This blog is dedicated to the amazing staff at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl, 1998, * * * *

At an early age, Ruth Reichl discovered that "food could be a way of making sense of the world....If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were." Her deliciously crafted memoir, Tender at the Bone, is the story of a life determined, enhanced, and defined in equal measure by a passion for food, unforgettable people, and the love of tales well told. The memoir recalls childhood time spent with her mom, who was "taste blind" but "could make a trip to the supermarket sound like an adventure"; teenage fun with friends, including a non-Jewish boyfriend, who referred to her scrumptious matzoh brei as "fried cardboard"; dinner parties and a growing dedication to civil rights activism during college. Reichl introduces us to the fascinating characters that shaped her world and her tastes, from the gourmand Monsieur du Croix, who served Reichl her first soufflĂ©, to those at her politically correct table in Berkeley who championed the organic food revolution in the 1970s, including famed chef Alice Waters. Spiced with Reichl's infectious humor and sprinkled with her favorite recipes, Tender at the Bone is a witty and compelling chronicle of a culinary sensualist's coming-of-age

Atonement by Ian McEwan, 2002, * * * * *

On the hottest day of the summer of 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her older sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching Cecilia is their housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner, a childhood friend who, along with Briony’s sister, has recently graduated from Cambridge. By the end of that day the lives of all three will have been changed forever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had never before dared to approach and will have become victims of the younger girl’s scheming imagination.  Briony committs a dreadful crime, the guilt of which will color her entire life.  In each of his novels Ian McEwan has brilliantly drawn his reader into the intimate lives and situations of his characters. However, never before has he worked with so large a canvas: In Atonement he takes the reader from a manor house in England in 1935 to the retreat from Dunkirk in 1941; from the London’s World War II military hospitals to a reunion of the Tallis clan in 1999. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class, the novel is at its center a profound, and profoundly moving exploration,  of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, 1976, * * * *

Maupin's tale of a newcomer to San Francisco, the naive and reserved Mary Ann Singleton, and her misadventures with the residents of Barbary Lane (Mrs. Madrigal, the gay and proud Michael, the liberated Mona, etc.) is the stuff of Dickens' serials, brought to the 1970s in a flash of humor, adventure and out-and-out 1970s wackiness. First appearing as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle in the late 1970s, this six-volume collection provides a vivid flashback to that city and that time. Indeed, the series was written at a time when San Francisco's sense of itself and its community had not yet been swallowed by the consumerism of the 80s and 90s, and into the Dot-com economic revolution that eventually evaporated. Maupin, instead, takes you into an intensely tight-knit circle of friends and neighbors at Barbary Lane (the real Macondray Lane) on the slope of Russian Hill. There is a glimpse into gay life in the city in the pre-AIDS era. Maupin's writing is light and funny, self-referential and self-deprecating. I have read and re-read and re-re-read the entire series over and over again and have never failed to be entertained by the characters or the situations they find themselves in.   Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed a singular trail through popular culture  - from a groundbreaking newspaper serial to a classic novel to a television miniseries on both PBS and Showtime that entranced millions.  Tales of the City is both a wry comedy of manners and a deeply moving portrait of a vanished era.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed by Michael Kodas, 2008, * * *

Michael Kodas, a journalist for the Hartford Courant and several other Connecticut people collaborate with a successful climber of Everest to make an attempt at the summit of the one mountain every mountaineer hungers to put on their resume.  The book chronicles two parallel climbs,on opposite sides of the mountain -  Mr Kodas's party, and a party fully funded by a wealthy transplanted Bolivian doctor from the Washington, D.C. area. There is pure tragedy in the doctor's party as he hired a guide whose credentials he trusts but who turns out to be the lowest sort of glory hound. Mr Kodas's party, not even starting out with all members on level footing, descends into a bickering, acrimonious mess, with sabotage, missing equipment, and cruelty thrown into the mix. Most of the book seesaws between the tale of the doctor, left to die by an unscrupulous guide, the doctor's daughter's subsequent and dogged efforts to find the truth, and Mr Kodas's trials with the fractious and foreboding leader of his expedition.  High Crimes is a gripping and fascinating story proving that little has changed on Everest since Jon Krakauer’s bestseller Into Thin Air was published over a decade ago.   It is often difficult to comprehend what drives people to want to crawl up the face of a mountain, literally hanging in space, aware that they are courting frostbite, storms, failure, and death, from the capricious mountain they yearn to conquer. As it turns out, the mountain is almost the least of their worries!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, 1997, * * * * *

On May 10, 1996, writer Jon Krakauer found himself quite literally on top of the world  when Outside Magazine sent him to Nepal to climb Mount Everest on a guided expedition and write about it.  Krakauer thought he had a good angle.  In the 43 years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had become the first men to reach the 29,028-foot summit, Everest had become perceived as so routinely surmountable that a trip to the top was available to any fit climber with some mountaineering ability and the $65,000 cost of an expedition ticket. ''Hey, experience is overrated,'' guide Scott Fischer told him. ''We've got the Big E figured out....I'm telling you, we've built a yellow brick road to the summit.''   As Into Thin Air makes painfully clear, getting to the top is only half the battle, and overconfidence may be a good climber's most lethal enemy. Hours after Krakauer summited Everest  a storm led to the deaths of two of his teammates as well as their guides, Rob Hall and Andy Harris, plus Fischer himself, who was leading a separate group up the mountain.  Krakauer explores camaraderie of climbers, the commercialization of Everest, and the all-too-exploitable culture of the Sherpas, who are hired to haul equipment, supplies, and sometimes climbers as well. You are with him every step by debilitating step.