Archive for the 'Books' Category

My Dumb Summer Reading (a review)

September 6, 2006

The notion of “summer reading” is based on the ridiculous premise that from June through August, we’re all just lolling around under a tree, sampling from a stack of paperback delights. Whatever. I did get a few things read this summer, however, and the list is not only semi-retarded, it is unsatisfying haphazard, like a meal thrown together out of someone else’s leftovers:

A Benjamin Franklin Reader Edited and Annotated by Walter Isaacson
Ben Franklin is a prick–the first in a long line of tiresome American “humorists” to adopt disingenuously simple personas in an effort to make me ill. I am trying to give this book away but no one wants it.

French Woman Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Giuliano
I read big chunks of this lifestyle guide aloud to my little sister using my best Scolding Headmistress voice. I think that is the best way to enjoy it. The author is clearly insane, but she’s hit on something that works for her, and she writes with the convincing authority of someone who relies entirely on personal experience. That’s alright. Her long discourse convinced me to start cooking real meals again, and to experiment with new flavors. I may not be eating less, but I’m absolutely enjoying my food more.

The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
This was a loaner from a good friend who agrees with my assessment: the story is massively annoying and also impossible to put down. The author must have been trying to set some kind of record—her narrator, a gay Vietnamese cook working in the Parisian kitchen of Gertrude Stein, wrestles with gender issues, sexuality issues, class issues, ethnic identity issues, child abuse issues and cultural issues. But Truong is a good writer, and somehow she manages to keep this goofy overload from weighing down her story. Along the way you get plenty of random recipes, flash forwards, flash backs, and an ocean voyage. You know the drill.

Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes and The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
I dug both these books out of the neighbor’s trash. They are sort of the same thing: a peek into the absurd world of the spoiled, pampered and self absorbed Upper East Side. Except the first was written by a good natured, self-aware insider and the second by a whiney, resentful outsider. Guess which was more fun?

The Variety of Religious Experience by William James
William James is really the man. This book, one of the first attempts to fully describe faith and spirituality as experienced by the individual, is easy to read, entertaining, and offers insight into the motivations of folks whose religious life may otherwise strike you as utterly alien and ridiculous. James is a wonderful writer, and his fond appreciation for the weirdness of his fellow man is contagious, but the best parts are the vivid first person accounts by everyone from Saint Theresa (the lady who loved Jesustoo much) to a self-hating monk who goes way beyond the usual hair shirt schtick. I got this book new at Barnes and Noble for just $7. Best deal I got all year.