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« May, 2009 »

The Food of a Younger Land   book icon  
by Mark Kurlansky (2009)

read: 26 May 2009
rating: [+]
categories: best in show, non-fiction

I was given a reader’s copy of this book by the publisher before its actual release date, fyi. That said, I loved this book and I’m not even a foodie. Kurlansky is someone who I know via his history books about the Basques and European Jewry. Apparently he’s also been a food writer for quite some time. He also makes decent woodcuts which this book is illustrated with. This book is a collection of food writing that was created for an ambitious WPA project called America Eats that was assembled, mostly, and never published. Kurlansky’s book both talks a lot about the project and also reproduces the essays, poems, stories and recipes from the files that have been languishing in the Library of Congress archives. Just the dscussion of poring through these files at LoC was enough to make my heart race. There is meta-discussion about the America Eats project and the WPA writers projects in general as well as some discussion about the individual regional food writing projects.

The fascinating part about reading these pieces is how much the world if food and eating has changed in the sixty-plus years since most of it was written. Regional differences in food and eating habits and food celebrations have been vanishing, supplanted by predictability and standardization. There is good news and bad news to what has changed, of course, but this book highlights the richness of regional food cultures in an almost poignant way. The fact that the book opened up with Vermont cuisine -- some of which is still around today like sugar-on-snow celebrations -- was probably the clincher for assuring I would read this book avidly from start to finish.

Deep Survival   book icon  
by Laurence Gonzales (2003)

read: 17 May 2009
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

This book also has a website. It’s really sort of three books in one 1. a memoir of a boy whose father fell out of the sky and survived and the boy’s lifelong fascination with that event 2) a rumination on the nature of survival with a lot of quotations from people you have heard of 3) true real life survivor tales, many of which you probably haven’t heard of, including some as recent as people in the WTC. I enjoyed two out of three of these books. I found some of the philosophical digressions a little bit prcious and they were usually jammed in-between the beginning and end of a story about someone’s against-the-odds survival when I was wondering whether they would live or die.

Gonzales' writing is also a little on the florid side which I found was also distracting from the sort of raw factual fascinatingness of the stories themselves. Not in a bad way exactly but just if I had been the guy’s editor I might have suggested a shorter book with a little less dictionary quotation and a little less Thoreau. In any case, it’s a gripping read and made me want to go get on the Google and figure out the longer stories of some of the people whose survival stories he recounts.

The Hard Work of Simple Living   book icon  
by Ed Koren (1998)

read: 14 May 2009
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

“The only genuinely subversive thing you can do is have more fun than other people. So get to it!” -Bill McKibben

I enjoyed this little mostly blank book but thought it was going to be something else. I thought it was going to be meditations on simple living with some neat Koren illustrations. Instead it was a lot of reprinted New Yorker cartoons [and maybe some that were new, I’m not sure] with pullquotes form a lot of the books that Chelsea Green publishes. This was sort of neat since Chelsea Green is in my own backyard, but also a little not neat because there was just a lot of reprinted stuff which fit together nicely but made the whole book seem more like a marketing exercise and less of an awesome item in and of itself. Maybe my larger issue is that I’m not in love with Helen and Scott Nearing’s whole thing exactly and some of their quotations just sort of bugged me. In any case though it’s a book with a lot of blank space, and if it were yours and not borrowed from the library (as mine was) you could use it to write some of your own words.

The Thing Itself   book icon  
by Richard Todd (2008)

read: 13 May 2009
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

[review pending]

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