Archive for the ‘Funny’ Category

Marina Lewycka: Strawberry Fields

Posted by nybookworm on May 28, 2009

9780143113553Strawberry Fields is the second novel for Lewycka, whose very successful debut novel, A Short History of Ukranian Tractors was nominated for a Booker Prize and generated a lot of favorable buzz when it was first published.  So naturally when I arrived at the house we rented for Memorial Day weekend and found Strawberry Fields, I knew I would have to make it my mission to read it over the long weekend.  Despite serious competition for my attention, including several beer pong games, 9 mile hikes and barbeques, I was able to finish Strawberry Fields and can actually remember enough of it to write this review.  I liked this book- it has the charming immigrant who speaks imperfect English meets the West angle which if done well can be hilarious.  As an added bonus, there is a message there, though, not subtle,about the downside of globalization.  The main characters are migrant workers who come to the UK to pick strawberries from various former Eastern-block countries and end up travelling through the UK through a series of Chaucerian adventures that all go to demonstrate how much it sucks to be part of the shadow economy of a westernized democracy.   I liked this a lot- I don’t think it was too preachy or depressing but it certainly got the message across.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Strawberry-Fields-Novel-Marina-Lewycka/dp/1594201374#


Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Funny | Leave a Comment »

Peter Mayle: A Year in Provence

Posted by nybookworm on April 19, 2009

topper-provence1British writer Peter Mayle’s books chronicling his relocation to and life in Provence, France have become one of the most widely read travel books around.  A Year in Provence (1991) is about Mayle’s first year living in Provence with his wife and their quest to restore an 18th century farmhouse at the base of the Luberon mountains.   I read somewhere that when it was first published, the publisher agreed to print 3,000 copies and promised to give Mayle a discount to buy them to give as Christmas gifts. The first printing sold out within a few weeks and this book as well as his subsequent chronicles of Provencal life have now sold several million copies worldwide.  No matter how many books are written on the topic and how trite the idea becomes of relocating to an idyllic southern European country with a slower paced lifestyle and fresh local food, this type of travel book will always find an audience because we’ve all bought into the myth  (or at least those of us in big cities glued to our laptops).  We use to have the American Dream- we now have the Provencal or Tuscan dream.  But I digress.  This book is good not just because it sells an idea whose time has come but because the story is told with just the right amount of that wry wit Brit writers are able to convey with facility.  Mayle manages to poke fun at French culture and stodgy traditions while good naturedly maintaining a clear veneer of admiration for his subject.  His books are immensely entertaining and even more so if you’re a fan of French food (truffles, tarts, wine and various innards make several appearances).   I have read all of his books on Provence (Toujours Provence, Encore Provence and Provence A to Z) and have enjoyed all of them mostly because Mayle is a great writer who manages to hold your attention and capture your imagination even while he tells you how much better his life is than yours.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Year-Provence-Peter-Mayle/dp/0679731148

Posted in Beach Reading, Chefs/Food, Funny, Nonfiction, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential

Posted by nybookworm on April 7, 2009

anthony_bourdain31Kitchen Confidential is more or less Anthony Bourdain’s autobiography of his working life as a chef- the restaurants he worked at, his cooking philosophy and his work ethic.   Unlike some of the other chef autobiographies that have been written, Bourdain is actually a writer and definitely has a distinct conversational tone that makes his writing very approachable.  He makes it very clear from the beginning that his chief aim is to provide a realist view of the life of a chef.  To that extent, there are many pages spent describing the nocturnal life, the manual labor, the sexists and vulgar kitchen atmosphere, the lack of room for creativity and the ungrateful diners.  At times there is definitely a feeling that he’s trying very hard to discourage home cooks aspiring to culinary school to forget it.  That being said, this book was published in 2001, at the naiscent stages of the Food Network and celebrity chefs and it is definitely a condemnation of the glorification of the celebrity chef.  Bordain wants us to understand that it is a gritty, thankless job that very few home cooks could ever endure across a lifetime.  Ironically enough Bourdain himself has since become a celebrity chef/writer of sorts with his own travel show (No Reservations) and follow-up books and articles.  He has become far less famous for his cooking (he was a chef at Les Halles an NY brasserie) than his writing about cooking and having eaten at Les Halles, to me, that makes sense.  He continues to be an inflammatory and entertaining contrarian voice to the Rachel Rays and Bobby Flays of the world and this is not the last of his books that will be reviewed on this site.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Confidential-Adventures-Culinary-Underbelly/dp/0060934913

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

Nick Hornby: Slam

Posted by nybookworm on April 5, 2009

tony-hawkI guess Slam (2007), Nick Hornby’s latest novel,  is supposed to be for “young adults” but the airport book shop didn’t tell me that so I read it anyway.  This book is about a teenage Tony Hawk devotee (famous pro skateboarder for those of you as uncool as me) who impregnates his also teenage girlfriend.  Don’t worry I didn’t just give away the ending.  The story is told from the point of view of Sam the impregnator and has that naive narrator angle  that works so well when addressing uncomfortable adult topics.  Although the plot is about as cliche as you can imagine (broken home, lonely teenager, no experience with sex, etc.)  since this is geared toward “young adults” the story is cute and fun to read.  It makes for good airplane reading and it’s not like you’re reading Twilight or anything so don’t be embarrassed to buy it.

Amazon link to Slam here: http://www.amazon.com/Slam-Nick-Hornby/dp/0399250484

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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 »