Nonfiction

Hurricane Books

I hope everyone on the east coast is staying safe after the destruction of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy.  Today's storms are met with an overload of information: pictures on social media, non-stop news coverage, live reporting and high tech computer models of the storm's projected path.  But if you are in the mood for a more in-depth read about storms, check out a few of these titles.

The 1900 Galveston Hurricane was one of the deadliest on record.  Over 6,000 people died in this massive storm, which was complicated by the lack of technology and a complete understanding of weather patterns.  Erik Larsson is an excellent non-fiction author and in Isaac's Storm he tells the detailed story of the storm, but also of the meteorologist, Isaac Cline who failed to make the best use of the information he saw.  The historical details of weather prediction combined with the suspense of the building storm make for an excellent read.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

Unbroken tells the amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, a rascally little boy who grows up in Southern California to Italian immigrant parents. As a child, Louie is constantly in trouble and has a restless energy. His saving grace is being introduced to long distance running by his older brother. Louie ends up running in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and is focused on the 4 minute mile and another chance at the 1940 Olympics.

Back home, he enrolls in USC and continues running when the War interrupts. Louie joins as a gunner in the Army Air Forces. He is eventually sent to the Pacific theater and after a few successful missions, his plane crashes in the Pacific during a search mission. Three members of the aircraft team make it to two small liferafts and his unbelieveable story continues. Louie's 40+ day survival on a life raft seems impossible. Then he is shot at and captured by the Japanese and unofficially is held in horrible war camps. Here too, his survival is seemingly impossible.

Louise does survive, his spirit is damaged, but also hopeful. Louie's story will stay with you. I kept thinking of him and his story well after I finished the book.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

If you think for a moment that you had a hard childhood, read this memoir. Mrs. Winterson, as Jeanette calls her adopted mother throughout this account, was incredibly tough, and often cruel. Routinely, she locked her young child out all night, so that Jeanette sat frozen huddled on the front stoop until her dad came home from his overnight shift. Other punishments included being locked in the coal bin and forbidden food. Repeatedly, Mrs. W. told Jeanette that the devil sent her to the wrong crib when she chose Jeanette for adoption. Even food was a scarce commodity in the Winterson home. When Jeannette attended the grammar school for older kids, her mother never applied for the lunch program even though they were poor and ran out of food and gas (to cook it) each Thursday before payday.

Books were not allowed, and when Jeanette became a teenager and found a job, Heaven was a bookshop filled with thousands of books. She brought a few home every week and hid them in the only place her mother would not check--under the mattress.  Alas, one night a copy of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love slipped over the

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

When enthusiastic home cook, Jennifer Reese lost her job she wondered if making homemade staples would be more cost effective.  Is homemade mayonnaise cheaper than the tub you buy in the store?  And just as important, does it taste better?  Her book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter has over 120 recipes for the from-scratch cook - looking for both cost savings and taste improvements. 

Reese's journey to make and taste homemade versions of cupboard regulars like peanut butter and bread and the more exotic like camembert and prosciutto includes helpful input from her family. She makes it sound like making your own ginger ale isn't crazy -- but actually fairly easy, cheaper than store bought, and delicious.  Her voice throughout the book is casual and often really funny.  The best part of the book is her interest in the highly practical and includes a 'hassle factor' for each item.  Every recipe has a realistic cost comparison with store bought and an indication of how difficult each item is to make.  Right there is bold print is a verdict on each item: Make it or Buy it.  A few items get a warning.  Make or buy cream cheese?  Reese says to make it once and then decide.  Make or buy English muffins?  Depends on whether you are eating them plain or as a base for eggs benedict.

Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood

Making Babies is a delightful book about mothering--not all flowers and grace--but a truthful and somewhat sardonic account about the joys and frustrations of new parenthood. Irish novelist Enright and her husband, Martin, a playwright, had been married eighteen years before having a child. In this book, she details the whole process, from the week she decided that they should try to have a child soon (when she was already pregnant) to the period after her second child was born.

Enright describes a photo of herself taking immediately after the birth. She looked "pragmatic and unsurprised," but then later when they moved the baby to their room down the hall, she noticed that, "The child looks at the passing scene with alert pleasure...She is saturated with life, she is intensely alive. Her face is a little triangle and her eyes are shaped like leaves, and she looks out of them, liking the world."

Contrast this with the chapter titled "Milk" where Enright discusses the absurdity of starting a new biological function in her late thirties. She also remarks that there's no quicker way to clear a room than to begin breastfeeding there. It's not the sight of the breast so much, as the loud raucous sounds coming from the infant.

Unpublished

We All Scream for Ice Cream!

Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner and hot days are near. For many people this means firing up the grill.  Interested in shaking up your grill routine?  The library has loads of cookbooks with many new ideas -- for both meat eaters and vegetarians.

Maybe grilling isn't your thing.  Once the weather turns hot, and the fresh fruits start arriving at the Market and the grocery stores all I want to do is make ice cream.  I recently checked out the excellent Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts by Peggy Fallon and marked about 20 pages of interesting and often easy recipes to try including Chocolate Chipotle Ice Cream, Black Forest Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate and Cherries, and Quick Caramel-Pecan Light Ice Cream.  There are also chapters on sorbets and non-dairy frozen desserts.

The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein delivers over 500 recipes covering many different types of ice creams, sorbets and granitas.  He also gives ideas for recipe variations and toppings.  Pictures aren't included, but this serves as a fairly straight forward reference and would be great for beginners. 

Blood, Bones & Butter

Before I became a librarian, I worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years.  I learned to cook from my dad and had dreams of going to culinary school to become a chef.  Career changes happen, but I am still drawn to cooking shows and spend a lot of time reading books about food, food policies, eating, and food history --think Bittman, Kurlansky, & Kingsolver.  When it came out recently, I knew I had to read Blood, Bones & Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. 

Hamilton is owner and head chef at Prune, a well-reviewed and established restaurant in New York. This book sets out her love of food from her parents to her on-the-fly education in New York City catering.  Her path to recognition and establishment later in life is both gory and determined. Being a woman in this business can be ugly and Hamilton both investigates and dismisses this fact.  What she does well is understanding the connection between food and family and what it means to be part of this process on both an intimate and grander scale.     

The Man Within My Head

The spirit of Graham Greene whispers through these pages. Pico Iyer is my favorite contemporary travel writer. The Man Within My Head differs from most of his books because he delves more into his own past than usual in this volume, detailing many connections he sees between his own life and that of Greene: they lived near each other in Oxford but never met, and each suffered a major house fire. They also traveled to many of the same places including Viet Nam.

Especially involving are the sections about Pico's childhood. He lived first in Britain, his father having come to England from India as a Rhodes Scholar. He was an only child and some of his earliest memories are stacking magazines with articles by his father. The little Pico loved to arrange them and stare at his Dad's pictures. When he was in grade school both of his famous parents were invited to California to be part of a think tank promoting ways to end violence. Pico tried to be an American student, to wait in the hills for the school bus with his plastic lunchbox, but he soon realized that education in the states did not challenge him. He asked his parents to send him back to England to attend boarding school.

Good Pop Psych Reads

Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow is still a bestseller and heavily in-demand at the library, after receiving lots of publicity late last year. This exploration of intuitive vs. deliberate thinking makes fascinating points about what motivates decisions both personal and business-related. It's top notch popular psychology, a genre I really love for the way it forces you to examine actions and thoughts that seem simply natural or logical. Here are a few other great examples.

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