Review: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe

taylorhowstarwarsconqueredtheuniverse

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe
Chris Taylor

★★★★☆

2014 • 450 pages • Basic Books

Sometimes, I feel for George Lucas.

As a fan, watcher of cinema, and eighties freak, I am, of course, absolutely infuriated by Lucas’ long history of “improving” his films and refusing to release the original theatrical cuts on DVD. (I know, I know, they’re available as “special features” in one of the Special Edition’s DVD releases. But let’s be real, that feels like a slap in the face.) But I do feel for the guy. I’ve always gotten the feeling that Lucas’ career got railroaded by Star Wars in a spectacular way, a feeling that How Star Wars Conquered the Universe confirms.

It’s easy to forget that the story of Star Wars is not just a story of a film franchise and its fandom, but also the story of Lucas’ career up until the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012. But Chris Taylor’s well-balanced How Star Wars Conquered the Universe makes sure to tell all three in remarkably readable fashion. And by readable, I mean that I started tearing up a little when Taylor concludes the book by describing the only things we could know about Star Wars: The Force Awakens: the iconic introduction. Damn you, John Williams! You can get me even when I’m reading something in perfect silence!

Continue reading

Review: Consider the Fork

wilsonconsiderthefork

Consider the Fork
by Bee Wilson

★★★★☆

2012 • 352 pages • Basic Books

After a year of negotiating shared kitchens, I’m excited by the prospect of stocking my own (incredibly tiny) kitchen from scratch. My own tiny little French press for my coffee; a blender that does not wimp out; and an entire half of a freezer to myself. Simple things, really. I don’t think of myself as a particularly technical cook. I occasionally just ignore calls for more advanced equipment and do my own thing, even (and often) when I’m making medieval recipes. But even what I consider the dead basics—French press; blender; freezer—are pretty advanced, especially in the context of what constituted cooking for the bulk of human history.

Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork opens in much the same fashion, asking us to consider the common wooden spoon as technology that has been developed and improved over centuries. Cooking has long walked a delicate line between conservatism—people unwilling to deviate from tradition—and fads—people rushing to buy the latest thing that promises less time in the kitchen. But it seems odd to consider such basics, like utensils, the kitchen, and available heat sources, as massive leaps in technology. But they absolutely are. As Wilson points out, if you spend all day tending the fire, you’re not going to want to bring water near it if you don’t know that boiling water is useful for cooking.

Consider the Fork is full of little observations like this, in a remarkably orderly fashion. Wilson’s writing style is just as engaging and accessible when she’s talking about wacky kitchen gadget trends (egg beaters were apparently a massive thing back in the 1800s) as it is when she’s reporting from the sides of food historians like Ivan Day, who roasts meat the traditional medieval way. Between sections, Wilson includes notes on specific gadgets, instead of larger trends, although these are a lot fluffier than the meat of the book. And she’s certainly not afraid to include herself, talking about her own kitchen and experiences with cooking gadgetry without ever coming across as too cuddly. (Is this because Wilson is British? It might be because Wilson is British.) Continue reading

Review: How to Create the Perfect Wife

How to Create the Perfect Wife by Wendy Moore

moorehowtocreatetheperfectwife

The first time I watched My Fair Lady with my mother, I was disgusted when she sighed over Eliza returning to Professor Higgins as “romantic.” (Keep in mind, this was the thick of the Wombat Years, so it took very little to anger me.) Eliza, a spitting tigress of a slip of a woman, had spent the whole musical suffering under his tyrannical hand. Plus, she had a love interest—the adorable Freddie—and even had a whole song about wanting him to be more direct in his affections. (Were this tumblr, I might refer to it as a “WE SHOULD TOTALLY MAKE OUT” song.) George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion to poke fun at the Galatea myth, and he, like myself, was infuriated that the musical adaptation pulled this.

Continue reading