"Bill Buford likes to surround himself with histrionic people, whose antics frequently cross the line into violence. First, it was the soccer hooligan"Bill Buford likes to surround himself with histrionic people, whose antics frequently cross the line into violence. First, it was the soccer hooligans. Now it's three-star NY chef Mario Batali and Italian butcher Dario Cecchini. You can imagine Buford and Batali, into their fifth bottle of wine in a dim New York hot spot at three in the morning, Buford regaling the imbecilic escapades of the Man United fans in the eighties, and Batali savoring (and interrupting) every detail. Not content with his job as New Yorker fiction editor, Buford abandons his day job to be a kitchen slave in Babbo and later an apprentice to a pasta maker and a butcher in Italy. An excellent read for foodies. Selected quotes:
Chicken feet are a vivid sight--like human hands without a thumb, curled up and knuckly--and the first time I saw them, bobbing in their giant vat, they looked as though they were attached to the arms of so many people, clawing at the churning water; trying to climb out, the bubbling pot a portal from Hell, there in the back of the kitchen, against the wall, the hottest place.
The burden was in the fact that the polenta was never made first thing. It was always the seventh or eighth thing. So if you got busy and forgot--if suddenly, at four-thirty, you found yourself saying, \""Oh shit, the polenta!\""--you were in trouble. You can't crush three hours of slow cooking into sixty minutes. For emergencies, a box of the instant was hidden on the top shelf of the walk-in, but to use it was considered a failure of character. It also rendered Frankie apoplectic, who took these lapses as personal slights. \""You're doing this to humiliate me,\"" he'd say to whoever he'd just spotted, tiptoeing like a shoplifter, clandestinely slinking off with a box of the instant an hour before the service started. \""You're doing this to make me look bad. You're doing this because you know we will fucking lose our fucking three stars if we start serving fucking instant, and if we lose our fucking three stars I lose my fucking job.\""
One busy Saturday, Dario was serving a woman about to purchase her first bistecca who then asked him if the meat was good. \""E\buona?\"" Dario said, his voice rising theatrically with exaggerated indignation. \""Non lo so. Proviano\"" (I don't know--let's find out.) So he took a bite--the woman's raw purchase--chewed it melodramatically, swallowed, said, \""Yes, it's good,\"" wrapped it up, and gave the woman her change. The woman, aghast, took her package and fled. The consequence was that several people asked Dario if he would take a bite out of their steaks as well-as though his teeth marks were an autograph. \""Please,\"" one man said, \""it's for my wife.\""
"I rarely purchase books. The closest I usually come is paying late fees at the library. So I'm not sure why I was compelled to stop at Powell's last"I rarely purchase books. The closest I usually come is paying late fees at the library. So I'm not sure why I was compelled to stop at Powell's last night and buy Everything is Illuminated, especially when I'd finished my library copy of the book a few hours earlier. Maybe it was that I knew its day-glo green cover would match nicely with my safety-cone-orange White Teeth. More likely I wanted to be able to loan this book to friends so it could break their hearts, too. Convulsively funny throughout, the book's hysterical tone belies its subtle tragedy, making later chapters all the more poignant, knowing that the author could have inserted blithe malapropisms but chooses instead to focus on the climactic scene of horror and beauty."...more
"Gripping and whimsical story spanning a century of one Indian family's business, artistic, and leisure endeavors. Rushdie's writing is like candy, wi"Gripping and whimsical story spanning a century of one Indian family's business, artistic, and leisure endeavors. Rushdie's writing is like candy, with sweet turns-of-phrase and quirky Dickensian characters, leaving the reader craving the next page. With Garcia Marquez-ish elements of magical realism and a pervading sinister feeling, like Dumas. Favorite passages:
The first point to note is that people's limbs got detached more easily in those days. The banners of British domination hung over the country like strips of flypaper, and, in trying to unstick ourselves from those fatal flags, we flies—if I may use the term 'we' to refer to a time before my birth—would often leave legs or wings behind, preferring freedom to wholeness.
[The prostitutes] came from the temples of South India, I regret to say, especially from those shrines dedicated to the worship of a certain Karnataka goddess, Kellamma, wo seemed incapacle of protecting her poor young 'disciples' . . . it is a matter of record that in our sorry age with its prejudice in favor of male children many poor families donated to their favored cult-temple the daughters they could not afford to marry off or feed,in the hope that they might live in holiness as servants or, if they were fortunate, as dancers; vain hope, alas, for in many cases the priests in charge of these temples were men in whom the highest standards of probity were mysteriously absent, a failing which laid them open to offers of cash on the nail for the young virgins and not-quite-virgins and once-again-virgins in their charge. Thus Abraham the spice merchant was able to use his widespread Southen connections to harvest a new crop, entered in his most secret ledgers as 'Garam Masala Super Quality', and also, I note with some embarrassment, 'Extra Hot Chilli Peppers: Green.'
Jimmy tried to tell her that he and Ina had not signed the full, holy, brimstone-and-treacle type of contract, having opted instead for the fifty-dollar Midnight Special country-style civil nuptial 'n' hoedown in a Reno quickie 'Wed-Inn' parlour, that they had been married to the music of Hank William Sr rather than hymns ancient or modern, standing not before an altar but beside a 'Hitching Post': that there had been no priest officiating, but a man in a ten-gallon hat with a pair of pearl-handled six-guns riding on his hips, and that at the moment they were pronounced man and wife, a rodeo cowboy in chaps, and with a polka-dotted bandanna round his neck, had stepped up tightly behind them with a mighty yahoo and lassoed them tightly together.
"NPR discussed this last year on All Things Considered, and since then I'd been looking forward to reading it. Standage describes the influence of six"NPR discussed this last year on All Things Considered, and since then I'd been looking forward to reading it. Standage describes the influence of six beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola) on world history. More than just in the Boston Tea Party, these drinks were integral to the movement of people, ideas, and industry, and each affected international policy in its own right. For example, beer and wine were originally consumed far more than water, because the fermentation killed bacteria. And when the British Navy squeezed lime into their rum, they unknowingly reduced the incidence of scurvy, increasing their control over the Atlantic and earning the name \limeys.\"" Water, particularly the ridiculous industry surrounding bottling, appears in the final chapter. Did you know that 40% of the bottled water sold in the US is tap water, and that both bacteria and taste tests cannot distinguish bottled water from tap? Bottled water is a $46 billion industry internationally. Meanwhile, providing safe drinking water and sanitation to the 1/5 of the world's population without it would cost about $10 billion more than the United Nations has budgeted for it. Wouldn't it be nice if one brand marketed itself as \""water with a conscience\"" and donated profits to international irrigation and sanitation?"""...more
Enjoyable Sherlock Holmes fanfic, particularly fun as an accompaniment to the BBC Sherlock series, since many of the same characters are referenced inEnjoyable Sherlock Holmes fanfic, particularly fun as an accompaniment to the BBC Sherlock series, since many of the same characters are referenced in both. King's writing style is fluid and elegant -- somehow both elevated and a page-turner. ...more
Easy summer reading (with some mental stumbling over the Portuguese names), and a nice follow-up to Ender. Much less violent than the first book. TheEasy summer reading (with some mental stumbling over the Portuguese names), and a nice follow-up to Ender. Much less violent than the first book. The protagonist is a little too effortlessly Jesus-y, but overall it's an entertaining anthropology story. Nerd cred complete; time to read something of substance....more
"A thoughtfully-written Pulitzer winner with excellent character development. Spanning several decades in a declining mining town, the novel artfully"A thoughtfully-written Pulitzer winner with excellent character development. Spanning several decades in a declining mining town, the novel artfully reveals cause and effect, often unexpectedly. The all-italics 'flashback' chapters are a little annoying, but only from a typography standpoint; the plot and style shine throughout. Two of my favorite passages:
He'd planned on applying to the Maine Police Academy, and it wouldn't look good on his application if he'd gone and killed some girl at a frat party, even if he explained that he was drunk at the time and didn't remember. It had taken him the better part of a year to come up wiht the police academy idea, and he didn't want to have to start all over, even with the leisure of a lengthy prison sentence to develop other career possibilities.
What impressed Max most about [Ernest Hemingway's] house was all those cats, most of which had an extra digit that looked like a thumb on their front paws. He didn't think a thumb was all that attractive on a cat, though these old toms looked like they could pick up a glass of beer just like a human being did, the way that damn thumb curled around.
"Witty, bizarre tales with ridiculous descriptions of appetite and girth. First, we have the professional eater:
One evening, after a particularly suc
"Witty, bizarre tales with ridiculous descriptions of appetite and girth. First, we have the professional eater:
One evening, after a particularly successful show in which he had performed a routine entitled Americana (forty-eight hot dogs, one for each star; thirteen slices of apple pie, one for each stripe; twenty-eight cups of punch, one for each president; and a brandy for Lincoln), he was approached by a thin, fragile man who spoke in a strange accent, and who had the eves of someone who expects yes for an answer. Laden with a stomach full of borrowed patriotism, yet happy with his performance, Michael listened with great interest to the proposal.
And the gypsy:
Inside, sitting in an armchair which seemed to occupy the whole far end of the caravan, was an enormous woman. 'Well! Come on! Let's have a look!' she said, bursting into life and hauling herself some inches up from her seat. But she flopped straight back down; the idea of getting up had been a bad one. So there she sat. And there seemed to be no end to her. Instead, there was a general movement of things which must have belonged to her body in some way. She spilled over the arms of the chair and out on to the floor in rolls and odd-shaped dollops of woman, and spread up behind her own shoulder, upwards and outwards, in all directions. She seemed to be nothing more than a big fat face grafted on to the back half of the caravan's chintz interior, her flabby mouth speaking not for a human being but as a mouthpiece for the whole dwelling.
And the policemen with a new cat:
For three weeks at Dewsbury Central Police Station, food and affection were in limitless supply. Each morning a mountain of breakfast scraps was put down for the new visitor, and throughout the day there was a never-ending series of meals and snacks and elevenses and tea breaks. The Dewsbury Constabulary, it seemed, marched on its stomach, and there were some substantial ones. Hardly an hour passed without the laying down of newspapers and pencils for a fresh round of gorging, always washed down with sweet tea, and always a saucer of it put down for the cat. The poor thing had no choice but to leave whole plates of titbits untouched, and this eventually served as a gentle hint that a cat's needs are really quite modest in comparison to a policeman's.
"Zadie Smith said this was her favorite book. Understandably so. Nabokov describes the most sympathetic misplaced Russian protagonist; I frequently fo"Zadie Smith said this was her favorite book. Understandably so. Nabokov describes the most sympathetic misplaced Russian protagonist; I frequently found myself sputtering alliteratively along with the narrator: \""Poor, poor Pnin!\"" Few oddballs in literature garner as much fondness from readers as Pnin; Quixote and Raskolnikov come to mind, but both were violent in their delusions. Pnin is just depressing, in a wacky sort of way. Plus, Nabokov and Smith share the same interjecting style; every once in a while third person switches to first, as the busybody narrator feels compelled to color a few extra details from his perspective. A delightful, though dense, character study."...more
"In case this wasn't covered in your seventh grade Earth Science course, giraffes came to this planet nearly five-hundred thousand years ago on a gian"In case this wasn't covered in your seventh grade Earth Science course, giraffes came to this planet nearly five-hundred thousand years ago on a giant conveyor belt. And ever since then, they've smelled like pastrami and have developed excellent investment portfolios. Dave and Toph Eggers are rumored to have had something to do with this publication . . ."...more
"Disturbing mediocre farce, not particularly as droll as other reviewers have made it seem. The author's unlikeable characters end up making the whole"Disturbing mediocre farce, not particularly as droll as other reviewers have made it seem. The author's unlikeable characters end up making the whole book somewhat unlikeable."...more
"The Omnivore's Dilemma was great, and after hearing Pollan speak at the Drue Heinz lecture series a few months ago, I decided to read one of his earl"The Omnivore's Dilemma was great, and after hearing Pollan speak at the Drue Heinz lecture series a few months ago, I decided to read one of his earlier books. Though there are a few too many desultory odes to Nature's grand wisdom, The Botany of Desire is a satisfying and informative read about four species of plants that Pollan claims have domesticated us (as opposed to us domesticating them): the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. Each chapter pits Apollo (order) against Dionysus (passion, disorder), with Man and Nature constantly switching camps. Man wants neatly ordered rows of genetically modified potato monocultures to support the food industry, or dense but tidy marijuana clones to provide a good high, but that high itself is Dionysian. Straight-stemmed tulips are the epitome of Apollonian perfection, but the \broken\"" ones infected by a virus that creates wild, Dionysian splashes of color but weakens the plant were the cause of the great tulip speculation in Holland (and the subsequent stock market crash). The chapters on apples and tulips are interesting, but those on marijuana and potatoes are far better, delving into genetic engineering and scary prospects, such as irremediable property seizure for mere suspicion of growing pot, or proprietary seeds that grow sterile plants. (Which Monsanto loves, of course, because they can sell farmers new seeds the following year.)
[Pollan experiments in his garden by planting Monsanto NewLeaf potatoes, which have a beetle insecticide, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) integrated in their genes.] \""By 'opening and using this product,' the card informed me, I was now 'licensed' to grow these potatoes, but only for a single generation; the crop I would water and tend and harvest was mine, yet also not mine. That is, the potatoes I would dig come September would be mine to eat or sell, but their genes would remain the intellectual property of Monsanto, protected under several U.S. patents. ... Were I even to save one of these spuds to plant next year—something I've routinely done with my potatoes in the past—I would be breaking federal law.\""
\""The Food and Drug Administration told me that, because it operates on the assumption that genetically modified plants are 'substantially equivalent' to ordinary plants, the regulation of these foods has been voluntary since 1992. Only if Monsanto feels there is a safety concern is it required to consult with the agency about its NewLeafs. I'd always assumed the FDA had tested the new potato [common in McDonald's fries and commercial potato chips], maybe fed a bunch of them to rats, but it turned out this was not the case. In fact, the FDA doesn't even officially regard the NewLeaf as a food. What? It seems that since the potato contains Bt, it is, at least in the eyes of the federal government, not a food at all but a pesticide, putting it under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency. Feeling a bit like Alice in a bureaucratic wonderland, I phoned the EPA to ask about my potatoes. As the EPA sees it, Bt has always been a safe pesticide, the potato has always been a safe food, so put the two together and you've got something that should be safe both to eat and to kill bugs with.\""
\""The bubble logic driving tulipomania has since acquired a name: \""the greater fool theory.\"" Although by any conventional measure it is folly to pay thousands for a tulip bulb (or for that matter an Internet stock), as long as there is an even greater fool out there willing to pay even more, doing so is the most logical thing in the world.\""
This was one of my favorite childhood books and it holds up to re-reading as an adult. Kinda like mixing Ender's Game with American Gods and softeningThis was one of my favorite childhood books and it holds up to re-reading as an adult. Kinda like mixing Ender's Game with American Gods and softening it up for teen consumption. Great for vacation, although you'll finish it in an hour....more
"Great for wine newbies. I compared this to several other wine books and this one had the most accessible descriptions and reviews. She covers the maj"Great for wine newbies. I compared this to several other wine books and this one had the most accessible descriptions and reviews. She covers the major red and white varietals and describes DIY wine tasting, and good techniques for trying wines at restaurants. The brands are those readily available, even in lousy Pennsylvania. My favorite part is her countertop guide: Wines are graded from Average (C) to A+ based on how many days they last after opening. A plus means they get better over time."...more
"Ira Glass recommended this biography of soccer hooligans—erm, football supporters—in England in the 1980s. Buford is an editor for Granta, and so the"Ira Glass recommended this biography of soccer hooligans—erm, football supporters—in England in the 1980s. Buford is an editor for Granta, and so the book reads more like a lengthy New Yorker profile, rather than A Clockwork Orange. Thus, the violence is palatable because it's sheathed in a discussion of group psychology. It's fascinating how men with decent paying jobs revel in freeloading (in fact, being \on the jib\"" while traveling to playoffs implies that the fans not only don't spend money but make a profit by petty theft and mugging. The acts committed by these men in the name of good-natured fan antics are atrocious, stomach clenching, and the kind of thing you hope children never learn about. Drunken, mindless murders and beatings so frequent that Manchester United actually banned its fans from games in the late eighties. Good passage:
I found myself looking into a particularly ugly mouth. I can't recall how I arrived before this mouth—zigzagging across the square—but once in its presence I couldn't take my eyes off it. In it, there were many gaps, the raw rim of the gums showing where once there must have been teeth. Of the teeth still intact, many were chipped or split; none was straight: tappearedared to have grown up at odd, unconventional angles or (more likely) redirected by a powerful physical influence at some point in their career. All of them were highly colored—deep brown or caked with yellow, or, like a pea soup, mushy green and vegetable soft with decay. This was a mouth that had suffered many slings and arrows along with the occasional thrashing and several hundredweight of tobacco and Cadbury's milk chocolate. This was a mouth through which a great deal of life had passed at, it would appear, an uncompromising speed.
An accessible overview of Chinese medicine (primarily acupuncture and herbs) written by a Western physician. It covers the basic philosophy and systemAn accessible overview of Chinese medicine (primarily acupuncture and herbs) written by a Western physician. It covers the basic philosophy and systems of “traditional” (Chinese) medicine, and how that differs from “biomedicine” (Western medicine based on anatomy and modern drugs). My favorite chapters dealt with various kinds of pulses and examining signs on a person’s tongue. These techniques reveal a surprising amount of detail about what’s happening in the body. My acupuncturist noted that pulse and tongue reading developed as a result of class differences between Chinese healers and their patients: a low-status healer couldn’t ask questions about embarrassing bodily functions of their higher-class patients, so they came up with observational methods.
As a scientist, I particularly appreciated the discussion of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of the two schools of treatment. Aside from small sample sizes and issues of practitioner expertise, a major problem with empirically evaluating acupuncture is the inability to have a placebo condition — inserting the pins in “the wrong places” may still have physiological effects, unlike an inert placebo pill. Furthermore, as numerous case studies throughout the book illustrate, a common Western diagnosis (such as high blood pressure) may map to four or five different Chinese diagnoses, depending on what else is happening in the body and mind, and require customized treatment. Similarly, a Chinese diagnosis of “Deficient Spleen Qi” might map to gastroenteritis in one person, chronic hepatitis in another, and degenerative neuromuscular disorder in another. Therefore, while meta-analyses identify correlations between groups of Chinese diagnoses and groups of Western ones, there is rarely a one-to-one correspondence in either diagnosis or treatment plan....more
Especially recommended for my pregnant friends. The World to Come is a love story, but not really of the protagonists (an insecure Jewish art thief anEspecially recommended for my pregnant friends. The World to Come is a love story, but not really of the protagonists (an insecure Jewish art thief and a sympathetic museum curator). Rather, it's a love story for unborn children and our predecessors. And while the ostensible plot about a stolen Chagall is merely okay, the underlying narrative weaving multiple generations (including those to come) through Jewish folklore is very, very good. The story traces three (four) generations beginning in a post-WWI orphanage in Russia, where we also meet Chagall and a delightful lesser known Yiddish author known as Der Nister ("The Hidden One"). Der Nister's stories pervade the novel, interrupting chapters with mini fables about unborn children knowing all of the world's knowledge in heaven-like classrooms (feels a bit like "It's a Wonderful Life"), and then losing all of that knowledge when they're born. As readers we travel through Vietnam and contemporary New Jersey with extraordinarily likable characters faced with difficult situations.
Also, it's worth reading all the way to the end; not because there's a sudden plot twist or revelation, but because the final chapter weaves everything together so poignantly.
"Daniel was a good student, but history was his least favorite subject. He much preferred science classes, where the secrets of the universe were revealed one by one. He especially liked the lab experiments. On time they had to plant microscopic cells of betrayal in petri dishes, inspecting their growth over the course of the class. Daniel stared at the dish and was astonished by how quickly the cells multiplied, by how a surface that was pristine moments before metamorphosed within minutes to into a gangrenous plate of rot. A similar experiment was done involving a grudge, with identical results. Envy, on the other hand, proved itself not to be contagious at all; instead, it ate its carrier alive. Another lab result that intrigued Daniel was when the class measured the speed of gossip as it traveled through various media, determining how its speed was affected by whether it was transmitted through speech, writing, broadcast, or silence. To his surprise, the fastest means of travel was silence, which allowed the gossip to move faster simply by refusing to stop it, facilitated trough listeners who should have created some kind of friction to slow it down."
[After a woman asks about Bens' father at a party, and he reveals his father died many years ago] "Everyone looked at the floor for the obligatory seven seconds before someone changed the subject, a ritual deeply familiar to people whose parents die young. Ben waited for the obligatory seven seconds to pass. It had been years since he had felt embarrassed during those seconds. By now they felt to him like time spent waiting for an elevator: boring, wasteful, a chance to run errands in one's head."
"It is a great injustice that those who die are often people we know, while those who are born are people we don't know at all. We name children after the dead in the dim hope that they will resemble them, pretending to blunt the loss of the person we know while struggling to make the person we don't know into less or a stranger."...more