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Posts tagged ‘non-fiction’

Review: Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with RecipesLunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Whenever I go to the library, I browse the NEW shelf for any food-related books.  Whether they are works of fiction, memoirs, or  cookbooks, no food book is overlooked.  Some I flip through quickly and put right back since they just don’t appeal to me.  But many take a trip home with me…Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard is one of those that won such an all expenses paid trip.   At first, I was a bit turned off by the cover since it looked like a pure chick lit book…however the synopsis looked promising.  

The book turned out to be a cute memoir about an American who meets and falls in love with a man in Paris. She moves to Paris to live with him and eagerly dives into her new life.    

As I made my way down the street, a man shoved a strawberry in my path.  “Mademoiselle, goute, goute” (taste, taste), he said, trying to catch my eye.  This was not the French I learned in high school.   It was loud and fast and filled with the guttural click of Arabic. “Ca va, princesse?”  He handed me a slice of melon, broke open a pod of sweet peas.  I knew it was ridiculous, but after two years in England, it felt so good to hear this caressing tone of voice, to smile and lower my eyes, even if the guy was just trying to sell me a tomato.

Bard soon learns of the cultural differences of life in Paris vs. the United States.  She wonders why her husband and other Parisians don’t have a go-getter attitude and just settle for the status quo, but meanwhile she flounders while searching for the perfect job.

The book takes place over a time period of 8 years…from when Bard meets her future husband, Gwendal, up to a few years after they’re married.  Food is an integral part of the story.  Bard tells of the first meal that she shared with Gwendal.  Each chapter has 2-3 recipes at the end for dishes inspired by the events she has written about in that chapter.

Lunch in Paris was a quick & easy read.   It is a good escapist read for anyone who fantasizes about spending their days browsing in Parisian markets and cooking up dishes with their finds.      If you are looking for a hard-core foodie read, this may not be the best selection for you.  I wouldn’t say that I learned anything new about food from this book, but I did enjoy reading the recipes she included with each chapter.  I was tempted to cook a few but will be returning the book to the library tomorrow and haven’t had a chance to cook any of the recipes yet!  I just may have to take out the book from the library again to get a chance to try out some of the recipes.

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Review: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial PacificThe Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are books that make people on the train do a double-take when they catch a glimpse of the cover. “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” is one of those books. I felt like wearing a sign that said “no, it is not actually about the sex lives of cannibals.”   This provocatively named book is actually a travel memoir of sorts by a 20-something man who moves to the south Pacific island of Kiribati.  Troost and his wife move to the island for 2 years. Troost struggles to adapt to life on the island.  With a strong dose of dry wit and sarcasm, he writes of his tribulations with everything from the extreme temperature, the strange customs of the locals and the lack of everyday comforts he was used to from his life before he moved to the island.

What he thought would be an island paradise ends up being a place where the locals defecate in the ocean. Sounds like a perfect tropical beach destination, right??

I think the one topic in this book that made me never want to live on Kiribati was the descriptions of what the average diet on the island was like…not very appealing…  like on Hawaii, the islanders find Spam to be a delicacy.  Also, one would think that being on an island the residents would have a diet full of fresh seafood…not so much.  One other island delicacy is dog.  (for more on eating dogs, see the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. 😉 )

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Review: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to CarnismWhy We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” is a good follow-up read to “Omnivore’s Dilemna”, “Fast Food Nation” and their ilk. This book gives a slightly different perspective on the issue of eating meat though…a psychological perspective. It delves into why we as Americans are okay eating cows, chickens, and pigs but not dogs, cats, and horses. It also discusses how most chose to ignore the issues of factory farming.

The book offers up vegetarianism as the way to eat. It didn’t quite make me jump onto the vegetarian band wagon but it was an interesting read.

This was a pretty quick read, clocking in at less than 200 pages of actual text. The remainder of the pages are the bibliography and related notes.

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Review: When Did I Get Like This?

When Did I Get Like This?When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read a few of these “mommy memoirs” since I’ve had my baby. “When Did I Get Like This?: The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, and Other Mothers I Swore I’d Never Be” by Amy Wilson is told from the perspective of a NYC mother of three.  This book of short essays was a quick read and was honest and mildly humorous without being bitter. I could relate to many of the vignettes in the book as I’ve had some similar experiences with my 8 month old son. At the core, the essays all have the theme of expectations vs. reality of motherhood. There are all these books and recommendations out there of the best way to have and raise a child…and Wilson ponders what kind of mother she is if she can’t follow all of those recommendations.  I often find myself in a similar dilemna…am I reading to my child enough? am I taking him to enough activities?  Oh, the challenges of being a modern mom.

I recommend this book to moms of pre-schoolers and infants. Almost all moms will find something to related to in “When Did I Get Like This?”

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The Gastronomical Me

The Gastronomical Me The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love to read food writing: both non-fiction and fiction. I am almost ashamed to admit that I have not read anything by M.F.K. Fisher before now. Many regard her as one of the best food writers.

Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me is a collection of autobiographical essays that cover time from 1912 through 1941.  In 1929 Fisher got married and sailed with her husband to France were she tasted her first real French food and  started down the road to being a true foodie. Fisher talks about her first experience eating hand-cut potato chips in Europe:

There were big soft leather chairs, and on the dark table was a bowl of the first potato chips I ever saw in Europe, not the uniformly thin uniformly golden ones that come out of the waxed bags here at home, but light and dark, thick and paper-thin, fried in real butter and then salted casually with the gros sal served in the country with the pot-au-feu.

They were so good that I ate then with the kind of slow sensuous concentration that pregnant women are supposed to feel for chocolate-cake-at-three-in-the-morning.  I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that I drak two or three glasses of red port in the same strange private orgy of enjoyment. It seems impossible, but the fact remains that it was one of the keenest gastronomic moments of my life.

Through Fisher’s essays we travel back and forth by sea from the US to Europe and South America.   While all of the essays in this book aren’t food-centric, the points in which she does write about food in this collection were stellar.  I love it when food writing makes me salivate.  Fisher’s prose is amazing, witty and pessimistic. She went through some difficult events in her life and you can feel her pain coming through the pages.  I recommend this essay collection to anyone interested in travel and food writing.

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Glazed America

Glazed America: A Social History of the Doughnut Glazed America: A Social History of the Doughnut by Paul R. Mullins
rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must have been suffering from a case of the old Sweet Tooth when Glazed America caught my eye at the library.   The doughnuts on the cover do look mighty tempting. I do enjoy reading books about food so that may have had something to do with it as well.

Paul Mullins is an anthropology professor at Purdue University and in his book, Glazed America, he delves into the cultural and socio-economic history of doughnuts. Mullins presents doughnuts as an iconic American food that we have a love/hate relationship with.  In the opening chapter “The Church of Krispy Kreme” ,  Mullins states the general thesis of the book:

People have remarkably strong sentiments about doughnuts, but many of us find it hard to elevate krullers to the status of mirrors for American society. We seem to harbor both fondness and embarrassment for doughnuts, and that ambivalence has complex roots.  For many observers, doughnuts are symbols of temptation, unhealthiness, and personal weakness.

Mullins talks about how technological advances lead to the ability to mass-produce doughnuts, which in turn lead to the proliferation of doughnut shops across America. Mullins discusses the founding and expansion of the different doughnut chains such a Tim Horton’s, Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme.

I live pretty close to the birthplace of Dunkin Donuts. In fact, one of the Dunkin Donuts in my town is the busiest one in the nation.  This is Dunkin country and most people I know LOVE to go to “Dunkys”, however most of those people state they love it for the coffee…no one ever says they love it for the doughnuts.  Is this because of the “fatties love their doughnuts”-stigma that Mullins states Americans attach to doughnut consumption?  I am one of those who gets coffee from DD way more often than I get doughnuts. For me, I prefer to “spend” my calories elsewhere, on something that I can savor more. Occasionally, I will splurge and get a doughnut, but usually from a place that bakes them from scratch on sight, such as Flour Bakery in Boston’s South End.

Glazed America  is not so much about the history of the doughnut but rather is about the history of the doughnut’s place in American society and pop culture.  I would have liked to have seen a little more about the doughnut itself such as the evolution of the different flavors, toppings and fillings. The book is chock full of black and white photos of doughnut shops and other doughnut-related paraphernalia.

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Reads: My Life in France

My Life in France My Life in France by Julia Child

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julia Child was a late bloomer. She may be best known as a chef & cookbook author, but she didn’t start cooking until her thirties. She was a rather unadventerous eater until she and her new husband moved to France just after World War II. Upon moving to Frace she begins exploring the world of food and cooking.

My tastes were growing bolder, too. Take snails, for instance. I had never thought of eating a snail before, but, my, tender escargots bobbling in garlicky butter were one of my happiest discoveries! And truffles which came in a can, and were so deliciously musky and redolent of the earth, quickly became an obsession.

 In My Life in France, Julia Child’s personality shines through the pages. The book is warm and engaging and had great descriptions of food and cooking. The book was inspirational. Child’s recounting of going to Le Cordon Bleu for cooking classes made me want to quit my job and go to culinary school. (I will hold off on that pursuit. )  If she could go from not knowing how to cook at all to becoming on of the best known chefs in America it just goes to show what following your dreams and passions can accomplish.

I highly recommend My Life in France to anyone who loves a good memoir or anyone with a passion for food.

read this book as part of the Food for Thought book club. Check out the links on the blogroll there to see what other foodie-readers thought of the book.

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A Brief History of Time

A Brief History of Time A Brief History of Time by Stephen W. Hawking

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am totally throwing myself under the nerd-bus here, but I have to admit that I already knew something about most of the concepts in Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I guess that is what a couple of semesters of college physics and a bunch of engineering courses does to a girl. That being said, I am not sure how readable this book would be to someone without a technical background. The book is touted to be written in a way that allows laymen to understand these advanced topics.

The book discusses space and time, the origins of the universe and how our understanding of the concepts has developed over time. Hawking delves into quantum mechanics and also explains the concepts of the Big Bang and what a black hole is. And while the book may indeed be brief at under 200 pages, it is quite dense. I did enjoy how Hawking let his own personality shine through the writing and offered up his own opinions, beliefs and philosophies instead of just having the book read like an objective text book.

 A Brief History of Timehas been shown twice on the television show LOST. It was shown in Ben’s bedroom in the episode “The Man from Tallahassee” and a character was also shown reading it in the episode “Not in Portland”.  I guess those Lostees really like learning about time and the universe.  Based on the recent episodes it would seem that time is definitely a favorite topic of the show’s writers.

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Her Last Death

Her Last Death Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg

 rating: 3 of 5 stars

I often find myself noticing themes and connections between books that I read close to each other. Recently, I went through an inadvertent “teenage girls having inappropriate relations with older men”- phase.  I wasn’t seeking out books on this topic on purpose…it just happened. One of those books was Nabakov’s novel Laughter in the Dark and the other one was the memoir Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg.

In her memoir, Sonnenberg recounts her life from her childhood through adulthood, focusing mostly on her relationship with her drug-addicted, promiscuous, name-dropping, boyfriend-stealing mother, Daphne. Daphne is constantly telling stories of her relationships and encounters with famous and important figures.

Daphne helps her daughter Susanna celebrate her sweet sixteen by giving her her first line of coke. She also tries to push her daughters into having sex.  She constantly shares stories of her sexual exploits with her daughters. Daphne treats her daughters more like they are her friends than her offspring.

Her Last Death is reminiscent of other memoirs about children being raised by less than ideal parents.  I’ve read several other memoirs that fall into this category including Running with Scissors and The Glass Castle.  In my opinion, Her Last Deathdoesn’t quite measure up to either of those. Frankly the book irritated me in some parts. It came across as self-absorbed and Sonnenberg didn’t quite make her descriptions of her experiences engaging and believable in a way that completely draws the reader into her life.  Part of this could have been all of the blind-item-style name dropping.  The writing was very strong in parts but overall was uneven. Sonnenberg does show promise though, and I would pick up something else she wrote if I came across it.

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Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture

Bite Me Bite Me by Fabio Parasecoli

rating: 3 out of 5

Okay, honestly, with a title like “Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture” and a cover that is a bit suggestive with a close-up picture of the cleft of a peach/nectarine, I was at the very least expecting a book that was readable and fun. I was expecting something along the lines of Kitchen Confidential, Fast Food Nation, or Candyfreak— an engaging expose on how food influences and is influenced by pop culture. I mean come on, this is a cover that got me lots of second looks as I read it on the train. Yes folks, I am reading a book, with a big naked butt on the cover.

In the end (ha), “Bite Me” was a  little too academic for my taste. It read like an advanced college text book with lots of works cited and a large bibliography.  Parasecoli obviously put a good deal of research into the book.

In the chapter Tasty Utopias, Parasecoli discusses food and politics in science fiction books and movies. The works he looks at include Orwell’s 1984 and the movie Demolition Man.  Parasecoli analyzes what food & eating means to the characters & societies in these sci-fi works.

Food has played a relevant — even if sometimes almost invisible — role in many sci-fi works. I believe this connection is revealing. Food is an important element in any society, determining many aspects of production, distribution and consumption, and providing fundamental institutions and customs.  It is virtually impossible to isolate food from the social, economic, and political structures of a human group. The act of eating, located between the biological and the symbolic, allows sci-fi authors to analyze a large spectrum of phenomena, often with a certain comic impishness.  Imagination is a fundamental dimension of the style and the content of science fiction, encompassing all aspects of human life.

In other chapters Parasecoli compares breast feeding with vampirism and cannabalism, discusses the influence of food in African American culture,  looks into diet culture especially the Atkins diet, and finally how tourism relates to food.

There were some interesting factoids in the book, but overall it was a bit too dense for leisure reading.  While “Bite Me” might have been a bit of a heavy dish for a casual book club book it would probably be ideal fare for a cultural studies course in college.

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