90 CLASSICS BOOKS FOR PEOPLE IN A HURRY by Henrik Lange - This is a great title for book lovers. Of the 90 titles listed, I've read 32 of the titles and seen movie adaptations of at least two. The term classics may be a bit of a misnomer as some of the books included are Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and Alan Moore's "Watchmen", but it’s still a diverse list. I love the summary on the back cover
THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT THE GREATEST BOOKS IN THE WORLD. IN FOUR ILLUSTRATED SQUARES WITH SHORT, WITTY TEXTS. WE GIVE YOU THE LOWDOWN ON EVERY CLASSIC BOOK YOU SHOULD HAVE READ. SORT OF LIKE A DISTILLED NOVEL.
GREAT FOR PEOPLE IN A HURRY OR JUST ANYONE WHO LIKES BOOKS
I had to laugh when I saw the blurb for Charles Bukowski's "Factotum" - Henry Chinaski drinks. And sleeps with whores. It's the Bukowski way of life. Or how about Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"? - Trouble brews when English young bachelors, Bingley and Darcy, move into the village of Meryton. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth and she refuses because he is a pompous English ass. But Elizabeth discovers that Darcy isn't such a bad guy after all and agrees to marry him. And a whole genre is started to give Hugh Grant work.
My preacher friend might enjoy the short blurb for the Bible - In the beginning God created the whole shebang (no holiday). Fast forward. God's son Jesus is born (holiday!) and died on a cross for our sins (holiday). And in the end we're all probably going to hell.
And one last example that's just right for the times with the whole swine flu scare. H. G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" - Some Martians land and start killing humans. The aliens start kicking ass and people run for their lives. But the invincible Martians are defeated by germs and it takes them a while to learn about a hand sanitizer.
How can you not love this book? And the illustrations that go with the text are just as entertaining. It almost makes me want to read some of the real classics such as "Moby Dick" and "The Great Gatsby".
WILLIAM EGGLESTON'S GUIDE by William Eggleston - Photography book by Eggleston featuring his home town of Memphis and Tallahatchie County, Mississippi in a series of color pictures taken in the early seventies. The only unpleasant aspect of the book was the forward written by John Szarkowski who was just too erudite for his own good.
イメクラ IMAGE CLUB by 都築鉱 (Kyoichi Tsuzuki) - A portable photography book from Aspect Publishing featuring those naughty rooms to indulge your wildest sexual fantasies (without pictures of employees of course), because then it would become pornographic. I've written about other photography books on the same and related subject - namely, the "Love Hotels" as well. Whereas the love hotels are used mostly by couples, the image clubs are more like regulated brothels. You can choose a woman, pick an outfit for her to wear (school-girl, nurse, office lady, etc.) and then choose a room to fulfill your fantasy (rooms set up to resemble a train carriage, a doctor's office, a classroom, an elevator, etc.). It would make an excellent conversation piece as you can tell your friends about Japan's little known world of perversity. It can be your companion piece to 「ラブホテル Satellite of Love」, also published by Aspect (the Japanese character translates to Love Hotel by the way).
GREAT AMERICAN BEER: 50 BRANDS THAT SHAPED THE 20TH CENTURY by Christopher B. O'Hara - After reading the delightful tour of America's Craft Brewery (or Microbrew if you prefer) scene via Brian Yaeger's "Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey", I decided to read about the major brands we grew up with in America (even if you never touched the stuff - like my Dad). It's pretty sad to think that there are currently only three brewing giants in America (two of them merged and they were both bought by foreign companies) so in reality there are no brewing giants of America (Thank God for the microbrew scene!). Anyway, this book will remind us of those beers you couldn't miss even if you tried - Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller (these were the big three - Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company which made Budweiser, Pabst Brewing Company, and the Miller Brewing Company). Japan's beer industry is also dominated by their big three (Sapporo, Asahi, and Kirin). I was pleased that the author included Seattle's Rainier Brewing Company and Olympia's Olympia Brewing (It's the Water!). Not that I was a big fan of either. I usually had a Henry Weindhardt's Private Reserve, but that's another story. I also took a friend of mine from Japan to the Rainier Brewery Tour only to find that the employees were on strike. However, the tasting room was open so we drank a few beers for free! And my Pabst story is about a bar in downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota where you can order it in a 20oz. glass! I also became a fan of Coors when it was first introduced to the Northwest. Maybe I should indulge in a Bud to see why my Japanese uncles loved it so much.
GHOST TRAIN TO THE EASTERN STAR: ON THE TRACKS OF "THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR" by Paul Theroux - In 1973, Paul Theroux wrote about riding on trains from London to India and other points in Asia. Now, after thirty-three years, he has decided to retrace his step as close as he can to that long ago journey, after which his book "The Great Railway Bazaar" made him a household name in the field of travel literature. However, some paths were impossible to travel, such as Iran that denied him a visa or Afghanistan which was still a hotspot. And he took this trip when the U.S. was threatening war with Iraq (the second Gulf War). At times, Theroux would take an alternate route which took him through the countries of Georgie, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan (when the mega maniacal President for Life was still in power). As I plan on featuring this title on my friend's "Asia by the Book" blog, I shall keep my summary here to a bare minimum. Once again with a starting point of London, on through Istanbul, through Central Asia and parts of China to all points in India and Southeast Asia, to Japan where he hangs out with fellow writer and traveler Pico Iyer, then to Vladivostok, Russia to Moscow before returning to London and his current home in Hawaii. One exciting book. A must have for any lover of armchair traveling.
THE MAKING OF A CHEF: MASTERING HEAT AT THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA by Michael Ruhlman - Ruhlman is first and foremost a writer. But he is also a foodie as well. With the advent of celebrity chefs, Ruhlman decides to see for himself what it is like to become a chef and to write about the experience by enrolling in the U.S.'s most prestigious cooking school - the Culinary Institute of America. Starting from the very bottom of the class in Skills One where he learns the basics of basics - keeping your station cleaned and organized (the mise-on-place), making mirepoix, tomato concasse, sachet, and minced onion, working his way through making stock and roux. Then on to the next block consisting of hot foods, seafood, American regional, Asian cuisine. Next, he learns about breakfast foods, lunch foods, and garde manger. For regular students, the next 18 weeks would be spent at an externship. After coming back, Ruhlman lears the art of baking bread and working in a patisserie, followed by restaurant management where student cooks are required to work bussing tables, taking orders, and etc. And finally in their last block, to cook for a banquet and also cook for paying customers at restaurants that are sponsored by the CIA. Rulhman manages to complete the course and when he's through he goes to his Skills One teacher and says, "Chef, I want to thanks you. I know I'm a writer and not a cook, but I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing had I not started in your Skills class". To which his teacher replied, "Hey Michael, You're a cook. If you're working the grill station at American Bounty on a Saturday afternoon, you're a cook". American Bounty being one of the busiest restaurants where advanced students cook for the public. High praise from someone who once said to Ruhlman, "You're not our kind" - mean not really a cook. A writer dabbling in what it's like to be a cook. High praise indeed and also some excellent reading!
BORN ON A BLUE DAY by Daniel Tammet - This is the fascinating true story, written in Tammet's own words about his childhood epilepsy and living with Asperger's syndrome and synaesthesia (simply put, Tammet sees numbers as shapes and colors). He is an independent and highly functioning "Rain Man". He is aware that he has savant syndrome (he learned Icelandic in one week and holds the European record for reciting pi from memory to 22, 514 digits in a little over five hours). He currently claims to know eleven languages - English, Lithuanian, Finnish, Estonian, German, Spanish, Romanian, Welsh, Esperanto, and the previously mentioned Icelandic. A documentary of Tammet's life called "Brain Man", a play on the Dustin Hoffman film "Rain Man" which at first he was not comfortable with but got used to. Tammet's happiest moment was describing his meeting with Kim Peek (the model for the "Rain Man" film) while touring the U.S. promoting the documentary. Reading this book might make you want to watch "Rain Man" again as well or the lesser known "Mozart and the Whale" that starred Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell, a love story about two people with Asperger's Syndrome who try to make a go at it as a couple. Excellent reading.
lastnightsparty by Merlin Bronques - Apparently, the man to be photographed by in New York City's club scene. I'm sorry, but most of the people who look like their having a good time, also look like a bunch of skanks! Then again, I'm not the kind of person to frequent clubs or raves or whatever. However, looking at this photography book, I can tell you it's a lot tamer than an event I used to go to occasionally called "Department H". Now, that was a crazy scene. The event would start at midnight and last until the first trains started running in the mornings and featured cross-dressers, S/M dominatrices, scantily clad women, people in rubber suits, etc. If there was a photography book of that event, now that would be something!
CINEMA TABLE シネマテーブル [映画の中のレシピ] edited by the staff of Cinevine - Here's an interesting and original concept. A photography book featuring the cuisines and foods that were eaten in various blockbuster films. The staff of Cinevine recreated dishes from some of their favorite films and divided the book into five chapters - featuring breakfast, outdoor, birthday cake, dinner, and country. Films represented were mostly American ("Kramer vs. Kramer", "Pieces of April", "Spitfire Grill", "On Golden Pond", "Witness", "Moonstruck" to name a few) as well as films from Sweden ("Kitchen Stories", "Lotta Pa Brakmakargatan", "Mer Om Oss Barn I Bullerbyn"), France/Belgium ("Since Otar Left"), and Iran (Baran). Ooh, viewing the book, then writing about it is making me hungry so I'm going to go find me something to eat.
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS by John Boyne - Written on the back of this book is a short summary of what you will experience - "If you start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy named Bruno. (Though this isn't a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter one." The setting is 1940 - Berlin, Nazi Germany. Bruno's father has just been promoted to Commandant by "The Fury" (the author never once writes the Fuhrer), and his new assignment takes him to a small town called "Out-with". He moves the entire family with him to "Out-with" against the wishes of Bruno and his sister. But to make "the best of a bad situation", Bruno takes it upon himself to go exploring, although he is not allowed near the fenced-in town of "Out-with" he has seen it from his second floor room window and noticed that all the people are wearing the same clothes. Although he wants to ask his father about them, he never has the courage to do so. One day, as he goes exploring, he meets a boy who lives on the other side of the fence. His name is Shmuel. The author deliberately does not tell us that the fenced in town is Auschwitz or that "the Fury" is Adolf Hitler, and hopes the reader will apply the heart of the story to other places of horror that currently still exist - Darfur in the Sudan, northern Sri Lanka, the Karens in Myanmar, the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, etc. I read a passage that said it all (referring to the line "Never Again!"). The writer said it should be written as "Again and Again!". Sad but true state of affairs. By the way, this novel was also adapted for the silver screen which is why I deliberately did not mention what becomes of the relation between Bruno and Shmuel. If you have kids, you should make them read this book, even if you don't have kids, you should read this book. It will tear at your heart and make you think.
BOOKS V. CIGARETTES: Great Ideas Volume 57 by George Orwell - A collection of essays written by Orwell between 1936 and 1947. I mostly enjoyed the essays concerning books, book selling, and writing book reviews. Being in the book business myself for over twenty years, I could relate to what Orwell was saying, although his essays were written more than sixty years ago. The essays related to politics and war are timely now as it was then, seeing how our country is still fighting on two fronts - Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh, and the education about higher learning prior to 1914 was a fascinating glimpse into the hierarchical world of such institutions. The first essay which is the title of this book was spawned by a friend of Orwell's who was fire-watching with some factory workers and the discussion turned to newspapers, which almost all of them read. When asked about the literary section, one worker responded by saying "You don't suppose we read that stuff, do you? Why, half the time you're talking about books that cost twelve and sixpence. Chaps like us couldn't spend twelve and sixpence on a book." Orwell responds by saying "these same men, thought nothing of spending several pounds a day trip to Blackpool (where factory workers of Northern England took their holidays: Wikipedia). But I most enjoyed the essay about working in a used book shop. I started in a small book shop myself and am aware of the quirky regulars and irrational inquiries we sometimes get. My favorite being a phone customer who called as asked if we sold padlocks. The co-worker who took the call asked, "Who wrote it?" Or there was the call I took, asking if we had some classic in stock - I think it was either an F. Scott Fitzgerald or Jane Austen or one of those authors along those lines. I replied, "Yes, we have it in stock". The next question took me by surprise though when our caller asked, "Do you sell it?" I answered slowly, "Uh....yes, we are a book store!" And finally Orwell's essay about his early schooling. All one need to do is read Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate War" or peruse the Japanese manga "Hana Yori Dango" where it doesn't matter how hard you try but who and how rich your parents are that will guarantee your success in life.
DORK DIARIES: TALES FROM A NOT-SO-FABULOUS LIFE by Rachel Renee Russell - There seems to be a new trend in juvenile fiction where the author will take on the personality of its subject and write a diary in free hand of said subject while adding pictures to make their story visually exciting as well. Personally, I don't have a problem with this new format - as long as the stories are fun and exciting. I think the trend must have started with Jim Benton's "Dear Dumb Diary" which I haven't gotten around to reading, followed by Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". And now we have "The Dork Diaries". Our protagonist is 8th grader Nikki Maxwell who's starting school at a prestigious middle school where most of the students are cool and their parents are rich. Nikki's father is an bug exterminator who has a contract with the school, which is why, Nikki is able to afford to go there. But she feels so out of a place, in fact, she feels like a dork! But hey, she seems like a nicer person than Greg (from the "Wimpy Kid" diary books. The pictures are great as well. Damn, I just love kid's books sometimes!
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN IV by Chuck Klosterman - From the man who gained fame by writing a book about loving heavy metal in rural North Dakota ("Fargo Rock City" if you're interested). He's probably the second best thing to come out of ND. The first? That would be these two sisters who were originally from Washington, but that's my own personal opinion. The book is a collection of his articles and essays spanning from his career at an Akron, Ohio newspaper, to Spin and Esquire magazine. I thoroughly enjoyed the Spin pieces as they were subjects I could relate to - Britney Spears, Robert Plant and a bunch of other well known artists. The Esquire pieces I found to be a little condescending, but entertaining nonetheless. And I find his excessive use of the A - B premise very A) annoying and B) it ruins the smoothness of the sentence, but hey, that's just me. However, some of the articles I couldn't relate to at all, and this is A) not the fault of Klosterman but B) my own, as I haven’t been living in the U.S. for almost fifteen years and I don’t keep up with American Pop Culture.
ALICE WATERS AND CHEZ PANISSE: THE ROMANTIC, IMPRACTICAL, OFTEN ECCENTRIC, ULTIMATELY BRILLIANT MAKING OF A FOOD REVOLUTION by Thomas McNamee - A friend of mine recently called me a "foodie", a term that Alice Waters does not particularly like. Now, I don't mind it, in fact, I've used it quite a few times describing myself. But before we get carried away with the lexicon of language, let me tell you about Alice Waters and the restaurant she created - Chez Panisse. All Waters wanted was a nice little place where she could relax, eat and cook great food, and hang out with a bunch of people with similar interests. She was inspired by a cafe featured in a French film by Marcel Pagnol and also named her restaurant after a character in the film - Honore Panisse. But little did we know that Alice Waters would be the star of a major food revolution. Long before the Slow Food movement came into being, Waters was already advocating the use of fresh vegetables in season, using animals that were brought up humanely, and to serve simple but delicious meals. Waters in not a graduate from any cooking school, she had absolutely no experience in the food industry, and yet, she was determined to make her dream a reality. And now she’s a household word when it comes to Slow Food, organic vegetables, etc. She started the Edible Schoolyard project to get schools to serve better meals and refuses to make her restaurant a global industry a la Wolfgang Puck or Joel Robuchon. If you want to experience the cuisine of Chez Panisse, you will have to make the trip to Berkeley, California.
THE LEMONADE WAR by Jacqueline Davies – More light reading. Evan is about to start the fourth grade. His sister, Jessie, who was in the second grade is also going to be starting the fourth grade as well. She’s one of those bright students who gets to skip a grade. Jessie is excited about being in the same class with her brother, who she believes will help her fit in. But Evan wants no part of it. He can’t believe his younger sister is going to be in the same class with him. And with that, Evan treats his sister badly. Even going as far as saying he hates her. He doesn’t, but he’s insecure about himself, thinking his classmates will all call him the “dumb one”. This lack of communication sets of the sibling rivalry of who can sell the most lemonade in a week. The goal is to be the first to make at least one hundred dollars. How they learn to deal with each other makes this an excellent read.
THE HOUSEKEEPER AND THE PROFESSOR by Yoko Ogawa – If it wasn’t for my friend Janet’s blog, “Asia by the Book”, I may not have realized this book was published in English. As I was reading said review, I had realized I had seen a movie that was based on this book. The Japanese title is “Hakase ga Aishta Sushiki”. It had the International English title of “The Professor and His Beloved Equation”. For a complete review, please check out my friend’s blog. For the short version – a housekeeper takes a job looking after a professor of mathematics. But the professor, having been in an auto accident, suffers mild brain damage. He remembers everything up to the accident, but after that, his memory lasts only eighty minutes.
原題： 「博士が愛した数式」 著者：小川洋子
THE DIVING POOL by Yoko Ogawa – After enjoying Ogawa’s “The Housekeeper and the Professor”, I decided to give this book a shot as well. The book is actually a collection of three novellas. “The Diving Pool”, “The Birth Diary”, and “The Dormitory”. The stories are kind of bleak and the characters are kind of strange. But as these are novellas, I find the endings to be kind of abrupt. The first story is about a girl who lives in an orphanage which her parents run. And because she cannot leave the orphanage, which makes her angry so she releases her ire by being cruel to a helpless toddler. The second story is about a woman who keeps a diary about her younger sister’s pregnancy – and the changes that take place with said sister. The third and last story, which I enjoyed the most, was about a woman who’s cousin was coming to Tokyo to go to college and was wondering if the woman can help him find a place to stay. She recommends the dormitory that she used to live, which is run by a triple amputee who’s only good limb is his left leg. Weird! Sorry, but I coundn't find the original title for this book.