5 Incredible Art/Food/Drink Books of 2014

I discovered these books mostly by browsing at bookstores, which I occasionally do…when I’m on vacation. Otherwise I’m listening to NPR’s Fresh Air, reading the NY Times Book Review and talking to friends about their recommendations. Here are 5 very unusual and exceptional books:

1) Meanwhile in San Franicsco, Wendy MacNaughton. This one I found at Pt. Reyes Books…in Pt. Reyes Station last summer:

meanwhile in sf cover

Artist and writer Wendy MacNaughton spends her time observing people and places, then draws them. How old fashioned. She is amazing.

meanwhile drawing 1

meanwhile drawing 4

meanwhile drawing 2

2) Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chast.  This book came to me because I read the New Yorker, and she is one of their best cartoonists. She is famous for her anxiety-ridden wit. This book is a memoir about her eccentric, hoarding, and aging parents:

chast book cover

chast cartoon 1

Need I say more?

chast cartoon 2

(Double click for a larger image.)

3) Tequila Mockingbird, Tim Federle.  This book Grace found while browsing Copperfield’s Bookstore in Calistoga. She knew it was for me, so she took a photo of the cover and sent it to me:

tequila mock cover

Each drink recipe is named after a famous novel. Skip the bottle of wine and bring this book to your next party!

tequila recipe 1

tequila recipe 2

Get the picture?

(Double click for a larger image.)

4) And now for the piece de resistanceThe Slanted Door, Charles Phan.

the slanted door cover

The long-awaited cookbook from The Slanted Door, James Beard award-winning chef Charles Phan’s beloved San Francisco Vietnamese restaurant.

I have eaten here many times… from it’s beginnings on Valencia Street to it’s beautiful Ferry Building location overlooking San Francisco Bay. I cannot wait to learn how to duplicate his delicious dishes!

slanted door photo 1

slanted door photo 2

slanted door photo 3

5) My Favorite Things, Maira Kalman. And last but not least, from one of my favorite children’s book illustrators, Maira Kalman. She is now writing memoir-like books. This is her latest, given to me by Grace for Christmas:

mairakalman-myfavoritethings cover

Amazon describes it briefly: It is a beautiful pictorial and narrative exploration of the significance of objects in our lives, drawn from her personal artifacts, recollections, and selections from the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

kalman drawing 1

(Double click to enlarge.)

kalman drawing 2

Maybe you remember the kids’ books…

kalman ooh la la

kalman swami on rye

We loved them and treasure them in our permanent book collection.

Three novels: Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests, Jane Smiley’s Some Luck, Marilynne Robinson’s Lila

imagesIn the past few weeks I have read Sarah Waters The Paying Guests, Jane Smiley’s Some Luck, and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, all written by writers at the top of their game and reviewed widely.

Sarah Waters writes literary period pieces set in England with lesbian heroines…mostly. The Paying Guests is set in post-WWI London in the home of a mother and her 26-year-old daughter needing to make some extra money, so they take in a married couple as boarders. The social class issues are beautifully detailed, as only Waters can  do, but the novel is a love story between Frances and paying guest Lillian. The first third of the book is about their developing relationship…the secrets and the hiding, and expert depiction of the psychological nuances of the young women’s inner lives. Their sex scenes are very well written, as Waters is an expert on the topic. Then the novel turns crime story.  I won’t give any of it away, but I will say that Waters deals with themes of naivete, deception and consequences in a suspenseful and complex manner. Bravo.

I cannot help but complare Jane Smiley’s Some Luck to Marilynne Robinson’s Lilaas they are both written by Pulitzer winning female novelists and both are sagas set in Iowa. First off, Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (Pulitzer Prize) is one of my favorite novels of all time. Others of hers have not rung my bell. This one has mixed reviews. The novel opens in 1920 on a farm in Iowa and follows a young family through 30 years, with the birth of their children and each chapter titled 1920, 1921, etc. It is a wide-sweeping family saga…unfortunately with no drama. The parents did not interest me. It bothered me that she created a male first-born of 6 children; it could have been so much more interesting, a different kind of story, if the first born was a girl.  Frank becomes the protagonist…and in a very strange way. Smiley puts thoughts in his head starting around age one. This spoiled it for me. Jane: either you are writing a straight-forward family saga, or you can do surrealism or even science fiction, but no one knows what is going on in the head of a baby! Some Luck goes year by year telling the comings and goings of farm family life in Iowa. Kind of ho hum for me…even though the woman knows how to write! I kept going hoping it would get better. It just stopped in 1953.

Lila is the third in a kind of family saga set in Iowa, with Home and Gilead (Pulitzer Prize) preceding this novel. In contrast to Smiley’s chapters all titled in years, Lila has no chapters. It is written is a kind of free association style, with plot and revery interwoven. Lila comes from the worst of humankind, is ‘stolen’ from her horrible parents (who we  actually know nothing about) by a woman, Doll, who deeply cares for her but is a somewhat paranoid drifter. We have to imagine that her ‘stolen’ life was better than the life she was born into, but it was awful as well. She is the archetypal neglected loner…also kind of wild and feral. She is smart, but with only one year of school. This story is about how she comes to live with and marry an old preacher…who is extremely kind, and with whom she experiences unconditional love and stability for the first time. Good story…but it is mostly a religious story; John, the preacher, is her savior. Lots of existential questions and answers, and lots of Protestant theology, which I was not that interested in. Also, the writing is extraordinarily chaste. Two major examples of this are: 1) Lila spent many years working in a ‘whorehouse’. Sex is never mentioned. 2) Lila gets pregnant after marrying the old preacher. Sex is never mentioned. Ultimately, this book is about a woman’s experience of cruelty and suffering and finally finding loving kindness.

 

Pogo said it all

enemy_squareThis cartoon came out in 1971, and was more of a commentary on pollution, but we have always used this expression to capture the problem of the ‘Ugly American’. Our seemingly paranoid fantasies about the CIA have been validated, and Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ got it right!

 

Michael Moore on the difference between a wallet and a gun

When it rains it pours!

hairballflood1

San Francisco is under seige from a huge rain storm in the middle of a drought. The San Francisco Chronicle story, The Biggest Storm in Years, tells the story of flooding, traffic jams and sinkholes. It was the ‘wettest two-day stretch since 2008’. This photo was taken in San Francisco Tuesday night around 8:45 under the Cesar Chavez underpass to Highway 101 about two blocks from our house. Some cars were completely submerged due to the drains being clogged and flooded. The Department of Public Works was out early this morning vacuuming.

A gutter drain at our house also was clogged, leaking rain into our storage area and getting the wood soaked and belongings wet. It took some detective work on my part, but I did figure out a temporary solution:

IMG_2204I redirected the gutter pipe so that it is now draining outside the house, and covered the pipe opening with plastic…while the gutter pipe is holding the plastic on. Very jerry-rigged, but I think it will hold, unless this rain turns into a hurricane.

 

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