Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation: 1984

Let's do a little Six Degrees today!

As a reminder: the Six Degrees of Separation meme was created by Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith.  Basically, they pick a new book each month, and you start with your thoughts on that book...then, through free association, you link it to 6 other books.

This month's book is 1984 by George Orwell.  AND GO!

A year or so after I graduated from college (2006), I started making my way through some of the classics that I was never assigned to read in high school.  1984 was one of them, and I loved it.  This may have been my first real taste of dystopia (before Hunger Games/Divergent/etc made dystopia cool).

Other than working on the classics, another little reading project of mine in 2006 was trying to read my way through the library's fiction section alphabetically.  Yeah, I know.  I gave it up well before I was halfway through the A's.  But one of the books I remember from that project was...

How I Paid For College by Marc Acito

Honest to God, the only reason this book continues to stick out for me is because of the title and the cover.  They are, admittedly, hard to forget.  That said, I just re-read the book description on Goodreads, and I have absolutely no recollection of that plot.  I also gave it a 2-star review, so apparently it was a little bit awful.  Don't you hate that though, when you read a book and then years later, you can't remember a single thing about it?

There are GOOD books with college themes too, though!  That happens to be one of my preferred settings for a novel.  An example would be...

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

I have mentioned this book on the blog before (here!), and it continues to make the list of my all-time favorite novels.  I connected with so many elements of the novel as Charlotte made her way through a rocky freshman year of college.

Since we're talking about all-time favorite novels, let's give a shout-out to one of mine that I've never mentioned on the blog before...

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

Fun fact: my original college major was pathobiology, and I wrote several of my college admissions essays about this book.  I read it during my junior year of high school, found it completely fascinating, and then decided that I wanted to major in pathobiology, go to graduate school for public health, and eventually work at the CDC to find a cure for Ebola.

Yes, you read that right.  This is, indeed, a book about Ebola.  Timely, yes?  (Also, I think we can all agree that changing my major to family studies was an unfortunate decision for the entire world circa NOW.)  Even though my career goals did not stay the same, I still have a lot of curiosity and interest in biological sciences, and this book continues to be a favorite.  An interesting read for sure if you don't know much about this disease (beyond what you hear in the media).

Nonfiction!  Haven't talked about that a lot around here lately.  I actually just looked on Goodreads and saw that my last nonfiction read was...

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

WHAT?  I read that back in MARCH!  It's a bit atrocious that I have read zero nonfiction since then.  Thank goodness that Nonfiction November is coming up.  This book was very entertaining though, and reminds me of why I need to get back into the groove with nonfic.

So let's see, what other nonfiction books are on my favorites list (other than The Hot Zone)...

My Life by Bill Clinton

Me sharing the former president's autobiography as a book on my favorites list does absolutely nothing other than reveal the fact that I am an unapologetic liberal and fan of Bill Clinton.

Wait, you're not supposed to discuss politics in mixed company!  Quick, think of a good memoir that's less political for us to talk about!

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Phew, that's better.

This is the strangest train of book thought I've ever had...although, I just realized that I started with 1984 and ended with Steve Jobs...and Apple had that famous commercial based on 1984 way back when.  CRAZY, RIGHT??  I'm a genius.  (Not really, just very sleep deprived, as Tater Tot has croup at the time of this writing.)

Have you read any of these books, friends?  What did you think?  And feel free to share your six degrees as well!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Title: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: May 2000
Source: Personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads:

A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine.

My Review:

Remember yesterday, when I mentioned that I signed up for the Foodies Read 2013 challenge?  I love food books.  Especially food memoirs.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.  I am a self-proclaimed foodie (if you can be a terrible cook and still call yourself that...hey, I appreciate other people's cooking).  I will try anything and everything you set on my plate.  Plus, some of my favorite memories revolve around food (dinner in the Escoffier Room at the CIA?  Tapas at Cal Pep in Barcelona? Poutine in Montreal? The list goes on).  Before I go into a salivating tangent (too late?), let's suffice to say that I love reading about food.

In honor of that, I am reviewing the first food memoir I ever read (back in 2010)--Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.  If you love food, AND you have a crude sense of humor (check, and check) you will enjoy this book.

In this memoir, Bourdain tells the story of how he entered the world of food service.  He chronicles his time at the Culinary Institute of America, and his early years of finding work as a chef after graduation.  He covers the good, the bad, and the ugly of his experiences.  I know that some people who are not fans of his TV shows (No Reservations, The Layover, etc) think that Bourdain is a self-centered, egotistic arse--but this book paints a very different picture.  He covers his successes, and his (major) faults, along the way to becoming the "celebrity chef" that he is now (even though he will probably personally hunt me down and beat me for referring to him as such).

The section of the book about his time at the CIA is easily my favorite.  I am mildly obsessed with the place--my stepfather went there in the 80's, and I grew up hearing his stories, so hearing tales from other Hyde Park veterans has always been of interest to me.  (Aside: if you're interested, check out Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef--awesome info about the full CIA curriculum!)  CIA training is no joke, and reveals much of how Bourdain honed the skills he retains today.  Plus, he obviously peppers the narrative with his various hijinks during his education there, which makes it all the better.

Be prepared to hear about the food industry in all of its dysfunctional glory.  Sex, drugs, uncleanliness, laziness...you name it.  But at the same time, Bourdain tells stories of his important "epiphanies" over the years--the things that made him love food and want to know how to work well with it.  This passion is much of what's kept him going in such a crazy, work-you-to-the-bone industry for so many years.

The thing I love best about this book is that you can hear Bourdain's voice loud and clear through the writing.  He is sarcastic, obscene, and irreverent, just as you hear him on TV.  He had me laughing out loud, often because I could hear him speaking the words to me in my head.

This book probably isn't for everyone--if you're not interested in the inner workings of the food industry, there are parts that may bore you.  And if you aren't into crude humor, definitely choose a different memoir!  But otherwise, check this one out--it's funny, informative, raunchy, and very much reflective of the Anthony Bourdain you see on TV.

When you're done, check out his other memoirs--A Cook's Tour and Medium Raw especially.  Medium Raw was published more recently, and you can hear how much more seasoned he's become when you compare the two narratives.

What are your favorite food memoirs?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Book Review: Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Title: Dreams From My Father
Author: Barack Obama
Publisher: Times Books
Publication Date: July 18, 1995
Source: Received as a gift

Summary from Goodreads:

Dreams from My Father tells the story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother—a struggle that takes him from the American heartland to the ancestral home of his great-aunt in the tiny African village of Alego. 

Obama opens his story in New York, where he hears that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has died in a car accident. The news triggers a chain of memories as Barack retraces his family’s unusual history: the migration of his mother’s family from small-town Kansas to the Hawaiian islands; the love that develops between his mother and a promising young Kenyan student, a love nurtured by youthful innocence and the integrationist spirit of the early sixties; his father’s departure from Hawaii when Barack was two, as the realities of race and power reassert themselves; and Barack’s own awakening to the fears and doubts that exist not just between the larger black and white worlds but within himself.

Propelled by a desire to understand both the forces that shaped him and his father’s legacy, Barack moves to Chicago to work as a community organizer. There, against the backdrop of tumultuous political and racial conflict, he works to turn back the mounting despair of the inner city. His story becomes one with those of the people he works with as he learns about the value of community, the necessity of healing old wounds, and the possibility of faith in the midst of adversity.

Barack’s journey comes full circle in Kenya, where he finally meets the African side of his family and confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life. Traveling through a country racked by brutal poverty and tribal conflict, but whose people are sustained by a spirit of endurance and hope, Barack discovers that he is inescapably bound to brothers and sisters living an ocean away—and that by embracing their common struggles he can finally reconcile his divided inheritance.

A searching meditation on the meaning of identity in America, Dreams from My Father might be the most revealing portrait we have of a major American leader—a man who is playing, and will play, an increasingly prominent role in healing a fractious and fragmented nation.


My Review:

Happy Election Day, America!  I felt it was only appropriate to hit you with a politically-based book today.  And no, I'm not going to tell you who to vote for--that is not the point of this review!  It's a review, plain and simple.  Pinky swear.

I actually picked this book up on a sort-of dare.  Someone (who will remain nameless) forwarded our family an email that listed all sorts of horrible things that Barack Obama has done or said regarding race, religion, etc.  The email stated that all of these things were true--and if we wanted the proof, just read Dreams From My Father, because Obama wrote it all himself!

And I thought, "Wait...did you just dare me, a loyal maiden of literature, to read a book and fact-check you?  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!"  So here we are.

The first thing I learned in this book: Barack Obama had no idea, in 1995, that he would be POTUS in 13 years.

Because if he did, he would never have written this memoir.  And that's part of why I enjoyed it.

I can see why the right wing likes to tear this book apart.  I mean, does any sitting American president want to write a book that airs his family's secrets (good and bad)?  That frankly (in a refreshingly non-roundabout way) discusses their personal views and struggles with race and racism?  That kind of admits that they did blow a few times?  Nope, they don't want to do that.  But Barack Obama wrote exactly that book before he went down the politics path, and now here it sits, for the world to judge.

I'm quite disappointed that I didn't read this earlier in Obama's presidency.  I've heard about a lot of the details in news stories (and, ahem, email forwards), especially the ones that caused a media sensation (the Jeremiah Wright controversy, his Kenyan heritage, various quotes on racial politics, etc).  But reading the actual memoir was much different than perusing the latest headlines--it gives you the story from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Obama's voice is remarkably young and honest in his memoir.  None of this typical political vagueness that we hear from every government figure these days.  But despite his relative youth upon publication, this memoir gives you the opportunity to see how his political, personal, and spiritual preferences awakened throughout his early life.  For example, he admits that in his high school and college years, he often rebelled against white culture, while trying to come to terms with his black identity.  But as he gained a wider range of experiences (as a community organizer in the Chicago projects, and during a long trip to Kenya to reconnect with his family), he started to build a more inclusive vision for how communities need to work together to create change:

"What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom?  How far do our obligations reach?  How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love?...in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately, prevail." (p 438)

He also freely admits that he was not religious in the early part of his life--he had both Muslim and Christian education, but did not join a church and explore his spirituality until his mid-twenties.

Neither of these admissions (about race or religion) are good for him, politically.  But they're honest--and how often do you hear honesty on the campaign trail?  This is just one of the many ways you can see that, at the time this was written, he did not expect to end up where he is today--and this lack of awareness makes the whole book feel more down-to-earth than your average political memoir..  (He even has a section, during his trip to Africa, where he waxes about how nice it was to be in a place where people recognized and knew how to spell his name.  LOL, if you only knew, dude.)  I've read his second book--The Audacity of Hope--which was published after he entered politics, and that one is MUCH more voter-image friendly (read: uplifting and unlikely to ruffle feathers).

Beyond the general tone of the book, I also enjoyed hearing the story of how Obama's life was shaped by his complicated and far-flung family.  He spends many years trying to chase the dreams that he believes will connect him with his father--a man that he only met once as a boy, and who died before Obama had the chance to truly know him. So much of his life has been shaped by this relationship (or lack thereof).  Despite the book's often-dense musings and descriptions, this family story kept me interested and wondering what discovery would come next.  In the end, you get a detailed oral history from his grandmother, which explains his father's and grandfather's lives through the eyes of Kenya's rocky past.  (As a boring ol' WASP with comparatively uneventful roots in Italy/Ireland/Germany, this was both fascinating and heartbreaking to read.)

Overall, I think any reader (from the right, left, or center) who enjoys political memoirs should give this book a try.  Obviously, you're going to read different messages into it, depending on your political leanings.  But it paints a portrait of a president that you don't often get to see--one of idealism and hope, before the political jockeying of Washington muddies the water.  For that reason alone, it's worth the read.

(Oh, and that email forward?  Nearly every line was either taken out of context or misquoted.  CHALLENGE COMPLETE!  Somebody call Snopes.)
 
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