Archive for March, 2009

Stephen Clarke: A Year in the Merde

Posted by nybookworm on March 29, 2009

merde_While we’re on the topic of British parodies of the Under the Tuscan Sun genre of travel writing, I should mention another good example: A Year in the Merde (2004).  The title is actually technically a parody of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and is intended to allude to the author’s less than stellar first year living in Paris.  Other than the title, the book is not actually a parody, it’s just a funny description of the narrator’s year in Paris trying to open a chain of British-style tea shops.  If you’ve been to France or are a connoisseur of French stereotypes you will find this hilarious.  This is a great break if you’ve just read a difficult or depressing book (more of those to come later) and excellent vacation reading.  The good news is, if you like this there is a sequel titled, of course, Merde Actually which is more of the same.

Amazon link to A Year in the Merde here: http://www.amazon.com/Year-Merde-Stephen-Clarke/dp/1582345910


Posted in Beach Reading, Funny, Travel | 1 Comment »

James Hamilton-Paterson: Cooking with Fernet Branca

Posted by nybookworm on March 28, 2009

0000-0287-6fernet-branca-postersCooking with Fernet Branca (2004) is a parody of the Under the Tuscan Sun genre of travel writing (escape hectic life, buy a “fixer upper” in Italian/French countryside, cook with local seasonal ingredients from farmer’s market, write a book about getting along with locals).  I’m the last person to dismiss the UTS genre because I’ve read all of its best examples but I don’t think I would have enjoyed Cooking with Fernet Branca  as much if I hadn’t.  It’s witty and hilarious  read on its own but much more so if you (like me) can’t help but wistfully hope for your very own UTS  novel one day. The local ingredient in this case is Fernet Branca, an Italian herbal liquer of the variety every European country seems to have – ie., medicinal, dozens of secret ingredients and disgusting.  The main character, a middle-aged British gentleman, Gerald Samper moves to the Italian coast to get away from it all (and of course to restore an old farmhouse using his DIY skills) only to be assaulted by the musical compositions of his aptly named Eastern European neighbor, Marta.  Hilarity and misunderstanding ensue as well as some fake recipes at the hand of the gourmand Gerry, including smoked cat stews and lychee toast.  

Amazon link here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cooking-Fernet-Branca-James-Hamilton-Paterson/dp/0571220908

If you want to try Fernet Branca: http://www.67wine.com/sku010671.html

Posted in Chefs/Food, Contemporary Fiction, Funny, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Bill Buford: Heat

Posted by nybookworm on March 27, 2009

heat_bill_bufordI mentioned Heat (2006) in one of my earlier posts because it was one of the first food/chef-related books I read and it was a great beginning.   Heat is Bill Buford’s attempt to understand the “back office” of an expensive up-market restaurant, in this case Babbo in NYC ,which is the flagship restaurant of famous Italian (cuisine not heritage) chef Mario Batali.  In order to do that he begins by working all of the shifts of the Babbo kitchen and progresses to follow the path of Batali’s training by going to Italy to apprentice under a pastamaker and a butcher.  Buford is a journalist by trade and his style of analytical writing works with this format and topic.  You learn all kinds of things about the kitchen of an expensive restaurant you’d rather not know (e.g,  they cook all of the pasta in one pot the entire night) but it is a fascinating look into a world that most of us would never otherwise see.  This is a great book if you love food, enjoy dining out or generally love a book to make you feel like you’re spying on a world you would never otherwise be permitted to enter.

Amazon link to Heat here: http://www.amazon.com/Heat-Adventures-Pasta-Maker-Apprentice-Dante-Quoting/dp/1400041201

Posted in Beach Reading, Chefs/Food, Nonfiction | 2 Comments »

James Baldwin: Giovanni’s Room

Posted by nybookworm on March 26, 2009

james-baldwinThis is one of my favorite books so I’m not sure anything I can write about it will make me happy.  Many people have heard of James Baldwin and his first book Go Tell it on the Mountain and probably think of him as a quintessential African American writer of the time chronicling the African American experience.   Actually, although Baldwin was born and grew up in Harlem, he spent much of his writing career in Paris.   Giovanni’s Room (1956) is his second novel and it takes place in Paris.   This is a short book and Baldwin does not waste any words.  There are very few characters and it is set like a play.   There is a mood (twilight in Paris) and a cast of characters, one of whom is the narrator.  It’s a beautiful book both for its description of Paris and for the description of the capricious life of its cast.  There were a lot of great novels written by American writers living in Paris around the same time but I think Giovanni’s Room is unique for its depiction of a seedier, less often spoken about Parisian life. 

“Americans should never come to Europe” she said, and tried to laugh and began to cry, “it means they never can be happy again.  What’s the good of an American who isn’t happy?  Happiness was all we had.”- Giovanni’s Room

Here’s the Amazon link to Giovanni’s Room: http://www.amazon.com/Giovannis-Room-James-Baldwin/dp/0385334583/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238123530&sr=8-1#

Posted in Classics | Leave a Comment »

Jhumpa Lahiri: Unaccustomed Earth

Posted by nybookworm on March 26, 2009

jhumpa-lahiriThis is the latest book by Jhumpa Lahiri, author of the Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies.   I read this book in hardcover last year but it is coming out in paperback in April so this is a timely posting! (for once).  Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of eight short stories evoking Lahiri’s favorite theme of the Bengali immigrant experience and the divide between immigrant parents and their Americanized children.  The stories are powerful and beautifully written.  Each time I finished a story I was hoping I had many more left and when I finished the last one I turned back to my favorites and read them again.  Her prose conveys perfectly the awkward gulf between parents who cling to their traditions and their children who grow up American with all of this country’s pressures to assimilate.  Maybe because I am an immigrant myself I found this book especially touching but whether or not you can relate, she describes each emotion and each awkward interaction with such dexterity that it is hard not to feel for the characters.   

Amazon link to Unaccustomed Earth here:  http://www.amazon.com/Unaccustomed-Earth-Stories-Vintage-Contemporaries/dp/0307278255/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238087068&sr=1-1

Posted in Short Stories | Leave a Comment »

Jack Weatherford: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Posted by nybookworm on March 26, 2009

genghis-khanI should start by saying that this is a nonfiction book and a scholarly one at that (although it was a bestseller when it came out).   I really enjoyed this book but it is not recommended for people who don’t enjoy history.  This is a true to form revisionist history book that chronicles the life and rise of Genghis Khan and his contribution to modern warfare and enlightenement.  Turns out that Genghis Khan, far from being a blood thirsty barbarian was actually a reformer and was opposed to torture and unnecessary bloodshed far before anyone on the European continent.  He came from a small Mongol tribe and ended up conquering (and governing effectively) most of Asia and parts of Eastern Europe by doing away with tribal identity and reorganizing his troups into smaller battalions free of tribal affiliations.    He supported religious freedom and permitted conquered territories to continue practicing their religions freely even sending emissaries and diplomats to exchange information with conquered peoples (see Crusades in Europe around the same time for western “enlightened” religious views) This is a dense book packed with historical analyses and not a book you should expect to dive into and finish quickly.  It’s a slow read but well worth it.

Amazon link to the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Genghis-Khan-Making-Modern-World/dp/0609610627

Posted in Nonfiction | Leave a Comment »

Marco Pierre White: The Devil in the Kitchen

Posted by nybookworm on March 24, 2009

marcopw1Marco Pierre White is sort of the original celebrity chef enfant terrible.  He trained Gordon Ramsey and Mario Batali and was the youngest chef to be awarded three Michelin stars (he’s British, his mother was Italian).  He was a famous chef before the Food Network and before televised cooking shows.  He wrote this book well after he’d become a success and even retired and in many ways that very much colors the narrative.  It is clearly a look back and some parts of his life that he now finds nostalgic probably weren’t as rosy while he was living them.  He makes no effort to hide his personality conflicts with most everyone that crosses his path and the portrait that emerges is that of a slightly bitter and vain man with a talent that was clearly very much ahead of his time.  I enjoyed this book but it was one of the last in a long line of cooking books/chefographies I read and don’t think was the best.  If you’re a beginner in the genre, I would suggest “Heat” or “Kitchen Confidential” both a little more easily digestable if only because they’re more contemporary and take place in American kitchens with American food.  I did like this book, though and if you want to understand one of the pioneers of the generation of chefs everyone recognizes today, this book is the one to read.

Posted in Biography/Autobiography, Chefs/Food, Nonfiction | Leave a Comment »

Sara Gruen: Water for Elephants

Posted by nybookworm on March 23, 2009

water-for-elephantsI read this book for my newly formed book club.  This was actually our first assigned book and I ended up missing the meeting.  If I had been able to attend, I think I would have said that it was an entertaining book about a novel topic that was written well enough. It isn’t the type of book where you read passages over and over again to yourself because the writing is so beautiful but it is also not the type of book you take months to finish.  In other words, it’s a perfect vacation book and I happened to read it on vacation so it was well chosen.  It’s about a circus veterinarian, now in a retirement home, recounting his days with the traveling circus when a circus still used trains and had bearded ladies and conjoined twins as sideshows.   Gruen did her research so many of the tales woven into the story are from historical record, which I appreciated.  This was a fast read and if you’re looking for a happy book on a creative topic this is your man…so to speak. PS: There is also some lighthearted romance.

Posted in Beach Reading, Contemporary Fiction | Leave a Comment »

Lance Armstrong: It’s not About the Bike

Posted by nybookworm on March 23, 2009

lance-armstrong_jpg4Seems odd to begin my book review blogging career with this book but it just happens to be the last book I read.  I picked it up at the airport for a cross-country flight and managed to finish it before we landed back in New York (yeah, there were delays).  I’ve been getting into biking lately and was more interested in what Armstrong had to say about the Tour de France than anything else but was pleasantly surprised by the whole book.  It’s not exactly genius prose or an unexpected ending but there were quite a few insider moments into the Tour and, of course, the happy ending to his battle with cancer that one might expect.  I would recommend this book for a long flight- it’s an easy read and although it deals with some difficult topics, it does so in a very approachable way.  If you don’t care about the maillot jaune or care to read about cancer I would definitely skip this one.

Posted in Athletes, Biography/Autobiography, Nonfiction | Leave a Comment »