A good read for anyone who appreciates art and its importance in our collective human experience. Also a great read for potential thieves who are look...moreA good read for anyone who appreciates art and its importance in our collective human experience. Also a great read for potential thieves who are looking for tips on how not to steal artwork.*
Wittman/his ghostwriting friend isn't necessarily the world's best writer, so we encounter a lot of "and then this happened, and then this happened" type of passages. He also suffers from Foreboding-Last-Sentence-of-the-Chapter Syndrome, in which all chapters must close with some contrived page-turner like, "The stakeout was a success, but little did I know what the next day held." You can practically hear the DOT DOT DOT! screaming off the page.
Now I'm going to put away my critiques, which are ultimately worthless because this isn't a book you pick up for the superior, thoughtful exposition. You pick it up because you want to read about some art crime, dammit! You want undercover missions with high-risk stakes and close encounters with sketchy characters from the art world's underbelly. Those, dear reader, you shall receive, with gusto.
It's clear that Wittman loved his job, and it's also clear that he loved art. Being a massive government agency, however, the FBI naturally found his chosen beat silly and unworthy. I mean, what's a few globs of stolen cadmium yellow compared to kilos and kilos of coke and scores of ruthless murderers, right?
...Said the efficient, forward-thinking bureaucrats.
Art shows us where we've been, what we've experienced and what's been important to us as humans from the beginning of time, or at least from 42,000 years ago, when the oldest cave paintings in the world are though to be from. It's the historical internet, aggregating all records of our humanity to prove that we were here, and this is what we saw. Wittman recognized that art is - I'm going to go ahead with the obvious titular reference here - incalculably priceless, and it's worth fighting for.***
*Although...pretty much no one takes art crime seriously, so even if you get caught,** you won't be put away for life or anything. You'll probably get like three years, so depending on your goods, it could potentially be worth it. Let me know how it goes, if you try.
**Which you probably won't, because our boy Bob has been retired since 2008.
***Some art. Good art. I'm not talking about Thomas Kinkade here.
True story: Some years ago, a 40-something family practitioner from Colorado, or anywhere, really, looks at himself in the mirror and realizes that he...moreTrue story: Some years ago, a 40-something family practitioner from Colorado, or anywhere, really, looks at himself in the mirror and realizes that he needs to answer the call to go to war. With IEDs blowing soldiers apart and insurgents with weapons more powerful than their brains, this doctor's services are greatly needed, and for him, committing himself to a tour with the Army is the right thing to do.
Some people are very, very good people.
Dr. Hnida (or Dave, as he likes to be called) is one of those people, although God bless him, I think he's a better doctor and combat surgeon than he is a writer. The author has two tours of Iraq under his belt, and given what he must have seen, felt and heard while there, I think Paradise General could be taken a step further. I wanted a larger, more serious theme woven throughout the book; I wanted less stifled, filler dialogue; I wanted more insight on the experience -- not just the daily accounts of the experience. (I also wanted all of this without losing the author's belief in laughter, because that's an important part of who he is as a person and as a doctor.)
Still, that the book wasn't artificially contrived at the hands of editors lets the author's sincerity come through. There isn't a hint of "trying too hard" here, fortunately -- that comes across as manipulative each and every time. The lack of meddling on the publisher's part lets Dave tell his story, but I give the book two stars because I think Dave has a deeper story to tell. (less)
I had all the hopes in the world for this book, given my fascination with 1960s/70s Bohemian counterculture in New York [see: Across the Universe, AKA...moreI had all the hopes in the world for this book, given my fascination with 1960s/70s Bohemian counterculture in New York [see: Across the Universe, AKA one of the best movies of all time]. Look at what Patti Smith had to work with when writing Just Kids: Revolution in music! Rock-and-roll poetry! Self-expression! Boundary-breaking art across multiple media! Innovation and free thinking! Rampant drug use!
Instead of capitalizing on all of that, however, Patti Smith chooses to dig up her dusty old day planner and translate it into an "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened..." kind of memoir that neglects to add any observation or insight on why this happened. What was it about this microcosm of rock-and-roll Chelsea that inspired musical genius and artistic triumph, you may wonder, but Patti, she's not gonna tell ya.
More disturbing was her constant referral to her "work" without ever explaining her motivation or defining her impetus for creating said work, and regrettably, she came across as a cliched poseur trying to play the role of artiste. Several times, she recalls when Mapplethorpe told her that "they [as artists] see the world differently." That's a good start, but she never elaborates to tell us what she sees. There's no mention of what inspired or ignited her, no discussion of what her aim was in creating, no reference to her artistic mission. Patti...you gotta give me more than this.
On the flip side, I love the name of the book. It's absolutely perfect. (less)
I've always been just a teensy/lot bit judgmental of people who "read" audiobooks instead of picking up the printed copy. (I'd even...moreA brief side note:
I've always been just a teensy/lot bit judgmental of people who "read" audiobooks instead of picking up the printed copy. (I'd even be happy with an e-copy, this being the digital age and all. I'm very progressive.)
There are so many arguments I made against audiobooks: You don't so much read them as you do listen to them, like a blind person watching a movie. You're not using the same parts of your brain as you would with "real" reading, so it's probably making you stupider. You miss the beauty! the detail! the subtlety! of reading the printed/electronically displayed word, thereby ruining everything the writer so carefully labored over.
Now then. For all who agree with this POV, I challenge you to pick up an audiobook copy of Bossypants. Do so and you will become a believer, and you will also nearly die laughing.
I do, however, think only certain authors and/or genres would translate well to audiobook. For example, there's no way I'm going to "read" Cutting for Stone via audiobook; that's one for the printed page. With a writer like Tina Fey, though, I think the experience may be even more enjoyable hearing her words expressed in her own voice/s (yes, she does voices).
Onto the book content: Twas glorious! You'll laugh, you'll cry (nope, you won't cry), you'll be entertained from page/disc one! She's whip-smart funny, but then she'll throw in a nice poop joke to balance things out - it's really a successful combination. Not to say the book is one big joke, however: Tina Fey is a very funny writer, but she does have a story worth listening to in its own right. A little laughter along the way never hurt anyone, though.(less)
Seventy percent of this book was absolutely wonderful. Unexpectedly gorgeous writing paired with delectable food tales had me captivated from page, we...moreSeventy percent of this book was absolutely wonderful. Unexpectedly gorgeous writing paired with delectable food tales had me captivated from page, well, probably page 40 or so, after all the stereotypical, melodramatic-memoir, "Let me tell you about my fucked-up childhood and experiences with drugs" generic-ness had passed us by.
You'll also have to forgive the absolutely baffling relationship Hamilton has with her, ahem, "husband," whom she married for INS reasons, never lived with, HAD TWO CHILDREN WITH and then, we are to assume - I think - divorced. A good 50 or 60 pages at the end of book are spent describing the marriage as it approaches the end of its life, yet I'm not sure why anyone would possibly care by that point.
One more thing. There's also an unexplained 20-year feud with her mother, which the reader learns when Hamilton says something like, "I thought about contacting my mom for the first time in 10 years." Um, I beg your pardon? Where did that come from? This glaring omission of what tore Mother and Daughter apart caused 40 pages of "tension" to just be confusing and anti-climactic. I would have either left family life out entirely or explained it in more detail throughout the book.
Now that I've set this up as a book that you're surely just dying to get your hands on, allow me to reiterate that it was still a very, very good book. There was enough insider-talk to allow me to live vicariously in the underbelly of NYC's kitchens, and there was enough about life, love and family to bring insight and introspection to the premise. This is good-quality writing, not just good-quality food writing, but the hungry reader will relish this one.
Now if only I could get into her damn restaurant for brunch...I hate no-reservations policies. (less)
For a few years there, I read everything published in the foodie genre: Anthony Bourdain, Julia Child, Michael Pollan, Judith Jones, Ruth Reichl and,...moreFor a few years there, I read everything published in the foodie genre: Anthony Bourdain, Julia Child, Michael Pollan, Judith Jones, Ruth Reichl and, regrettably, Julie Powell---I was like a vacuum for the category. Then one day, perhaps not surprisingly, I got full and stopped eating...uh, reading.
As a fan of Wednesday's "Dining In" section of the New York Times, though, I felt it unjust not to give old Frank a go, so I picked up Born Round and sat down to read. The experience can best be summed up in the immortal words of the Simpsons: Diagnosis? Delicious!
Bruni is a great storyteller, and he lets you tag along as he recounts his childhood as the chubby son, his endless quest to slim down through fad diets, eating disorders and other various bad ideas, and finally, his truce with himself and with food that allowed him to serve as restaurant critic for the Times.* I'm always a little worried when reading a memoir that the author will try to lead me into boohoo-for-me sob-story territory, but Bruni doesn't come close to that---instead, he tackles his trials with grace and humor, two traits you wouldn't often see in a review of a new restaurant. He handles 300 pages just as well as 300 words, and this is one book in recent memory that I thought deserved more attention than it got. Maybe newspapers not owned by the New York Times Company ignored it in a bout of passive-aggressive retaliation against their competition?
*There were also a few pages on his big blow-out with Jeffery Chodorow, which was awesome. (less)
Very much enjoyed this book, as I do any book written by someone who changed the way Americans (the world?) view food.
I wish Jones had spent a bit mo...moreVery much enjoyed this book, as I do any book written by someone who changed the way Americans (the world?) view food.
I wish Jones had spent a bit more time on the actual editing process rather than on food's role in society, but I suppose that's because I come from publishing. Reading about how these cookbook authors - the fabulous Julia Child being the catalyst - introduced America to a whole bevy of new foods and flavors and tastes was fascinating - I realized, but only half-heartedly, just how much grocery stores have changed in the past 20, 30, 50 years and how much our nation's collective tastebuds have changed, as well. Foods I take for granted (in my case, mainly ethnic foods: Ethiopian, Indian, Malaysian) simply weren't eaten in America when Jones started her career at Knopf. Amazing...I owe a lot to her. I'd be miserable if all that was on my plate was an overcooked piece of meat, a baked potato and a side of cooked-beyond-recognition vegetables. Ugh.
At times, I did feel like I'd read this book before, and with all the attention food books have been getting lately (My Life in France, Omnivore's Dilemma, United States of Arugula, etc.), I probably have read the same theme in a different book. Still, Jones has an elegant writing voice, and her first-hand experience with food and America's palate makes this a more than worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in food.(less)
1. The Waiter isn't a particularly good writer. 2. He could at times be a little condescending, which kind...moreI had a couple of problems with this book...
1. The Waiter isn't a particularly good writer. 2. He could at times be a little condescending, which kind of pisses me off.
So in regards to numero uno...this wasn't necessarily a deal-breaker. I don't think Waiter thinks he's writing epic literature here, so his less than stellar writing didn't ruin my life or anything. It read like a blog - I suppose because it is a blog - so really, just like with any blog, I was hoping just to get a few laughs and an insider's peek in a world I don't know.
Waiter does take you into his world, but - this brings us to numero dos - I don't especially like the way he sees his world. Granted, there were a few little vignettes that I adored (e.g. the tale of the couple who came into the Bistro for Valentine's Day and were embarrassed to realize it was way pricier than they could afford; Waiter saved the day and went the extra length to give them a special night), but Waiter could get a little arrogant, too. I'm going to preface this by saying I can't imagine being a waiter - I really don't like being around people enough for a job like that - but if you are a waiter, you gotta know what comes with the territory.
Wait - backtrack again. Waiter doesn't seem like a bad guy, or a bad waiter even, but little things that he said irked him (such as when someone who only orders a moderately priced bottle of wine dares to ask for one of the cool extra-large balloon wine glasses instead of the cheap ones), I had to roll my eyes. I'm sure there are seemingly normal people who turn into lunatic bastards when dining out, but most people are just looking for a nice time and a chance to be waited on for a change. If they want the nice wine glass - if that's what's standing between them and happiness - give them the nice wine glass.
I read this book so quickly I can't quite remember many more examples, but I think you get the picture: if you want an easy read that spills a bit of restaurant industry gossip, this will do you right, but don't expect - which some people have erroneously called it - a waiter equivalent of Anthony Bourdain's infinitely superior Kitchen Confidential.
"I always thought that the day Steve Martin died would be the saddest day of my life."
--Michael Scott, The Office
Martin doesn't write to make...more"I always thought that the day Steve Martin died would be the saddest day of my life."
--Michael Scott, The Office
Martin doesn't write to make you laugh, but unlike many people who are talented in one field and believe that means they're capable of anything ("I'm an actress/singer/author/fashion designer/cardiologist"), his writing is well worthy of print. I love seeing this side of him, and it's really cool to compare his public persona---Steve Martin, comedian extraordinaire---with his literary voice. (Then it's even cooler when he comes to Asheville and plays the banjo. Oh Steve...one of these days I'll see you there live.)
I just kind of love him.
Side note: I also want him to keep working with Tina Fey. If there were a Tina/Steve channel on YouTube, I would probably do nothing but watch that. So long, Goodreads.(less)
This was our May 2008 book club read...can't say I was thrilled with it. The point was often missing from many of the essays, and while I laughed and...moreThis was our May 2008 book club read...can't say I was thrilled with it. The point was often missing from many of the essays, and while I laughed and happily flipped through the pages, the content seemed better suited for a blog than a book. Crosley has a good voice, but I just didn't see the magic that other essayists - like the ubiquitous but amazing David Sedaris - bring to their books. You won't be bored reading this, but it's more like you're listening to your friend tell you some funny thing that happened to a friend of hers than you're reading a published collection of essays...
I could write a book like this.
If you're the sort of person who likes easy breezy books for the beach, and you have this on hand as you're venturing out for a weekend in the Hamptons, you won't be disappointed with this one...or maybe if you're on a plane and just want something to pass the time...but in terms of a legitimate "good read," you should go back to Amazon and order something else. Get Me Talk Pretty One Day by Sedaris instead if you want a book of sharp, hysterical essays that are more than just storytelling.(less)
I love reading Ruth Reichl's stories. The first book I read of hers, Tender at the Bone, was charming and evocative, and it had some killer recipes to...moreI love reading Ruth Reichl's stories. The first book I read of hers, Tender at the Bone, was charming and evocative, and it had some killer recipes to boot (the pork and tomatillo stew is absolutely amazing...recipe available upon request!).
Garlic and Sapphires didn't capture me in the same way as TATB, but it was still an enjoyable enough read for my foodie self. (Disclaimer: I read this book after reading - and LOVING - the Harry Potter series for the first time straight through, so almost anything would have disappointed right after that. It was like this was a rebound book...in other words, "it's not you, Garlic and Sapphires, it's me."*)
The stories were amusing (some of the characters she assumed while in disguise were priceless) and personal, and Reichl is a completely engaging writer (her descriptions of food are so vivid that even if you've never had sea urchin, you'll know what it tastes like after reading), but the book lacks the sense of wonder at the wide world of food that made TATB so captivating. It seemed to be more about the formal aspects of food - that is, what's sitting on your plate, how it's presented, etc. - rather than about what food means to a community. I missed that connectivity in this book.
I did love the insider's glance the book affords you. For a religious reader of the Dining In section of the New York Times, it's pretty cool to see the effort that goes into being the most famous food critic in the country. (How, by the way, are these people not exceptionally fat?? I would never be able to pass up all the food restaurateurs throw at you...)
Perfect for foodies who want to live vicariously through the eyes and ears (and mouth) of a New York Times food critic in disguise.
I was so in love with the idea that Julie came up with: to recreate each of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mast...moreCompletely and utterly disappointing.
I was so in love with the idea that Julie came up with: to recreate each of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I never had read her blog before, and my expectations for the book were high.
Unfortunately, Julie is a completely repulsive, unappealing and vulgar human being. Her self-deprecating - humor, was it? - didn't make me find her charmingly witty; rather, I just believed what she was telling me and decided that she was in fact the most disgusting person alive. The fact that she keeps her crappy apartment in filthy, squalor-like conditions (she had maggots growing in the kitchen that she was theoretically using on a daily basis) kinda made me want to throw up. If it hadn't been for my fascination with food and my love of Julia Child, I would have stopped reading (which is pretty rare for me).
The book isn't even about the cooking or Julia, not really, anyway. It's instead just a new platform for Julie to continue with her self-indulgent blogging. (less)
You've got to love Steingarten's enthusiasm for food. Throughout each chapter of The Man Who Ate Everything, he'll get right down to every last nitty...moreYou've got to love Steingarten's enthusiasm for food. Throughout each chapter of The Man Who Ate Everything, he'll get right down to every last nitty gritty, chemistry-laden detail on, e.g., making the perfect mashed potatoes, but because his writing is so readable and engaging (not to mention hilarious--Steingarten is super dry and witty), you don't realize that the fun you're having is also, gasp, teaching you something. In that sense, one could argue he's a bit like Bill Nye the Science Guy ("science rules"), but for food.* His fascination with his subject rubs off on the reader--whether you're a foodie (me, me!) or not--and it while it's possible to get through it in bite-size chunks, it's more likely you'll want to devour it in one sitting.**