I’ve been putting this off for a couple of reasons…

Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

Mostly, writing this review is making me feel like I’m a pretty bad person. The author’s love for his wife and his grief at her loss really comes through and I appreciated Sheffield being so open and honest in his writing. And, I’ll admit it, I cried pretty darn hard during the chapters dealing with his wife’s death and his grieving process, but mostly I just couldn’t identify with either Sheffield or Renee. It may be because they are infinitely cooler than I’ll ever be, at least when it comes to music and being on top of the Next Big Thing – or it may be because they’re just enough older than me that even though I recognize some (about half, I’d say) of the bands and songs Sheffield mentions, I wasn’t grown-up enough to have the same sorts of memories associated with them that they do. I’m not sure I’m being clear – basically, when Sheffield and Renee were busy being a broke newlywed couple drinking beer and listening to The Smiths or Nirvana, I was a junior high kid singing along to Mariah Carey.

If you’re 10 years older than I am or you have an older sibling who was 10 years older than I was, you’ll probably find yourself liking Sheffield and Renee a lot better than I did. No matter how old you are, though, it will make you think about the fragility of life and love and cry a bit about it.

My rating: B-

What a lucky bitch!*

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

When I started this book, I kept thinking “Ugh, I’m gonna hate this lucky bitch” – I mean, she gets to eat at the most fabulous restaurants in New York City (in the 90s) on the New York Times payroll – jealous, much? But I didn’t hate her – she’s still a lucky bitch, but I definitely didn’t hate her.

She came across in her writing as funny and thoughtful and honest and, holy hell, does she know how to talk about food! It must be one of the hardest things to write about, right up there with music – how do you describe something in words that can be experienced with every sense except…well, reading isn’t a sense, but you know what I mean. But she definitely manages it – I could picture, smell, and almost taste every dish she wrote about, even the bad ones!

Part of the fun of the book is also the disguises she comes up with, completely disappearing into other personas in an attempt to dine anonymously – some bring out the best in her (Brenda) while others are the worst (Emily). I found her less pleasant identities a little awkward to read about as she really did go all out and very nearly become the characters she created, even the pretentious, rude ones and it wasn’t fun to read about her being horrid to waiters and every once in a while, her fellow diners. At her worst, Emily, it is Marion Cunningham of all people (not Ritchie’s mother, but the cookbook author instead) who brings her around and leads to one of my favorite moments in the book. I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s worth the slog through Emily’s night out to get to the end of the story.

But mostly it’s a love letter to the food scene in New York City – and not because all of the restaurants are fabulous, they’re not and she includes those reviews along with the positive ones (I think there’s only one restaurant that receives a 4-star review included in the book, I don’t know how many she [or, for that matter, other reviewers] handed down over the years she spent reviewing for the Times). It’s a love letter to the vibrancy of the variety and options available in New York – she goes to super fancy restaurants like The Rainbow Room, Le Cirque, and the Box Tree but she also goes to noodle joints (though it sounds like those aren’t cheap either) and a friend of hers takes her on a food tour of New York towards the end of the book that sounds like heaven.

I wish I had the financial resources – or the job at the Times – to gain her level of knowledge about food and wines because it sounds like it brings the experience to a whole other level.

My rating: B+ (I would have given her an A, but I’m a petty, petty blogger who can’t bring myself to give such a lucky bitch an A even though she probably deserves it)

*[Yes, I know she’s not just lucky, she’s talented and worked hard to get where she is, but I’m going to comfort myself with the lucky bitch thing.]

LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLLLLLLLLLLE!

Welcome to the first ever Three Men in Various Places SMACKDOWN!

In this corner, written seven years before our current champion but lacking a dog…it’s Three in Norway (By Two of Them)!

And in this corner, still laugh-out-loud funny over a hundred years after its publication and holding a very special place in your announcer’s heart; it’s the book that’s so good, its author was named twice…it’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)!

Okay, we all know how this is going to end, but when I saw that this Three in Norway (By Two of Them) was the inspiration for my favorite book in the history of the ever-ever, I figured I should give it a read. And, actually, I’m glad I did because it makes me appreciate Jerome K. Jerome’s writing ability even more. Not that Three in Norway is bad, it’s just…different. While they’re both ostensibly travelogues, I think only Three in Norway really is and I’m afraid I think that’s what makes it less enjoyable.

The authors’ voice takes a little getting used to as its written in a strange mix of third person and first person (no one ever refers to themselves as “I” but they do say “we”), but mostly it’s just quite…dry. I never really felt like I cared about the three characters and the three of them all seemed fairly interchangeable – unlike George, Harris and J. who are both charming and memorable.

Also, there’s a lot of fishing. I mean, a LOT of fishing. And reindeer hunting. Neither of which are really my thing and I don’t think it’s possible to make fishing seem exciting, so there are quite long stretches of story where I was just bored. One person I lent Three Men in a Boat to gave it back to me after they’d finished it and said “I didn’t really get it – nothing happened.” Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last much longer. Turns out all those asides and tangents that Jerome incorporates keeps things lively and interesting – otherwise it would just be three dudes in a boat on the Thames. Three in Norway, on the other hand, never ventures out of the present moment (or hardly ever does).

To be fair, I think the Two of Them were not going for the same comic effect that Jerome was – and if you’re wanting to go hunting and fishing in the wilds of Norway with Three in Norway as your guide, you’d probably be glad of that. But, really, apart from there being three men and the fact that they’re going somewhere, I would say there are actually very few similarities between the two (yes, I know Jerome originally did intend his book to be a genuine travelogue – thank goodness that didn’t work out!).

I dogeared a couple of Jerome-esque pages to show you that there are glimpses of a similar wit here and there:

Lighting a fire for breakfast was a toilsome busines, but at last we found some wood dry enough to burn. It continued raining in a nice keep-at-it-all-day-if-you-like kind of manner, so we resided in the tent, and read, and indulged in whisky and water for lunch to counteract any ill effects of the reading–for some of it was poetry. (p. 38)

They also get into one or two situations that would do George, Harris, and J. proud:

Soon the cauldron was heated and brought into the tent, and the eager crowd drew near with cups and spoons, and one lifted the lid, while another plunged his cup into the steaming savoury mess. And then arose a great cry of horror and desolation, and the sleeping valley rang with the wail of men in despair, for John had put the wrong pot on the fire, and we had been presented with boiling, dirty water in which the dinner-things had been washed up; while all the time the soup pot was quiet, untouched and cold in the corner of the tent where it is kept.

And speaking of their tent, these guys have a pretty sweet setup going! I mean, an actual camp with a stove they built themselves and everything – and they bake bread in it!

The one place where these three outshine George, Harris, and J. is in their actual woodsmen skills – George, Harris, and J. would have starved to death on the first day if they’d relied on fishing and hunting for their sustenance.

And I do have to give them credit for recognizing genius when they see it:

We all think Mark Twain the best writer for camp life that has yet been discovered, and we have three or four of his books here. Besides our library of light literature consists of Shakespeare, Longfellow, Dr. Johnson’s Table-talk, and novels by Whyte Melville, Walford, and Thackeray. But Mark and William get more work than all the rest. (p. 173)

Let’s be honest, we all knew this was never going to be a fair fight, but I think Three in Norway does an admirable job at the attempt even though it doesn’t quite make it. But if I ever go fishing in Norway, it’ll be the first book I turn to.

I’m keeping it short and sweet…

Sleepwalk With Me: And Other Painfully True Stories by Mike Birbiglia

You know what? I’ve been staring at this post for a while now, trying to think of what to say and I’m just going to have to take my cue from Virgil Thomson: I like Mike Birbiglia; I also like his comedy and his book.

My rating: B+ (And that’s only because he includes bits that he’s already used in his standup – if it had been all new material, I would have given it an A.)

 

Nonfiction: Awesomeness

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

Okay, I probably should have labelled this Nonfiction: Pop Culture Essays because that would have been more specifically accurate, but when it comes to Chuck Klosterman, I can’t help myself. He’s amazing! I’m afraid I’ve let this review go for too long because I was too intimidated about gathering my thoughts into a coherent manner that would do this book justice, so I really have nothing clever or particularly relevant to say other than that he is a pop culture genius and that you should read the book.

Basically, he takes pop culture (e.g., Kurt Cobain, Alfred Hitchcock, and Abba) and somehow, SOMEHOW BECAUSE HE’S A GENIUS, uses it to make super-insightful inferences about people and society. The one about Hitchcock and voyeurism and reality television is my favorite, I think. That and the Abba one. Oh, and the laugh track one! That’s my favorite favorite one. I would try to explain them to you, but it will just devolve into complete and utter fangirling and, anyway, I’d never be as eloquent and yet concise as he is.

My rating: A

p.s. – Chuck, I totally read the football essay even though you said I could skip ahead to the one about Abba, but I stuck it out! And even though I didn’t understand a word of your supporting evidence for your theory that the NFL and football are actually forward-thinking sports in the guise of old-school conservativ…ism(Is that a word?), I completely bought it and thought it was very insightful. Which I have to admit is not a word I thought I’d ever type in the same sentence as the word football.

Nonfiction: Memoir

Official Book Club Selection by Kathy Griffin

I know she can be a little divisive – when my mom unwrapped this present at Christmas, my grandmother exclaimed ‘Oh, I can’t stand her!’ – but I (and my mom, obviously) really like Kathy Griffin. So I was intrigued by her memoir. From watching her specials (I’ve never really seen much of My Life on the D-List) and based on her stand-up, which is mostly gossip based), I assumed she would be a fairly superficial person and wasn’t sure she’d have much to say, but I was sure it would be entertaining at least.

Boy, was I proved wrong!

She comes across as a very mature, smart, and, yes, thoughtful person. Like Craig Ferguson, she strikes me as somebody who puts a lot of thought into the decisions she makes. And, man, is she hard working! Talk about paying your dues. No matter if you like her or not, if you read her memoir, you wouldn’t be able to deny that she has worked hard to get where she is and deserves all of her success (such as it is).

And she really seems to honestly enjoy what she does – she’d have to, considering how many setbacks and opposition she’s met along the way – and she knows how lucky she is to get to do something she loves so much.

I think she has a little bit of trouble connecting with the reader and I can’t really put my finger on why I feel that way. She’s very open about her family and her struggles trying to make it in LA and her frustration as everybody but her seemed to be succeeding, but sometimes it still sort of feels like she’s performing a bit. But it wasn’t until she was finished talking about her marriage that I felt like her writing had become more personal.

My rating: B+

p.s. – I’ll admit I was thrown by the chapter on her relationship with Steve Wozniak – I still am not sure what was going on there – but everything else I thoroughly enjoyed.

Graphic Novel/Memoir

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

I couldn’t sleep this morning and once the sun started to come up and the birds started to chirp (and for once were not drowned out by the wind tunnel that is our condo here), I gave in and got up. It’s already a beautiful day, so I decided to sit on the balcony and finish French Milk.

If I hadn’t already been a fan of her art and her writing from reading her blog (I’ll have to cone back and add links when I get home – I don’t know how to do it in Edward’s WordPress app), her book would have convinced me from the very beginning. She has a very intimate way of writing – I felt like she was just telling me (italicize that) about her month and a half in Paris. And her sketches (and occasional photograph) of her and her mom and the things they see (I want to go to Paris again now), the things they eat (so hungry), the things they bought (I long for the coat she found at Marche aux Puces), and the things she was thinking (she was just finishing her studies at the Art Institute and about to face the real world) all add to the cinnection she creates with the reader.

And it’s also a charming love note to Paris. I know I’m in Hawaii now, but I wish I were in Paris all of a sudden! She’s reminded me if all the things I still need to see there.

So, yeah, a great book – I hope to see another from her soon!

My rating: A

Off to climb Diamond Head – not feeling so dizzy as yesterday, so I don’t think I’ll fall off after all. Hopefully.