"Toast" is a memoir in four layers. It's simultaneously a nostalgic look back at mid-century Britain... a loving catalog of the cuisine of the day (bo"Toast" is a memoir in four layers. It's simultaneously a nostalgic look back at mid-century Britain... a loving catalog of the cuisine of the day (both tasty and, to my mind anyway, repulsive)... the melancholy story of a kid growing up "different" in a family and a society that had a very hard time accepting difference... and a coming-of-age tale about the making of a young chef. It's far, far better written than I expected it to be -- each short, impressionistic chapter resolves with a moment of understated wit or an unexpected revelation. It may be constructed out of little narrative morsels, but it ends up feeling suprisingly substantial. A must-read for Anglophiles and foodies. I'm both.
(NOTE: I listened to this on Audiobook, and I think Slater's voice really lends something to the story. Hearing his sharp British accent and the obvious relish with which he describes the delicacies of his youth brought the early, more random chapters to life, and helped me make it to the stronger [and darker:] narrative that develops later...)...more
"Looking Good" is the longest and most surreal of the four books in Maillard's "Difficulty At The Beginning" series. Our hero, John Dupre -- [SPOILER"Looking Good" is the longest and most surreal of the four books in Maillard's "Difficulty At The Beginning" series. Our hero, John Dupre -- [SPOILER ALERT] now a draft-dodging fugitive with an assumed name -- weaves his way into and out of warring revolutionary student organizations, figures out his own sexuality with the help of a militant feminist with an eating disorder, and endures an extended mental burnout triggered by a nightmarish acid trip. If any of that sounds stereotypical or overdramatic, it isn't handled that way. As always, reading these novels is like watching life unfold: Some of it weird and mysterious, some of it pointless, but always true. This one's tough to get through, with the main story frequently put on hold for multiple subplots, but persistence is rewarded. The series wraps up profoundly as you realize Maillard has done nothing less than illustrate how a whole country came apart at the seams....more
In the third of Maillard's four-book Baby-Boomer-Coming-Of-Age series, our hero John Dupre spends a dropout mid-'60s summer struggling with alcoholismIn the third of Maillard's four-book Baby-Boomer-Coming-Of-Age series, our hero John Dupre spends a dropout mid-'60s summer struggling with alcoholism, his love for the unattainable Cassie, and a civil war novel he's completely unequipped to write... while the Vietnam draft breathes down his neck.
It's about aimlessness... so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised to find the story itself aimless. Even so, our main character's ennui becomes, at spots, repetitive, which is why this earns three stars instead of four. But in one way it's the opposite of book two, which seems to be barrelling towards some sort of climax it never quite reaches. Here, the ending justifies the meandering that precedes it. And as usual the characters are as fascinatingly contradictory as ever. So... still well worth a read despite being the weakest entry of the series so far.
P.S. "Lyndon Johnson" also gets points for beginning *after* JFK's assassination... and not dwelling mightily on its significance. It *was* a significant event, of course, but we've heard about it plenty -- Maillard's glancing references to it seem an almost willful example of his upending of the standard Baby Boomer tropes. And I appreciate him for that....more
A marketing book that can more or less be understood by non-marketers like myself -- in fact some of it is quite entertaining, as the author describesA marketing book that can more or less be understood by non-marketers like myself -- in fact some of it is quite entertaining, as the author describes the fascinating history of how certain "brands" (everything from Doc Martens to the Linux operating system) managed to take off without any traditional marketing.
The book is intended as a primer for a new generation of marketers. But I'd suggest it for countercultural types, because it outlines the methods by which countercultures are increasingly marketed to. Most fascinating (and disturbing) is the chapter in which the author charts similarities between the methods of "brand hijack" marketers... and those of religious cults. ...more
Brief and insanely detailed story of the development of the famed London Underground "diagram" designed in the early 1930's by Henry Beck.
The book isBrief and insanely detailed story of the development of the famed London Underground "diagram" designed in the early 1930's by Henry Beck.
The book is both a primer on excellent "information design," and a beautiful thin coffee table book with lots of full-color map reproductions. It's surprising to see just how frequently, and with what attention to minute detail, Beck revised his original design.
The book maybe goes a bit far with the minutiae, and those (like me) unfamiliar with Tube stops and London geography may find a few sections impenetrable. But for the most part this is fascinating stuff. Especially towards the end, as the book outlines Beck's desperate, obsessive work on perfecting his diagram, long after the Underground had stopped accepting his input....more
The second of Maillard's "Difficulty At The Beginning" quartet follows John Dupre to West Virginia University circa 1962. There, he struggles to makeThe second of Maillard's "Difficulty At The Beginning" quartet follows John Dupre to West Virginia University circa 1962. There, he struggles to make sense of women -- and his own sexuality -- on the eve of the sexual revolution.
This installment is as beautifully written and painstakingly detailed as the first book in the series, though "Morgantown" seems even less concerned with plot and more concerned with its characters. Each of Dupre's many female loves are given such richly detailed, contradictory personalities it's hard to believe they're truly fictional; their quirks -- and there are many, many quirks -- feel exactly true and right.
That said, I did feel the final 50 or so pages of the book, though vividly written and totally readable, promise more than they deliver, and feel strangely disordered, as if Maillard was rushing to squeeze in a last few epiphanies and confrontations before his book got overlong. But it's a rare misstep -- and I'm still diving into book 3 ASAP. ...more