Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bookstore Cat Contest, Theater, Children's Book Facts and Delicious! By Ruth Reichl, The Madwoman in the Volvo by Sandra Loh and The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

I've always thought that cats went with bookstores naturally, like peanut butter goes with jelly, so when I saw this in Shelf Awareness, I had to look at all the bookish cat photos and smile, of course. I miss having cats of my own, but now that I'm allergic, the only kind of cats I can appreciate are those seen online. 
After much "delipurration," Quirk Books has chosen Amelia of the Spiral
Bookcase, Philadelphia, Pa., as the winner of its Contest for Bookstore Cats
The winning photo will be featured on, and the bookstore receives a $100 cash prize (to be spent on cat treats, we assume).

For the contest, Quirk invited feline booksellers from around the world
to compete for a chance to jumpstart their Internet celebrity campaign.
Competitor cats were asked to command someone with opposable thumbs to
take a picture of them "reading" the Quirk title, How to Make Your Cat
an Internet Celebrity by Patricia Carlin, with photos by Dustin
Oh how wonderful that they're taking this fascinating book and turning it into a Broadway play! We have a theater here in Seattle, BookIt Rep Theater, that does this with all kinds of books every year. Founded by the great John Billingsley about 25 years ago, it's been going strong here in this literate city.  But I'd still love to go see how this adaptation turns out.
On Stage: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The cast has been announced for this fall's Broadway premiere of The
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
a stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's bestselling novel that won an
Olivier Award for best new play during its run at the U.K.'s National

The Simon Stephens drama, staged by Marianne Elliott (with movement by
Steven Hoggett), will star Alexander Sharp, "a soon-to-be Juilliard
grad, in his Broadway debut," reported. The cast includes
Ian Barford (August: Osage County), Helen Carey (London Assurance),
Francesca Faridany (The 39 Steps) and Enid Graham (The Constant Wife).

The Curious Incident is scheduled to begin performances at the Barrymore
Theatre September 10, with an official opening October 5. Producers
announced that more than 50 tickets at each performance will sell for
$27--a curious incident of the affordable Broadway ticket.

Here are two videos that captured my imagination this past week. The first is the marvelous John Green, whom I will love forever for writing "The Fault in Our Stars," talking about little known facts about children's lit. The second is a drool-worthy bibliophiles tour of bespoke libraries from my favorite TV news program, the elegant Sunday Morning. John Green shared "47 charming facts about children's books" at Mental Floss.
I think that this is a book whose time has come, (and I need to buy a copy) and none too soon. I read reports every single day about all the things that are bad for us in our food, our environment and our everyday lives. It is disheartening and often confusing. But here is some clarity in book that takes a look at all the junk and regular science and separates fact from fiction. Halleluiah!
Is That a Fact?: Frauds, Quacks, and the Real Science of Everyday Life
by Joe Schwarcz
 Are genetically modified foods bad for the environment? Do organic foods provide any health benefits? Does the recently reviled plastic ingredient Bisphenol-A (BPA) cause birth defects? Joe Schwarcz (An Apple a Day), director of McGill University's Office for Science and Society, explores these questions and many others in Is That a Fact?

Schwarcz offers three color-coded sections: black for complete quackery, gray for mixed opinions, white for confirmed facts. Each section has about two dozen short essays that can be read in any order. Readers can binge on an entire section or select bite-sized morsels about topics such as diet hype or homeopathy (the latter, as far as Schwarcz is concerned, boils down to magic placebo water). Schwarcz is particularly adept at uncovering the ultimate financial beneficiaries of unsound science and the cultural factors that occasionally perpetuate fraudulent claims. The recent crusade against "pink slime" (an additive used in ground beef products) was an unscientific affair, but Schwarcz does credit chef Jamie Oliver for his general efforts to improve nutrition. Dr. Oz is another mixed bag: Schwarcz believes he has good intentions, but his promotion of diet "miracles" is driven by ratings, not science.

The final section (confirmed facts) is less focused than the other two. Schwarcz wanders between topics as disparate as dry ice and airport security. The diminished momentum and scathing charm are the only casualties, though; he loses none of the layman-friendly clarity and wit that makes Is That a Fact? accessible to any reader. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl is the NYT food critic and Gourmet editor's first foray into fiction.Though I'd read all her wonderful non fiction works, including Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, I was unsure if her fiction would be able to stand up against her popular previous works. I shouldn't have worried, as Reichl, is a born storyteller, whose fictional characters bound full-bodied off the page and into the reader's heart. Publisher's Weekly sums up the plot thus: "A young California woman named Billie Breslin (a barely disguised Reichl) lands a job at a food magazine called Delicious! in New York City just before it is shuttered by budget-minded bigwigs. As part of an interim position fielding calls and correspondence from subscribers, Billie stays on as the lone employee in the old mansion from which the magazine was published for years. A character named Sammy, the fey former travel editor for the mag, leads her to a beautiful library on an upstairs floor, where they uncover letters written to the famous James Beard from a girl named Lulu during the Second World War—letters that have been hidden in a secret chamber by a long-gone librarian named Bertie. Billie embarks upon a scavenger hunt for the remaining the letters, and, in the end, on a journey to find their aging author." PW found the book bland and the prose too sweet, but I heartily disagree. Delicious reminded me of my own days at a Florida lifestyle magazine, first as a writer and then as the senior editor. Though I was doing my stint during the stone age of the 80s, and Billie is at her magazine on during the years leading up to the Great Recession of 2008 and beyond, the same cast of characters, evil publishers, deadlines and discoveries apply.Though I never found a treasure-trove of letters from WW2, I still loved, as does Billie, exploring relationships with the vendors of food and drink that one encounters at a magazine, meeting with celebrities, discovering new places and meeting readers and learning their stories. I also met my husband while working at the magazine, and I learned a lot about love and life while employed there. So Billie's story resonated with me, but it was also a funny, warm, witty mystery that I could not put down. The prose was sterling and the plot glided along beautifully. All in all, a book that I would recommend to anyone who loves food and food magazines, and those who enjoy epistolary mysteries. A well-deserved A.
The Madwoman in the Volvo by Sandra Tsing Loh was a timely book for me to pick up because I'm currently in the throes of menopause myself, and, as the author wisely surmises, it's much easier to get through the "change of life" with some sage advice, some alcohol. chocolate and friends.
 Though it's non-fiction, Loh's book reads like a hilarious novel of fictional characters, from her first husband, Mr X, to her crazy 88-year-old Chinese father who is so cheap he dumpster dives for food. Again, from Publisher's Weekly (who approved of this memoir much more than they approved of Reichls):
"Southern California author Loh has amply demonstrated her stand-up comic skills in her syndicated radio show and previous autobiographical works (Mother on Fire) and here faces down her life at sudden impasse in her late 40s. Having left her longtime husband and father of her two preteen girls, Mr. X, as she calls him, two years before, she took up with Mr. Y, a theater colleague and friend of 10 years whom she regarded as the Ethel to her Lucy, “the sunny island my shipwreck had landed on.” After a reckless affair that she compares to a prison break (“We dug ourselves out of our cells with spoons, and we ran for it”), the two left their spouses and cohabited. Tsing Loh, half-Chinese, half-German, recognized that her abrupt fits of weeping, “gothic moods,” worry, and manic energy were no doubt the first symptoms of menopause"
Though Loh is obviously not going to take the insanity lying down, she often veers into wacky territory with the lengths she is willing to go to in order to ameliorate the symptoms of menopause. From crazy diets and therapy to personal trainers and books like "The Happiness Project" Loh careens off of the corners of sanity and at times I was shocked by admissions like the one in which she felt she no longer wanted to parent her children. I understand being a parent at a late age, as I had my son when I was 40, so how he's a teenager (a bit older than Loh's two preteen girls) and yes, he's demanding and difficult at times and certainly not as cuddly as he was when he was a baby. However, I still love him so much that I couldn't imagine life without him, and I certainly would never abandon my son in a fit of selfish depression. Fortunately, Loh doesn't leave her children, and her life does get better as she finally comes to grips with the truth that the real problem is hers, and how she reacts to the world, and not everyone elses. While I can understand that her rescue from symptoms came from certain hormones, plus reading The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr Christiane Northrup and getting a housekeeper, plus having her second husband and her children agree to help around the house and cook, I know that for me, such things are not going to be practical in navigating my menopause journey. Regardless, I've given this book an A, and I'd recommend it to any woman going through perimenopause or menopause who feels like they're going crazy and doesn't know where to turn.
The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers was not at all what I expected of this author, whose book Miss Garnet's Angels was so delightful and such a great read. This novel, about a foundling orphan named Agnes Morel is so sad and full of characters eager to do damage to a mentally-challenged young woman that I nearly abandoned the novel halfway through. As it is, the book paints the people of France as being none too bright, and mostly cruel and viscious gossips. The final few pages actually turn things around for Agnes, but they don't dim the horror of all she was exposed to and all that she did while under the influence and aegis of religious people (nuns and priests) and doctors who were supposed to take care of her. Though there is a brief rape scene in the book, the rapist is never identified, nor brought to justice. Still, I would give this novel a C, and recommend it to people who like innocent developmentally challenged protagonists.

No comments: