Preference Personnelle
Friday, July 16
Here are some reading suggestions. They're aimed at a certain someone, but, y'know, it's something everyone can enjoy. Categorized, even, and without any nakedly-greedy Amazon links, which I'll save for next time:


Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical, by Anthony Bourdain
This is the only reason I broadened auto- to plain old biography. Bourdain is a chef, and a dark, funny, sarcastic writer. (If you enjoy his style, I'd also recommend his two cooking books, A Cook's Tour and Kitchen Confidential, and his fiction, especially The Bobby Gold Stories. For that matter, he also did a 'Cook's Tour' teevee show, but I haven't seen it. While I'm at it, there's also a book in the 'Urban Historicals' series that was written by Joel Rose. Not that Joel Rose, though.)

Persopolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi
R, I believe you were leafing through this when you visited a while ago. This graphic novel is frequently compared to Art Spiegelman's Maus, but aren't they all? It's great storytelling, about an Iranian childhood, and it's been getting excellent reviews, and Satrapi's art reminds me of Emily.

Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castenada, by Amy Wallace
Doubtless, part of the reason I keep returning to this book (I think I've plugged it twice before) is my fondness for Amy Wallace, of the People's Almanac/Book of Lists Wallaces. There was a big boom in the late '70s and early '80s for these sort of fake reference books (this is an intentionally-broad category that also includes The Way Things Work, the various Guinness books, James Burke's Connections, the first Straight Dope columns and those stupid gnome books that Martha Stewart's first husband made his bones with). Another part of the reason is my distaste for Carlos Castenada, the man who put the 'fake' in 'fake anthropologist' ('shaman' and 'sorcerer' already have 'fake' in them).

Books about food:

I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking, by Alton Brown
All of the cooking books I've been reading lately have the same problem--too many recipes, not enough talk about cooking. Alton's no exception, but the non-recipe portions in this one are great. His style reminds me, in a good way, of that Futurama episode where Bender wants to become a chef. "It's ten percent less than a lethal dose."

Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, by Shirley Corriher
It gets cited left and right by this new wave of flash-and-science-and-chez-panisse chefs, and, though I've just leafed through the thing, I'd say deservedly so. There are, of course, many very classic cookbooks, from people like Brillat-Savarin, James Beard, Julia Child and Alice Waters. It's too soon to tell, but I suspect that Corriher will someday enter their exalted company.

Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America's Obesity Crisis and What We Can Do About It, by Kelly D. Brownell
One of the things that often bugs me about this kind of book is the what-can-I-do-about-it chapter. They so frequently seem tacked on at the request of some outside force, which I anthropomorphize as a mid-level publishing employee who never reads actual books and is under the very mistaken impression that nonfiction demands an upbeat ending. This one's not too bad, though, and it manages the difficult feat of managing to come off fairly objective on a subject where the choice is between blaming cartoon boogeymen (why, yes, I am thinking of Ronald McDonald here) from the military-industrial complex or blaming, y'know, the fatso reader.

The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health, by Paul F. Campos
This book is perhaps more about health than some of the other obesity books I've mentioned. I'm, personally, more interested in the business and culture ends of things, but this is only a personal bias. Campos' book is well-researched, sober and considered. In a more rational world, this thing would be atop the nonfiction charts while the South Beach diet would occupy the same place in the cultural imagination as the Britney-Spears-endorsed, Red-Bull-and-Subway Malibu diet.

Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World, by Greg Critser
Now, here's a book about the business and the culture. Much like Fast-Food Nation, there's a considerable focus on refined sugars and hydrogenated fats. Unlike Fast-Food Nation, however, there is also a fair amount of Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon/Skipping Towards Gomorrah-style satire directed at this world of X-Treme Gulps and Texas Cheesecake Depositories.

The Penguin Atlas of Food: Who Eats What, Where, and Why, by Erik Millstone
Graphics, graphics, graphics. It looks like a cross between USA Today, somebody's final PageMaker project and the work of Edward Tufte. And, I suppose, it's another of those reference books that are supposed to reward pleasure reading. Speaking of reference-lite books and the visual display of information, have I mentioned my abiding fondness for '80s-vintage reference publisher The Diagram Group? I have. Also, the same Penguin series includes a title about sexual behavior (here's an Amazon look-inside-the-book) and one on women.

Food Politics : How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, by Marion Nestle
While I've yet to read this, it sure looks appealing. Politics, industry, influence--those are the kind of words I like to see in the title of a book about food.

The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin, by Ellen Ruppel Shell
Not particularly shrill or polemical, this book instead talks about obesity, genetics and medicine. Besides being a great general-interest science book, it's also a fascinating social history, with elements that remind me on one hand of Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test, about the SATs and meritocracy, and on the other of T.C. Boyle's The Road to Wellville, about cornflakes and quackery. Let me just suggest that Atkins is to patent medicine as Beanie Babies (and dot-com stocks) are to tulipmania. Well, except for the played-out-metaphor part.

Things I've mentioned lately:

Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film, Peter Biskind
His Easy Riders, Raging Bulls was fairly popular, and even spawned a series of teevee documentaries. I like this book even better (though, to be fair, that may relate to my actually being alive during the events discussed). Also, given their recent involvement in the media circus that is Farenheit 9/11, the Weinstein-centric content is especially timely.

Forces Of Habit : Drugs And The Making Of The Modern World, by David T. Courtwright
More consumption-related reading. This book has gotten pretty good reviews, but I haven't read it.

Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles, by Barney Hoskyns
Great stuff. Somewhere between Mike Davis' City of Quartz (which is referenced repeatedly) and Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon (ditto), Hoskyns treats sleazy entrepreneurial hangers-on like Kim Fowley and Rodney Bingenheimer with just the right blend of importance and contempt.

Cigarettes : Anatomy Of An Industry From Seed To Smoke, by Tara Parker-Pope
Simple and plain, the best book about tobacco I've ever read.

Have Gun Will Travel: The Spectacular Rise and Violent Fall of Death Row Records, by Ronin Ro
Ro's other books are kind of a mixed bag (short version: Gangsta: Merchandising the Rhymes of Violence is very good, Bad Boy, about Puffy, not nearly as good, and his fiction even worse), but this one's great--right up there with William Shaw's Westside: Young Men and Hip Hop in LA and Tricia Rose's Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America among the best rap books ever written. Does that come off as faint praise? (Other rap-books-of-note: Oliver Wang's Classic Material, the two Ego Trip books, David Foster Wallace's Signifying Rappers and Cheo H. Coker's Unbelievable: The Life of the Notorious B.I.G.)

Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000, by Martin Torgoff
This book sits near the top of my stack of library books, but I still haven't started reading it. I was thinking boomer memoir, but this review says 'sweeping epic.' I don't know about that.

Also, the link part:
Did you know there's a Guys Gone Wild video now? Salon asks one of my favorite media-crit questions: just who is the target audience for this thing?

And here's Brunching Shuttlecocks' Book of Ratings. These guys are also on some of those VH1 snark shows lately. Either you like the style or you don't, I suppose. From the Marvel Supervillain ratings:

The Leader: He's a green guy with a big brain. He's the Hulk's arch-enemy. Kind of obvious, really. Hero: Big green dumb strong guy. Villain: Small green smart weak guy. It's not really dripping with creativity, and the moral ends up being "clever planning and logic can never win against the sheer physical brutality of a guy who barely even knows where he is." This is not a moral that your average comic book reader wants to hear. D+
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