Tag Archives: Memoir

Julie Kavanagh – The Girl Who Loved Camellias (2013)

16030646I’m not quite sure what compelled me to pick up this book. It tells the story of Marie Duplessis, one of the 19th century’s most well known courtesans from her difficult upbringing to her rise among the Paris elite. Made famous by her beauty, Duplessis’ story is much better known through the novel, play and opera that made her a cultural icon.

In her colourful biography, Kavanagh seeks to look at who Marie Duplessis actually was not the woman portrayed on the stage. Duplessis was much more calculating and manipulated that she is portrayed as. This will be disappointing to those readers looking to find some integrity behind Marie as her letters to various suitors and willingness to do anything to get ahead show that Marie was quite calculating and her one true love always remained money.

Kavanagh is actually quite sympathetic to Marie however using her hard upbringing as an explanation for her behavior later in life. The daughter of wretchedly poor peasants in Normandy, her father an alcoholic peddler, Marie’s early life was definitely not easy. After moving to the city and working as a laundress however Marie (formally Alphonsie) began to gain notoriety for her looks and realized she could make money and succeed being “kept” by another man. Her love of material good strong, Marie elected to this option.

This was a good book but I wish that Kavanagh had spent a bit more time setting the scene in 19th century Paris. I loved learning about Marie Duplessis but would have loved to know more about her historic context and the world of high class courtesans in Paris.

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Eddie Huang – Fresh Off The Boat (2013)

Fresh_Off_the_Boat_-_A_Memoir_(book_cover).jpgI came across a recommendation for this book as I was looking for more food writing to read. I knew absolutely nothing about Eddie Huang except that he started BaoHaus in New York. Huang turned out to be super interesting and I sped through this book.

First, not only is Huang a chef, but he also studied Law before deciding to open a restaurant. He writes extensively about his experiences growing up, his tumultuous relationships with both his parents and struggling with his identity as an Asian-American. As a teenager Huang caused all kind of trouble ending up in fights and getting arrested at one point in time before deciding to turn his life around. Even still Huang never fit the mold of the stereotypical Asian-American and complains about all the advocacy groups he encountered on campus who refused to try and break through the “Bamboo Ceiling.”

Huang’s writing style is also great, it’s conversational and flows so well, which is unsurprising as he is a huge fan of R&B and hip-hop, which is reflected in his writing. Huang is also so educated and it was hilarious reading about his experiences in school. One second the dude is praising Kanye and talking smack about specific basketball players and then in the next line he’s dropping quotes from The English Patient, and going on about how Jonathan Swift changed his life.

I loved this book, it’s more Anthony Bourdain than Anthony Bourdain’s own writing. I so badly want to go to Baohaus (Because I loved this book, as well as a good Bao). Because this book is about Huang’s growing up, it’s not exclusively about food and can appeal to a wide audience. I haven’t seen any of the show yet, but I’m definitely planning on starting.

Hunter S. Thompson – The Rum Diary (1998)

TheRumDiaryHaving previously read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as well as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, I came into this book familiar with Hunter S. Thompson. I liked this book way more than the previous ones.

I don’t even really know why; it’s similar to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the Caribbean setting just makes it better for some reason, and I found I liked all the characters better too. This book is exactly what you’d expect from Hunter S. Thompson, a semi-autobiographical rum-soaked account of working as a journalist in the Puerto Rico. The story is about the journalists who work at a ill-fated magazine and their tangled love triangles, jealousy, and drunken shenanigans and violent outbursts.

While it feels like it was written by a older man reminiscing, Thompson was only 22 when he penned this narrative, something I did not know until doing a bit of research. It’s surreal in a way, the experience that 22 year old Thompson had in Puerto Rico. It’s a fun read and a great introduction to Hunter S. Thompson for those unfamiliar with his hilarity, absurdity, and genius.

Anya Von Bremzen – Mastering The Art of Soviet Cooking (2013)

51M7OxYdMNL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_In this book, part memoir, part cookbook, Anya Von Bremzen traces her family’s history living in Russia (then the Soviet Union) by discussing the type of food they ate. She starts with her maternal grandparents living in Russia in the 1920s but jumps back and forth in time and space between her homeland and 1980s Philadelphia where she and her mother immigrated to. At the end of each chapter Von Bremzen depicts a dinner party her mother is hosting in the present day, where she and Anya are attempting to cook through the history of Soviet food.

Unsurprisingly there is a lot of hardship throughout the book, especially when Anya is discussing life in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. In addition to the food rations, Von Bremzen also discusses the indoctrination of Soviet youth and how her mother was once a proud Soviet citizen before becoming disillusioned with the system. The depictions of the meals are vivid, although I could have definitely used a glossary; I had a hard time keeping all the Russian terms straight and knowing what was what.

At the end of the book Von Bremzen has included a number of recipes discussed in the book and I am looking forward to trying my hand at at least one of them. I had been familiar with Russian cuisine from its imperial age (Thanks Anna Karenina), but know less about Soviet cooking. I love food and think that cooking another culture’s cuisine is the perfect way to get to know them.

Recommended Listening:

This podcast from The Table Set that discusses hosting a Russian themed dinner party. 

Recipe To Try:

An adaptation of Anya Von Bremen’s pirozhki recipe from the tasting table.

A video showing the AV Club sampling Soviet Sodas.

 

Frank Abagnale – Catch Me If You Can (1980)

51AQbpQquRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It’s quite surprising given that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks are my two favourite actors, that I hadn’t seen Catch Me If You Can. I saw it on Netflix, gave it a try, and loved it. Obviously. The next step was to read the book, which was equally as entertaining especially since I didn’t realize that Frank Abagnale was a real person who did pose as a Pan-Am pilot among other things.

There are some striking differences between Abagnale’s memoir and the movie, most notably Tom Hank’s character doesn’t actually chase Abagnale around the world and all of his mishaps don’t really happen. Abagnale is able to avoid capture by law enforcement in multiple countries but the Detective is much smarter than the bumbling Tom Hanks.

Overall the book is a great companion to the movie. Abagnale goes to great length detailing exactly how he accomplished his multiple cons including posing as a doctor, a lawyer, and most famously a Pan-Am pilot. A con like his would be impossible to pull off in today’s internet driven world, but it’s still fun to think about and quite unbelievable what Abagnale was able to actually get away with. This was a great read and well worth it.

Recommended Reading: This article in which Frank Abagnale talks about the demise of the con artist amid the rose of cybercrime.

Recommended Watching: The Movie!

Kate Bolick – Spinster (2015)

Spinster“Spinster” is one of those terms that is not as commonly used as it once was. Having used to refer to a woman who remained unmarried whether a conscious decision or not, the term has fallen into disuse, or when used conjures up images of severe middle-aged “spinster librarian” types. (A stereotype that, as a librarian, I dislike). In her book, titled Spinster, Kate Bolick explores what it means to be single and seeks to reclaim the term.

In this book (an outgrowth of a 2011 Atlantic Article, “All the Single Ladies”) Bolick traces the lives of five great female writers (all of whom never married) and interlaces their lives with stories from her own personal journey. I’ve never read anything quite like this before, that blends memoir/autobiography with non-fiction. I was unsure at first, but as I kept reading I really began to like Bolick and drew my own inspiration from her.

Unlike Bolick’s article in the Atlantic, which was much more “fun” featuring one-night-stands and whirlwind romances, Spinster, is full of contemplative ponderings and the joys of solitude. I bought this book at a time when I too was trying to find joy in being alone after a tumultuous relationship and maybe that’s why it spoke to me so much. If anything it made me realize that I was going to be ok, and being alone, as much as I disliked it at the time did not make me a failure.

I feel like this book will split readers down the middle with some loving it and other hating it. It’s interesting and I fall on the side of those who loved it. Spinster is above all a product of Bolick’s long-term goal; a rejection of the traditional female role for something that she finds more fulfilling. Agree or disagree with Bolick, it is still an insightful and interesting read.

Recommended Reading: How to Be Alone from Thought Catalog. This is an older article but is still in my bookmarks, and I revisit it often.

Recommended Listening: A podacst episode on Self Care produced by Bitch Media for Valentine’s Day. 

Michael Gibney – Sous Chef (2014)

18142414Continuing with my love of food writing I picked up Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef and liked it almost immediately. Gibney blends his journalistic style of writing into the Anthony Bourdain-world of being a chef that Gibney inhabits. This is by no means the first account of what it’s like to work in a kitchen of a restaurant, nor do I think it will be the last, but Gibney presents his story in a creative way telling the story in the form of “24-hours on the line.”

Gibney takes the reader through every stage of his day from ordering food to kitchen prep to staff tastings and finally closing and after work activities, giving a glimpse into the effect that the job can, and does have, on his personal life. Working such insane and unpredictable hours make it difficult to maintain friendships with people who don’t work in the industry. As Gibney writes however, he enjoys the people he does work with and the strong sense of camaraderie comes through in his writing.

The only complaint I have is the overuse of jargon. I can forgive this though, Gibney is a chef and writing with the terms he uses on a daily basis makes this an authentic experience. There’s also a glossary of terms at the back which was helpful. While this book isn’t a huge game changer it’s a quick paced and enjoyable look at the life of a sous chef.