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Literature, & Etc.

Posts Tagged ‘book reviews

Gastronomic Exotica by Louis Bakay

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Several things are interesting about Dr. Louis Bakay. The first being that he is a brain surgeon and historian on the Faculty of Harvard Medical School, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery of the University of Buffalo. The second is that in his past time he enjoys reading and writing about a history of epicures and societies obsession and love for all things food-related. The third is that he is not even a passable cook but an enthusiastic gourmet. flegel3

Random books are the best and I stumbled across this in the food section a week ago while browsing for some gifts for a few of my friends. Dr. Bakay takes the reader through a history of eating from the Stone Age where “the bones of animals found during excavations in Europe reveal what man ate in prehistoric times” all the way to modern French cuisine.

The book is full of interesting facts and random information surrounding the history of how society (mainly Western) has consumed food. For example:

“A typical example of feudal meals was one recorded of the wedding of Wilhelm von Rosenberg at his castle in Bohemia in 1578: 370 oxen; 98 wild boar; 2,292 hares; 3,910 patridge; 22,687 thrushes; 12,887 chickens; 3,000 capons; a large number of eel, carp, salmon, and pike. Also 5 tons of oysters and 40,837 eggs. It was washed down by 6,405 pails of wine.”

You have to love the excess of it all. Not that much has changed since then, but still all of that for a single wedding is impressive.

If you can find this book, it seems to be out of print, or if you can find me and remind me to lend it out, this is definitely a fascinating review of how we eat through the ages. Cheers.

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Written by thebeliever07

August 21, 2009 at 11:27 am

“Imagined Reading”

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I’ve mentioned on this blog at various times how I frequently wander over to the Washington Post Book Section and how I am a member of Michael Dirda’s “Reading Room”, a forum for all things literary. Each week Michael poses one or two threads about various aspects of reading:

  • What books get you through tough times?
  • What works shaped you as a reader?
  • Snacking while enjoying a good book.
  • Do movie ruin a good book?

And etc. For those as passionate about reading and literature as I am, it is a great resource for those: What would you put on your top 5 or 10 lists.

Recently Michael Dirda posted a thread asking “What are your ‘Get Well’ Books?” The following is from his post and I felt it was worth blogging and asking with my fellow readers: download

Hi, Reading Roomers. (Every time I write “Reading Roomers” I imagine semiologists trying to decipher the subtext of the latest gossip.)  I’m still in Ohio with my Mom and— in the way of these things—have just learned that my middle son has broken his leg playing basketball. It’s not the worst break in the world, but it’s changed the complexion of Mike’s summer. Right now he’s been reading through The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes instead of getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail. When you are sick or your life strands you in a place where you can’t really do much, what books do you imagine reading? Under what conditions would you like to recover as you read them?

So, let me piggy back off of his discussion, what are your ‘imaginary reads’?

I think that if I knew I was going to have a fairly long recovery time in a bed or a hospital (*knocks on wood&), that I would attempt some of the larger literary giants that have up until this point scared me off, largely due to their length: The Brothers Karmazov by Dostoevesky, Les Miserable by Hugo, Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon, The Regulations by Gaddis. These are all 500-700+ reads and while I’ve read books of that length before, these authors tend to be fairly well known for being dense. How about you Erin, in what imaginary future do you foresee yourself starting and finishing Oblomov or The Kindly Ones? Some day eh….someday 😉

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I recently participated in that loathsome atrocity of the Internet that is known as a “meme”. Thank you for time-wasting activities Faith. 😉

The meme in question asked people to list 30 books that come to mind that they consider impacting on their lives, books that we “carry” with us everywhere, you know, those books that we consider foundational to our personalities. At least those of us who consider ourselves avid readers, bibliophiles if you will.

A number of people cited the standard canonical English Lit. Canon, and there is much in that list that deserves mentioning and most of us have at least 1/3 of our list devoted to such titles. books

One thing I saw absent from a number of people’s lists though were children’s books. Often times I think we forget how important those first few books, those first “giant” (or at least what we thought of as giant) reads were and how they subsequently shaped our entire reading future.

I thought I’d list off a few books from my childhood that I know helped shape who I am as a person and my passion for reading.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

This book is cliche to the point of tackiness. As if someone jumped into Norman Rockwell’s mind and said to him: “I want an image of Americana set in the mountains about a young boy and his love of dogs and the outdoors.” Rockwell projected his image into Wilson Rawls and there we have it. [ Reading that back I realize how stupid that comparison sounds, but it works somehow. ]

I have a worn out copy of this somewhere in a box and I mean worn, the pages are starting to fall out from having been read so much. I think that all children go through that phase where they desperately want for a young puppy. This book captures that feeling admirably and if you’re looking for a very simple and clean story, this is worth picking up, and it is about a day’s worth of reading.

A young boy who comes from a poor family that cannot afford any puppies, so the young boy listens to some common advice: God helps those who help themselves. And this is exactly what he does, works hard at his chores and at odd jobs so that he can save up enough to purchase the dogs himself.  A simple enough story but it’s full of adventure, violence, love, death, so much more. Check it out. Cheers.

Written by thebeliever07

June 30, 2009 at 7:36 pm

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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This is my first introduction to Cormac McCarthy who is best known for his Border Trilogy which comprises of one book that I think many have at least heard of it not read, All the Pretty Horses. It is hard for me to talk about his style as this book is different from many of his previous which seem to predominantly focus on an aging western landscape. The Road is an amazing book that will be hard to put down. The writing is fragmented and sparse which reflects the narrative, a tale of a boy and his father as they traverse a barren landscape. Some kind of natural or man-made disaster has decimated the entire population and its landscape. In this world everyone is homeless and all men are thieves to some capacity.

roadSome walk on the road struggling to live. Some eat others. Some capture others. Some wish only to be left alone. To own something is to be burdened and these are some of the issues that this father and son confront as they walk this landscape, struggling to make sense of their lives. Life consists of a rather dull routine for these two: wake up, find food, walk, find more food, eat, hide, sleep; repeat.

The subject of the story is depressing and rather serious, so this is not a light read, but rest assured it is also short, only 287 pages. The pacing as I said is quick and the writing is broken up which makes the reading flow much smoother. Just as these two characters, who are simply referred to as Man and Boy, break up their day into small segments, so too is the writing.

If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll pass it along to you. Also, as a side note: the book has already been adapted into a film starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlise Theron, Robert Duvall, and Guy Pierce. From what I’ve seen of the trailer, it looks to be fairly faithful to the original story.

Enjoy.

Written by thebeliever07

June 15, 2009 at 12:34 pm

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imgsrv.gocomics.com

Miss Erin gifted me with a book recently, a collection of short stories by South American writer Francisco Coloane, Tierra Del Fuego. We were browsing at the Crapters the other day and Miss Erin playfully hid a book behind her back and turned to me, “You’re going to hate me for showing you this.” [ Reason being that we both should not purchase books for one because we have so much already to read and the second because we cannot afford it. ] She shows me the back of the book where the following is written:

Long arms, arms like rivers, are necessary to fully embrace Francisco Coloane. Or perhaps it’s necessary to be a squall of wind, gusting over him beard and all. Otherwise, take a seat across the table from him and analyze the question, study him deeply; you will surely end by drinking a bottle of wine with Francisco and happily postponing the matter to some later date. – Pablo Neruda

Now I don’t know about you but I tend to trust authors implicitly. Authors I enjoy who recommend other authors or mention authors that have influenced their own writings become mandatory reading for me. I have discovered so many wonderful authors as a result of writers who mention other writers or works that they find fascinating for one reason or another. I think that one of my favorite discoveries was through Graham Greene who recommended Patricia Highsmith’s collection of short stories as he wrote of her: “Highsmith is a poet of apprehension.” I recently wrote a paper on Patricia Highsmith and my relationship with Erin began with Patricia, so I owe Graham quite a bit.

So feel free to share stories or commentaries on authors you’ve discovered through blurbs. I think that for the most part, authors usually have a good sense of what is good literature and what is great. Here’s hoping Pablo, if your taste in literature is anything close to your style of writing and poetry, I nothing but good times ahead of me. Cheers.

Written by thebeliever07

May 29, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Zot! by Scott McCloud

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Zot! by Scott McCloud is a comic book created by Scott McCloud in 1984 and published by Eclipse Comicsuntil 1990 as a lighthearted alternative to the darker and more violent comics that predominated the industry during that period. There were a total of 36 issues, with the first ten in color and the remainder in black and white. McCloud credited Astro Boy creatorOsamu Tezuka as a major influence on the book, making it one of the first manga-inspired American comic books. [ Courtesy of Wiki a00005gt2

If you have some money laying around and I realize it has become more and more difficult to find such things, this is definitely worth investing in.

McCloudScott McCloud is known in the comic/graphic novel industry for his seminal graphic novel on the process and art of graphic novels in his two works: Understanding Comics & Making Comics. McCloud was the principal author of the Creator’s Bill of Rights, a 1988 document with the stated aim of protecting the rights of comic book creators and help aid against the exploitation of comics artists and writers by corporate work-for-hire practices.

Zot! centers around a young teenage girl, Jenny Weaver and her friends who befriend Zot!, a cross between 1950’s Superman & Shazaam. Just think good looking, fast-talking, boy-scout with a sense of humor and an astro-boy like array of powers. Jenny & Zot! travel back and forth between two different worlds, Jenny’s world which is our own and Zot’s, a hyperbolic fantastical mirror of Jenny’s. Super-villains travel in and out of both worlds complicating the lives of Zot and Jenny’s friends. What makes this series stand out for me is the way that McCloud manages to keep a fair bit of reality in the types of teenager-like problems that Jenny faces [ sex, drugs, violence, growth, etc.. ], yet throughout these various issues that are brought up in the backdrop of Zot and his various adventures, there is just enough fantasy and escapism. 

I think this is definitely worth picking up and I plan on re-reading mine soon. Cheers. 

Oh and if you have twitter, Scott McCloud is listed and worth checking out, some amazing insight into the writing process of comics if that is where your interest rests. Enjoy.

Written by thebeliever07

May 25, 2009 at 3:20 pm

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester

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“To like something is to want to ingest it, and in that sense is to submit to the world. To like something is to succumb, in a small but content-full way, to death. But dislike hardens the perimeter between the self and the world, and brings a clarity to the object isolated in its light. Any dislike is in some measure a triumph of definition, distinction, and discrimination–a triumph of life.”

5083_meat-painting…thus writes Tarquin Winot, the protagonist and narrator of his life as told through food in John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure. The novel is set up as a series of menus that interweave various autobiographical factoids of Tarquin as he relates his passion for all things food related. As the story progresses the reader gains more and more insight into the life of this self professed epicure. The book starts off rather slow which I found to be a bit frustrating but quickly finds an enjoyable pace. If you enjoy food and literature, this is definitely a book to experience. The pay off at the end is most satisfying. One of the joys of the book is that the various menus that are presented to the reader can be served and enjoyed. Tarquin goes through a step by step process, ingredient by ingredient so that the reader can also create the same meal being presented. A rich history of various foods, particularly french cuisine is weaved into the narrative of his life and obsession with food. If you’re a “foodie”, then this book is for you. I learned quite a bit about wine, cheese, mushrooms, and how these items were used historically and the reasons behind why they retain the significance in our dietary lives. A book I found at Brock laying around on a bench the one day, definitely glad I picked this one up. Cheers.