Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy
Will Write for Shoes by Cathy Yardley
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John LeCarré
Chasing Shakespeares by Sarah Smith
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
September has just flown by and somehow I ended up reading quite a few books. Although a few of them weren’t very large books so maybe I bolstered my numbers by reading smaller novels? 😉 Anyway, I started off by reading Kitchen Confidential, which is written by one of my favorite Food and Television personalities, Anthony Bourdain. This is his first book, the book that launched his TV career, since it contained such truthful and witty descriptions about how food has affected his life and what life is like for a professional chef (the good, the bad, and the oh my god don’t order that!). It cracked me up and was one of those books that I had to read passages of it out loud to Vin (much like The Polysyllabic Spree, that started this spree of book reviews). I was constantly giggling through and thinking, oh my god, I so do not want to be a professional chef! Even if I had the talent, this book has caused me to cross that off the list (not that it was ever on the list). I would think this book is a must-read for anyone who is considering going to culinary school in order to become a chef. I also think it should be read by anyone who loves food and restaurants. He even has tips on how to appear like a professional chef in your own home! All with his trademark cigarette in mouth, beer in hand, candid, honest, sarcastic, funny outlook on life. Anyone who enjoys No Reservations should definitely read this book. It actually made me think I should read his novels (yes, really, he’s got a few novels published as well).
The Fruit of the Lemon is the second book that I’ve read by Andrea Levy. The first one was Small Island, which was a phenomenal book about race relations, Jamaicans emigrating to and living in the United Kingdom post-World War II, and how strong the ties are between Jamaica and the UK. The Fruit of the Lemon was not as powerful a book as was Small Island, but it was still a very good book. The main character, Faith, is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants and is going through an identity crisis. Her parents have never really taught her about her roots, and she has never ever gone back to visit Jamaica. Her ties to Jamaica are weak, and her identity crisis comes through living in a white world, with white friends and white housemates and a white job. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but if you are not white and do not have a sense of who you are or what your own heritage is, it can get confusing for a girl. So Faith gets sent back to Jamaica to her Auntie Coral, where she learns all about her family tree, and the importance of knowing who you are and where you came from before you can go forward in life. It’s beautifully written – the Jamaican patois is captured so perfectly I was so reminded of Aeisha (my Jamaican college roommate with whom I roomed all four years of my undergraduate life). I could totally hear her saying some of the phrases, and suddenly I was transported back to the days when Aeisha would come home from class, see me hanging around and say “What’s wrong with your head?” Also the family tree really showed me how differently we (Malaysia) were treated as a British colony than Jamaica. It helped that we weren’t slaves, I suppose, but Jamaican history and Malaysian history, while they had colonists in common, are very, very different. There really aren’t that many mixed-race children from back in the day – I suppose it helps when the people are viewed as people instead of property (the slaves). I don’t know, I just kept thinking about this, and I’m not sure how I feel about it (the facts, not the book). I did like the book, and the fact that I thought about it so much meant that it hit a nerve, right?
Next, the eagerly awaited Will Write for Shoes (ordered from amazon.com). OK, this is my admission. I am attempting to write a chick lit book. The first draft of the manuscript is done, and I am thinking about trying to get it published. Will Write for Shoes is a guidebook on getting your chick lit novel published. We’ll see how it goes, if it goes. But I quite enjoyed this lighthearted romp through the publishing world – and the perception in this world that chick lit is somehow less than other genres, I totally disagree with. The traditional romance novel is a lot different than its sub-genre, chick lit. And I have always preferred to be the damsel that rescues herself AND finds a man with her sassy attitude, rather than the stereotypical “oh I can’t do anything I’m just a poor little woman I need a big strong hairy undressed man to come and save my sweet little patootie” heroine of the traditional romance novel. So, wish me luck, guys! By the way, for those who are thinking about writing their own chick lit novel, this is a really good guide for a) writing the novel and b) selling the novel. I will totally have to thank Cathy Yardley for writing this absolutely useful guide, and providing examples of Letters to Editors and Agents, Synopsis, and other tricks of the trade. If I ever get published, you’re on my acknowledgements list, sister! (And now to a) edit the manuscript and b) start shopping around for agents! Woohoooo!). Note: this was one of those smaller books read – a very quick read, and hopefully one that will prove fruitful in my cause.
Changing gears, we went next to The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. LeCarré is of course the author of the book that was the basis of the fabulous movie The Constant Gardener. I had never read any of his books, and I really want to read The Constant Gardener, but there is something holding me back from purchasing the book right now because all of the ones at the store have the movie cover. And while I don’t have anything at all against the very, very fine Ralph Fiennes being on the cover of a book, I somehow have a thing against the idea of it. I want my books to have book covers, and not the movie tie-in cover. It’s just a thing with me. So rather than go against the grain and buy The Constant Gardener (with the movie tie-in cover, even with the very yummy man on the cover), I decided to try one of his earlier novels. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was Le Carré’s third novel, and the book that catapulted him into the eyes of the world. And I totally see why. It’s written during the Cold War, and about spies during the Cold War – when the Berlin Wall was constructed and how communism was the perceived evil. LeCarré drew from his own experience in this business to write his novels, which makes them that much more believable. Alec Leamas is a grizzled veteran operative, and when the last of the people under his supervision is killed, he is recalled to England, where they hatch a plan – he is to play the double agent. After the death of the final operative, he goes through a downward spiral with the hopes that the East Germans and the Russians will approach him and try to use him against his own people. It’s a story of intrigue and counter-intelligence, and I was totally sucked into the world of the Cold War. Thank god for the end of it, although of course in this day and age, the same players are still playing the same games, just using different terminology. Am I just the slightest bit fatalistic? Perhaps. Only time will tell. (Round and round we go, and always end up in the same place).
Chasing Shakespeares is written by a professor of English literature, about a scholar who finds a letter that makes it look like Shakespeare was not who we think he was – and it leads him on a merry dance through history and literature to find out and prove/disprove or just to find out what the hell is going on. It’s really a very good book, and I thought Vin would enjoy reading this book. There are a lot of references to Elizabethan era poetry and plays, and to be honest, I couldn’t tell a good poem from a bad poem (open vowels bla bla bla, what?). Poetry really isn’t my forte, and I’m happy to admit that. I took the requisite Introduction to Poetry (taught by the renowned Helen Vendler, who was actually referenced in this book) and did well enough to fulfill my Core Curriculum requirement, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t know a good poem if it came up and bit me on the ass. But Chasing Shakespeares actually made me wish that I could see the difference – and the controversy introduced “Really, who was Shakespeare? Did William Shakespeare actually write the body of work? Could he have written it? Did he have the requisite experience and knowledge to do it? Did he go to Italy? Who was Oxford?” and on and on and on – the controversy was completely fascinating. And all the historical stuff that Smith embedded in this book was totally fascinating. I had always been under the impression that we knew who Shakespeare was, and that’s that. He was from Stratford-Upon-Avon. Hell, Vin and I even visited the reconstructed Globe Theater last year during our trip to Europe. No clue of the kind of questions that came up in this book. Oh, and by the way, Posy Gould is in no way representative of the typical Harvard student. All the ones I knew were pretty much slobs and couldn’t care less about dressing up to go to class. She was closer to Elle Woods (protagonist of Legally Blonde, for those who’ve been hiding under rocks) than anyone I knew in real life. (Felt I had to stick up for us). 🙂
Next I had to turn back to fantasy for a genre change. Ysabel is a book that I was hoping would last me a while (I kept getting sucked into books and finishing them quickly). But alas, I should have known that Guy Gavriel Kay would draw me into his world too. Ysabel is about a teenaged boy who is staying with his famous photographer father in France for six weeks. While his father works, Ned Marriner gets pulled into a world where the past (the violence of the Roman Empire expanding into France and Celtic territory over two thousand years ago) and the present collide. It’s really one of those books where you can’t say too much or the way Kay unfolds the tale will be compromised. Suffice it to say that Ned is special, and how special is what we learn as the book enfolds. Such a cool book – one that I hoped would last, but alas, I devoured it in three days. This isn’t one of Kay’s more well-known works, so I can’t even imagine how involved I would be reading one of the more famous works!
And to change the scenery completely one more time, I turned to A Spot of Bother, the story of how an Englishman tries to politely go insane while coping with a fiery daughter’s upcoming marriage to a totally inappropriate man, and his wife cheating on him. It’s a story of family and acceptance. And it’s oh so English. Such a good read. I read Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and loved it so much that I’ve been looking forward to this, his second novel. It did not disappoint. He totally captured the family dynamics (retired father, bored and straying wife, grown up fiery single-mother daughter who wishes to marry someone who seems completely inappropriate for her, and a gay son) and showed that a family is never what it seems, and that no family is perfect. Families are people you have to love and cope with, regardless of whether they do something that you do or do not approve of, and that’s a lesson that we all need to learn. We are who we are, and we have to cherish each other while we have the chance. It seemed to really speak to me (although, Hisham isn’t the gay son) I did always feel like I’ve barreled through life doing things my way, and even though we Asians are far more polite to our elders than are the children in this book, the sentiments expressed resonated. I should also learn to cherish my own parents and try to keep a good relationship with them. That’s what this book reminded me to do.
Another small book – The Penelopiad is a novel that tells the tale of Penelope (Odysseus’s wife) who ran the kingdom of Ithaca during the twenty years of the Odyssey. Odysseus is off fighting to bring back Helen of Troy, and gallivanting and having sex with goddesses and all kinds of other things (basically anything he could stick his dick in) and Penelope maintains her virtue and fights off a hundred suitors while waiting for Odysseus. The twist is that the story is told from the point of view of the dead Penelope (currently hanging around across the river Styx). She’s a strong, sassy woman, half Naiad, and totally aware of what an asshole she married, who had eyes for her cousin Helen but “settled” for her. And she’s totally haunted by the fact that this marauding sweet-talking cheating husband of hers came back and hanged her favorite twelve maidens who took on the suitors and slept with them in order to get them off Penelope’s back and be her spies. Sections of the book were told by a Chorus of the Twelve Maidens (which is of course smack in the Greek stage tradition). Very neat book, sort of chick lit meets Greek Mythology. It almost (ALMOST) makes me want to go out and purchase a copy of the Odyssey and get cracking on that. I did make it through most of the Aeneid and some portions of the Iliad during my college days, but I never did read the Odyssey. And I think I’m fine with not having read it. 😉
September ended up being a very productive month, book-wise. I almost had to stop myself from reading so as to not have so many books to cram into one blog entry! I’m feeling pretty good about myself for last month’s cache of Books Read. I think that’s about all I did, work and read. The end of September marked the end of my almost 2-year project with AT&T, so work was really really busy, lots of stuff to write, lots of training, lots of work to hand off. Plus, it was Ramadhan – I really did get a lot of reading done during sahur (the pre-dawn meal). If you notice, I was hardly writing anything in the blog, and for sure I haven’t been in the ACS Forum much. It’s been a trying month, and a little bit sad to see the end of my project, but the next one will be just as fun and challenging so it’s also fun to look forward to the possibilities of the future. Also, I got a lot of reading done because Vin’s baseball team, the Cincinnati Cubs (in the Roy Hobbs League) continued to win in the post-season, so I was sitting at games well into September this year. We ended up finishing second in the post-season tournament. Go Cubs!!
[[image:cincicubs.jpg:Vin’s Cincinnati Cubs team photo:center:0]]