Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Calvin Trillin has never been a champion of the “continental cuisine” palaces he used to refer to as La Maison de la Casa House. What he treasures is the superb local specialty. And he will go anywhere to find one. As it happens, some of his favorite dishes can be found only in their place of origin. Join Trillin on his charming, funny culinary adventures as he samples fried marlin in Barbados and the barbecue of his boyhood in Kansas City. Travel alongside as he hunts for the authentic fish taco, and participates in a “boudin blitzkrieg” in the part of Louisiana where people are accustomed to buying these spicy sausages and polishing them off in the parking lot. In New York, Trillin even tries to use a glorious local specialty, the bagel, to lure his daughters back from California. Feeding a Yen is a delightful reminder of why New York magazine called Calvin Trillin “our funniest food writer.”
Rating: Travel companion
Long story short: I enjoyed stepping into Trillin’s whirlwind foodie world, where he visits and revisits cities around the globe for the sole purpose of eating his favorite dishes. As a traveler and food connoisseur, I can relate. However, the stories lack depth, and they miss the opportunity to make larger connections between humans and food that would have been interesting to explore, like why we cook what we cook, how food connects us across cultures, and what transformations in food science mean for the future of humanity, to name a few.
This is a good travel book or lighthearted read, but don’t expect to get much out of it (much of the information is dated and few specifics are given re: restaurant names and places). Have you read Feeding a Yen or any other work by Calvin Trillin?
Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.
Rating: Travel companion
Long story short (no spoilers): I first read this book when I was in high school. I remember really enjoying it, so it was a little bit of a surprise that I didn’t feel the same way this time around.
What I liked:
1. The protagonist, Maisie, is a complex character that grows throughout the course of the book.
2. The story/plot is original and interesting: it features a female lead in a non-traditional profession during a time when that was very uncommon, and it has a good amount of intrigue and the mystery is set up fairly well.
What I didn’t like:
1. The pacing is bad. The story starts off in the present, then spends a good chunk of time in the past via flashback, then it’s back to the present, then the past again, and finally the present. The back-and-forth didn’t let me fully immerse myself in the story.
2. Dialogues between characters seem awkward, forced, and sometimes superficial. Even those between Maisie and the 2-3 people she’s closest to lack depth.
3. Aside from Maisie, none of the other characters were fleshed out completely. It felt like their descriptions and actions barely scratched the surface.
I think that the first time I picked up Maisie Dobbs I hadn’t found many books I liked that featured strong female leads, so I was especially drawn to this one. After having read other similar books, this doesn’t seem like the best representation of that category. I do own at least the next two books in this series though, so will be continuing my way through unless they turn out to be really bad.
Have you read Maisie Dobbs or other books by Winspear? What did you think?
Brief synopsis (Goodreads): In between highbrow and lowbrow, there’s Unabrow.
As a girl, Una LaMarche was as smart as she was awkward. She was blessed with a precocious intellect, a love of all things pop culture, and eyebrows bushier than Frida Kahlo’s. Adversity made her stronger…and funnier. In Unabrow, Una shares the cringe-inducing lessons she’s learned from a life as a late bloomer, including the seven deadly sins of DIY bangs, how not to make your own jorts, and how to handle pregnancy, plucking, and the rites of passage during which your own body is your worst frenemy.
For readers who loved Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and for fans of Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, and Amy Schumer, Unabrow is the book June Cleaver would have written if she spent more time drinking and less time vacuuming.
Rating: Travel companion
Long story short: At times I find memoirs and personal essays a little hard to get through. The writing style and tone are sometimes better suited to a verbal telling, so after a while the words grate a little and I have to go do something else for a couple of days. I found this to be the case with Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance (it was hard not to read everything in his voice, kudos to his editor) and to some extent with Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.
This was also true with Unabrow, though since the book was relatively short I powered through it. LaMarche’s collection of personal essays offer a glimpse into her colorful world. Naturally there were things I could relate to (eg., worrying about gym class back in middle school) and things that made my eyes glaze over (eg., almost every reference to the 80s), but overall it was a fun read.
My favorite chapter was probably “Death Becomes Me”, where LaMarche walks us through her (and her parents’) macabre obsession with death when she was a child. This included writing letters to both her and her sister when they were out of town in case one or both of them “didn’t make it back”. At one point they opened them out of curiosity. Their dad’s had instructions about his memorial service along with a music playlist, and their mom’s had contact information for their mortgage broker. “What a downer,” said LaMarche to her sister, “I didn’t know we would still have to pay for the house.” (55)
The familiar essay is one of my favorite genres, and I would recommend giving it a try. If you haven’t read any yet, I’d start with At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman; it was the book that got me hooked!
Have you read Unabrow? What do you think of personal essays?
After three years of driving to work (in stupid, erratic traffic no less), I’m finally able to reduce my carbon footprint by walking to and from campus. In addition to it being healthy for the environment, it’s letting me sneak in more reading time (which is always a big plus).
Do any of you get to read on your way to/from work/school/other activities?
P.S. Yes, that’s henna on my hand!
Hello everyone! I’m writing this post from my new home in Seattle! I moved over the weekend, well ahead of the start of the school quarter, to give myself time to explore my new neighborhood. After fixing up my room for the better part of three days, I treated myself to some new books this morning at my local bookstore. You’ll have to wait until the end of the month for that haul list, but here’s mine for August!
- The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
- Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs, book 3) by Jacqueline Winspear
- The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs, book 4) by Jacqueline Winspear
- The Case of the Missing Books (Mobile Library Mystery, book 1) by Ian Sansom
- Mr. Dixon Disappears (Mobile Library Mystery, book 2) by Ian Sansom
- The Summer we Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
- Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman (Kindle)
- The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (Kindle)
- The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness, and Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers (Kindle)
- Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy, book 1) by Jeff VanderMeer
- Acceptance (Southern Reach Trilogy, book 3) by Jeff VanderMeer
- The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida
- Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer by Una LaMarche
- Emma by Jane Austen
- Cabin Fever by Mandy Smith
- Motorcycle Diaries by Ernest Che Guevara
- When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris