Monday, August 27, 2012

A Nut Case and a Cold Cucumber: Book Reviews

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Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)

Talk about varied reading habits...I'd like to say I savored them like a good dry martini but these two were quick and easy like downing a shot. 

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

First, the nut case...the author, Jenny Lawson. I found this book on The Guardian (UK) website as one book to read.  I should have remembered that the Brits have an off the wall sense of humor. This bio is not for the easily offended nor for those with weak sensibilities. Ms. Lawson is better known as The Bloggess and has about 2 million hits on her blog EACH MONTH.  Much more than your beloved humbled  She says she started the blog because she wanted a place where she could use foul language (NT Times book review).  She says," I very much own the fact that I'm a misfit."  Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)  is about her life and her many adventures and misadventures. It really is a very funny book if you don't mind really crazy (and I MEAN CRAZY) dialog and antics. She was born in Wall, Tx which is just outside San Angelo (that's why I bought the book really.  I'm also from a small Texas town).  Her father was a taxidermist and as they'd be driving along the long, straight deserted roads late at night, if he saw road kill, he'd stop and pick it up to maybe rehabilitate it into a wall mounting.  He even made a hand puppet out of the body of a dead squirrel.  Fun times!  She says she wrote the book as a love letter to her family.  I don't get that because they don't come across exceedingly well.  Plus she ends up with anorexia and has bouts of cutting and hurting herself.  This is supposed to be funny?  Well, it's the way she writes.  Her brutal honesty is "cut" (she'd write something like that) with an acerbic and off the wall sense of humor. Her chapter titles: And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane; Jenkins, You MF; Stabbed by Chicken and Just to Clarify:We Don't Sleep with Goats.   She and her husband have a running discussion about when there will be a zombie apocalypse. Jesus is, to her, a zombie.  When they buy their house in the hill country outside of Austin, she's concerned that the house may be on a burial plot and that one night while she is sleeping, the zombies will come out of the grave and kill her and turn her into a zombie. Because she and her husband have an argument about towels, she decides to irritate the hell out of him.  It's their 15th anniversary so as a gift she buys a 5 foot metal chicken she names Beyonce. She puts the chicken on her front porch.  She rings the doorbell, her husband opens the door, looks at it and closes said door.  She then moves it into the bushes but he can still see it from his office window.  For her, she says,"Best. Fifteenth anniversary. EVER."  She curses a great deal, argues constantly with her husband, is anti-religion (Jesus is SO a zombie) and is a confirmed Democrat.  Figures. Hey, she throws no punches when it comes to her regard for Republicans (Her parents are of that persuasion).   Anyway, if you want to read a really whacked out autobiography with some real laughs about, in my opinion, a tortured life, read Let's Pretend This Never Happened.   I think I'll take more into consideration the "MOSTLY True Memoir...

A cold cucumber...Yes, Chef.  Marcus Samuelsson would probably have a fit that his book is being reviewed along with a whacked out memoir from a Texas blogger.  But, I thought I'd "mix" it up, so to speak.  There is a plethora of chef bio's on the market.  The most popular are those of the Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential type.  Bourdain, the bad boy of the kitchen, is now more of a bad boy on TV's Nooooo Reservaaaaaations.  Samuelsson wants no part of the bad boy image.  His mantra is, "Stay invisible unless you're going to shine."  I've seen Samuelsson on Top Chef Masters as well as guest judge on Top Chef etc and to be frank, he comes across as cold as a cucumber and arrogant.  That's my opinion and I'm entitled to it. The reason I read his bio?  I wanted to know how a boy from Ethiopia transported to Sweden, raised by a white Swedish family, became one of the top chefs in the US.  His life story is very interesting but I found his telling of his life in the kitchen to be very sterile.  It has to do with what he said above, "Stay invisible..."  He began his life in Ethiopia with a single mother and an older sister.  At the age of 2, he as well as his mother and sister contracted tuberculosis.  The three of them trekked more than 75 miles with very little to eat or drink to get to a hospital.  They reach the hospital.  Marcus and his sister survive.  A year later, he and his sister are adopted by a Swedish, middle class family.  He grows up learning to cook from his grandmother.  He plays soccer and winter sports.  A real middle class upbringing.  He's too small to play soccer professionally so he takes up his next great passion, food.  He works in kitchens in Sweden, on massive cruise ships as well as in Switzerland.  While he is working in Switzerland, he gets a girl pregnant.  She doesn't want an abortion.  Because he wasn't making much money, his parents said they would make sure the young child was taken care of financially.  In recent years they've developed a relationship.  In 1991, when he was 21, he arrives in NYC to work at the Swedish restaurant, Aquavit.  The restaurant quickly earns a 3 star rating from the venerable NYT and 8 years later he wins the James Beard Foundation's "best chef" of NY award. And in 2009, he cooked for the first state dinner for President Obama. In 2010 he won Bravo's Top Chef Masters.  He is now the owner and executive chef of Red Rooster Harlem.  He makes some very strong points about why so few blacks have risen to the top of the culinary world.   He feels that for so many years blacks worked so hard to stay out of the kitchen. Now they have to fight to get in.  The NYT's review says of the bio," There's a strong undercurrent of loneliness in Yes, Chef.  in part because blacks are shamefully underrepresented at the high end of the business.  We get close, but not too close, to him in this memoir.  There's always a bit of distance...He's too white for some, too black for others."  I actually didn't finish the book.  Sorry, Chef.  Once he got to the intricacies of opening Red Rooster Harlem, I put the book down. Many years ago I read The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection by Michael Ruhlman and that told me everything I needed to know about opening a restaurant (a great read by the way). 

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