Tag Archives: memoir

The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry (Kathleen Flinn) – Review

The sharper your knife, the less you cry : love, learning and tears at the world's most famous cooking schoolThe Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughing, and Tears at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir/Cooking
Publisher: Viking, 2007
ISBN: 9780670018222 / 285 pages
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In this three-part memoir, Kathleen Flinn takes us through a lesson by lesson tour of her time at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. Shortly after being fired from her work in London, her boyfriend convinces her to follow her dream of attending the famed cooking school. The book is filled with Paris, recipes, experiences and memories of a very unique time in the country of haute cuisine.

As much as I liked Kitchen Counter Cooking School, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry fell a little short.  Although the book had all the right ingredients, the souffle collapsed, one would say. For one thing, she has a penchant for overly long titles with even longer and unnecessary subtitles. I had no immediate attachment to her or her story, despite having read and enjoyed her second book, Kitchen Counter Cooking School. I didn’t get into her experiences outside of the school, and even her time in class were teetering between boring and self-congratulatory.

Flinn has had a passion for cooking since childhood. She somehow got sidetracked from this passion by entering the journalism field. Despite the fact that being fired allowed her the opportunity to pursue her culinary passion, she holds a major grudge against the corporate world, and brings up being fired a few times too many. Her escapades around Paris with her boyfriend were amusing, particularly the incredibly rude house-guests. I felt really had for her at that point. I thought her time and experiences at Le Cordon Bleu to be really interesting, and had me wanting to go to some sort of cooking school in the Bay Area, or at the very least just cook more than 2x a week and make something other than stir-fry or various forms of baked chicken. A small element that I found comical is that there are two endorsements by Elizabeth Gilbert on this book, one on the front cover and one on the back.

I’d love to have her opportunities and good fortune to be able to devote that much time, effort and money into a passion of mine. I do admire her gusto, and the courage it took to set up a new life in Paris to attend cooking school. I think its awesome that she took her knowledge and used it to teach normal people how to enhance their meals back in Seattle, where she currently resides.

Bossypants – Review

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Bossypants by Tina Fey
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir

This memoir/autobiography by Tina Fey is really a series of essays detailing some of the more memorable akward moments in her life from  her childhood in Chicago to her rise in fame. Tina Fey takes us through the backroads of her life in and out of the spotlight. Written as a series of essays detailing various aspects of her life, Fey lets down her guard. Her breezy writing style, one-liner jokes and a slight spattering of childhood photos has the feel of an intimate side-by-side chat with the actress.

As much as I loved this book, there was still so much that I wanted after I finished each chapter. There were many hot button topics that she lightly brushed on with her trademark wit, but never really got any deeper than that. Although I felt like I was having a side-by-side talk with the actress when reading the book, I still felt like she was holding back.

I came across this breakdown on another review of this book on Librarything, and I thought it accurately captured the breakdown of Bossypants:

46% Celebrity memoir
28% Essay collection
12% Feminist manifesto
9% Stand-up routine
5% Self-help manual

Some of the topics that she covered in her book were homosexuality, her Sarah Palin impersonation, a honeymoon cruise from hell and the difficulties for female comedians in show business. I’m not really sure what the overarching message is from the book other than something close to “girl power.” There is no chronological order to the book, as each chapter jumps topics and is a mix of funny bits and stories. There were a few moments where I felt she dragged on certain topics and it came across as slightly preachy. There were moments in her career that I had hoped she would expand on, but never really got to, such as her work as a writer on SNL. As much as I admire Tina Fey’s hardwork climbing up the ladder to commercial success, this book still left me unsatisfied.

By Tina Fey
Little, Brown & Co, 2011
ISBN 9780316056861
277 pages
Book 21 of 2011
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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

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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