Recipes for Disaster
|This documentary film affected me in the same way that
to Cradle, Forks
Over Knives, and Fast
Food Nation did, by inspiring me to make demonstrable changes
in my lifestyle. John Webster, an English speaker living with his
wife and two boys in Finland, commits his family to a year without
petroleum. That means no car or boat (until Webster discovers biofuels),
no store-bought toothpaste, no food in plastic packaging, no new mascara,
and lots of limits on other things previously taken for granted. (Webster
does allow the family to keep plastics that had already been purchased,
such as a toy or dishes.) Despite all of the family's sacrifices and
the film's depressingly true statistics on climate change, there is
great humor in this story, such as when Mom sneaks out of the house
one night to purchase illicit snacks (packaged in plastic). Granted,
it's probably easier to go petroleum-free in a country like Finland,
but the family's ability to cut their usage by half is enough to spur
Americans to take small but significant steps. The best reward is
that the family spends much more time with each other and outdoors.
Recommended April 2013
Young House Love
|If you're acquainted with the Young House Love blog, there's
no need to read further: you're already a devotee of Sherry and John
Petersik's exceedingly attractive yet budget-friendly tricks for home
remodeling and design. This husband and wife, young as they are, have
transformed not one, but two outdated Virginia ranch homes with the
aid of fresh coats of paint, wise thrift-store shopping, key splurge
purchases, and a lot of creativity. They love saving money so much
and are so good at landscaping that they even had their wedding in
the backyard. Most of the projects require zero special tools or expertise,
and can be done in a few hours or a day. I don't buy books (I borrow
them) but this one might make me break my rule.
Recommended March 2013
|Klich, Lynda and Benjamin Weiss
The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection
|Billionaire Leonard Lauder, son of cosmetics legend Esteť,
began his love affair with postcards at a young age. A formidable
arts patron and a collector of Klimt and Picasso, he also amassed
a historical collection of postcards numbering in the tens of thousands.
His late wife, to whom The Postcard Age is dedicated, had
joked that Lauder had a mistress; she was referring to his postcard
trove. Lauder has promised it to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where
several hundred of the cards are now on view. For those who can't
make it to Boston, this book offers an annotated slice of the archive.
The focus is on European cards produced in the late 19th century through
World War I, an era when the postcard was often the fastest form of
communication, arriving in a few days or sometimes even in a few hours.
Postcards were also a canvas for advertisements, political propaganda,
fashion statements, and promotion of the fine arts. Included are postcard
puzzles that were sent to the recipient in increments, cards mailed
from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and cards sent from the trenches.
Art history buffs will devour this fascinating book, though it's a
delight for anyone with an aesthetic bent.
Recommended February 2013
|O'Connor, Flannery with Kelly Gerald (editor)
Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons
|Flannery O'Connor once wrote, "I come from a family where
the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency
produces hives, in others literature, in me both." While O'Connor's
literature is renowned, her visual art is mostly unsung. As a high
school and college student in Georgia, her irritation fueled a large
body of cartoons - usually one-panel linoleum prints - that appeared
in the newspaper, yearbook, alumnae journal, and other publications.
The cartoons aren't notable for any artistic prowess, but they capture
a southern all-girls school in the 1940s and reveal the young woman
who would eventually write masterpieces such as Wise Blood
and "Good Country People." Fans of O'Connor and the Southern Gothic
will appreciate this book, as will readers who are interested in quotidian
stateside life during World War II.
Recommended January 2013
|Up to a point, protagonist Hans van den Broek's trajectory
mirrors that of his creator, Joseph O'Neill. Both men have led an
international life, residing in the Netherlands as children, later
in England, and then at the Chelsea Hotel in post-9/11 Manhattan.
Hans' wife, for vague reasons, edges away from him and returns to
London with their young son. Hans is left practically friendless,
so he takes up cricket, a sport from his youth. While he is an accomplished
equities analyst, his fellow cricketers are working-class folk from
places such as St. Kitts, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The reader
is introduced to one cricketer, a Trinidadian named Chuck, when his
remains are dragged from the Gowanus Canal at the beginning of the
novel. As Hans narrates the story, Chuck seems articulate and driven:
an entrepreneur of sorts yearning to elevate cricket to professional
status in the States. Chuck insists Hans accompany him on his stops
along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, quickly revealing a shady side
to his business dealings. This is not a murder mystery, however, nor
a book chiefly about 9/11 or cricket, but a novel about immigrants
of all stripes at a unique moment in New York's history.
Recommended December 2012
|When the 99 percent learn about the Bernie Madoffs and
Ken Lays of the world, we're justifiably filled with anger and disbelief.
Those whose jobs, pensions, or life savings evaporated because of
a single CEO may never grant forgiveness. But what if that CEO is
your spouse, father, or best friend? Would you cut him out of your
life or allow him to make amends? Would you become his confidante
or a whistleblower? New Yorker and former Goldman Sachs analyst Cristina
Alger imagines such a scenario in Manhattan and the Hamptons, playing
out around the time of the actual subprime debacle. Carter Darling,
a billionaire hedge fund CEO, is implicated in massive fraud, though
speculation abounds about how deeply he was involved. His clan initially
rallies around him, but as details of his dishonesty and adultery
are revealed, family dynamics begin to shift. The unexpected death
of Darling's good friend, another wealthy investor, will keep readers
guessing until the last chapter. If you enjoyed watching the mortgage
crisis unfold from the inside in "Margin
Call," or if the Oscar-winning "Inside
JobĒ leaves you yearning for a less depressing version of the
financial collapse, try The Darlings.
Recommended November 2012
Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab
|Cab driving is a profession that few people aspire to
join. Dmitry Samarov needed the money, though, and it was a chance
to earn a living without being under the constant gaze of a supervisor.
Many hours of waiting for fares also allowed him to continue painting,
which he had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. Night after
night, year after year, Samarov ferried all sorts of characters across
the Windy City and its environs. Some said nothing, some talked incessantly,
while other customers smoked, vomited, or engaged in heavy petting.
"Cabdrivers catch people at the most revealing moments," Samarov writes,
"not when they have their game faces on, but with their guard down,
unable to pretend." In a series of brief vignettes, Samarov gives
readers a glimpse of these riders and their diverse personalities.
This slender volume is a quick read - sometimes sad, sometimes funny
- enriched by Samarov's watercolors and sketches of street scenes
Recommended October 2012
A Bad Idea I'm About To Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure
|Thanks to a prominent forehead and an unfortunate last
name, Chris Gethard was the target of many a childhood joke. As he
stumbled through adolescence in suburban New Jersey, his quick temper,
lead foot, and fear of girls led to further humiliations. Many of
us prefer to wipe such periods of disgrace from our memories, but
Gethard bravely resurrected them and transformed heartbreak into humor.
He became a comedian, joined the Upright Citizens Brigade, and now
hosts his own TV show in New York City. Gethard (pronounced geth-ARD)
chronicles many of his early growing pains in this collection, including
stories about adopting a goat for college credit, and a brief but
embarrassing stint in a semi-professional wrestling ring. This is
not highbrow humor - there's too much pyromania, puke, and adolescent
sex for that - but Gethard's knack at turning calamity into hilarity
Recommended September 2012
The Beekeeper's Lament
|Honey bees have had a hard time in recent years, not just
in the United States, but around the globe. Scientists aren't sure
what's to blame for Colony Collapse Disorder, which has left thousands
of hives empty, save for their confused queens and some honey. Some
say mites, fungus, or malnutrition are the culprits, while others
point the finger at pesticides and the stress of migratory beekeeping.
Why are vanishing bees a problem, aside from making honey a bit more
scarce or expensive? Bees and their keepers aren't just responsible
for producing honey; they also help pollinate acres and acres of crops,
especially almonds, apples, and other fruits. Over several years,
Hannah Nordhaus treks around the country following John Miller, a
migrant beekeeper and colorful character whose family's history of
beekeeping goes back generations. In a detailed but engaging journalistic
style, Nordhaus reports on how essential bees are to our economy and
food supply, and how labor-intensive and heartbreaking their tending
can be. She suggests ways the general public can help support bees,
such as decreasing pesticide use and planting more native flowers.
Recommended May 2012
Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn
|Have you ever thought of grass as a crop? It does require
loads of water, lots of pesticides, tons of fertilizer, and much tending.
But as crops go, it's pretty worthless and unappetizing for humans.
In this collection of inspirational essays and practical garden examples,
Fritz Haeg show us how to turn our thirsty lawns into lush, communal
spaces that provide much tastier crops: juicy tomatoes, crunchy sweet
peas, red raspberries, and the like. The regional planting calendars
in the back of the book will have you drooling.
Recommended January 2012
In Case We're Separated: Connected Stories
|These stories link family members and places in a chain
reaching from the 1930s to the Reagan years. An adulterous cousin
from one story appears as a protective mother in another, a doting
son as the somewhat controversial cousin in another, and various sisters
as flirts and gossipers throughout. As they pop up in story after
story, characters are seen from more and more perspectives, making
them more nuanced than in an ordinary novel. Mattison writes literary
fiction with populist appeal that deserves more attention. Poets will
be delighted by "A Note to the Reader" at the end.
Recommended December 2011
The Paris Wife
|Real life events portrayed in fiction make me nervous.
"Did she truly say that?" I wonder. "How did the author know what
he was wearing?" I worry that history will be muddled by prose and
I'll never be able to extricate it. So it was with trepidation that
I started reading Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, a fictional
version of Hadley Hemingway's life with her infamous husband. After
a few pages, my fears disappeared. McLain had snuck into Hadley's
head so completely and written such compelling conversations that
I no longer cared about historical accuracy. McLain gives nuance to
Ernest's philandering and betrayals, as well as to his first wife's
all-too-frequent forgiveness, without painting either as a total tyrant
or victim. Anyone fascinated by the Paris scene of the twenties will
also enjoy the eccentricities of Stein, Fitzgerald, Pound, and other
Recommended September 2011
Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011
|Your boss might not recommend this book. After a few pages
of the lush, full-color photos, you'll want to call in sick permanently
so you can depart for Lonely Planet's top-ranked locales. This veteran
publisher of travel guides has picked the best destinations for 2011,
including old standards (Italy and Hawaii) as well as places that
some folks might not have considered (Syria and Namibia). The editors
aim for affordable travel, but throw in some over-the-top extravagances
like an underwater hotel and double-bed airline suites that go for
$6,445 a flight. Don't miss the top-10 lists in the back of the book,
such as Best Places To See Red (Soviet-themed destinations), Best
Places for Dance Fever, and Fieriest Foods.
Recommended March 2011
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
|Don't be misled by the titleóthis not a foreign-language
guide to combines, but a hilarious novel. Two years after Nikolai's
wife dies, the 84-year-old marries a mail-order bride less than half
his age. His daughter is hardly enthusiastic, but tries to stifle
her resistance. When the Ukrainian wife arrives with her son and berates
and abuses Nikolai, the family unites to take action. Recommended
for children who have been parental caregivers, readers with Ukrainian
roots, or anyone seeking comic relief.
Recommended February 2011
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
| The Western worldís perception of Pakistan often comes
from news reports about violence, Kashmir disputes, or natural disasters.
Thatís why itís so refreshing to read this colorful volume of short
stories about ordinary life and love in both rural and urban Pakistan.
Mueenuddin takes us inside the head of jealous siblings, corrupt bureaucrats,
a maid leaving her drug-addicted husband, and a father defending himself
against a motorcycle robber. Each piece focuses on a new character,
but one wealthy landowner leaves his mark in several stories.
Recommended December 2010
|Back in August 2005, if you had lived in New Orleans when
Katrina was about to hit, would you have hightailed it or hunkered
down? As the storm was nearing the city, a successful small-business
owner and landlord known as Zeitoun decided to stay home and keep
an eye on his properties. His wife wasnít hot on the idea, obeyed
the mandatory evacuation, and took their daughters inland. Through
daily phone calls with her husband, she learned that Zeitoun survived
the storm and used his canoe to bring others food, water, or to safety.
Abruptly, Zeitounís wife loses contact with her husband, unaware that
his Syrian background and Islamic faith have been used against him.
Dave Eggers, after months of interviews with the family, chronicles
Zeitounís arrest and his familyís reaction. If you like nonfiction
that reads like a fiction story, check this out in audio or in print.
Recommended November 2010