Friday, October 30, 2015

How To Love Wine by Eric Asimov

How To Love Wine by Eric Asimov
Reviewed by Chris, Community Engagement Librarian at Bridgewater Library

Eric Asimov didn't set out to be a wine lover. He is the chief wine critic of The New York Times, but he certainly didn't set out to be that, either. But the former changed in the 1980s when Asimov, already a food lover, discovered (with a simple white Zinfandel) how well food and wine could work together, and then, in 1982, the offhand purchase of a random $8 bottle of Barbera changed how he looked at wine forever.

That "chief wine critic" thing that he didn't set out to be either? He's the 'chief' of a staff consisting only of himself. He wanted to be a standard beat journalist, and then a food writer. He ended up in the job pretty much by accident while trying to get the top restaurant reviewer position.

But enough about Asimov; you want to know How To Love Wine. It's pretty simple, and I'll give it away here: wine is tasty, you drink the wine that tastes good to you, and you try not to drink the stuff that doesn't. Ignore all the stuff about 100-point scales and notes of fig and persimmon; what you want to know is "does this wine taste like something I want to drink?"
Wine shouldn't be this snobby, exclusive experience, argues Asimov. It should be a drink that gives pleasure, like it was for thousands of years (although wine is much more delicious now). He talks about the perils of wine tastings, especially blind tastings (dismissed as a party trick), and of trusting critics (including himself) -- taste is a subjective thing, after all.

Despite the title, this isn't a manual. (Heck, I gave away the secret two paragraphs ago.) It's a combination memoir of Asimov's life (especially related to wine and the Times) and a few chapters on wine itself, and why the wine culture in the US misses the point. It won't tell you how to discern the difference between a 1920 Chateauneuf-de-Pape and a 2006 Brother Thelonious (except that the latter is a beer), but he will tell you how to learn about wine in your own home, on your own time, preferably with friends and a good dinner.

A quick read; recommended for those who think they might love wine, but are scared to make a wrong decision.

Monday, October 26, 2015

I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones and Can I Go Now? by Brain Kellow

I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones and Can I Go Now? by Brain Kellow
Reviewed by Laura the Librarian

Grace Jones and Sue Mengers both gained notoriety in the 1970s and 80s, and two new biographies spotlight these very powerful women and their legacies.

I'll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones recounts the singer, model and actress' struggles from childhood to adulthood. She delves deep into the expectations placed on her as a child growing up in a strict religious environment in Jamaica to the discrimination she faced breaking into the entertainment world. Jones, of course, defied expectations and became an international star. She was a fixture at Studio 54, and Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall, Keith Haring, Dolph Lundgren and Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, all play a pivotal role in her story. 

Her diva behavior is legendary, and she never apologizes for it. She sheds light on her demands and how she influenced many others like Madonna, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. She comes across as thoughtful and honest about missteps she has taken along the way (turning down Blade Runner?!). Jones has certainly had a colorful life, which makes for an entertaining read.

Can I Go Now?: the Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent by Brian Kellow examines the brash woman who became as famous and powerful in Hollywood as her many of her clients.

Mengers rose to prominence in the 1970s with a roster of clients such as Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Candice Bergen and Peter Bogdanovich. Her no-holds-barred style won her a lot of loyalty from clients as well as scorn from many in the industry. Mengers was a formidable agent and hostess (her dinner parties were considered legendary for their guest list alone). Her eventual decline began when she lost Streisand as a client and failed to cultivate other rising talent. 

Kellow captures the transformation of a movie-driven Hollywood in the 1970s to a more commercial-driven Hollywood in the 1980s. He includes many first-hand accounts about Mengers from friends and foes and looks at her complicated relationships with her mother, husband, friends like Gore Vidal and David Geffen and clients like Streisand. The biography is candid and catty, much like its subject.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

Reviewed by Chris, Community Engagement Librarian at Bridgewater Library

"I have discovered that there is romance in food when romance has disappeared from everywhere else" -- Ernest Hemingway

Cara Nicoletti escaped from the world by both cooking and reading. She spent her early years in her grandfather's butcher shop and ended up a cook and butcher herself after moving to New York City. She started a blog called "Yummy Books" to celebrate scenes in books that involve food heavily.

In 'Voracious', she goes through some of her favorite books, from childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and writes about first how the book affected her in that phase of life (and again upon rereading), and then includes a recipe closely related to that book or scene (think cookies for If You Give A Mouse A Cookie or cherry pie for In Cold Blood or even a roasted pig's head for The Lord of the Flies.)

I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, although they seem quite tasty. I tore through this book in a couple of days, sharing in her reminiscence of books we both loved, and learning about books I (shockingly!) have yet to read. The recipes are different from the ones offered on her blog, so even regular readers of her writing will gain something new from this book.

Read this if you enjoy reading and cooking -- it's a cookbook for the literate, or a book list for the gourmet.

Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

The last entry in the series found dear Dexter in a damning situation.  Dexter didn’t do what he’s accused of – he didn’t kill those people!  (Yes, true, he’s killed lots of people, but not these specific people!)  Dexter is in jail, his sister has turned her back on him and the kids are with child services.  Who will rescue our anti-hero and his dark passenger?  Well, you know what is thicker than water right?

I have listened to all seven of the Dexter books, so of course I had to listen to the eighth.  Yes, they are dark and dreadful, but the reader (who is also the author) is terrific.  If you even slightly enjoyed the television series you will love the books.  Also, while the first season of the television show does mirror the first book to a point, it diverges from the plot we viewed and goes in completely different directions.  The characters are the same, but everything else has changed.  Were you really bummed that a favorite character died in the television show?  Fear not, chances are the character is still alive in the books! 

Let’s face it; the title is pretty in your face and straightforward.  However, things are left open at the end.  It’s up to you dear reader to decide.  Is Dexter dead?

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Not only is Wonder Woman’s origin story not really known, how the character came to be is equally mysterious.  Until now.  Lepore hunted around lots of archives and sorted through personal papers to get to the heart of Wonder Woman’s creation.  What she uncovered is the nontraditional family of the creator that fed his creation, as well as the roots of feminism and women’s rights that sparked the imagination of one man to create the first enduring, and it can be argued, only enduring, female superhero.

William Moulton Marston is an interesting juxtaposition of differing perspectives and ideals.  He is dedicated to the cause of women’s rights, believes women will come to rule the world and rightfully so in his opinion, yet he lives in a household of seven individuals: his wife, his four children, and the mother of two of the four.  All seven live in harmony but the “not legal” wife lives in fear that her children will discover her secret, one that they do not know until they are adults.  Marston is a famous (or should I say infamous) inventor, having created the lie detector machine (can you say golden lasso?) and he also was one of the first psychology professors teaching the subject as a discipline rather than an offshoot of philosophy.

I found the personalities behind Wonder Woman’s creation intriguing, but I really enjoyed learning about the women who fought for women’s rights to birth control that inspired her creation.  Wonder Woman doesn’t form until about two-thirds of the way through the book, so I was a little disappointed in that.  I was hoping for more about the character, but the characters behind the character are fascinating.

I recommend this book to those looking for an in-depth profile of an almost forgotten creator of part of American pop culture, with a story stranger than fiction at its core.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Li Du was a librarian at the Imperial Library in the Forbidden City until he was exiled.  After wandering for a few years he arrives at the small city of Dayan on the Tibetan border.  Unbeknownst to him the Emperor will be in Dayan in days to celebrate the eclipse.  Li Du reports in with the local magistrate, protocol for exiles, and plans on leaving the next day.  That night after a storytelling session, one of the guests, a Jesuit priest is dies.  Li Du checks the dead man’s room and suspects foul play.  The magistrate, who happens to be Li Du’s cousin, doesn’t want to believe that it was murder but allows Li Du to investigate.  Will he find the killer before the Emperor arrives?   Or will Li Du suffer further disgrace at the hands of the Emperor?

I knew next to nothing about China in the 1780s, especially the southwestern border regions.  This book really brings the time and place to life.  Li Du is the perfect reluctant tour guide, familiar with most of the customs, but still removed from the workings of the place and current politics.

Mystery lovers will enjoy the plotting and historical fiction lovers will enjoy the detail and atmosphere.