Part memoir, part exposé, and part history of the Manhattan restaurant scene in the 80's, this was one hell of a good read.
Bourdain's written voice is...morePart memoir, part exposé, and part history of the Manhattan restaurant scene in the 80's, this was one hell of a good read.
Bourdain's written voice is fabulous: he's that bad boy in a leather coat, smoking cigarettes and holding court after school. You want to hate him for being a cocky, smug bastard, but he knows he's a bastard, he admits he's an asshole, and he's just as quick to sneer at his own behavior as he is to sneer at everyone else's.
With every new show Food Network puts on the air, the life of the chef receives another layer of veneer, but it is, underneath, a filthy, brutal, and back-stabbing business. You need to be crazy to be an entrepreneur, but you have to insane to open a restaurant. There's no shortage of the insane in New York, and Bourdain's more than willing to dish the dirt.(less)
A fascinating (though occasionally rambling) memoir from John Hockenberry, radio journalist, Middle East correspondent, and paraplegic since a automob...moreA fascinating (though occasionally rambling) memoir from John Hockenberry, radio journalist, Middle East correspondent, and paraplegic since a automobile accident at age nineteen.
There's a hell of a lot packed into this book. It's a personal memoir of an American journalist's experiences in Israel and Iran; it's the vivid personal history of a man with a physical disability. This is a reminder not to forget that individuals are individuals the world over; there are accounts of the widely differing ways a single family can react to different disabilities. It's insider's view of crip culture that simultaneously scolds the able-bodied for staring at the same times it screams at them not to ignore what's right in front of their eyes.
It's no wonder the account is tangled at times, skipping back and forth between topics and eras. But how else to relate such a complex life? The contrast between Hockenberry's smooth radio voice (which I knew from NPR before reading this book) and the furious energy that laces this book is remarkable -- and makes for a highly recommended memoir.(less)
It's February. I live in Baltimore. I live in a second-story apartment in Baltimore with no balcony.
You know I'm sting...moreI'm desperate to plant tomatoes.
It's February. I live in Baltimore. I live in a second-story apartment in Baltimore with no balcony.
You know I'm stingy about giving five stars to a book, but when I'm seized with the urge to sink my hands into some rich, hefty dirt even though flurries are coming down outside, you know this has got to be a good book. It begins with Kingsolver, her husband, and her two daughters packing up their Tuscon home and heading to western Virginia to take up residence on a farm. Not a farm of the sprawling corporate sort that increasingly seems to be the only financially viable option; Kingsolver's a writer and her husband's in academia, and neither has delusions of making a living from a farm these days. Their Virginia homestead is too hilly for modern farming, but just right for a hobby/experimental effort at eating locally for one completely year.
And eat locally they do, thanks to farmers' markets, their own vegetable garden, and a number of neighboring farmers still eking out a living by going organic. But what's so wonderful about this experiment is that Kingsolver and her family aren't hard-core locavores, and they aren't fanatics; they may be willing to give up Chilean bananas, but they still buy coffee beans. And if tales of the imploding pumpkin-cum-soup tureen, the endless quest to use up the abundant zucchini, and Kingsolver's attempts to get her heirloom turkeys to mate don't make you giggle, you're a stronger woman than I.
Eating locally/organically/non-corporately shouldn't be a crusade. It should be a celebration of the flavor and the taste of truly fresh produce, of the sort that ripens in the garden and not in a box on a semi. It's about eating in season because that's what tastes best; it's about eating from gardens in your own region because that's what makes local cuisine so distinctive. With a huge dose of humor and realism, that's exactly the point Kingsolver imparts.(less)
Living in Manhattan is incredibly expensive, but eating well in Manhattan isn't. That's the one thing I learned when I lived there in 1998.
When Reichl...moreLiving in Manhattan is incredibly expensive, but eating well in Manhattan isn't. That's the one thing I learned when I lived there in 1998.
When Reichl came to the New York Times as restaurant critic in the nineties, however, the paper was not known for reviewing the incredibly delicious (and incredibly affordable) ethnic restaurants that are thick upon the ground. For the Times, a four star restaurant was inevitably French, inevitably required reservations, and inevitably granted you superior service if you were rich, famous, or both.
This memoir of Reichl's years at the Times is partly about the restaurants of Manhattan (where the national chain is still a rarity), but mostly about the people who patronize them. Her insistence on reviewing fine sushi bar and noodle shops alongside classic French cuisine was only the one hurdle; the superior service she received when recognized as the Time's restaurant critic was more harmful than even the paper's entrenched policies. To cope, Reichl resorted to subterfuge, developing a series of costumes that would allow her an unbiased experience at the restaurant du jour.
Nothing, however, is without bias. Reichl does a wonderful job blending what she learned about restaurants with what she learned about herself, alternately masking and amplifying her personality with her disguises. Well-worth reading for both Reichl and for New York, both the subject and the treatment are excellently presented.(less)
Having thoroughly enjoyed Garlic and Sapphires, I was thrilled to find this first of Reichl's memoirs on the 2-for-3 table at Barnes & Noble.
In th...moreHaving thoroughly enjoyed Garlic and Sapphires, I was thrilled to find this first of Reichl's memoirs on the 2-for-3 table at Barnes & Noble.
In the preface, Reichl admits to modifying certain stories for dramatic effect. But unless she's made entire years out of whole cloth, she's lived one hell of an interesting life. Throughout it all, the power of a meal -- sometimes spectacular, sometimes spectacularly bad -- has been a constant.
And to be honest, I don't care if the tale's been embroidered, and I don't really care about Reichl's ultimate success as a critic. Growing up in Greenwich Village in the fifties with her loving, but distracted father, her manic-depressive mother, and her not-blood-but-close-enough grandmothers; her wanderings around the Bowery on the edges of the early seventies art scene; her accidental creation of a commune in Berkeley -- it's an entertaining, slow-unfolding story, accentuated by the recipes she encounters along the way.(less)
Firlik's memoir of her seven-year neurosurgery residency is interesting, but never quite grabbed me. Hell, it's about brain surgery -- how can that no...moreFirlik's memoir of her seven-year neurosurgery residency is interesting, but never quite grabbed me. Hell, it's about brain surgery -- how can that not be interesting? -- but her brisk tone tends towards superiority in places, particularly when discussing her opinions on class, religion, and the business of medical insurance.
But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of actual neurosurgery, particularly where the surgeon combines technique with straightforward mechanical skill, Firlik is excellent. Her discussion of her own diverse interests and her search for a specialty made me mourn the requirement for hyper-specialization in both medicine and research science; her chapters on neurology and neuropathology, which are both quite distinct form neurosurgery, were among the best sections of the book.
Borrow this one from the library, but don't bother purchasing a copy.(less)
This is half a memoir, half a book on the biological basis of cognition, and I dove into it enthusiastically. Unfortunately, there's easily enough mat...moreThis is half a memoir, half a book on the biological basis of cognition, and I dove into it enthusiastically. Unfortunately, there's easily enough material in here for two books, one for the personal aspects and one for the science. I burned out halfway through Kandel's career, and couldn't muster the enthusiasm to finish the final hundred-odd pages before it was due back at the library.
Still, I'll keep an eye out for a used copy, because the subject is fascinating indeed: how does one study the biological foundations of thought and cognition? What's the mechanism for self-awareness? Understanding how electrical impulses are propagated between neurons is difficult enough: how do you design an experiment to measure thoughts? Kandel's certainly one for asking the big questions, and his tales of laboratory serendipity offer an amusing look inside the life of a research scientist.(less)
After seeing Dr. Taylor's talk on TED.com, I put a hold on this book at the library. I wasn't the only one, as I took several months for my number to...moreAfter seeing Dr. Taylor's talk on TED.com, I put a hold on this book at the library. I wasn't the only one, as I took several months for my number to come up.
This is a brief but fascinating memoir of Taylor's experience during and following her hemorrhagic stroke at age 37. How often does a neuroanatomist not only experience a stroke, but survive and recover sufficiently to communicate her experience to others? For Taylor, having the left hemisphere of her brain abruptly muffled gave her the unique opportunity to see the world through the quieter, more compassionate lens of her right hemisphere -- and experience that she credits with giving her a more balanced-brain approach to life during and after her recovery.
Not only fascinating for its advice on interacting with someone who's recovering from a stroke, this is well worth a read for anyone who's fought to silence that critical, negative, ego-voice that originates in the left hemisphere. The brain's a plastic thing: there's no reason to wait for a stroke to reprogram your neurons.(less)
Absolutely excellent and spot-on. I'm a crime lab rat -- I've never been nor wanted to be a police officer -- but I have worked for police departments...moreAbsolutely excellent and spot-on. I'm a crime lab rat -- I've never been nor wanted to be a police officer -- but I have worked for police departments outside of Baltimore for the past nine years. The frustration and bureaucracy that wear down officers until they throw their hands up in disgust is captured perfectly.
Moskos, a graduate student in sociology in New York, came down to Baltimore in the late 90's to enroll in the police academy and spend a year plus working Baltimore's poorest district. More than anything else, this is a illustration of how the utter failure of the "war on drugs" has helped turn entire neighborhoods into wastelands -- with the police and the citizens in a futile holding pattern, equally disgusted with each other.(less)
I happened to see this one at the library while picking up another book I had on hold. An entertaining (if slightly dated) collection of columns from...moreI happened to see this one at the library while picking up another book I had on hold. An entertaining (if slightly dated) collection of columns from Steingarten's stint as food critic for Vogue, I was alternately giggling out loud and reading excerpts to my girlfriend for the first half of this book. Steingarten's joie de vivre and his serial obsession with the perfect bread, the perfect paella, the perfect whatever-Vogue's-editors-assigned-him-this-month is infectious. Don't read this on an empty stomach.
Unfortunately, things seemed to peter out over the last third of the collection, perhaps as Steingarten scraped the bottom of the barrel to make his word count. Fortunately, each essay stands on its own, so this didn't have a significantly negative impact on the remainder of the book.(less)
Picked this up from the library after hearing the author and his son interviewed on PRI's Studio 360. When his son, intelligent but utterly unsuited t...morePicked this up from the library after hearing the author and his son interviewed on PRI's Studio 360. When his son, intelligent but utterly unsuited to learning in a public school environment, was on the verge of dropping out of school at age fifteen, Gilmour made him an offer: go ahead and drop out, but watch (and critique) three films a week with me. With a background as a film critic -- and with a son on the verge of meltdown and open rebellion -- it seemed a viable, if unconventional alternative.
That's a nice enough premise for a memoir. Tell a bit about your kid, muse a bit about your own struggles to find work in the midst of your mid-life crisis, and talk a bit about some of the best films ever made. All those bits were interesting, as far as they went.
Unfortunately, all Gilmour does is skim the surface without delving into any of the deeper questions the book suggests. I'd've liked to have known how his son's situation got so bad that dropping out was the only viable alternative. Given Gilmour's own struggles in life, why did he opt for such an unstructured approach for his own son? When his son's experimentation with drugs landed him in the hospital with an overdose, what sort of self-questioning did Gilmour go through? Most curious is Gilmour's near-obsessive focus on his son's teenaged relationships with various girls, which seem to serve as a barely-veiled mirror to Gilmour's own previous marriages and relationships.
I expected more from this book, particularly after hearing such an articulate and enjoyable interview with the author. It's a shame that didn't come though in the writing.(less)
I'm with A. on this one: Free for All was more enjoyable and better written than Quiet, Please. Who knew that there was more than one memoir out there...moreI'm with A. on this one: Free for All was more enjoyable and better written than Quiet, Please. Who knew that there was more than one memoir out there from a public librarian in the greater-L.A. area?
Borchert has the bemused attitude you'd expect from a long-time civil servant. His enjoyment of his accidental career is readily apparent, even on days when flipping burgers seems a preferable alternative.(less)
An amusing tale of Life as a Public Librarian, but it suffers from a heavy dose of self-indulgence -- a common enough flaw in memoirs, particularly wh...moreAn amusing tale of Life as a Public Librarian, but it suffers from a heavy dose of self-indulgence -- a common enough flaw in memoirs, particularly when the memoirist is not yet thirty years old. While I enjoyed Douglas's anecdotes and perspective on public service, this would've been a stronger book had his predilection for proclaiming his shortcomings in footnotes been reigned in by his editor. It was amusing the first time, but disingenuous by the fifth.(less)
"Obsession" carries such negative connotations. Let's think of this as crush -- a head-over-heels, no-room-for-reason spell of utter infatuation.
...ok...more"Obsession" carries such negative connotations. Let's think of this as crush -- a head-over-heels, no-room-for-reason spell of utter infatuation.
...okay, so it's obsession. And it doesn't matter that I'm no Scrabble player myself, because I am a geek, and a nerd, and have had a number of serial obsessions. It's great fun to read about someone else falling in love, and that's what happens in this book: the author, intending to dabble in the game, becomes one of the titular freaks himself.
This was a fabulous visit to a cliquish, but beguiling group, but caveat lector: I lost an afternoon halfway through this book when I couldn't resist downloading a shareware version of Scrabble.(less)
Harris is a geek, a comedian, a failure, a success, has a tendency towards obsessive behavior, is a complete charmer, and is most certainly one hell o...moreHarris is a geek, a comedian, a failure, a success, has a tendency towards obsessive behavior, is a complete charmer, and is most certainly one hell of a good writer.
Ostensibly a memoir of his time as a Jeopardy! champion, his trips back to the show for various tournaments serve as a framework for the story of his life as a whole, from the directionless meandering that takes him to Hollywood in the first place to his trivia-fueled travels around the world. So much of this book demanded to be read out loud to whoever was at hand, not only for its humor, but for its poignancy. Totally wonderful and totally recommended.(less)
A very slim, but quite entertaining memoir. If there's an archetype of the eccentric Manhattanite, Israel fits the bill; her own voice is so entertain...moreA very slim, but quite entertaining memoir. If there's an archetype of the eccentric Manhattanite, Israel fits the bill; her own voice is so entertaining that I wish she'd written more under her own name, instead of turning to forgeries for the cash. Her unrepentant justifications are far more refreshing than the evasive doublespeak one usually hears from white-collar criminals. Yes, I think I can forgive her.(less)
Based on Steve Dublanica's blog of the same name, this is an entertaining look at life as a fine-dining waiter. Unfortunately, Dublanica spends much o...moreBased on Steve Dublanica's blog of the same name, this is an entertaining look at life as a fine-dining waiter. Unfortunately, Dublanica spends much of the book talking about writing the book and indulging in self-psychoanalysis, rather than actually telling the waiter stories that got him the book contract in the first place.(less)
Though Woginrich's adventures in homesteading are amusing -- mail-order chickens! suburban dog sledding! -- I felt like her writing only skimmed over...moreThough Woginrich's adventures in homesteading are amusing -- mail-order chickens! suburban dog sledding! -- I felt like her writing only skimmed over the top of what she had to share. This read more like a draft than a fully-realized memoir of one woman's efforts to get closer to the source of her food, to embrace traditional arts, and to become more self-sufficient.(less)
An interesting book, well-written in a smooth style that demonstrates why Seabrook is a staff writer for The New Yorker. This was actually a memoir pi...moreAn interesting book, well-written in a smooth style that demonstrates why Seabrook is a staff writer for The New Yorker. This was actually a memoir pinned to a framework of musings on culture, and was significantly less structured and systemic that I was expecting given the subtitle. Perhaps it's appropriate that the marketing for this book in particular mistook well-developed style for substance.
Still, I'm not sorry to have spent time reading this. Seabrook's theses regarding the dissolution of the high culture/low culture dichotomy into a muddle that swirls around the advertising money are worth exploring. But it's interesting that he's focuses exclusively on the film/music/media producers whole dole money out to artists, and, to a lesser degree, on the artist themselves. Little to no thought is given to the public, the consumers, the (formerly?) lowbrow masses; in Seabrook's Nobrow world, they're a faceless flock, still desperate to buy status even if the symbols themselves have changed. (Granted, Seabrook's lived his entire adult life in lower Manhattan, so I can see where his perceptions might be skewed.)
Given Seabrook's previous book on (mid-90's) internet culture, it's strange he'd completely neglect to mention its effect on blurring high and low culture. While it's true that this book was written in 1999/2000, it still should've been readily apparent that increased connectivity was drastically affecting the way we masses identify, consume, and interact with media.
For all his assertions that he's part of the new Nobrow, Seabrook is strangely compelled to reference highbrow culture at every opportunity, name-dropping liberally from the dead-white-European literary canon and from high fashion; it's as if he needs to prove his cred as heir to the town house by mentioning his Princeton and Oxford almae matres in every chapter before he's sufficiently confident to proceed with his deconstruction.
So: a valuable topic, nicely written, but somehow lacking heft and depth.(less)
Ostensibly the story of a library cat, this is more a story of a woman, her family, and her small town in Iowa, all of whom have seen their fair share...moreOstensibly the story of a library cat, this is more a story of a woman, her family, and her small town in Iowa, all of whom have seen their fair share of hardship.
While I appreciated the narrator's main point: that a cat is more than a cat when he brings people together, touching all the lives around him -- I didn't care for her tone. There was something falsely self-depreciating in it -- something that screamed "look at me!" even as she repeatedly said what a humble Midwesterner she was. How much of this is attributable to the narrator and how much to the ghostwriter is difficult to judge; I suspect this would've been a better tale had Myron gone ahead and told it in her own voice, instead of being sucked into the publisher's hyper-promotional machine.
And yet I teared up during the final chapters, no matter that I knew exactly where this was going to end up. My own cat trotted over and curled up in my lap for the last third of the book. He's an ordinary orange alley cat, like Dewey himself, but all the same, he's the best antidote for sadness or loneliness you could ask for. Like Spencer, Iowa and like Myron herself, we'd all do better with a Dewey in our lives.(less)
Cox's accomplishments as a long-distance swimmer are fascinating, but her writing's fairly bland. This was worth reading just for the sheer amazement...moreCox's accomplishments as a long-distance swimmer are fascinating, but her writing's fairly bland. This was worth reading just for the sheer amazement of what the well-trained human body can achieve, but after the first few chapters, I rather wished she'd availed herself of the skills of a professional ghostwriter. This was a recitation of the particulars of her swims without the insight and reflection I was expecting.(less)
I happened to see this on the shelf at my local library when picking up something I had on hold. I've read Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and enjoyed...moreI happened to see this on the shelf at my local library when picking up something I had on hold. I've read Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and enjoyed it a great deal, but found this an even better read.
If you've seen an episode of No Reservation (which was being filmed while this book was being written), it will come as no surprise that Bourdain approaches food with unalloyed gusto. More importantly, however, that's also how he approaches life. Though outwardly about the food, this is more about the people who prepare, share, and enjoy those meals with Bourdain.(less)
Popped over to my local library's website to reserve this title and discovered it was available as an e-book. Excellent: I read this on my laptop with...morePopped over to my local library's website to reserve this title and discovered it was available as an e-book. Excellent: I read this on my laptop with my camera beside me, fiddling with the settings and taking test shots as I read.
Though intended for the more advanced photographer, I still found this an entertaining and informative read. I have a point-and-shoot, albeit a very adjustable one, but am only an advanced beginner. McNally's specialty is lighting portraits in subtle and innovative ways and it shows in the abundant examples in this book. I found myself wishing for a DSLR and lighting accessories several times, but nevertheless picked up quite a few pointers on how to make the most of the equipment I already have.
Even for the most beginning photographer, there's a wealth of advice on composition, taking advantage of the moment, and being willing to experiment with your models and props. McNally's work is inspiring as hell, and his conversational way of teaching is very enjoyable.(less)
Also available as an e-book from my local library, I read this after finishing The Moment it Clicks. As the title suggests, this book is narrower in f...moreAlso available as an e-book from my local library, I read this after finishing The Moment it Clicks. As the title suggests, this book is narrower in focus, and less useful to me personally because I'm not (yet) a DSLR user.
Don't let that turn you away, though, because McNally's writing is so wonderfully chatty and helpful that you can't help but learn something. A recognized a good bit of this material from his blog (http://www.joemcnally.com/blog/), which is well worth checking out.
Looks like I'm going to have to buy that slave flash for my point-and-shoot Canon after all. Darn you, Joe!(less)