Category Archives: Memoir

The Most Beautiful Walk In The World – Review

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The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
On sale: 5/24/2011

Part memoir, part Paris guide book, John Baxter takes us through a year of his life in Paris as a literary tour guide through the city of light’s 6th Arrondissment, better known as The Latin Quarter.

Written as a series of essays, each chapter chronicles a different part of Baxter’s life that either lead to his career as a literary tour guide, or what followed as a result. What I liked about the book is that Baxter offered a lot of insight into the famed Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, as well Paris itself. Many of his warnings and advice came in handy while I was there. The best time to read this book is either in Paris, or on your way to Paris because that is when you can see Paris through Baxter’s eyes. This is especially true of the Latin Quarter. Had it not been for this book, I would have missed the significance of much of this area of Paris in terms of its literary history. I loved that he included tips to get around the city in the back of the book. In fact, I had torn out these pages and carried them around me during my week stay. I liked that he complimented the narrative with quotes, songs and poetry, and that this wasn’t a typical chronological memoir.

What I didn’t like: Since this was an ARC copy, there were a few minor editing errors throughout the book (ie. William Faulkner being named twice in a list of authors.) I thought that it would help if the photos provided in the book had captions to help explain their significance. One chapter was missing a photo entirely and had an error message in the box. I also thought a nice added touch would have been for Baxter to create either a simple map or a reference guide for all the street names and their histories on one page. Something easy to refer to when trying to decide what spots to visit on a day trip.

Overall, this book was a great way to prepare myself for the literary side of Paris. Baxter’s writing style is very eloquent without being pompous, and his portraits of Paris at its best times and worst times are a great way to understand the mood of the city.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris
by John Baxter
Harper Perennial, 2011
302 pages
Via Harper Perennial
 
 Book 20 of 2011

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The most beautiful walk in the world : a pedestrian in Paris
 
 
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The Art of Eating In – Review

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The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir, nonfiction
Location: Brooklyn
 

Based on a highly popular New York blog, Brooklyner Cathy Erway went two years without eating out in restaurants in one of the biggest and most culinary metropolitan cities in the nation. How? She made copy-cat meals of restaurant favorites at home, learned how to forage for food and entertain friends with dinner parties during her quest to forgo convenience for quality.

I connected very strongly with this book right from the start. Cathy is a wonderful narrator. She is quirky, introspective, and her social commentaries throughout the book definitely provide some good food for thought. My biggest compliment to her writing is that she is not preachy. Let me say that again, but in all caps: SHE IS NOT PREACHY. I have read, or tried to read, far to many books about cooking and healthy eating that have just been riddled with judgement and a “holier-than-thou” attitude, and that is a major turn-off. That was my biggest qualm about Animal, Miracle, Vegetable by Barbara Kingsolver. I think I got through 2 chapters before I gave up on the entire concept.

The Art of Eating In is in a way, what I expected Animal, Miracle, Vegetable to be. After reading through her blog, Cathy’s book is not a retelling of her posts from the past 4 years. She provides a lot of unique insights and knowledge into food culture in America. She is incredibly well read, citing a number of books, writers, columnists, journalists etc, throughout the book. Each chapter has a different focus, a different anecdote and ends with two or three recipes that were discussed in that same chapter. The subtitle of this book, however is a lie. For one thing, Cathy did not learn to love the stove. She began the book with a healthy background of home cooked meals and eating-in. Although a switch from eating out to cooking in can be extreme, Cathy had an advantage because she already possessed considerable cooking skills from the start.

Since this book and the blog is written by a 20-something year old in New York, that should be definitely taken into consideration when picking up this book. She leads a single lifestyle through most of the book and a scheduling flexibility of 10pm dinners that parents do not have. She also lives in a major metropolitan city where pretty much everything you want to do or try is available at all hours of the day.

The way the book is written reminds of French Women Never Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. It has the same mix of memoir/biography/recipe/cookbook with a unique spin on youthful urban society.

Being in my 20s and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m lucky enough to have just many foodie resources as Cathy to explore at my own pace. Food being my third favorite hobby (right after reading and knitting) I found her challenge to be interesting. Although I don’t experiment with or cook as much as I want to, I definitely don’t eat-out frequently for a challenge like this to make much of an impact on either my wallet or my waistline. I’ve stopped eating at national chain restaurants for well over a year (except the occasional Panda Express and McDonald’s cravings) and now look for places with intriguing and unique menu items — Lobster corn dogs as one example.

This is by far my favorite non-fiction book read of 2010 and I’m really glad I stumbled upon it.

The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove
 by Cathy Erway
Gotham Books, 2010
ISBN 9781592405251
320 pages

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The Know It All – Review

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The Know It All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs

Age: Adult

A.J. Jacobs set out on a mission, a direct and simple, however tedious and time-consuming. His mission was to read the entire 11th Edition of the 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica from volume A to volume Z. The book I hold in my hands is in turn a summary of the EB as well as a mini memoir and look into Jacob’s life during the course of his quest. The books is laid out in A to Z format, starting with a-ak and ending with Zywiec, filled with stories of his present life; his struggles to have a child with his wife Julie, his endless competition with his dad, brother in law Eric and basically the world of Mensans, to match wits and skills, his meeting with Alex Trebek as well as his audition and segment on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He also dates his book with rants and commentary on President Bush and the soon to be war in Iraq, which many of today’s readers will probably just skim through.

I found that Jacob’s stories really took the book to a new level. I would have found it arrogant and boring otherwise. Jacob’s is a smart man, surrounded by smart people. This is something he makes sure to tell us with nearly every entry in the book, particularly concerning his brother in law Eric. Jacob’s has a sarcastic wit, which shines through in some of his entry summaries. I found myself laughing outloud and sharing interesting facts with anyone who would listen to me. These are some of my favorites.

Cassanova The famous 18th-century lothario ended his life as a librarian. Librarians could use that to sex up their image.

Divorce The easiest divorce around: Pueblo Indian women leave their husband’s moccasins on the doorstep and — that’s all — they’re divorced. Simple as that. No lawyers, no fault, no socks, just shoes.

Kama An Indian angel who shoots love-producing flower arrows. His bow is of sugarcane, his bowstring a row of bees. I have to say, Kama, with his fancy bow and arrow makes our Cupid look kind of second-rate in comparison. Cupid just flies around in a diaper shooting regular  old love arrows. It is odd though that two cultures have these love archers. Does this say something profound about the human mind? Maybe about violence and love? The man Britannica raises these questions in my mind by doesn’t answer them.

Riot You only need three rambunctious people to legally qualify as a riot. That’s all. So Julie, our kid and I could hold our very own riot.

Having read this title, then jumping straight into The Man Who Loved Books Too Much put the value of books and education in an odd perspective for me. Both men want to showcase books to elevate their social status, John Gilkey with rare books and Jacobs with the entire set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Gilkey equated success and personal value with the number of books one owns. Jacobs’, a man of higher financial and social standing, placed more value on the education garnered from books, as opposed to the mere collection of books in his home.Its a very subtle nuance between the two men, but it definitely reflects the culture of reading and its influence on the culture of defining success and wealth.

Some of the entries are as short as one sentences, other span multiple pages. Although you would be tempted to skip to certain letters to read summaries on certain words, I would suggest reading the book from start to finish because that is how Jacob’s designed his narrative. Reading this book did spark some ideas of me reading through an encyclopedia. But I gave up on that option once I picked up the A volume from the library. Its a thick volume with much too tiny font and thin pages. I do admire Jacob’s ability to read through all 28+ volumes in such a short span of time, although I didn’t see how it really worked to his benefit since he started the book as a successful and well-to-do journalist for Maxim and Entertainment Weekly. It did highlight something that was drilled into my head during my Library Sciences classes in college. Knowledge and literacy leads to successful careers and advancement in life. The people that educate themselves are those that were raised in an already intellectual atmosphere and know the value of education. In a sense, its the rich getting richer while the poor remain poor all because no one explained the value of literacy and determination of improving one’s intellect.

The Know It All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
by A.J. Jacobs
Simon & Schuster, 2004
ISBN 0743250605
370 pages

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The know-it-all : [one man's humble quest to become the smartest person in the world]

Half Read Books

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It seems like lately I haven’t been able to keep an interest in many of the books I’ve picked up to read since A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Normally when I give up on a book, it is either returned to the library shelves, or donated to the library for a future booksale.

However, since I’ve been coming across so many books that I just really don’t like, I figure I might as well share my thoughts on these books, especially when these were very hyped and very popular with most other readers out there.

1. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

Dewey : a small-town library cat who touched the world I only read about a third of this book, and I had to force myself to get that far. I never fully understood why a book about a cat who lived in a library required over 250 pages. I love cats and I’m a librarian, but this book did not tug on my heart strings. I felt that the author was very preachy about how small-towns are more superior than large cities. Although the chapters on the community and history of Spencer were meant to give Dewey’s existance more substance, I still didn’t feel any connection to the town, the library or Dewey. I felt that although Dewey was probably an adorable and friendly cat, I didn’t really understand how he was different or more special from any other cat out there. The prose is too flowery and it just didn’t capture my interest.   

2. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa SeeLisa See has garnered some fantastic reviews for her books, particularly Geisha Girls. I picked up Snow Flower and the Secret Fan at a library booksale, because it was highly recommended across the book blog-o-sphere. I didn’t dislike the book. I connected and sympathized with the main character right away, and found the entire foot binding sections to be horrendous and heart breaking. I think in another time in my life, I would have really enjoy this book more. My only complaint, and the biggest, is that I found the pace to be really slow going. Although I cared about the characters, I didn’t have the patience to keep reading this book.

3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara KingsolverI had heard really good things about this book and how inspirational it was towards promoting a healthier lifestyle. This is the story of how Kingsolver and her family moved from the big city to a small farm where they lived on an almost entirely organic diet of food grown on their homesoil. I even chose this book as a book club selection for July. One week into reading this book, all 5 girls in the book club decided to stop reading this book because none of us liked it. I read about 4 chapters and found Kingsolver to be incredibly preachy and self-congratulary. I think one of the major problems is that I am not the target audience for this book. I already shop for produce at the local farmer’s market every Sunday morning. I don’t buy fast food or junk food except on rare occasions. I tried to grow my own plants, but not everyone is born with a green thumb. I ended up killing my plants. I tried, I failed, I shouldn’t be made to feel as if I’m soley responible for global warming because I can’t garden.

My Life in France – Review

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My Life in France by Julia Child

Age: YA – Adult

Julia Child’s transformation from wife, to internationally known chef bringing French food and life to America with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and with her hit TV show The French Chef began in 1948 during her first year of marriage to Paul Child.

The memoir traces her life from her first steps onto French soil, through her explorations of the French food markets, to her classes at Le Cordon Bleu,  and finally through the path of creating and collaborating a French how-to manual for women in America. The memoir continues even after Julia Child moved back to the United States and how her passion for good food became a lifelong part of her world.

Julia Child’ voice is friendly and entertaining as she takes you through the story of her life. She is an inspirational woman, who is fully accepting of her faults as well as her virtues. Finding love late in life, standing taller than most men and women of her time, Julia found it hard to really fit in anywhere. Rebelling against her father’s conservative Republican views, she did not follow the tradition of settling down to marry a rich Republican man and becoming a simple housewife in quiet Pasadena, CA. Instead, she worked in government, traveling to India and China, where she met her artist husband to be Paul Child.

Reading the book was like sitting in a room with Julia Child herself. Her voice is endearing, full of the charm and friendliness that helped her became so loved around the world. The book is full of little jokes and quips about her experiences. Funny anecdotes accompany even the most minor of character introductions.

To be truthful, I enjoyed the first half of the memoir much more than the second half. I loved reading about Julia explorations of French food, and seeing her passion develop over time and learning about all the hard work she put into becoming one of the best chefs of her time. As the book progressed, I got a little bored as she talked about traveling and promoting the book. I preferred the sections of her experimenting with a recipe hundreds of times to perfect every single notation and instruction, or researching and talking to experts of recipes she wants to include in the book. Her troubles collaborating with Simca and Louisa on both books as well as initially introducing a book like this into the publishing world.

Also, reading this book made me feel a number of emotions: 1. constantly hungry because of her talk of good food, 2:  guilty because one should not eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger while reading about Julia Child’s French recipes, 3. Excited for next Spring, when Chris and I go to France for our honeymoon. We want to sign up for a single class at Le Cordon Bleu and learn how to make, well, anything!

This is a great summer read, although you might end up overheating your homes by wanting to cook more often after finishing!

The French Chef
by Julia Child w/ Alex Prud’Homme
Anchor Books, 2006
ISBN 9780307474858
352 pages

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Teaser Tuesday 6/15/2010

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TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

# Grab your current read.

# Let the book fall open to a random page.

# Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page somewhere between lines 7 and 12.

# You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! # Please avoid spoilers!

My Two Teasers:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Sociologists write about “the Disappearing Middle,” referring to both middle America and mid-sized operators: whole communities in the heartland left alarmingly empty after a decades-old trend toward fewer, bigger commodity farms. We are quicker to address our problems with regional rather than national solutions.

Not the most riveting two sentences from a book, not hey, what do you expect from a memoir about living off of sustainable foods from your very own farmland for a year?

The Happiness Project – Review

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The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Age: Adult

During one rainy afternoon, New York mother, Gretchen Rubin was struck with a realization that she wasn’t living her life to its best potential. So, she decided to dedicate an entire year of her life to becoming happier. The year is broken down into twelve months and each month covers a certain area that Gretchen wants to improve in her life: vitality, marriage, work, parenthood, leisure, friendship, money, eternity, books, mindfulness, attitude, and happiness.

I first read a review of this book on Pop Culture Junkie and the concept stayed with me for quite a while. A woman, who isn’t necessarily unhappy with her life, is seeking ways to make minor improvements that end up causing a ripple effect through her relationships and habits.

She dedicated each month to a different portion of her life to improve. January – Boost Energy. February – Remember Love. March – Aim Higher. April –  Lighten Up. May – Be Serious About Play. June – Make Time for Friends. July –  Buy Some Happiness. August – Contemplate Heaven. September – Pursue a Passion. October – Pay Attention. November – Keep a Contented Heart. December – Book Camp Perfect.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I think that Gretchen Rubin is a fantastic author, with a fantastic sense of humor and great insight. However, I also felt that this book was somewhat superficial. Although she discussed some really interesting statistics and concepts about happiness, I felt that the focus got lost towards the end and just turned into a tale of a happy person trying to become happier.

Rubin did identify this glitch with her project a number of times in her book. She’s a stay at home mom, a full time writer, living in a wealthy part of New York with a wonderful and bright family. Not much to improve, and not much for me to relate with either.

I think she had a great passion for this book, and finding happiness is a struggle we all face in our own way. Her book highlighted some interesting thoughts such as identifying what makes us happy versus what we want to make us happy. Two very different things. The path to happiness is an experience that is different for each person.

It seems like the most important lessons she learned are the cliches that you see written in boxes of tea and and T-shirts. Lessons like “Be true to yourself, your interests and your hobbies.” I didn’t feel as if I learned anything new after having finished this book. I didn’t feel that the author took any great strides out of her comfort zones to find happiness either. She held back her criticisms and learned to play along with her kids rather than constantly discipline and instruct.

I felt that this book lasted too long with too few new ideas, but it did inspire me to examine my own ideas of what happiness is, and question my decisions and actions in regular situations in my life.

The Happiness Project
by Gretchen Rubin
HarperCollins, 2009
ISBN 0061583251
296 pages

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How to be lovely – Review

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How to be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life by Melissa Hellstern

Age: all

Divided into ten chapters: Happiness, Success,  Health, Love, Family, Friendship, Fulfillment, Style, Fame and Humanity, we learn how to abide by Audrey’s rules of life via Melissa Hellstern’s collection of quotes and phrases. Told mostly through Audrey Hepburn’s quotes about herself, we get a little insight into the mind of one Hollywood’s most influential stars. Each chapter begins with a brief message from Hellstern about Audrey about the topic of the chapter. The rest of the space is filled with quotes from Audrey, quotes from her friends and cast members and pictures from movies and her personal life.

The book isn’t really a detailed guide on how to be like Audrey Hepburn. Its more of a glimpse into her mind, I guess. The collection of quotes only reinforce what I always loved about her. She is humble, compassionate, and very true to herself. Audrey Hepburn has always been one of my favorite actresses. Not really for the style, but more for the characters she portrays in the movies and the poise with which she carries herself. She is never the damsel in distress, or the ditz searching for a husband. She is the intellectual, the conflicted and the charmer. We see how insecure she felt about her acting ability, how attuned she is with nature and how naturally she fits into any surrounding. I do love that the book is filled with Audrey’s quotes, rather than a strict interpretation of her way of life.

This book would make a cute gift for an Audrey Hepburn fan especially if coupled with a DVD of one her movies. For those that just want a “What would Audrey do?” type of book, then this would be the one for you.

The world has always been cynical, and I think I’m a romantic at heart. I hope for better things, and I thank God the world is so full of people who want to be genuine and kind. –Audrey Hepburn

How to be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life
by Melissa Hellstern
Penguin Group, 2004
ISBN 0525948236
189 pages

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Cowboy & Wills – Review

Cowboy and Wills by Monica Holloway

Age level: 9th – Adult

Wills Holloway was only three years old when he was first diagnosed with Severe High Autism. Mother Monica, did her best to help her son navigate his way through the intricacies of autism and the real world. Before turning to doctors, psychologists and other specialists to help Wills transition, Monica would stop by a local pet store to purchase small pets, (hamsters, turtles, hermit crabs). Each animal, in its own small way, helped draw Wills out of his shell and overcome very small battles in his life. It wasn’t until Cowboy, the lovable puppy golden retriever was introduced to their lives, that Wills really began to evolve from an introverted boy with autism, to a young child, playing and laughing with friends. Small experiences, such as saying a name aloud, or taking a bath, were battlegrounds for the Holloway family, but Cowboy was a friendly beacon helping bring Wills into a seemingly normal life. Wills would transfer his fears and doubts onto Cowboy, and in turn, help her overcome a fear of hiking, or a fear of swimming or whatever else Wills was fearing at the moment. This form of projection helped Wills feel in control of his life. As therapeutic as Cowboy was for Wills, he still had a full time aide as a school for kindergarten and first grade, a therapist he saw twice a week, an occupational therapist once a week to help him with his motor skills and a specialist trying to diagnose Wills autism and issue a final report. With all the pets the family has collected over the years and two incredibly loving and devoted parents, and Wills has one of the strongest and well built support systems I’ve ever encountered. Although his mother kept discussing how much of a financial strain the therapy and vet bills put on their family, I never got the sense that it was that much of an issue. Monica is a stay at home mother and writer, and her husband Michael is a writer for a sitcom in Los Angeles.

This is still a very touching story about a boy and his dog and his struggle to overcome his autism and interact normally with kids his own age and other people in his life.

Cowboy and Wills: A Love Story
by Monica Holloway
Simon & Schuster, 2009
ISBN 1416595038
276 pages
Source: Review

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My Name is Aram – Review

My Name is Aram by William Saroyan

Age: 8th – Adult

My Name is Aram is a semi-fictional account of William Saroyan’s life from 1915 to 1925 in Fresno, California, told in fourteen short chapters, each discussing a different event or experience. Aram Garoghlanian is a curious young boy, and his curiosity often leads him straight to trouble. We are introduced to his Armenian family, his friends and those that live in the same small-town.

https://i0.wp.com/www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/n48/n243862.jpgThe stories are short, simple and each one carries a special message or lesson learned by Aram. His book teaches the simple morals of understanding, not stealing, loyalty and the joys of learning. Aram is an adorable boy, with a mind full of questions and a routine of seeking out new experiences and facing the consequences. I want to compare Saroyan’s work to Steinbeck. As contemporaries in poverty stricken farmlands in California, they both have a similar pool of experiences to share. While both write about small town life of the immigrant worker, Saroyan’s work is more upbeat than Steinbeck’s because Sarayan can make fun of himself in his work.

Saroyan touches upon many issues within each of his stories. He addresses religion in the story of the two boys paid to sing in a Presbyterian Choir even though they are Catholic.  He discusses friendship in nearly all of his chapters, but the most powerful chapter is the final one, “The Poor and Burning Arab” where Aram learns about the value of words, and when silence is sometimes more appropriate than wasted words. He discusses compassion and understanding in the chapter “The Three Swimmers and the Educated Grocer”, which incidentally has my favorite line in the book.

Well, I’ll be harrowed, cultivated, pruned, gathered into a pile, burned, picked off a tree, and let me see, what else? Thrown into a box, cut off a vine and eaten grape by grape by a girl in her teens. (The Three Swimmers and the Educated Grocer)

A short book, this is a quick and fun read, but full of insight and humor into the simple activities in our daily lives.

My Name is Aram
by William Saroyan
Dell Publishing, 1937
156 pages

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