Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vampire Tourism

Even though I’ve read the Twilight series (okay, only the first two) and am aware of the whole vampire craze, I was shocked to see its effect on tourism in the actual towns featured in the books. A waitress from Port Angeles, Washington, recently told me that business has picked up at the local Italian restaurant featured in the book. In fact, some tourists are stopping by to dine with those life-size cutouts of Edward.

I found the whole thing hard to believe, so I decided to check it out for myself when we stopped in another Twilight location: Forks. Sure enough, the town was teeming with vampire fanatics buying up Twilight gear and signing on for Twilight tours. A local real estate brochure encouraged would-be entrepreneurs to buy commercial real estate in the hot new “vampire” area. And (why not?) you can buy “vampire blood” (syrup?) along with your Tully’s coffee at the local cafĂ©.

The whole thing had me thinking of people who select vacation fiction that features the area where they will be traveling. I’m not that organized, but I did find myself fondly remembering a charming old memoir by Betty MacDonald called Onions in the Stew that details the author’s life with her young daughters on Vashon Island. MacDonald, who died in the late 1950s, was better known for The Egg and I. But her obscure memoir stayed with me for years and sprang to mind as I rode the ferry from Seattle toward the Olympic peninsula.

The amazing trees in Washington’s national parks also reminded me of how much I want to read Timothy Egan’s new book, The Big Burn, about the 1910 forest fire that inspired Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation efforts (in Montana and Idaho, not Washington).

So before you pack that next vacation book, why not consider choosing something related to your destination. Wherever you go, there you are, with a great book in your hand.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tip it!

Maggie Griffin is the mother of comedian Kathy Griffin. If you've watched Kathy's show My Life on the D-List or seen her comedy routines, you are probably familiar with Maggie. She is often the source of Kathy's amusing stories or subjected to Kathy's outrageous behavior. Maggie is famous for her mumus and love of boxed wine. But Maggie is finally getting her say with her new book Tip It! The World According to Maggie. It's a quick little read filled with stories of Maggie's childhood, her family, her husband and children, life in Hollywood, as well as her thoughts on various subjects, such as Bill O'Reilly and how much things cost. The family stories are charming and sweet and her observations are humorous. A lot of time it reminded me of my grandparents saying "when I was young, we..." which was comforting. Kathy adds her two cents here and there, adding to the humor, and I loved the back and forth conversations between them. Though Kathy teases her a lot and makes jokes at her expense, you can tell they really love each other, which is nice.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Best Cookbooks Ever

The Observer released it's list of the 50 best cookbooks of all time. Of course we see Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, Elizabeth David, Alice Waters, and Fergus Henderson. Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver even make the list. I don't think Thomas Keller made the list, which I thought was strange. There were quite a few that I have never heard of. But it got me thinking: what was the criteria for the list? What would make my list? To me, a great cookbook is one that has a pleasing design, includes beautiful pictures and recipes that I can (somewhat) easily replicate myself. And, they are cookbooks that I would turn to regularly. Although many of these cookbooks are considered classics, I don't regularly cook from any of them. I've cooked from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but it's not something I would do regularly. Momofuku is gorgeous, sure. But who (aside from the serious cook) actually cooks from it? Same with The Complete Robuchon and Henderson's The Whole Beast. While these are great cookbooks to read, what are the best cookbooks of all time for the average home cook? What are the cookbooks that you regularly turn to?

I am having a hard time coming up with titles. I have repeatedly used Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and The Joy of Cooking for reference, but I don't know if I would put them on the "best cookbooks ever" list. Let's hear from you: what would you put on your list?

Friday, August 13, 2010

If you make it through zombies, you can make it through anything.

Now that you've found a new love from Alikewise, find out whether your relationship will stand the test of a zombie Apocalypse. Apparently, I would not do well.

My relationship would survive for weeks in the zombie apocalypse!

Take the How Long Would Your Relationship Survive in the Zombie Apocalypse? Quiz at JessePetersen.net

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Forget eHarmony and Match.com

Not that I'm looking, but this great website was just passed on to me called Alikewise. Alikewise is a dating site that allows you to find people based on their book tastes. Perfect for librarians and book lovers, right?

I spent a little time browsing the site. For research purposes. I don't think there are many people using this site yet, because most of the searches I did resulted in the same 3 or 4 guys each time. None of which were of interest to me. But that got me thinking: is it a dealbreaker if your mate doesn't like the same literature as you? My husband is not a reader, but this has never been a problem for us. Whenever I talk to him about something I'm reading, he just nods his head and pretends like he is listening. And he tolerates my need to listen to audiobooks in the car, even if he'd rather be listening to some horrible death metal. I'm not sure if I would want a partner who is as into books as I am. At least he balances out my nerdiness and makes sure I am exposed to things like Jersey Shore and Ice Road Truckers.* What do you think? Is the same taste in literature important in a relationship? What if your mate is not into literature at all?

*In his defense, my husband does watch a lot of decent TV, like the History and Discovery channels.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do you think my neighbors would mind a few chickens?

I've always loved the idea of having a small little farm: a garden where I can grow my own veggies, a few chickens to produce eggs, even some bees for honey. But alas, I live in the city and the likelihood of moving to the country is nil, so it remains a dream for me. But city life didn't stop Novella Carpenter. A resident of Oakland, California, Novella decides to become an urban farmer, squat gardening in an abandoned lot and keeping chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, bees and even pigs in her back yard. Her book Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer is an entertaining tale of her attempts to create a farm amidst concrete and violence. Barbara Kingsolver's memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is probably a more well-known tale of do-it-yourself farming, but I found Novella's story more endearing. The urban aspect created some humorous situations, as well as some unlikely friendships with neighbors. Her farm not only serves to provide her with food, but it also provides a sense of community. Neighbors stop by to help with weeding and enjoy fresh produce. Young children get a chance to see pigs and rabbits for the first time. When Novella is dumpster diving for pig food, she meets the chef of a local restaurant who teaches her how to make salami and prosciutto from her pigs.

Novella's farm gives me hope. Perhaps I can have a chicken or some bees after all. My village's code is a little vague. I just read that Novella is working on a how-to book for urban farming, due out in the Spring of 2012. Yay! Maybe by then I'll have convinced my husband this is a good idea.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Well-Deserved Success

Although I truly enjoyed Kathryn Stockett’s wildly popular novel The Help, I have to admit that her seemingly instant success bugged me. I mean, who writes a first novel that seems incapable of sinking below the fourth slot on the New York Times bestseller list AND gets made into a movie by Spielberg? Some reviewers were as bothered by Stockett’s use of heavy dialect and ability to cash in on a dark chapter in African American history (Stockett is a white Southerner) as they were by her white heroine Skeeter’s decision to begin her writing career by editing and transcribing the stories of African American maids. Was the story really Kathryn or Skeeter’s to tell?

Stockett claims writing the novel helped her deal with homesickness in the wake of 9/11, and, although she did more conventional research as well, she also revealed that Grandaddy Stockett (98!) supplied many of the family stories that allowed Kathryn to understand an era before her time. It seems to me that all great writing is an ability to inhabit the lives of diverse characters different from ourselves. It would, after all, be difficult to populate a fictional world with only a narrow range of characters similar to the author.

Besides, Stockett worked hard to publish the novel. Although she became so discouraged at one point that she stopped tracking her correspondence to agents, she estimates that 60 of them rejected the novel before it finally found a home. So, I’ll stop envying Stockett her success and hope that Grandaddy Stockett is telling her some good stories about the Great Depression, which is the topic of her second novel in progress.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Still Missing

Chevy Stevens's debut novel Still Missing grabs you from the first page and doesn't let go. The story begins with Annie O'Sullivan's first session with a new psychiatrist. Annie has just reappeared after having been abducted and held captive for almost one year. A realtor, Annie had been hosting an open house for one of her properties. At the end of the day, she is just about to close up and go home, when a man shows up to see the house. He is friendly and personable, so Annie agrees to show him around. But she soon discovers he is not as innocent as he seems. Annie is drugged and taken to a remote cabin where she is held prisoner. The story moves between Annie's sessions with her psychiatrist, describing the events that occurred, and Annie's difficulties returning to her old life and the investigation into the man who abducted her.

Normally, I don't care for these kinds of stories. Stories with serial killers, rapists, psychos, etc. keep me awake at night, so I usually steer clear. But Stevens's novel got some good reviews and sounded intriguing, so I gave it a try. I was up pretty late last night. Not because I was scared (although it is disturbing), but because it is such a page-turner I couldn't put it down. The story is a little graphic and creepy for my taste, but I was hooked immediately, and a little twist in the middle kept me guessing right up to the end.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Beach Read for Foodies

Elin Hilderbrand’s Blue Bistro gives an insider’s view of an upscale Nantucket restaurant where heroine Adrienne Dealey is rebuilding her life after her ex-boyfriend stole her savings and left her flat broke. There to help her pick up the pieces is Thatcher Smith, charming owner of the Blue Bistro, who offers Adrienne a much-needed job, a crash course in the restaurant business, and perhaps more. Complicating the plot is Fiona, the restaurant’s talented and mysterious chef who may or may not be more than just Thatcher’s business partner. Some may find the behind-the-scenes descriptions of the restaurant a tad too detailed, but for foodies it’s the perfect frothy blend of mouth-watering menus and summer romance.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Corduroy Mansions

Alexander McCall Smith has begun another series with his latest novel Corduroy Mansions. McCall Smith originally published Corduroy Mansions in serial form in the Telegraph in 2008. Although I read this when it was published online, I'm glad to finally see it in book form. I still prefer print over computer anyday. Fans of his Scotland Street series will be pleased to find this similar read filled with quirky new characters, including a vegetarian Pimlico terrier named Freddie de la Hay, who lost his job as a sniffer dog at Heathrow Airport as part of an affirmative action program when it was discovered that all the dogs at the airport were male.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Butcher and the Vegetarian

How have I managed to go this long reading all these foodie books and blogs and have missed Tara Austen Weaver's blog Tea and Cookies? I just finished Tara's book The Butcher and the Vegetarian and found that she has a wonderful blog filled with recipes and gorgeous photos of foods and gardens. Absolutely lovely. Just like tea and cookies!

I was intrigued by her book The Butcher and the Vegetarian because lately there have been so many foodie books advocating either vegetarianism or eating less meat, but Tara went the other way: from vegetarian to carnivore. Tara was raised as a vegetarian, but had some health issues and was advised by several doctors to start eating meat. Although the meat doesn't improve her health, she embraces the challenge. Her experiences buying meat for the first time at the butcher shop, learning how to cook it properly, and trying to overcome her squeamishness eating animals are entertaining. I appreciated her ability to see both sides of the vegetarian/meat-eating argument, unlike Jonathan Safran Foer, who is ardently opposed to eating meat and makes sure you know it in his latest book Eating Animals. The only downside was that she didn't include any recipes. Probably because her first attempts at cooking meat didn't result in any fabulous dishes, but I would have loved to see some recipes for the vegetarian dishes she mentions.