Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Bourdain Good Time

I first fell in love with Anthony (Tony) Bourdain when I watched his travel/food show, No Reservations, on the Travel Channel several years ago. I can't remember which country he was in during that particular episode, but I was immediately sucked into the show. Tony has an acerbic wit (putting it mildly), and he's not afraid to tell it exactly as he sees it. At the time I began watching, he smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, and generally relished his bad boy persona. He was grumpy in the Dr. House (TV show) sense of things. Something of a misanthrope with a heart of gold. Though I'm tempted to believe that he doesn't hate everyone...just the stupid people.

As a veteran of kitchens and executive chef at Brasserie Las Halles in NYC for a number of years, Tony knows food. Oddly enough, Tony is also fond of a beautiful turn of phrase, and his writing is nothing short of poetic. The guy is educated and well spoken, even if he enjoys skull tattoos and torn jeans.

The first of his books I picked up was the first one he published: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000). The book is an exposé of the food industry and what life is actually like in a kitchen. It's snarky and shows off his piss-and-vinegar humor, even if it struck me as a bit immature. It was Tony turned up to 11.

The second book I read of Bourdain's was A Cook's Tour (2001). It was written in conjunction with his first TV show, A Cook's Tour (Food Network), and he visits a number of different countries in search of the "perfect meal." While I loved the attitude in Kitchen Confidential, I relished the details in A Cook's Tour. An example:
While I had visited the awe-inspiring, life-changing mother of all fish markets before, this time I would be going with an expert. The plan was to meet Togawa-san at his restaurant, run over to Tsukiji to do his day's shopping, then return to his restaurant and eat myself silly. I've written about Tsukiji in the past, and used up most of the superlatives I can think of. Just take my word for it: It's the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum, the Great Pyramid of seafood. All that unbelievable bounty, spread across acres and acres of concrete, wriggling and spitting from tanks, laid out in brightly colored rows, carefully arranged like dominoes in boxes, skittering and clawing from under piles of crushed ice, jockeyed around on fast-moving carts, the smell of limitless possibilities, countless sensual pleasures--I am inadequate to the task of saying more. There is nowhere else. Believe me.
Ahh, the details made my mouth water at times, and other times I wanted to vomit. The bottom line: Tony can really write!

One of the most anticipated books on my holds list right now is Tony's new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. In fact, I just got word that it's waiting for me to pick it up at the library, and I can't get there fast enough.

Just looking over the cover of this one, it seems to have a very different vibe from some of his earlier books. Bourdain is all decked out in a posh suit, fingering a knife, and looking the part of a much swankier badass than he has before. He has changed over the years: remarried, quit smoking, and he's seemingly quite a bit more introspective. I'm curious to know how this book will relate to his earlier books. I expect the writing will be luscious, but it's the attitude I'm really wondering about.

I have a few things to clear out of the way first, but you can bet it won't take me too darn long to dive into this newest foodie book on my stacks. Who knows, maybe it'll be a BookClubSandwich pick in the future!

Addendum: I should also add, because I was mistaken: the book waiting for me at the library is in fact NOT Medium Raw. It's his other book, The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones. It was published in 2006 and according to Wikipedia it is, "...37 exotic, provocative, and humorous anecdotes and essays, many of them centered around food, followed by a 30-page fiction piece ('A Chef's Christmas')." Still looking terribly forward to this one, and I'm #6 on the holds for Medium Raw. Will report back later!

A Bourdain Good Time

I first fell in love with Anthony (Tony) Bourdain when I watched his travel/food show, No Reservations, on the Travel Channel several years ago. I can't remember which country he was in during that particular episode, but I was immediately sucked into the show. Tony has an acerbic wit (putting it mildly), and he's not afraid to tell it exactly as he sees it. At the time I began watching, he smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, and generally relished his bad boy persona. He was grumpy in the Dr. House (TV show) sense of things. Something of a misanthrope with a heart of gold. Though I'm tempted to believe that he doesn't hate everyone...just the stupid people.

As a veteran of kitchens and executive chef at Brasserie Las Halles in NYC for a number of years, Tony knows food. Oddly enough, Tony is also fond of a beautiful turn of phrase, and his writing is nothing short of poetic. The guy is educated and well spoken, even if he enjoys skull tattoos and torn jeans.

The first of his books I picked up was the first one he published: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000). The book is an exposé of the food industry and what life is actually like in a kitchen. It's snarky and shows off his piss-and-vinegar humor, even if it struck me as a bit immature. It was Tony turned up to 11.

The second book I read of Bourdain's was A Cook's Tour (2001). It was written in conjunction with his first TV show, A Cook's Tour (Food Network), and he visits a number of different countries in search of the "perfect meal." While I loved the attitude in Kitchen Confidential, I relished the details in A Cook's Tour. An example:
While I had visited the awe-inspiring, life-changing mother of all fish markets before, this time I would be going with an expert. The plan was to meet Togawa-san at his restaurant, run over to Tsukiji to do his day's shopping, then return to his restaurant and eat myself silly. I've written about Tsukiji in the past, and used up most of the superlatives I can think of. Just take my word for it: It's the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum, the Great Pyramid of seafood. All that unbelievable bounty, spread across acres and acres of concrete, wriggling and spitting from tanks, laid out in brightly colored rows, carefully arranged like dominoes in boxes, skittering and clawing from under piles of crushed ice, jockeyed around on fast-moving carts, the smell of limitless possibilities, countless sensual pleasures--I am inadequate to the task of saying more. There is nowhere else. Believe me.
Ahh, the details made my mouth water at times, and other times I wanted to vomit. The bottom line: Tony can really write!

One of the most anticipated books on my holds list right now is Tony's new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. In fact, I just got word that it's waiting for me to pick it up at the library, and I can't get there fast enough.

Just looking over the cover of this one, it seems to have a very different vibe from some of his earlier books. Bourdain is all decked out in a posh suit, fingering a knife, and looking the part of a much swankier badass than he has before. He has changed over the years: remarried, quit smoking, and he's seemingly quite a bit more introspective. I'm curious to know how this book will relate to his earlier books. I expect the writing will be luscious, but it's the attitude I'm really wondering about.

I have a few things to clear out of the way first, but you can bet it won't take me too darn long to dive into this newest foodie book on my stacks. Who knows, maybe it'll be a BookClubSandwich pick in the future!

Addendum: I should also add, because I was mistaken: the book waiting for me at the library is in fact NOT Medium Raw. It's his other book, The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones. It was published in 2006 and according to Wikipedia it is, "...37 exotic, provocative, and humorous anecdotes and essays, many of them centered around food, followed by a 30-page fiction piece ('A Chef's Christmas')." Still looking terribly forward to this one, and I'm #6 on the holds for Medium Raw. Will report back later!

Monday, June 28, 2010

BookClubSandwich: An Online Book Group!

All brilliant ideas are born on Twitter. That's my new opinion. It seems as if everywhere I look in the blogosphere someone is starting a project as a direct result of a Twitter conversation. Yours truly is now one of those people and project partners.

Kim, (Sophisticated Dorkiness) and I have decided to start an online book club for readers interested in books involving food. Food memoirs, food growth, sustainable foodiness, high-brow and low-brow food. I'm sure you're all familiar with the deluge of food in books (not to be confused with food IN books) lately, so we decided to celebrate it.

BookClubSandwich's first pick will be: Coop, by Michael Perry!

Discussion begins here on August 16, 2010!

This seems to be the it food book going around. Everywhere I turn someone wants to read it, so what better choice to take this club out for a spin! Kim and I are not immune to Coop fever, either.

Discussion will open with a review of sorts--thoughts and questions--to be posted here on Monday, August 16th. A week later, Kim will post a recap and wrap-up of the discussion on her blog! During the course of the week, post your own thoughts/reviews and link them to the opening post, and you're all set. I'm almost positive there will be some sort of discussion stirring in the comments as well.

We discussed having a dedicated blog for BookClubSandwich, but given some busy schedules we decided to go Woolf in Winter style and use our blogs as home base instead.

Coming soon: sidebar-sized icons you can snag and wear proudly.

I hope you'll join us for our inaugural discussion! If you'd like, leave a comment expressing your interest.

*Note: the logo/button was designed by my very talented Chuck. If you ever need design work done, let us know! The website for his company, D'Aprix Graphics is under construction, but you can visit anyway.

BookClubSandwich: An Online Book Group!

All brilliant ideas are born on Twitter. That's my new opinion. It seems as if everywhere I look in the blogosphere someone is starting a project as a direct result of a Twitter conversation. Yours truly is now one of those people and project partners.

Kim, (Sophisticated Dorkiness) and I have decided to start an online book club for readers interested in books involving food. Food memoirs, food growth, sustainable foodiness, high-brow and low-brow food. I'm sure you're all familiar with the deluge of food in books (not to be confused with food IN books) lately, so we decided to celebrate it.

BookClubSandwich's first pick will be: Coop, by Michael Perry!

Discussion begins here on August 16, 2010!

This seems to be the it food book going around. Everywhere I turn someone wants to read it, so what better choice to take this club out for a spin! Kim and I are not immune to Coop fever, either.

Discussion will open with a review of sorts--thoughts and questions--to be posted here on Monday, August 16th. A week later, Kim will post a recap and wrap-up of the discussion on her blog! During the course of the week, post your own thoughts/reviews and link them to the opening post, and you're all set. I'm almost positive there will be some sort of discussion stirring in the comments as well.

We discussed having a dedicated blog for BookClubSandwich, but given some busy schedules we decided to go Woolf in Winter style and use our blogs as home base instead.

Coming soon: sidebar-sized icons you can snag and wear proudly.

I hope you'll join us for our inaugural discussion! If you'd like, leave a comment expressing your interest.

*Note: the logo/button was designed by my very talented Chuck. If you ever need design work done, let us know! The website for his company, D'Aprix Graphics is under construction, but you can visit anyway.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Impending Bookgasm

So I was sitting around picking my nose at work today because I've already graded half of the assignments turned in yesterday, and I won't be in the office much longer today, AND I'm here with nothing to do but grade for a whopping nine hours on Monday. What better time to blog? But I found myself in quite the quandary: nothing to write about! Then I laughed and slapped my knees and thought, "But there are all those tasty new books to read!"

 
These are the books you'll see appearing here soon. Many projects and deadlines are involved, so you can bet I'll be whipping through them pretty darn fast.

 

 

 
First on the menu, Scarlet Thomas's really weird-sounding novel, Our Tragic Universe. Jackie from Farm Lane Books wrote a great review of it, and I knew I had to try it. The publisher explains the tangle of ideas in this book far better than I could at this point:
Can a story save your life? Meg Carpenter is broke. Her novel is years overdue. Her cell phone is out of minutes. And her moody boyfriend's only contribution to the household is his sour attitude. So she jumps at the chance to review a pseudoscientific book that promises life everlasting. But who wants to live forever? Consulting cosmology and physics, tarot cards, koans (and riddles and jokes), new-age theories of everything, narrative theory, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, and knitting patterns, Meg wends her way through Our Tragic Universe, asking this and many other questions.
Sounds tempting, eh? Sort of reminds me of Paul Auster's surreal weirdness in some of his novels. I really can't resist a book like this.

 
Next is an e-galley of The Little Prince THE GRAPHIC NOVEL illustrated by Joann Sfar!!! I am hesitant to admit that when I read the picture book--as an adult, you should note--I didn't really see what all the hooplah was about. Sure, it's a sweet story, yadda yadda. However, I am really excited to see it as a graphic novel, and I think it'll push things to a new level for me as a graphic novel-loving adult.

 
Next, another e-galley, this time a copy of The Best American Comics 2010, edited by NEIL GAIMAN!!! Are you bouncing in your seat a little bit, too??? I seriously can't wait to see which works Neil has pulled to showcase this year.

 
The next round of books all have to do with food or sustainable living. I'm on a real kick with these right now as I'm working my way through The Backyard Homestead and drooling over several other books.

 

It's no secret that I've been jonesing to read Coop, by Michael Perry. When Heather offered to be saintly and send her copy on to me, I almost wet myself. Thanks, Heather!

In a sweet, but somewhat selfish gesture, I picked up on Chuck's comment that he wanted to own copies of The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan and The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne. I mean, it's not toooo selfish because he really did want these in the house, and I just happen to want to read them, too. No harm there, right? It's really a smart, economical gifting choice! It didn't take much to convince me.

Finally, I happened upon Ten Acres is Enough by Edmund Morris when I was looking for small press or e-books for Estella's Revenge E-Zine. It falls into the sustainable living category, but it was first published in 1867!!! I was really surprised and sort of intrigued when I saw the year and realized that it falls into line with my 2010 sensibilities. Why not give it a try, too?! Read more about this and other awesome e- and print books at Dminoz.

Other titles coming up or whispering to me from my library stack and Nook:
  • Horns, by Joe Hill
  • The Art of Disappearing, by Ivy Pochoda
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which everyone already knows about.
  • Vanity Fair, by William Thackeray which is long and scary.

The Impending Bookgasm

So I was sitting around picking my nose at work today because I've already graded half of the assignments turned in yesterday, and I won't be in the office much longer today, AND I'm here with nothing to do but grade for a whopping nine hours on Monday. What better time to blog? But I found myself in quite the quandary: nothing to write about! Then I laughed and slapped my knees and thought, "But there are all those tasty new books to read!"

 
These are the books you'll see appearing here soon. Many projects and deadlines are involved, so you can bet I'll be whipping through them pretty darn fast.

 

 

 
First on the menu, Scarlet Thomas's really weird-sounding novel, Our Tragic Universe. Jackie from Farm Lane Books wrote a great review of it, and I knew I had to try it. The publisher explains the tangle of ideas in this book far better than I could at this point:
Can a story save your life? Meg Carpenter is broke. Her novel is years overdue. Her cell phone is out of minutes. And her moody boyfriend's only contribution to the household is his sour attitude. So she jumps at the chance to review a pseudoscientific book that promises life everlasting. But who wants to live forever? Consulting cosmology and physics, tarot cards, koans (and riddles and jokes), new-age theories of everything, narrative theory, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, and knitting patterns, Meg wends her way through Our Tragic Universe, asking this and many other questions.
Sounds tempting, eh? Sort of reminds me of Paul Auster's surreal weirdness in some of his novels. I really can't resist a book like this.

 
Next is an e-galley of The Little Prince THE GRAPHIC NOVEL illustrated by Joann Sfar!!! I am hesitant to admit that when I read the picture book--as an adult, you should note--I didn't really see what all the hooplah was about. Sure, it's a sweet story, yadda yadda. However, I am really excited to see it as a graphic novel, and I think it'll push things to a new level for me as a graphic novel-loving adult.

 
Next, another e-galley, this time a copy of The Best American Comics 2010, edited by NEIL GAIMAN!!! Are you bouncing in your seat a little bit, too??? I seriously can't wait to see which works Neil has pulled to showcase this year.

 
The next round of books all have to do with food or sustainable living. I'm on a real kick with these right now as I'm working my way through The Backyard Homestead and drooling over several other books.

 

It's no secret that I've been jonesing to read Coop, by Michael Perry. When Heather offered to be saintly and send her copy on to me, I almost wet myself. Thanks, Heather!

In a sweet, but somewhat selfish gesture, I picked up on Chuck's comment that he wanted to own copies of The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan and The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne. I mean, it's not toooo selfish because he really did want these in the house, and I just happen to want to read them, too. No harm there, right? It's really a smart, economical gifting choice! It didn't take much to convince me.

Finally, I happened upon Ten Acres is Enough by Edmund Morris when I was looking for small press or e-books for Estella's Revenge E-Zine. It falls into the sustainable living category, but it was first published in 1867!!! I was really surprised and sort of intrigued when I saw the year and realized that it falls into line with my 2010 sensibilities. Why not give it a try, too?! Read more about this and other awesome e- and print books at Dminoz.

Other titles coming up or whispering to me from my library stack and Nook:
  • Horns, by Joe Hill
  • The Art of Disappearing, by Ivy Pochoda
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which everyone already knows about.
  • Vanity Fair, by William Thackeray which is long and scary.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Estella is Ready to Blog Your Face Off!


You might remember that over a year ago, Heather, Melissa, and I shut down our e-zine project, aptly named Estella's Revenge. The good news is that Estella's Revenge E-Zine is BACK and ready to blog your face right off.

We have a new mission to "push bookish boundaries." In short, we hope to act as a blog collective where bloggers and other writers can come together in the name of the underappreciated and unsung. We want to be a bastion for books that are not yet ALL OVER the blogosphere. If you love a book, author, or publisher and no one else loves them as much as you think they should, then let us know or write something we can publish!

We publish reviews, essays, quarterly columns, and other pieces we think are fit to the mission. Also, if you're particularly keen to a new trend in books and publishing, write about that as well!

It's time to get in bed with Estella's Revenge, so come on over and tangle your toes with us.

Right now we're publishing quarterly, with the first issue set to meet the public on August 2, 2010. If you're interested in writing for us, please visit the Call for Submissions over at the Estella's Revenge E-Zine website. Deadline to submit work for the first issue is July 18, 2010.

You can also follow us on Twitter.

Estella is Ready to Blog Your Face Off!


You might remember that over a year ago, Heather, Melissa, and I shut down our e-zine project, aptly named Estella's Revenge. The good news is that Estella's Revenge E-Zine is BACK and ready to blog your face right off.

We have a new mission to "push bookish boundaries." In short, we hope to act as a blog collective where bloggers and other writers can come together in the name of the underappreciated and unsung. We want to be a bastion for books that are not yet ALL OVER the blogosphere. If you love a book, author, or publisher and no one else loves them as much as you think they should, then let us know or write something we can publish!

We publish reviews, essays, quarterly columns, and other pieces we think are fit to the mission. Also, if you're particularly keen to a new trend in books and publishing, write about that as well!

It's time to get in bed with Estella's Revenge, so come on over and tangle your toes with us.

Right now we're publishing quarterly, with the first issue set to meet the public on August 2, 2010. If you're interested in writing for us, please visit the Call for Submissions over at the Estella's Revenge E-Zine website. Deadline to submit work for the first issue is July 18, 2010.

You can also follow us on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Twitter(per)verse!

If taken out of context people could think I've really gone off my rocker. My latest (and weirdest) Twitter writings:
  • My bra is cutting into my back flesh. That means I'm ready to go home.
  • I could really go for some steak fingers and gravy right now. And Texas toast! But I would never do that this late. *ahem*
  • If I ever had the opportunity I would don my sequins and book cart drill fo' sho!
  • Woohoo! Nook party!
  • Singing "I am sick of stupid questions" in my head to the same tune we use for "Greyson is a super dooper pooper!"

Twitter(per)verse!

If taken out of context people could think I've really gone off my rocker. My latest (and weirdest) Twitter writings:
  • My bra is cutting into my back flesh. That means I'm ready to go home.
  • I could really go for some steak fingers and gravy right now. And Texas toast! But I would never do that this late. *ahem*
  • If I ever had the opportunity I would don my sequins and book cart drill fo' sho!
  • Woohoo! Nook party!
  • Singing "I am sick of stupid questions" in my head to the same tune we use for "Greyson is a super dooper pooper!"

Good Book: The Good Earth


I added Pearl S. Buck's award-winning novel, The Good Earth, to my stacks several years ago. It was a complete whim and one of few occasions that I decided to spring for a pristine, brand-new copy of anything. Most of the time I tend to haunt used bookstores or swap sites. Something about the recommendation of a good friend and this stunning, spare yellow cover rendered me unable to resist.

It's been a while since I've read a classic--Emma earlier in the year. I always hope that at their best I'll feel filled up by a classic. That it will impart some universal message and leave me satisfied and yearning for more of the good stuff. I am pleased to say that The Good Earth lived up to all of my hopes.

Wang Lung is a poor Chinese farmer, and his main motivation in life is to acquire more land. He marries a slave girl from the rich and powerful House of Hwang, O-Lan, and they begin to work their land side by side. Over the years they have children, and when drought strikes, they head off to a southern city to beg for money until they can return to their home. A strange twist of fate allows them to return home, and there begins their journey toward wealth and, one would think, happiness.

It's a reconizable story. Poor man achieves great riches and life is not as simple and fulfilling as he hoped it would be. Terrible hurdles pop up in Wang Lung's 70-something years, and it would be impossible for me to touch on even half of them in this review. The power in Buck's writing is really her willingness to write well-rounded, realistic characters. Wang Lung is NOT always a nice guy. I didn't like him for portions of the book. Though, truthfully, he was always a somewhat sympathetic character, even if his goodness was only in his head and not directed toward his fellow characters. The star of the show for me was O-Lan. Buck's own feminist views shine through to some extent as O-Lan is a strong, hardworking woman who puts up with a lot of crap from her husband.

There is also controversy in The Good Earth. A white American woman writing the perspective of a Chinese man is something to be discussed. Truthfully, I had my doubts, and I kept watching for signs of white privilege and whatnot, but overall I felt Buck was writing in a fairly detached, nonjudgemental way about Chinese culture and daily living. The book is stuffed full of the minutiae of everyday life in early 20th-century China, and for all its distasteful facets--for this 21st century white American woman--it was a fair and even-handed read.

I purposely did not read a word about Buck's life until after I finished the book, and I'm glad of that. I wanted to judge the book without knowing exactly how much or how little Buck knew of Chinese culture. As it turns out, and as I would've guessed, she was thoroughly entrenched in China having lived there for the majority of her life and having suffered a great deal at the hands of China's political unrest.

I guess I could've just written, "It's a winner!" and been done with this review, but I hope others will pick up The Good Earth as a result of my long-winded approach. It's a book I would dearly love to discuss with others, so if you've read it, please comment!!!

Good Book: The Good Earth


I added Pearl S. Buck's award-winning novel, The Good Earth, to my stacks several years ago. It was a complete whim and one of few occasions that I decided to spring for a pristine, brand-new copy of anything. Most of the time I tend to haunt used bookstores or swap sites. Something about the recommendation of a good friend and this stunning, spare yellow cover rendered me unable to resist.

It's been a while since I've read a classic--Emma earlier in the year. I always hope that at their best I'll feel filled up by a classic. That it will impart some universal message and leave me satisfied and yearning for more of the good stuff. I am pleased to say that The Good Earth lived up to all of my hopes.

Wang Lung is a poor Chinese farmer, and his main motivation in life is to acquire more land. He marries a slave girl from the rich and powerful House of Hwang, O-Lan, and they begin to work their land side by side. Over the years they have children, and when drought strikes, they head off to a southern city to beg for money until they can return to their home. A strange twist of fate allows them to return home, and there begins their journey toward wealth and, one would think, happiness.

It's a reconizable story. Poor man achieves great riches and life is not as simple and fulfilling as he hoped it would be. Terrible hurdles pop up in Wang Lung's 70-something years, and it would be impossible for me to touch on even half of them in this review. The power in Buck's writing is really her willingness to write well-rounded, realistic characters. Wang Lung is NOT always a nice guy. I didn't like him for portions of the book. Though, truthfully, he was always a somewhat sympathetic character, even if his goodness was only in his head and not directed toward his fellow characters. The star of the show for me was O-Lan. Buck's own feminist views shine through to some extent as O-Lan is a strong, hardworking woman who puts up with a lot of crap from her husband.

There is also controversy in The Good Earth. A white American woman writing the perspective of a Chinese man is something to be discussed. Truthfully, I had my doubts, and I kept watching for signs of white privilege and whatnot, but overall I felt Buck was writing in a fairly detached, nonjudgemental way about Chinese culture and daily living. The book is stuffed full of the minutiae of everyday life in early 20th-century China, and for all its distasteful facets--for this 21st century white American woman--it was a fair and even-handed read.

I purposely did not read a word about Buck's life until after I finished the book, and I'm glad of that. I wanted to judge the book without knowing exactly how much or how little Buck knew of Chinese culture. As it turns out, and as I would've guessed, she was thoroughly entrenched in China having lived there for the majority of her life and having suffered a great deal at the hands of China's political unrest.

I guess I could've just written, "It's a winner!" and been done with this review, but I hope others will pick up The Good Earth as a result of my long-winded approach. It's a book I would dearly love to discuss with others, so if you've read it, please comment!!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Audiobook Week: Spreading the Aural Love

Devourer of Books is hosting Audiobook Week, and I had no idea it was going on until I woke up at 4am and starting flipping through the Google Reader app on my iPod Touch. Inane details aside, I decided to jump on this event bandwagon because there's a good deal of controversy when it comes to audiobooks and you know I can't keep my nose out of a good controversy.

In the olden days (2001), I started participating in online book discussion groups over at Yahoo! That's how I met my reading soulmate, Heather. At the time, audiobooks were not as accepted as I suspect they are now. In fact, I was a member of one group which tirelessly counted each and every book read during the year, and audiobooks WERE NOT ALLOWED to be counted. Given, it was a decision made by the group when they formed, but somehow it bastardized the audiobooks. It made them second class citizens.

The first audiobook I ever tried for myself was in 2003. I was on a cross-country trip to North Carolina, and I figured it was the perfect occasion to abandon bad radio and delve into a book--hands-free. I picked up that Ya-Ya book, read by the author, and I only made it about 10 miles before I was tempted to toss it out the window onto the highway. Her voice (and overly-thickened accent, I suspect) was grating and horrible. Fail!

This initial failure was enough to make me abandon audiobooks for another four years. Until...

David Sedaris. I always heard how funny his voice was and how much it enriched the experience of his essays, so after reading Me Talk Pretty One Day and laughing until I was downright snotty, I figured the listening experience must be pretty damn good. I was sooo right. I had a 40 minute commute each way to work, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim had me veering off the road in laughy-tears.

My second audiobook excursion was a completely different experience, fueled by a completely different motivation. I randomly picked On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, off of my shelves and quickly decided that there was NO WAY I would ever finish reading the print version of that rambly mess. And I really wanted another patch on my imaginary reading sash, so I just HAD to finish it. In walked reader, Matt Dillon, and I finished that booger in no time. I hated the story, but Dillon was a surprisingly good reader and well-suited to the book, so it was OK. And I got my imaginary reading patch. Gold star for me.

Finally, I've experienced some really amazing, jaw-dropping audiobooks over the years. The two that come immediately to mind are: The Stolen Child, by Keith Donoghue and On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. In the case of The Stolen Child, there were two readers who alternated and gave life to two very similar characters whose lives become all mixed up and intertwined. McEwan himself read On Chesil Beach, and I found that his voice brought a whole new level of emotion and atmosphere to the book whether it happened to be awkwardness, love, or heartbreak. Just gorgeous.

While I don't listen to as many audiobooks nowadays because I don't have a commute, I still like to delve into one now and then. My library system that I'm in now has a much better selection than my old one, and I have far less time for physical reading, so I suspect I'll be neck-deep in audiobooks again soon. In the meantime, if you haven't tried them, or if you haven't tried them a couple of times, take a lesson from my flounderings and give them another go. You might find a reason or six why you love them.

Audiobook Week: Spreading the Aural Love

Devourer of Books is hosting Audiobook Week, and I had no idea it was going on until I woke up at 4am and starting flipping through the Google Reader app on my iPod Touch. Inane details aside, I decided to jump on this event bandwagon because there's a good deal of controversy when it comes to audiobooks and you know I can't keep my nose out of a good controversy.

In the olden days (2001), I started participating in online book discussion groups over at Yahoo! That's how I met my reading soulmate, Heather. At the time, audiobooks were not as accepted as I suspect they are now. In fact, I was a member of one group which tirelessly counted each and every book read during the year, and audiobooks WERE NOT ALLOWED to be counted. Given, it was a decision made by the group when they formed, but somehow it bastardized the audiobooks. It made them second class citizens.

The first audiobook I ever tried for myself was in 2003. I was on a cross-country trip to North Carolina, and I figured it was the perfect occasion to abandon bad radio and delve into a book--hands-free. I picked up that Ya-Ya book, read by the author, and I only made it about 10 miles before I was tempted to toss it out the window onto the highway. Her voice (and overly-thickened accent, I suspect) was grating and horrible. Fail!

This initial failure was enough to make me abandon audiobooks for another four years. Until...

David Sedaris. I always heard how funny his voice was and how much it enriched the experience of his essays, so after reading Me Talk Pretty One Day and laughing until I was downright snotty, I figured the listening experience must be pretty damn good. I was sooo right. I had a 40 minute commute each way to work, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim had me veering off the road in laughy-tears.

My second audiobook excursion was a completely different experience, fueled by a completely different motivation. I randomly picked On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, off of my shelves and quickly decided that there was NO WAY I would ever finish reading the print version of that rambly mess. And I really wanted another patch on my imaginary reading sash, so I just HAD to finish it. In walked reader, Matt Dillon, and I finished that booger in no time. I hated the story, but Dillon was a surprisingly good reader and well-suited to the book, so it was OK. And I got my imaginary reading patch. Gold star for me.

Finally, I've experienced some really amazing, jaw-dropping audiobooks over the years. The two that come immediately to mind are: The Stolen Child, by Keith Donoghue and On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. In the case of The Stolen Child, there were two readers who alternated and gave life to two very similar characters whose lives become all mixed up and intertwined. McEwan himself read On Chesil Beach, and I found that his voice brought a whole new level of emotion and atmosphere to the book whether it happened to be awkwardness, love, or heartbreak. Just gorgeous.

While I don't listen to as many audiobooks nowadays because I don't have a commute, I still like to delve into one now and then. My library system that I'm in now has a much better selection than my old one, and I have far less time for physical reading, so I suspect I'll be neck-deep in audiobooks again soon. In the meantime, if you haven't tried them, or if you haven't tried them a couple of times, take a lesson from my flounderings and give them another go. You might find a reason or six why you love them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Covers to Make Me Vomit

I have a discussion about credibility and professionalism with my students every term, and it goes a little something like this:

"What would happen if you'd built a really strong relationship with your doctor. You'd gone to her for 10 years and never had any quibbles. One day you find yourself in horrible pain and simply MUST go to the doctor's office, but when you arrive you discover that the doctor has had a family emergency, is out of town for three weeks, and she's chosen a replacement to cover for her. Just when you're ready to crumple under the pain of your condition, in walks the replacement...

Cut-off jean shorts, a holey Hawaiian shirt, hair that looks like a muskrat is nesting in the back of it, and there's a distinctive smell of body odor surrounding him. When he opens his mouth, out comes a voice akin to Keanu Reeves. 'Duuuude, you've got problemmms.'"

Inevitably, the students say they'd bolt from the room (and one stoner in the back says his doctor is EXACTLY like this and brilliant). I always point out that the replacement physician might have great  things to say and be a brilliant graduate of Johns Hopkins Med School, but as humans we DO judge based on appearances (right or wrong), and that our credibility can be damaged by the way we present ourselves.

I hear the crack of a bat in my head as the point is hammered home to my students. Go me!

How does this all relate to books? The job of a book's cover is to build its credibility and SELL IT. What I'm finding is a trend of really empty, conceptless covers that make me want to vomit. Here's a sample:



I freely admit that I am often swayed by covers. I am often tempted by covers. A beautifully crafted cover may be the nugget of goodness which prompts me to inquire into the substance of a book. I'm not so shallow as to assume that a cover will ruin an author or their story, but if we're talking about first impressions, the books above will not tempt me in the slightest. I personally get so sick of seeing the same repetitive "type" of cover, I could absolutely cry.

Beginning with the books above, there is a plague of "beachy" books. I assume publishers are playing into that whole "beach read" phenomenon, but a few things turn my stomach lately: feet, sand, water, feet and sand and water together, and washed out blue covers featuring a Pantene haircare model.

*swing hair to the left, swing hair to the right*

While they are pretty, they don't really *say* anything--to me, at least. They all look so similar, I have a tendency to pass them over unchecked.

Another seemingly endless and annoying trend in publishing is the headless woman. I won't go into much detail about this one because Sassymonkey covered it, but there are an astonishing number of female heads being lost these days. I've seen a lot of hips, I've seen tons of torsos, but heads are endangered.

Books can be art, and there are many books which embody art. For a prime example, visit Jim Tierney's website and blog. Jim is a recent graduate with a degree in illustration, and his books are simply stunning. I'm especially fond of his Jules Verne series he designed for his thesis project.


If you visit his site, you can see the details in all of their stunning glory as well as a video of how the covers came about. Every time I look at these books I find new and wonderful details that make them all the richer for the references they provide to the books' contents. They really are representative of Verne's work.

I realize that it would be far too expensive to have covers like these on every book, but they are such a beautiful example of how a well-designed cover can enhance the contents of a book and show them off in their best light instead of simply buying into a trend.

A while back I discovered Frances's blog, Nonsuch Book, and became an instant fan. Frances is a collector and a lover of beautifully designed covers, and her sidebar is almost a work of art. Occasionally she spotlights an especially beautiful or well-designed book or series of books. One of my favorite of her posts lately is called "penguin-centric." Designer, Amy Fleisher, decided to have a little fun with the Penguin mascot and Frankenstein, Dracula, Pinocchio, and The Invisible Man. I would totally buy them. Go take a look.

Finally, my very favorite cover designer is the weird and wacky Chip Kidd. Author of The Cheese Monkeys, he is probably one of the most famous cover designers in the business. My favorite part about Kidd is the fact that his style is so flexible. Looking at his gallery of covers, they're varied, finely crafted, and they just look thoughtful.

 
In short, I guess I would say I'm a cover snob. I'm far less likely to judge a book by its contents, but I'm quick to gag when the cover sucks.
 
I would love to hear which covers you've loved and hated lately.

Covers to Make Me Vomit

I have a discussion about credibility and professionalism with my students every term, and it goes a little something like this:

"What would happen if you'd built a really strong relationship with your doctor. You'd gone to her for 10 years and never had any quibbles. One day you find yourself in horrible pain and simply MUST go to the doctor's office, but when you arrive you discover that the doctor has had a family emergency, is out of town for three weeks, and she's chosen a replacement to cover for her. Just when you're ready to crumple under the pain of your condition, in walks the replacement...

Cut-off jean shorts, a holey Hawaiian shirt, hair that looks like a muskrat is nesting in the back of it, and there's a distinctive smell of body odor surrounding him. When he opens his mouth, out comes a voice akin to Keanu Reeves. 'Duuuude, you've got problemmms.'"

Inevitably, the students say they'd bolt from the room (and one stoner in the back says his doctor is EXACTLY like this and brilliant). I always point out that the replacement physician might have great  things to say and be a brilliant graduate of Johns Hopkins Med School, but as humans we DO judge based on appearances (right or wrong), and that our credibility can be damaged by the way we present ourselves.

I hear the crack of a bat in my head as the point is hammered home to my students. Go me!

How does this all relate to books? The job of a book's cover is to build its credibility and SELL IT. What I'm finding is a trend of really empty, conceptless covers that make me want to vomit. Here's a sample:



I freely admit that I am often swayed by covers. I am often tempted by covers. A beautifully crafted cover may be the nugget of goodness which prompts me to inquire into the substance of a book. I'm not so shallow as to assume that a cover will ruin an author or their story, but if we're talking about first impressions, the books above will not tempt me in the slightest. I personally get so sick of seeing the same repetitive "type" of cover, I could absolutely cry.

Beginning with the books above, there is a plague of "beachy" books. I assume publishers are playing into that whole "beach read" phenomenon, but a few things turn my stomach lately: feet, sand, water, feet and sand and water together, and washed out blue covers featuring a Pantene haircare model.

*swing hair to the left, swing hair to the right*

While they are pretty, they don't really *say* anything--to me, at least. They all look so similar, I have a tendency to pass them over unchecked.

Another seemingly endless and annoying trend in publishing is the headless woman. I won't go into much detail about this one because Sassymonkey covered it, but there are an astonishing number of female heads being lost these days. I've seen a lot of hips, I've seen tons of torsos, but heads are endangered.

Books can be art, and there are many books which embody art. For a prime example, visit Jim Tierney's website and blog. Jim is a recent graduate with a degree in illustration, and his books are simply stunning. I'm especially fond of his Jules Verne series he designed for his thesis project.


If you visit his site, you can see the details in all of their stunning glory as well as a video of how the covers came about. Every time I look at these books I find new and wonderful details that make them all the richer for the references they provide to the books' contents. They really are representative of Verne's work.

I realize that it would be far too expensive to have covers like these on every book, but they are such a beautiful example of how a well-designed cover can enhance the contents of a book and show them off in their best light instead of simply buying into a trend.

A while back I discovered Frances's blog, Nonsuch Book, and became an instant fan. Frances is a collector and a lover of beautifully designed covers, and her sidebar is almost a work of art. Occasionally she spotlights an especially beautiful or well-designed book or series of books. One of my favorite of her posts lately is called "penguin-centric." Designer, Amy Fleisher, decided to have a little fun with the Penguin mascot and Frankenstein, Dracula, Pinocchio, and The Invisible Man. I would totally buy them. Go take a look.

Finally, my very favorite cover designer is the weird and wacky Chip Kidd. Author of The Cheese Monkeys, he is probably one of the most famous cover designers in the business. My favorite part about Kidd is the fact that his style is so flexible. Looking at his gallery of covers, they're varied, finely crafted, and they just look thoughtful.

 
In short, I guess I would say I'm a cover snob. I'm far less likely to judge a book by its contents, but I'm quick to gag when the cover sucks.
 
I would love to hear which covers you've loved and hated lately.
 
Images by Freepik