Thursday, July 11, 2013

Books, books, books...Vol. 3 (more short reviews)

I am a reading machine and I just can't stop.  So, here are some quickie reviews of some of the awesome books I've recently read:

Eat The City by Robin Shulman
about book:  New York is not a city for growing and manufacturing food.  It's a money and real estate city, with less naked earth and industry than high-rise glass and concrete.  Yet in this intimate, visceral, and beautifully written book, Robin Shulman introduces the people of New York City - both past and present - who do grow vegetables, butcher meat, fish local waters, cut and refine sugar, keep bees for honey, brew beer, and make wine.  In the most heavily built urban environment in the country, she shows an organic city full of intrepid and eccentric people who want to make things grow.  What's more, Shulman artfully places today's urban food production in the context of hundreds of years of history, and traces how we got to where we are.

In these pages meet Willie Morgan, a Harlem man who first grew his own vegetables in a vacant lot as a front for his gambling racket.  And David Selig, a beekeeper in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn who found his bees making a mysteriously red honey.  Get to know Yolene Joseph, who fishes crabs out of the waters off Coney Island to make curried stews for her family.  Meet the creators of the sickly sweet Manischewitz wine, whose brand grew out of Prohibition; and Jacob Ruppert, who owned a beer empire on the Upper East Side and the New York Yankees.

Eat the City is about how the ability of cities to feed people has changed over time.  Yet it is also, in a sense, the story of the things we long for in cities today: closer human connections, a tangible link to more basic processes, a way  to shape more rounded lives, a sense of something pure.

Naturally, most food and drink consumed by New Yorkers hundreds of years ago was grown and produced within what are now the five boroughs.  Yet people rarely realize that long after New York became a dense urban agglomeration, innovators, traditionalists, migrants, and immigrants continued to insist on producing their own food.  This book shows the perils and benefits - and the ironies and humor - when city people involve themselves in making what they eat.

Food, of course, is about hunger.  We eat what we miss and what we want to become, the foods of our childhoods and the symbols of the lives we hope to lead.  With with and insight, Eat the City shows how in places like New York, people have always found ways to use their collective hunger to build their own kind of city.

My thoughts:
Urban agriculture.  Those are the two words to describe what this book is about.  Written in a fun and informative manner, this is one nonfiction text that you will just eat up.  Seriously, its that good!  I would have thought a book about food and the ways in which urbanites are trying to produce it would be boring, but then I would have been wrong.  This book is far from boring - it is captivating!  This book shows us how history, determination, agriculture, city life, and food all connected to make one hunger-inducing read.  You will love it!  Definitely a must-read for foodies, history buffs, and fans of agricultural books.

Buddy: How a Rooster Made me a Family Man by Brian McGrory
about book:  At least on the surface, Brian McGrory has it all figured out - a plum gig at the Boston Globe, season tickets to Fenway, and a classic town-house condo in Back Bay.  Best of all, he has the finest companion to enjoy it with, his wise and wonderful golden retriever, Harry.  But a dog's life can only go so long, and when Harry dies, things change.  Brian begins to realize what's missing, and it's someone he's known all along: Pam, Harry's veterinarian.  With Pam, though, come accessories exotic to the city-loving bachelor: a home in suburbia, a yard with grass, two young daughters, and a sprawling cast of animals headlined by a vocal, portly, snow white rooster named Buddy.  Buddy loves the women of the house and, with full run of the yard, fiercely delights in protecting them.  Brian,on the other hand, quickly becomes public enemy number one.

It all proves deeply unsettling - the long commutes, the absence of his treasured morning walks along the Charles River, and, of course, the lurking diabolical rooster.  But just as Brian reaches wit's end with his new, loud life, he begins to see things in his archenemy that he knows he needs for himself.  Strong and content, devoted to what he has rather what might be missing, Buddy has it all figured out.  Will Brian learn the secret to family harmony or find himself packing?  With luminous writing and expert comic timing, McGrory brings to life a classic story of love, acceptance, and change as one man's nemesis becomes his madcap mentor.

In the tradition of Marley & Me and Let's Take the Long Way Home, Buddy is a wise and poignant tale of finding your way in life - and how wonderful that can be when you have to fight for it.

My thoughts:  This is the type of book that will leave you will a smile on your face.  Heartwarming, funny, and honest, this memoir takes us on Brian's journey as he comes to the realization that he is indeed a family man kind of guy.  This book will make you laugh out loud and have you rooting for Buddy the rooster all the way through.  Read this book if you are a fan of memoirs involving pets and family life - you will be so happy you did!

Being Flynn by Nick Flynn
about book:  Nick Flynn met his father when he was working as a caseworker in a homeless shelter in Boston.  As a teenager he'd received letters from his father, a self-proclaimed poet and con man doing time in federal prison for bank robbery.  Being Flynn tells the story of the trajectory that led Nick and his father onto the streets, into that shelter, and finally to each other.

My thoughts:  A memoir that focuses on the ways in which parents influence every aspect of your life - the damaging way such a relationship can impact you.  Written in a poetic manner, this book jumps back and forth in time, which can be a bit unsettling at first.  Overall, I found this to be an interesting read and found myself seeking out Flynn's poetry.  I would recommend this one to fans of Flynn, memoirs, and books about familial dysfunction.  On a side note, this book was made into a movie starring Robert De Niro.

The Third Miracle by Bill Briggs
about book:  Part detective story and part courtroom drama - with a touch of the supernatural - The Third Miracle exposes the secret rituals and investigations the Catholic Church undertakes to determine sainthood.

In January 2001, at a Catholic convent in the Indiana woods, a handyman named Phil McCord made an urgent plea to God.  McCord's right eye was a furious shade of red and had pulsed for months in the wake of cataract surgery.  He had one shot at recovery: a risky procedure.  Dreading the operation, McCord made a spontaneous request of God: Can you help me get through this?  When McCord awoke the next day, his eye was suddenly and shockingly better.  Many would argue that Mother Theodore Guerin, the long-deceased founder of the convent had "interceded" on McCord's behalf.  Was the healing of Phil McCord's eye a miracle?

Top Catholic officials would convene a tribunal to examine the handyman's healing to verify whether his recovery defied the laws of nature.  They would formally summon McCord, his doctors, coworkers, and family to a basement room at the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.  They would put this alleged miracle on trial, all in an effort to determine if Mother Theodore should be named the eighth American saint.

In The Third Miracle, journalist Bill Briggs chronicles the Church investigation and offers a window into the secretive Catholic saint-making process.  Briggs goes inside the closed-door drama as doctors are grilled about the supernatural, priests hunt for soft spots in the claim, and McCord comes to terms with the metaphorical "third miracle."  As the inquiry shifts from the American heartland to a jury at Vatican City in Rome, Briggs probes our hunger for everyday miracles, the Catholic Church's surprisingly active saint-making operation, and the eternal clash of faith and science.

My thoughts:  Fascinating look into the saint-making process.  We get to find out the cost, time, and effort that is put into confirming a miracle has not only occurred, but that the person involved deserves to be canonized.  Talk about a thorough investigation!  I felt like every person was put on trial by the Catholic Church.  This book was part drama and mystery, mixed in with a bit of the supernatural.  I would most definitely recommend The Third Miracle - you won't want to put it down!

Fight Song: A Novel by Joshua Mohr
about book:  When his bicycle is intentionally run off the road by a neighbor's SUV, something snaps in Bob Coffen.  Modern suburban life has been getting him down and this is the last straw.  To avoid following in his father's missteps, Bob is suddenly desperate to reconnect with this wife and his distant, distracted children.  And he's looking for any guidance he can get.

He embarks on a quest - one weekend in the life of an overweight game designer who, through his seventy-two-hour odyssey along a suburban yellow brick road, meets a motley crew of strange and wonderful characters who eventually help him discover his fight song and the way the back to a meaningful life:  There is his distant wife Jane, who ignores him while she trains to win the world record in treading water; a magician/marriage counselor who has been crying for nine years; a janitor-cum-rock star who plays in a Kiss cover band and sings only in French; a muscle-building fast food worker who also doles out phone sex over the drive thru menu intercom; and Coffen's unstable neighbor, and old high school quarterback with 'Hail Purdue' stuck in his head that sets Bob on a weekend journey that will change his life.

A call-to-arms for those who have ever felt beaten down by life, Fight Song is a quest for happiness in a world in which we are increasingly losing control.  It is the exciting new novel by one of the most surprising and original writers of his generation.

My thoughts:  Funny book about a man struggling to get through his life in middle-America suburbia.  Seems almost farcical at times - the people and events are just too crazy to be true.  I found myself laughing out loud and getting lost in Bob's story - definitely the perfect lunch time read (or at least it was for me - made the rest of my day more bearable).  Would definitely recommend to fans of fiction, specially comical stories.

So, what do you think? They all sound good, don't they? Well, they are - and I loved reading every one of them!  And, now I'm off to start a new book - Where'd You Go, Bernadette?  I hear its an excellent read and I'm itching to get started.  Ta for now and happy reading to you!!

Thank you to the publishers for providing me with copies of these fantastic books!!


Lisa said...

Wow, Being Flynn sounds like an interesting book. I can't imagine how it would feel to suddenly run into the man who had caused you so much pain.

techeditor said...

I, too, read BUDDY. But my opinion of it differs from yours.

People who like and care about animals are nicer people, I say. Brian McGrory is one such person. He loved his dog.

But loving a dog is pretty easy because dogs are people pleasers, even dogs not as perfect as his Harry. The second half of the book asks: what about a rooster?

This is the test: the woman he loves, his dog's veterinarian Pam, and her two little girls have a rooster named Buddy. McGrory doesn't like the rooster; Pam and the kids love the rooster. Now what to do?

So McGrory gives us accounts of his dealings with the rooster. That includes his experiences with Pam's daughters and his efforts to become a member of their family. These stories are funny and touching especially if you, too, have struggled to find happiness and contentment with your husband's or wife's children or if you, too, have observed the lengths some divorced parents will go to to satisfy their children.

But back to Harry: almost the first half of the book is devoted to him. I loved reading about Harry but was wondering when I'd learn what he had to do with the title character. Turns out not much, although McGrory does try to relate the Harry accounts with the Buddy accounts when he says that Harry was the reason he met Buddy. Even though that's true (because Pam was Harry's veterinarian), the Buddy stories and the Harry stories are separate in time.

So this is pretty much what the book is: nonfiction presented in many short stories, first, about Harry, then about Buddy and family, all in chronological order. McGrory contrasts his two lives, and often recalls Harry during the Buddy stories.

I would have preferred that this book was one story rather than a series of episodes. It could have flowed very well from lonely McGrory after he lost his dog to McGrory's efforts to become a family man when a rooster is part of the family. That's what McGrory tries to do but in episodic form.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

Eat the City sounds very interesting.
Enjoy Where'd You Go, Bernadette; I've heard only good thoings about it.

Aarti said...

Eat the City sounds fantastic! I will definitely look into it. I always want to grow fruits and vegetables on my patio, but it just doesn't get enough sun, unfortunately.

Have you ever read Farm City? I have it on my iPod to listen to, but have not done so yet as it gets very mixed reviews. It's about a woman who takes up farming in SF.

The Relentless Reader said...

Eat the City sounds crazy fascinating to me :) I thought Buddy was super cute, very funny. I hope you LOVE Bernadette, I really did!

picky said...

This is the second time I've seen a review of Eat the City, and I love how enthusiastic you are about it. The other nonfic you list sounds interesting, but I'm so fickle with memoir-ish topics. Great roundup!

Charis said...

This is great!