Tag Archives: New York

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.

Alice Hoffman – Museum of Extraordinary Things (2014)

MuseumofExtraordinaryThingsI’d heard of Alice Hoffman, author of The Dovekeepers, but never took the time to read anything she’d written. I fell in love with this book quite fast, and not only because it deals with some of my favourite subjects, (freakshows, immigrants living on the Lower East Side, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire), but because Alice Hoffman is an incredibly talented and beautiful writer.

Through her novel Hoffman traces the stories of two characters, Coralie, a young girl who spends her days serving her cruel father, Professor Sardie, and serving as one of his living wonders at The Museum of Extraordinary things, and Eddie Cohen, a Jewish boy who turned his back on his faith and makes a living as a photographer. The two lives intersect in various ways as they both attempt to help the other escape.

Hoffman is such an amazing writer, telling a story in such vivid detail. It’s been a while since I found myself completely lost within a book, but it was quite easy to do with this one. The characters are flawed and relatable and there is the perfect mix of intrigue and whimsy. Set against the backdrop of the Coney Island boardwalk and the Lower East Side Tenements, this book was a fantastic snapshot of New York City at a particular moment in time.

Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell – Empty Mansions (2013)

EmptyMansionsHugette Clark is a name that I have come across a handful of times; a name used when talking about wealthy eccentric reclusive women. When I saw that this book was about the Gilded Age as well as the Clark family I was intrigued and excited to read it. Unfortunately I had much higher hopes that Dedman and Newell were unable to deliver on.

First off Paul Clark Newell is a distant relation of Hugette Clark, and so in this book she is portrayed in a very flattering light. I’m not saying that I think she’s a terrible person. There is no evidence to that, nor is there actually much about her out there. But I do think that the writers of this book are way more than willing to view Hugette as a victim, who has been taken advantage of by the people around her, most notably the hospitals in which she lived out the end of her days.

I was really hoping that the book would provide a bit more information about the Gilded Age, the great families living on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and the total displays of wealth that accompanied their lifestyles. There is a bit of this at the beginning of the book. In fact a menu from one of Hugette’s father’s dinner parties is included which I obviously found fascinating (I will be attempting to make something off of this menu in the coming weeks). Still, the last two thirds of the book were all about family history and trying to discern the kind of person Hugette was.

In short the book was mediocre for me. Nothing really stood out. I was expecting a grand narrative of New York in the Gilded Age and instead got a pieced together family history. Some of the anecdotes were amusing and there were some interesting facts strewn about, but overall the book just fell flat for me.

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch (2013)

GoldfinchThis book got such rave reviews when it first came out, and while I can understand why, I personally didn’t love it that much. I thought it was a good book, and it has all the makings of a best seller, a tragic hero who gets himself involved in all sorts of criminal dealings, intrigue involving a stolen painting, and it’s long, very very long.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for long books, the longer the better in some cases. But with the Goldfinch, it felt like it could have been at least 200 pages less. There’s a lot of unnecessary detail, which detracts from the main plot. At points I actually found myself forgetting the important details about Theo; his mother died, he stole a painting.

There’s also a lot of broken dialogue that made this difficult to get through at times. A lot of “yes um – “ “Oh-“ “But-“ and while I understand the purpose of it in terms of Theo’s character, it drove me crazy.

The book is far from being terrible though, and Donna Tartt is a great writer. She manages to give a lot of detail, but does not use flourishing or unnecessary language, and aside from the dialogue, everything flowed relatively well. I think that people unfamiliar with Donna Tartt will like this, but for those who have read her other novels, The Goldfinch will come as a huge disappointment.

Lena Dunham – Not That Kind of Girl (2014)

NotThatKindofGirlI respect Lena Dunham, I admire her work, but unfortunately I just don’t relate to her. In most memoirs that I read I can find some chapter, or passage, or even the most passing reference that I can relate to. This was not the case. Lena Dunham has led such a different life and has experience so many different and unfamiliar things that I just couldn’t relate to anything she wrote about.

That being said, Lena is a fantastic writer; her book is written with an eloquence and grace that I was not quite expecting. She writes about traumatic experiences from her childhood with humour that can only be possessed by someone with the benefit od hindsight While I could not personally relate to her experiences with OCD, sleep disorders, therapy, and loneliness, they were written in a way that inspires understanding.

While Dunham does not write explicitly about her TV show Girls, one of the more fascinating parts of her book was seeing where the inspiration for certain story arcs and characters come from. Lena Dunham’s parents are both artists so she grew up with the New York art scene that Marnie is so separately trying to break in to. She spends one chapter writing about the antics that her and her two best friends caused while working at an upscale children’s boutique, Peaches and Babke. Her scenes translate directly to the episode(s) in Girls, which feature Jessa working as a sales clerk in an upscale children’s boutique, avoiding work at all costs. There are many other allusions to the show throughout her book and it was interesting to see where Lena has drawn her inspiration.

While I didn’t find Lena Dunham relatable, she writes with her own voice, in a very elegant and inspired way. There were certain parts of the book that I didn’t like, but overall Not that Kind of Girl, left a good impression.

Jennifer Egan – A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010)

AVisitFromTheGoonSquadJennifer Egan has does something very unique, creating both a novel meant to be read sequentially, and a collection of short stories that can be read on their own. Regardless of how you choose to proceed with her work, A Visit From the Goon Squad, is masterful in its conception and even more well done in its execution.

The novel follows a group of characters that are all a part of the music scene in New York City ranging from the 1960s to the present day. The two central characters to the stories however are Bennie Salazar, a music producer, and his assistant Sasha. The story does not move chronologically but jumps around in years as well is places with some stories taking place in California and Italy. With the backdrop of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll,” Egan also explores what it means to be happy. While some characters do find their happy endings, many are left in constant pursuit of happiness.

While at the beginning of each story or chapter it is not always clear who is narrating or what relationship that character plays to the rest of the plot, the stories always unfurl beautifully. You often find out what happened to certain characters through the eyes of others in a dynamic and beautifully woven narrative. I loved this book and want to read it again now that I know how different character’s live intersect with each other.

Rating: 5/5

#TBR Tuesday – Widow Basquiat

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While Black History Month is almost over, I saw this in Barns and Nobel in New York and had to pick it up. Much like I had been reading Generation X in anticipation of the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the ROM, I’m hoping to read this before I go to see the Basquiat exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Jean Michel Basquiat became one of the best known avant-garde artist and painter part of the 1980s art scene in New York. This book provides insights into the relationship between Basquiat and his lover and muse, Suzanne Mallouk a Canadian runaway. Jennifer Clement is well known for her beautiful prose, and I have no doubt that she has excelled in telling this unorthodox love story.