7.10.2007

World War Z (Again)

World War Z
World War Z
I've read and written about this book before, but since I listened to the abridged audiobook this weekend and wanted to reread the whole thing. This time as I read it, I started to realized that when you've earned a degree in English, it gets kind of hard to stop looking for hidden meaning. (The Onion has a funny article about a grad student who deconstructed his take out menu.) As I read World War Z this time, I found myself seeing satire all over the place.

As I read about the politicians, I was trying to guess which current politicians Brooks was hinting at. Plus, even though I think this is a fantastically terrifying book, I think that Brooks gets in a lot of digs on the way Americans live right now, our celebrity culture, what we eat, our materialism. I know that Brooks did this on purpose, but who expects subtle satire in a book about a zombie take over of the world?

7.01.2007

Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential cover
Kitchen Confidential
I want to cook again. No, that's not entirely accurate. I want to eat well and if I get to cook, bonus. Even though Kitchen Confidential is not a cookbook, or even a book about eating, Bourdain really makes me want to be adventurous about my food. (His show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, makes me want to be adventurous about food in as many different places as I can manage.) Plus, he writes about what's really going on behind those swinging doors as the cooks and garde-mangers and sauciers and all the rest try and get dinners into stomachs.

It's highly entertaining, if you have my kind of warped sense of humor. If you expect restaurant kitchens to be like the ones on the Food Channel, you're in for a surprise.

In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain writes about his life in the anarchic world of cooking in New York, how he went from dishwasher, to prep cook, to line cook, to chef, to celebrity chef. He makes the world of professional cooking seem as hard as army life, but with less job security considering the failure rate of new restaurants. One could see Kitchen Confidential as an expose, but I saw it more as a book about a philosophy of food. Bourdain, as he's declared in his books and on TV, really believes in the pleasures of eating good food.

What I enjoyed most about this book, though, were the descriptions of what the kitchen staff were doing and their camaraderie that developed among the staff. A lot of his stories remind me of some of my dad's stories from his time in the Navy. There is an us v. them mentality, a hierarchy, hazing of new recruits, in-jokes, and profanity that might grace the dressing downs of a linguistically-gifted sergeant. Also, I think my hick's awe of eating in an upscale restaurant has been blown and I'm not half-afraid of it anymore. (I used to be more afraid of exotic/unfamiliar food before now, and I don't like snobs.)

The only problem I had with the book was that Bourdain uses so many kitchen and recipe names that I didn't know. I understood a few words here and there but, after a couple of chapters, I thought about try to talk one my local librarians into letting me take home their Reference copy of the Larousse Gastronomique.

Weeding

It's inevitable that, when you buy a lot of books, someday, you have to start weeding them and getting rid of the ones you thought you'd read but never got 'round to, the ones you read once and didn't like, the series you really liked when you were a teenager but are now kind of embarrassed to have on your shelves still, and all the rest. Recently, Doppelganger over on 50 Books wrote about her attempts to get her family's book collection under control: Unbookening and Going, Going, Going...and Gone. Sort of. Her writing reminds me of my attempts to bring my 700+ book collection back to heel earlier this year.

When I started weeding my books, it was hard. I'd set a book in the discard pile, and then change my mind, thinking, "This sounds interesting to me again. I might read this." Or I'd remember really liking the book and start thinking I might want to reread it. I know better of course. So, I told myself to get ruthless—after all, I live in a town with three libraries and I have interlibrary loan priveledges at two of them. I ended up donating about six copier paper boxes of books to my local library after a two week blitz through my collection. (And my LibraryThing Catalog is totally out of date now. Still.)

Weeding books is hard. Those books appealed to me when I bought them. They say something about how my tastes in reading have grown up and changed over the years. Plus, they're great to have around when you have no clue what you want to read next.

Another factor that made it hard for me to part with my book is the fact that I've been buying books since I had my first job—before even. I've invested a lot of time reading book reviews, asking for recommendations and, when all else fails, climbing through piles of forgotten books in used book stores looking for books I might like. Some people are reflected by their art collections, or their music collections. I think I am really represented by the books I choose to surround myself with.

Towards the end of the blitz, I sardonically comforted myself by telling myself, "Look how much room you have for new books now!"