You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me
by Nathan Rabin
2013 • 272 pages • Scribner
As I’ve had the opportunity to cultivate my current lifestyle of constant media consumption (dimmed only slightly by the enjoyable necessity of full-time work), I’ve developed certain rituals about how I consume what. (I have an anxiety disorder and I was raised by ex-Catholics. It’s be expected.) I watch films in total darkness, helped by New York’s absurdly early sunset these days. Television programs can be watched in any lighting conditions, with varying attention levels based the program. (Gotham? Appointment viewing. Late Night with Seth Meyers? Keeps me from falling asleep while I do my makeup in the morning.) Even prose, which I previously prized for its ability to be consumed anywhere, now takes center stage during my commute.
However, I’ve come to realize that prose is not prose is not prose. I’ve known for a while that I consume print prose and digital prose differently, whether or not the text in question originated as print or digital. But the context of a writer’s development is also a factor. For instance, especially in light of today’s book, there’s the AV Club versus the Dissolve. The Dissolve is an unofficial offshoot of the AV Club, sprung from both a desire to focus exclusively on film and, I deeply suspect, a desire to write personally about films in a way that the AV Club’s house style for major features discourages. If something as small (if ragingly important) about what viewpoint to write from can influence a writer, then it’s easy to see how a medium can affect them. There are plenty of writers who can capably switch writing mediums without a hitch, or even just impose their voice on any form that takes their fancy.
by Lucy Knisley
2013 • 192 pages • First Second
Despite my love of cooking, I don’t review cookbooks for this blog. There are a lot of reasons for that. Firstly, I don’t actually read that many of them, because the Internet is my main resource for recipes. Secondly, I don’t actually read them the way I consume media. I rifle through them, searching for something I like, and when I finally do alight on a likely candidate, my improvisation is brutal because of my lactose intolerance, laziness, and cheapness. When I look for a recipe for myself, it’s with the specific intent of making it my own.
But when I read food histories or food-centered memoirs, it’s a different story. I’m seized by the urge to recreate a historical dish, to better access the past through my sense of taste, or by the need to go find the pizzeria this book recommends and see if it’s really worth all the praise. Relish’s recipes and recommendations proved all the more tempting for author Lucy Knisley’s clear, clean, and bright artwork. I have bookmarked places to go eat in Chicago because of this book, and I have never been to Chicago nor plan to visit Chicago. I have an ear of corn in my fridge from the farmer’s market, ready for me to eat raw, per Knisley’s fond memories of doing so. I even copied her recipe for sautéed mushrooms down to the letter, but my stomach was being peculiarly tender and refused to digest it.
Best Food Writing 2011 edited by Holly Hughes
I think the reason I like food writing so much is because it’s both personal and, if done correctly, visceral. I say “visceral” instead of “sensual,” because the latter, with all its positive, sexy connotations, would exclude such repulsive magic as Pete Wells’ disappointed letter to Guy Fieri in lieu of a review of his restaurant in Times Square. Even people who aren’t foodies (those exist, right?) have certain foods that mean something to them, even if it’s just how to eat an Oreo. (A stance that can, apparently, start fights. As for myself, I’m in the “fried Oreos” camp.) It’s the relationship between eater and food that fascinates me, thus my interest in historical cooking.
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
I feel like Pyongyang was floating around the book blogger community about a year ago, although it earned much of its acclaim upon its English release in 2006. (It was first released in French in 2003.) I was so sure when I sat down to write this post that Ana had reviewed it, but it turns out I totally hallucinated that. This leaves me with nothing but my tremulous fascination with North Korea as motivation, which is forever tinged by its birth upon reading World War Z. The ideas of a totally (or near totally) isolated country and such strict control over the media are almost concepts that I just can’t wrap my head around. So I picked up Guy Delisle’s travelogue to get a better handle on it.
The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison
Oh, to be French and lactose intolerant. Luckily, I see my lone dietary restriction as a hearty challenge to see what diary products are worth suffering the slings and arrows of indigestion for. Milk? Not so much. Baked Brie? Pass me the Lactaid. Lately, while I’ve been cooling my heels in my hometown between academic gigs, I’ve been spending every Saturday morning at our farmer’s market with my mother and mainlining Capra Gia goat cheese. Goat milk is actually easier for people like me to digest, and it is also delicious. When I saw an entire book about not only cheese, but French cheese, I knew I had to honor the motherland and my newfound adoration of goat cheese. (She makes this cranberry chevre that is just… oh man…)
The Times of the Eighties edited by William Grimes
In 2005, MTV ran a program, undoubtedly influenced by the success of That 70s Show, called The 70s House. It was a reality competition where twelve contestants parted with the modern world, lived in a simulcrum of the seventies 24/7, and competed to see who could be “the most 70s”. I never saw it, but when I heard about it, as a tender, awful-haired fourteen-year-old, I daydreamed about the possibility of a The 80s House, which I would undoubtedly dominate. Such a show never surfaced, of course, but something like The Times of the Eighties would have been very useful to prep for my audition. When I saw it on NetGalley, I couldn’t hit the request button fast enough.
Letters from Egypt by Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon
So The Mistress of Nothing was a huge disappointment, but it did have one saving grace: introducing me to Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon. As I said in that post, “ [a] middle-aged woman moving to Luxor, Egypt, in the 1860s, traipsing around town in androgynous kit, holding salons, and generally being awesome?” Sign me up. I added it to my Kindle app as soon as I finished, but it’s taken me forever to get through Letters from Egypt, from reasons ranging from the stomach flu from hell (it killed a laptop!) to getting distracted during designated digital book reading time (when I blow-dry my hair). It feels like this is always the way with me and books in the public domain, even if it’s something I love. I gotta fix that.
Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman
When I was a but a wee lass (or, to be more specific, the wombat that walked as a girl), there were a select few philosophical conundrums I chewed on constantly. The concept of mortality occupied much of my time, but, in my considerations, I occasionally expanded to extreme distances. The idea that I could go all the way right and end up right back where I started boggled my (metaphorically) little head. I’d forgotten about these recess ponderings until I ran across Matthew Goodman’s Eighty Days. Initially, I picked it up because c’mon, lady reporters racing around the world in the late 1880s! But reading it, it reminded me of those recess ponderings—in a good way.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
I have very little sense of pop culture history before the eighties, and that’s only because I Love the 80s was split up into ten episodes devoted to each year and I watched that in order. This is a constant source of amusement and disappointment to my roommate—I mean, I thought Pat Benatar wrote “Helter Skelter”, for Pete’s sake. But in the digital age, there’s no excuse for ignorance, so I decided to educate myself. A little research dug up The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, neatly combining an introduction to Tom Wolfe with an introduction to the counterculture of the 1960s.
Born Round by Frank Bruni
Born Round is one of the mystery recommendations on my list. Did it come from The New York Times, who surely must have reviewed a book written by its former restaurant critic? Did it come from Nancy Pearl (unlikely, since I think this was published after Book Lust)? In any case, it was on my list, and I’ve been on a nonfiction kick recently, which shocks me just as much as it must shock you. It sounded interesting, and I took a perverse pleasure in reading this book while I ate, since it was the only time during finals I had to read.