Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (April 2011)


As I'm still behind on posting my book and movie reviews, this is another break from our Hawaii trip as I provide you with reviews of the books I read in April. As always, another eclectic collection of reading materials. Books on business, art, sports, humor, food and Japan. Also included is a review of a magazine I found really entertaining. Enjoy and happy reading:

POKE THE BOX by Seth Godin – Business man and entrepreneur and author of a bunch of bestselling books. Why am I reading one? Simple answer really. It was a really short book and the cover was really cute. Yep, that’s it. I had no other reason for reading it. So, what’s it about. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “think outside of the box” or “thinking outside of the box”. Well, this is a motivational book about “starting” something, anything. It can apply to life as well as business. It’s about taking initiative. It tells you to get over your fear of failure. Of conforming to the status quo. To just keep “poking the box”. Or as Godin says, be the person who says, “I want to start stuff.” So, if you want to write a book and get it published, don’t sit on your ass and rationalize all the reasons why you shouldn’t – nobody will read it, it won’t get published anyway, I don’t really have any talent. I suppose it should motivate me to write that book I’ve always wanted to, so we will see how that goes.

CAUGHT INSIDE : A SURFER’S YEAR ON THE CALIFORNIA COAST by Daniel Duane – Here’s something I figured out, and I’m sure many other readers have probably come to the same conclusion. That it takes forever to read a book in which you have absolutely no interest in the subject. I’m not a surfer, I don’t watch surfing films, so why am I reading a book that I really have no interest in reading? Okay, it was to fulfill one of my new year’s resolution from who knows how many years ago. Lonely Planet published a series of travel essays books called “Lonely Planet Journeys”. One year I decided that my resolution would be to read all the books in that series which consists of thirty some odd titles, I think. Although I must have read at least ninety percent of the series, some titles just didn’t appeal to my taste. And then, some titles started to go rapidly out of print. I managed to pick up a few titles that were marked down in price (of which this was one). All I remember is that the author decided to ditch his nine-to-five job in San Francisco and moved to Santa Cruz so he could surf all day, all year, whenever he wanted to and talks about the history of surfing, surfer legends and other surfer lore. Almost as difficult to read as Eric Newby’s “The Last Grain Race” with all the surfer lingo, long boards, short boards, hanging ten,

SAY SOMETHING DIRTY TO 45 FRIENDS, LOVERS, AND MAILMEN by Brook Lundy & Duncan Mitchell – This is one of those books I just breeze through so I can count it as part of the 100 books I’ve read which is my rotating New Year’s Resolution from a few years ago. It’s a novelty postcard book. Puritan and clean artwork that looks like they were designed in the fifties are given new meaning when some naughty words and phrases are added to the images. Of course if you have no sense of humor, then you should not read this. What can you look forward to reading? How about gems like this, "If there was a Zagat guide for penises, yours would rate high on both service and decor." Or how about, "I love to watch you sleep before I wake you up and nail you." Now, it’s just a matter of who are you going to choose to send them to.

PULP ART BOOK : VOLUME ONE by Neil Krug – Interesting photo/art book. Video artist and photographer started taking pictures of his wife, super model Joni Harbek with Polaroid film long past its sell date and started posting them on Flickr (which is one of the “best online photo management and sharing application in the world”, it says so on their website. The photos drew such a large response that they have decided to assemble them into a book, and thus we have “Pulp Art Book : Volume One”. The title gives you a hint of the types of photos you are likely to see. Krug’s inspiration is drawn from the pulp novels of the fifties, B-movies, and old record covers. The pictures have a kind of sixties and seventies flavor to them as the photos themselves are kind of grainy and look dated but also seems to tell a story. Not your typical photography book, that’s for sure.

WORLD FOOD : NEW ORLEANS by Pableaux Johnson with Charmaine O’Brien – The other series I enjoy reading which is also published by Lonely Planet. I can you not love a series about food and travel with nice full color pictures. This book featuring the cuisine of New Orleans means you can now know the difference between Creole and Cajun food (in case you thought they were one and the same). Published five years before Hurricane Katrina hit so some of the places listed might no longer be in business. But the book doesn’t focus on just Creole or Cajun cuisine. The title does say New Orleans. So that includes southern comfort food as well, or what’s commonly known as soul food. Collard greens, corn bread, hush puppies. And you have your gumbo, jambalaya, grits, crawfish, and mustn’t forget the catfish! I must get my sister to take me to the “Southern Kitchen” the next time I’m in town because you cannot find a decent Cajun or Southern food restaurant in Tokyo, not to my knowledge anyway. There was a Cajun restaurant in Harajuku but it went out of business some years ago.

ATOMIC SUSHI : NOTES FROM THE HEART OF JAPAN by Simon May – I admit my title of choice may seem to be in poor taste because of the current nuclear power plant crisis in Fukushima Prefecture, but I assure you, this title was released long before the March 11 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami which caused the disaster. First published in 2006, this is a collection of essays that British national, May wrote while serving as a visiting professor of philosophy at Tokyo University. Or as the professor says in his own words when he was unexpectedly invited to teach, his first thoughts were – “The Sushi!” First of all, we must acknowledge that Japan’s bastion of education – Tokyo University or Todai as its locally known—is one of the most prestigious and also the most difficult of all Japanese educational institutions to enter. It is considered the training ground of Japan’s bureaucrats, the elite of the elite, a closed system that’s virtually impossible to penetrate, especially for foreigners. May informs us that he was “…apparently the first British professor of philosophy since 1882.” A more detailed review is posted on the "Asia by the Book" blog at

A MIDDLE EASTERN FEAST by Claudia Roden – Speaking of food series, Penguin Books has just released twenty titles in their new series, “Great Food”. Of course you know I’m going to buy them and read them. I decided to start off with this title on the Middle East. Most of my close friends would know why, and if you still haven’t guessed, it’s because Middle Eastern cuisine is my favorite. I rate it above Italian and Chinese. It all started with a meal I had at a Lebanese restaurant called “The Sahara” which was located in the University District in Seattle. I had ordered a dish called dejaj mashwee, it was a char-broiled chicken marinated in lemon and garlic and topped with garlic sauce. Oh heaven! This is where I had my first taste of hummus, tabouleh, baba ganoush among others. I could go for a nice Lebanese mezze right now! So, what the heck am I talking about? Well hummus is a dip made with mashed chick-peas, and blended with tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, salt, and garlic. Tabouleh is a Middle Eastern salad made with romaine lettuce and bulgur wheat, with chopped parsley, mint, tomatoes, onions and seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice. Baba ganoush is another dip with the main ingredient being aubergines (you know that’s the other word for eggplant!). It might be difficult reading this series on an empty stomach.

LOVE IN A DISH AND OTHER PIECES by M.F.K. Fisher – I couldn’t honestly call myself a “foodie” without ever having read M.F.K. Fisher. But now that I’ve remedied that situation with this title, another one in Penguin Books Great Food series, I suppose other “foodies” will forgive me. And just to educate you a bit, Fisher is known as one of the greatest food writers of the twentieth century. However, I really like John Updike’s description of her as he had referred to her as the “poet of the appetites”. That does have a nice ring to it. This book, as the title suggests, is a collection of some of her best articles and also includes excerpts from a few of her books as well. Some of my favorite pieces were “I Was Really Very Hungry” (which I can relate to and originally appeared in “The Atlantic Monthly”; “How Not to Cook an Egg” excerpted from “How Not to Cook a Wolf”, and “Love was the Pearl”, excerpt from “Consider the Oyster”. But all the pieces are entertaining and makes for a great collection of food articles.

MENTAL FLOSS June issue [Our 10th Annual 10 Issue] – You shouldn’t be surprised by now that I also review magazines that I’ve read from cover to cover. A regular customer at my place of employ recommended this title. Said it was a rather entertaining mag. So what kind of magazine is it? One that covers a favorite subject of mine – trivia. In fact, their website states that it is a magazine of trivia and interesting facts. This issue is Mental Floss’s 10th annual 10 issue. Highlights include 10 Celebrities Who Spied on the Side. 10 Surprising Things Thriving in Death Valley. 10 Shocking Secrets from the Wonderful World of Disney. 10 Things about Britain more interesting than Will & Kate (this issue was released right before the Royal Wedding). Also 10 Awful Ideas from the World’s Craziest Dictators. Fans of trivial pursuit might find this to be a valuable asset to add to their knowledge of useless information. I don’t know, I may become a regular reader of this rag. It’s just too fun! Maybe even more fun than Mad Magazine or National Lampoon.

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