"Born Round" is Frank Bruni's honest, heartfelt look at his struggles with his weight. Going beyond just the number on the scale or the tightness of h"Born Round" is Frank Bruni's honest, heartfelt look at his struggles with his weight. Going beyond just the number on the scale or the tightness of his pants, he talks about what it means to grow up in a family where the size of the meal offered is a measure of the love expressed, and where the number of servings consumed is a measure of the love returned. For all the bombast and proclamations of familial affection in a loud Italian clan, it's the interpretation of actions around eating that are given outsized emotional weight.
Bruni goes into the self-image issues that pervade people who compulsively overeat. The story is more familiar when told by women, so it's interesting to get this from a male perspective. There's a clear vein of negative self-regard based on his weight. It runs through his life as presented in all stages of this autobiography: as a successful student and athlete, during his training to become a writer and during his jobs as reporter, foreign correspondent and ultimately as the restaurant critic for the New York Times.
I'd recommend this book to anyone from a big, loud family, or to anyone who ever got a hurt look from Aunt Patricia when they turned down her special dessert or second helpings of anything. It's a quick read, written in a lively, accessible style. Bruni concludes the book with a summary of his self-examination - what he's learned about his own life and about his flawed perceptions of himself and the family he came from.
Bruni's life story is unique, but the life lessons learned about addiction and self-image are broadly applicable....more
After seeing it on so many "must read" lists, I tried to read this book. I gave up on it somewhere in the middle. It was a slow, slogging read, filledAfter seeing it on so many "must read" lists, I tried to read this book. I gave up on it somewhere in the middle. It was a slow, slogging read, filled with characters I couldn't bring myself to care about....more
This is the third book in the Flashman Papers series, continuing the story of Harry Flashman, rogue, coward and hero of the Queen Victoria's British EThis is the third book in the Flashman Papers series, continuing the story of Harry Flashman, rogue, coward and hero of the Queen Victoria's British Empire. It's hilarious and gripping. As Flashman moves through the various historical realities of his time, he lies, cheats and fornicates his way in and out of one scrape after another.
"Flash for Freedom" recounts his adventures as a slaver operating off West Africa, then (purely out of self-interest) as an agent for Northern abolitionists in the pre-Civil War U.S. in 1849-9. It's unflinching in describing (with footnoted historical accuracy) the nature and details of these operations.
The book is gripping and a great read. Well recommended for fans of historical fiction who don't mind a scoundrel for a main character....more
The book is well written and engaging as it tells the story of how a steel company built a revolutionary new manufacturing plant in the middle of an IThe book is well written and engaging as it tells the story of how a steel company built a revolutionary new manufacturing plant in the middle of an Indiana cornfield. The narrative style is compelling and immediate, using a novelist's flair to make the people and events come alive. You really do come to care about the company and its David vs. Goliath quest to best the giants of the world steel industry at their own game.
However, it feels a little thin. There are long sections which are spent talking about the history of the company, different products it made over the past 100 years, and the biographical details of the various men who ran it, or who nearly ran it into the ground. These are engaging in their own way, but they make the book feel like a long magazine article that has been fleshed out to book length.
There's quite a bit of technical information on steel making, as you might expect. It's all discussed in layman's terms, which makes it accessible, but even for someone interested in the subject, it's a bit esoteric....more
Reading "Gravity's Rainbow" was like running a supermarathon blindfolded over unfamiliar rough ground, while being intermittently tickled by octopi anReading "Gravity's Rainbow" was like running a supermarathon blindfolded over unfamiliar rough ground, while being intermittently tickled by octopi and slapped by BDSM fiends who misinterpreted your acceptance of their way of life with an unspoken desire to join it.
The plot is horrifically tangled, with dense interweavings of half a dozen main plots and as many more subplots. The point of view is liquid, shifting from scene to scene and shifting within a scene via intricate, head-hopping terpsichore.
From one sentence to the next, the POV might shift, the tone and language might change, it's never clear what actions or events are real and what are the imaginings (or mis-rememberings) of one or more of the characters. It's a maddeningly complex book that requires close attention to every sentence. To read it quickly would take a smarter, clearer-headed person than your humble servant.
I could never write a book like this. It's a masterpiece, a work of crazy genius.
Here's a sample of the prose. In this scene, Enzian and Katje, two former camp prisoners of the SS Oberkommander Blicero, are meeting. During their captivity, Blicero involved them both in games of sadomasochistic sexual abuse. In a twisted Stockholm syndrome, both of them came to love Blicero. Now, with Blicero gone - possibly on the loose in the post-war chaos of 1945 Germany, possibly dead - Katje is making her way to freedom (and to get revenge on a would-be assassin along the way). She meets Enzian, who is now trapped in the role of commander/mascot/prophet of a group of semi-organized refugees. As they circle around each other, trying to determine how much they can trust, they discuss Blicero.
"You must have seen him more recently than I." He speaks quietly. She is surprised at his politeness. Disappointed: she was expecting more force. Her lip has begun to lift. "How did he seem?"
"Alone." Her brusque and sideways nod. Gazing back at him with the best neutrality she can be certain of in the circs. She means, You were not with him, when he needed you.
"He was always alone."
She understands then that it isn't timidity, she was wrong. It is decency. The man wants to be decent. He leaves himself open. (So does she, but only because everything that might hurt has long been numbed out. There's small risk for Katje.) But Enzian risks what former lovers risk whenever the Beloved is present in fact or in word: deepest possibilities for shame, for sense of loss renewed, for humiliation and mockery. Shall she mock? Has he made that too easy - and then, turning, counted on her for fair play? Can she be as honest as he, without risking too much?
"Blicero and I," he begins softly, watching her over burnished cheekbones, cigarette smoldering in his curled right hand, "we were only close in certain ways. There were doors I did not open. Could not. Around here, I play an omniscient. I'd say don't give me away, but it wouldn't matter. Their minds are made up. I am the Berlin Snoot supreme, Oberhauptberlinerschnauze Ensian. I know it all, and they don't trust me. They gossip in a general way about me and Blicero, as yarns to be spun - the truth wouldn't change either their distrust or my Unlimited Access. They'd only be passing a story along, another story. But the truth must mean something to you.
"The Blicero I loved was a very young man, in love with empire, poetry, his own arrogance. Those all must have been important to me once. What I am now grew from that. A former self is a fool, an insufferable ass, but he's still human, you'd no more turn him out than you'd turn out any other kind of cripple, would you?"
Terrific book. It's a difficult read, but terrific. Exhausting, exhilarating and the kind of thing I'm proud of having finished. I'd brag about it if I thought anyone would care.
Unless you're in an MFA program (which I'm not) or hang out with the kind of people who discuss classics in experimental postmodern American literature (which I don't), you will have zero occasion to casually mention that you just finished "Gravity's Rainbow".
Even if you do manage to work it into conversation somehow ("Hey, the Phillies are looking pretty good this year. Think that new power hitter will pan out?" "If he can get under the ball and hit some homers. The way the ball curves when it's hit right reminds me of the way rockets fly in the same parabolic arc, what Thomas Pynchon called 'Gravity's Rainbow'. I just finished that book, actually.") you'll look like an idiot when faced with the obvious follow-up question ("Oh, yeah? What's that book about?" "Um... well... it's hard to explain..."). The book is "about" so much, there's no way to encapsulate it that will do it any kind of justice.
I will say that the book will be almost incomprehensible unless you have a decent working knowledge of all of the following:
* the history of the London Blitz, the Nazi rocket program and WWII in general * polymer chemistry * physics, especially as related to ballistics, low-temperature phenomena and metallurgy * jazz composition * sadomasochistic sexual dominance and submission * ESP and paranormal phenomena * song lyrics from 1930s and 40s popular music * Russian and German * mood-altering drugs of all kinds * film-making * spycraft in the OSS era
Those are just the major areas. If I'd had working knowledge of a dozen other arcane subjects (and if my German were a bit better) , some of the more whipsawingly confusing parts might have made more recognizable sense.
There is a value in reading difficult books. They make you think, they make you slow down to consider every phrase, every nuance. Books like this one serve a different purpose than books that are quicker and more easily digested. I could never write a book like this, nor would I want to. I'm glad such books exist, though, and I'm glad I read this one.
(NOTE: I read a copy of the first printing, without illustrations.)...more
This is a fun, very readable book that will certainly be of interest for two distinct classes of people who typically have ZERO overlap: 1) foodies whThis is a fun, very readable book that will certainly be of interest for two distinct classes of people who typically have ZERO overlap: 1) foodies who make everything from scratch; 2) "fast foodies" who make everything from a box.
Generations ago, food was prepared in the kitchen, beginning with raw ingredients, often grown or raised by the family. Vegetables, fruits, grains, livestock, eggs, etc. were turned into food through the skillful expenditure of lots of time. In contrast, the processed foods we buy today promise economy and convenience, but usually at the cost of flavor, nutrition and wholesomeness.
In this book, homemade and processed versions of a variety of foods are compared, head-to-head. The comparisons are preceded by stories and anecdotes from the author's food quest, from her childhood spent in her mother's (and her grandmother's) kitchen. In a refreshingly fact-based way, she evaluates the foods not simply on the quality of the product, but also on the cost and the hassle involved.
Even if something tastes better homemade, if it is hugely expensive or a tremendous pain in the ass, it may be better to buy it. Conversely, even if something is more hassle than picking up a wrapped package at the supermarket, the cost savings or the resultant quality may justify making it at home. The appendix gives supplier information for obscure items such as cheese starter cultures for Roquefort and mozzarella, herbs and spices to make vermouth, pink salt to make back bacon, etc.
I liked this book, mostly because I like to cook, but I also like to be efficient with how I use my time and money. What led me to give this four stars instead of five is that the recipes are adequate, but don't quite give a complete picture of the process involved in making some of the foods. For example, making the marshmallows was rather more difficult than the author claimed, mostly because using a hand mixer is NOT really a good substitute for using a heavy stand mixer....more
In “Jumping at Shadows”, by Helen Howell, Belle and her school chum Rosy discover that an old family heirloom is the part of a magical inheritance, brIn “Jumping at Shadows”, by Helen Howell, Belle and her school chum Rosy discover that an old family heirloom is the part of a magical inheritance, brought to our world by one of Belle’s ancestors, many hundreds of years ago. Digging in the garden, they unearth another section of the magical device. Upon bringing them together, powers are revealed that have lain dormant for centuries.
These came from a parallel world of magic and wizards, dreaded spells and usurpers battling for control of the land. The beautiful girl Therina, daughter to one of the great wizards of the age, was the one who took the Crystal Sphere out of the realm of magic and brought it to our mundane world. From generation to generation, it was passed down, until it ended up in the hands of Belle.
The influence of the magic is such that as the corrupt ruler of the magical world has his minions search for the long-lost Crystal Sphere, Belle perceives them as shadowy, ghost-like figures. As the magic rises in strength, Belle is pulled from the world of alarm clocks, gym class and classroom bullies into the land of spells, magical guardians and dreadful secrets.
This book is a fast, light read which will appeal to young adult audiences. ...more
An unfocused Peter Pan expresses his confused discontent with the purposelessness of his life by drifting back and forth across the country in the comAn unfocused Peter Pan expresses his confused discontent with the purposelessness of his life by drifting back and forth across the country in the company of similarly addle-pated losers. His bone-deep narcissism allows him to remain convinced (despite all evidence to the contrary) that flitting from one city to another while sleeping on a succession of borrowed couches is a glorious life. To his mind, a string of starvation-wage menial jobs, casual petty theft, abusive sexual relationships and escapist substance abuse is noble, heroic and illustrative of something profound... although, sadly, the narrator has no clue as to what that might be.
Some of the turns of phrase are inventive and almost poetic (and kept this from being a one star review), but they don't save this book from being a meaningless jumble of vignettes. First we went here, then we went there, then we went someplace else....more
Writers typically regard pencils the same way they regard ink cartridges or cups of coffee. They are consumables, means to an end. However, the historWriters typically regard pencils the same way they regard ink cartridges or cups of coffee. They are consumables, means to an end. However, the history of this invisible, prosaic, throwaway item is the history of communication technology and fashion trends, international trade and the mercantile economy. The pencil made note taking a much easier task than it was in the days of styluses on wax tablets, chalk on slates and ink on scraped (and re-scraped) scraps of vellum. When written communication is cheap and easy, society changes to take advantage of it. The foundations of broad literacy, from the penny dreadful to the concept of the ubiquitous "To Do" list, can be found within the history of the pencil.
Aside from all of that, this book is just interesting. Why is yellow such a common color for pencils? Because some of the finest graphite deposits were found in China; in the late 19th century, pencil manufacturers painted their best products yellow to draw on that color's association with Orientalia. What exactly does the "No.2" or "HB" on you pencil represent? It's a measure of hardness of the lead and intensity of the color; the higher the number, the harder the lead, and HB stands for Hard Black. Why don't pencil shavings smell as good as they used to? Because the dense, aromatic cedar used in the first part of the 20th century has been logged out in North America - lighter, softer, unscented woods are used now.
In an act of deliberate mindfulness, Henry David Thoreau listed everything he took with him to Walden, from his axes to his bootlaces. Everything, that is, except the tool he used to make the list: his pencil. Maybe that was because, as a fish is unaware of the water in which he swims, Thoreau as a writer was unaware of the pencil. On the other hand, maybe that was because the family fortune that allowed him to go up to the lakehouse for a couple of years was founded on the manufacture of pencils. Either way, this book is a chance for you to take an entirely new look at the pencil....more
What used to take a hundred men six days can now be done by five men in ten hours. What used to cost so much that it would make or break an enterpriseWhat used to take a hundred men six days can now be done by five men in ten hours. What used to cost so much that it would make or break an enterprise is now so cheap that it barely registers. Singapore and Sydney used to be a long way from New York or Newcastle, but now they're all right next door to each other.
The interconnected economy of the modern world is founded on the ubiquitous shipping container. This book tells the fascinating story of just how many times this method of moving cargo had to be invented and re-invented before it finally changed the face of the globe....more
This is a quick guide for desk rats everywhere, whether you're stuck in a cubicle farm or scribbling away in a garret (or both). It has stretches, posThis is a quick guide for desk rats everywhere, whether you're stuck in a cubicle farm or scribbling away in a garret (or both). It has stretches, poses, positions and basic yoga exercises that you can do throughout the day to improve your energy and focus....more
The story of two twins - one sensual and extravagant, one stoic and tightly wound - is vividly told. It's by turns laugh out loud funny and cringe indThe story of two twins - one sensual and extravagant, one stoic and tightly wound - is vividly told. It's by turns laugh out loud funny and cringe inducing. Each of the twins seems to be only half a person, and the bad half at that. Yet between them, they make a decent whole.