Friday, January 26, 2007

Comfort me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl

The continuation of Ruth Reichl's memoirs takes us from her early days as a food writer in San Francisco, through the end of her first marriage and her rise to LA Times restaurant critic, to her second marriage and the birth of her first child at age 41.

As before, Reichl's writing about food is evocative and as satisfying as a good meal. Unfortunately, this book is not just about food; I think the subtitle should have been "More Adventures at the Table... and in the Bedroom". There are details aplenty here about her affairs with her editor and the man who would eventually become her second husband. Once she gets done talking about her juicy sex life, the book sort of fizzles out, becoming a series of quite disjointed episodes, some to do with food, some to do with her efforts to become a mother. This book seemed to lack focus; I hope Reichl's next effort at a memoir will focus more on food, which is clearly her area of expertise.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl

This absorbing memoir by a former NY Times restaurant critic gave me some great background on Reichl's life before she became a famous food writer (those experiences were chronicled in her equally fascinating book Garlic and Sapphires). Reichl starts the book off with a highly memorable part of her childhood, reminiscing quite graphically about her mother's complete lack of cooking skills and inability to grasp basic concepts of safe food storage. This hilarious beginning sucked me in, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Reichl's early mentors in cooking, her experiences learning how to cook and appreciate fine food and wine, and her description of life in a 1970s Berkeley commune. Reichl's strength is her ability to describe scenes, people, and of course, meals in a way that is so vivid that I feel like I'm right there with her.

The book ends on a hopeful note as Reichl is introduced to some famous names in the world of food and I got the sense of great things in her future. I am looking forward to reading the continuation of her memoirs, Comfort me with Apples.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson

This memoir caught my eye at a recent trip to the library, and I couldn't resist the chance to delve into the experiences of a so-called "passionate reader". Well, 41 pages later (I tried, but it became a dreaded chore to even try and make it to 50!) the book fell out of my hands as I slipped into a coma.

I can't imagine how anyone could find this book interesting, to be honest. I hate to use such damning words, but there it is. So Many Books, So Little Time amounts to little more than the stream-of-consciousness of an obsessively self-analytical person with very few original thoughts. I am sure Sara Nelson is a nice person; in fact, I think she and I could probably find quite a bit to talk about if we ever sat down together to discuss books. The problem is that in this book she comes across as unrelentingly dull. I can tell her strength is as a book reviewer; the few glimmers of high-quality writing in here are the paragraphs she devotes to summarizing and describing the books she has read. In between, though, there's little to recommend this book. Nelson fails to make me care about her project to read a book a week for a year; she does not say anything terribly interesting or thought-provoking when she rambles on for paragraph after paragraph about why she reads, why other people read, how she reads, how she chooses her books, how she discusses books with her husband, the history of herself as a reader, blah blah blah.


The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

I picked this one up based on the strong recommendation of the Bookseller to the Stars, who named it his book of the year for 2006. With such a rave review, I thought I might enjoy this title described as an "old-fashioned good read". Unfortunately, the book utterly failed to grab me.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is the story of a friendship between Penelope, the youngest female member of an aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times post-WWII, and Charlotte, a girl she meets at a bus stop one day. Penelope and Charlotte strike up a friendship, and... well, that's about all you get in the first 90 pages. At some point I just put the book down and never picked it up again. Penelope as a character seemed utterly dull, without hope of redemption from dullness within the next 90 pages. Charlotte, who was supposed to be so amazing and sophisticated from Penelope's point of view, also seemed pretty uninteresting. Unfortunately, nothing exciting happens to either of these girls during the first few chapters - tea with Charlotte's aunt, a dinner party at Penelope's crumbling mansion, and a walk in the snow... zzzz... - so I didn't feel compelled to keep reading.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Piece of My Heart by Peter Robinson

Inspector Banks is back, this time investigating a murder that takes him all the way back to the glory days of a sixties rock band called the Mad Hatters. As Banks struggles to determine who killed a rock journalist staying in a remote Yorkshire village, and why, Robinson takes us on flashbacks to another murder investigation 35 years earlier, showing the experiences of DI Stanley Chadwick as he hunts for the murderer of a beautiful young girl killed at an outdoor rock festival.

The storytelling here is flawless; I found I was sucked into both stories, and was just as keen to read about Chadwick as about the more familiar Inspector Banks. It took quite a while for the two stories to finally "connect", so part of the mystery was trying to figure out how they were related to each other aside from one really obvious way. This was an enjoyable novel which I would have liked to read much more quickly, if I'd only had time. I thought the ending was a little bit weak; it can be very hard to wrap up a crime novel effectively, though, so I'm trying not to be picky.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie

Well, what can I say? Dead Man's Folly is a fairly typical Hercule Poirot novel. A cast of suspicious characters who aren't being completely open with the police, who are of course baffled by the mystery of who killed the victim. And then the little grey cells do their usual miracle and there you go. Another successful episode in the life of Poirot.

Sometimes I just need a little bit of fluff like this, and as such it fit the bill admirably.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Julie Powell, a New York City secretary in a fit of angst over the lack of direction in her life, decides to spend an entire year cooking every single recipe in Julia Child's seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This book is the result of her conscientious blogging efforts over the course of that year as she sort of masters the art of some of the recipes, cursing up a storm as she does so. And it's actually quite riveting.

At first I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book. Powell's tone is just a little bit too self-deprecating; I think she enjoys making fun of herself, but it often veers into the realm of narcissism. However, her descriptions of her cooking experiences kept me reading. I don't remember the last time that I was so utterly overwhelmed by a feeling of amused, shocked disbelief as I was when I read Powell's description of how she cut up a lobster. I laughed out loud at her description of her brother and husband helping her to cut up a marrow bone to extract beef marrow for a steak sauce. I cheered her on as she tried over and over again to make mayonnaise by hand.

If you like to watch The Food Network and enjoy reading slightly off-colour memoirs, this book is definitely for you.