their interactions with the various players, the whole book would have been more cohesive (though quite a different book). (less)