American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson
(Harper, 2009, 268 pages)
Craig Ferguson is a comedian, actor and a talk show host. I enjoyed his sense of humor, but I’ve only watched him a few times. His Late Late Show is very much past my bedtime. This memoir exceeded my expectations. Ferguson was born and raised in a working class neighborhood in Glasgow Scotland. He chronicles his journey from dropping out of high school to becoming a top entertainer in the United States. Even though he stopped going to school at sixteen, he was a voracious reader. His love for literature laid the basis for his later success in writing a novel and three movies. What surprised me was his bravery and honesty in sharing his difficult battles with alcoholism and drug addictions. The book is compelling, truthful and funny. It’s a cut above the average celebrity memoir.
Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: 65 Great Chefs Teach Me How to Cook by Dana Cowin
(Ecco, 2014, 272 pages)
Dana Cowin is the editor-in-chief of Food+Wine magazine and you’re probably familiar with her face from appearances on shows like Bravo’s Top Chef. This cookbook offers up a collection of recipes that Cowin has tried and made some mistakes in execution in the process. So she pulls those recipes and asks some of her famous chef friends to walk her through how to avoid making those mistakes again, along with any tips they might have for modifying the recipe. She has commentary from people like Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali, Alex Guarneschelli, and Marcus Samuelsson.
Each recipe is introduced with a story explaining the context in which the recipe was originally made by Cowin and what went wrong in the process. The cooking instructions are clear and straight-forward. None came across as overly complicated. And the chef’s tips made sense and encouraged you to embrace the cooking process as a whole. This is an accessible book that a novice cook could feel comfortable with. Not all the recipes were for me, but there were a lot in there that I would try – even some that I currently find intimidating. Cowin makes a point of saying recipe intimidation shouldn’t keep you from trying something new.
I love a readable cookbook and that’s what this is. If you’re a novice in the kitchen or are just interested in well thought-out cookbooks I think you’ll appreciate Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen. That being said, one of the most readable cookbooks I’ve come across recently is Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn. Just in case you wanted to check that out, too 🙂
Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
(Simon & Schuster, 2014, 241 pages)
This memoir recounts how Wizenberg and her husband Brandon found themselves starting up a restaurant not long after getting married. It was Brandon’s idea from the beginning, but he was always getting ideas and never really bringing them to fruition so Molly supported him while believing in the back of her mind that this whole restaurant idea wasn’t ever really going to happen. But gradually things fell into place. They leased a space, they perfected recipes, they acquired staff… Before she knew it, Molly was helping her husband open their restaurant, Delancey.
Opening a restaurant is no small feat and it comes with its share of tension and drama. Molly recounts that along with the benefits of having your own place and making the food you love. This memoir is a quick read and you’ll find it appealing if you’re a fan of the Orangette blog (which the author runs) or simply enjoy food-related writing.
Friendship By: Emily Gould
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2014 258 pages)
Bev and Amy have been best friends since they started working at the same publishing house. Since then, they’re lives have gone in different directions but they’ve always seemed to stay close. Bev is currently temping after moving to Madison with her boyfriend was a bust so now she’s struggling to get by in New York. Amy was on the verge of social media success before her former boss black balled her so she now works at a small known blog and spending the same amount of money as when she had her last job. Nothing seemed to rattle their friendship until Bev gets pregnant.
This was not my favorite read. I thought I would like the aspect of how major life changes can sometimes affect friendships but I was too distracted by the story as a whole. Gould included a lot of great details that could have led to deeper stories to really show off these characters but instead she just lightly touched on them before letting them go. Amy was clearly a selfish and self-centered person and I wish Gould had really went for it and played up the dynamic of the parent-child relationship Bev and Amy seemed to have. Also the dialogue bugged me with way too many “ha’s” and style changings for my liking.
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
(Simon & Schuster, 2014, 620 pages)
We Are Not Ourselves impressed me with how quickly I was drawn in to the story. Told over the span of many decades we are first introduced to Eileen Tumulty and her family. Eileen’s parents came to America from Ireland in the 1930s and have high hopes for their daughter. Eileen herself has high expectations for where she sees her life going. When she meets Ed Leary she knows she’s found the man for her and the man who can give her the life she’s dreamed of. Unfortunately, Eileen’s dreams of moving up in the world don’t mesh with Ed’s vision for his own life. Eileen wants status, Ed is content with their life as it is.
Thomas tells the story from the perspectives of all three members of the Leary family: Ed, Eileen, and their son Connell. But the book primarily revolves around Eileen – she’s the driving force behind the family and it’s her dreams she focuses on seeing fulfilled. Things start to shift when the family has to face an unexpected and life-altering event. Now Eileen’s goals for the future seem less feasible and less important.
This novel has great depth and you shouldn’t let it’s length deter you from picking it up. I thought it was incredibly well-written and while I occasionally had a hard time with Eileen (she’s not always the most likable character) I was always looking forward to finding time to pick up where I’d left off.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
(Random House, 2014, 624 pages)
When Holly was younger, she used to have visits from what she called “the radio people.” After one scary incident with “the radio people” her mom took her to a doctor who magically banished them from Holly’s life. Years later though, they mysteriously return when Holly runs away from home after a fight with her mother. The further away from home Holly goes, stranger events start happening. Through the years after her running away, the people she loves most start to be affected by these “radio people” that cause her life to turn in unexpected ways.
I admit that wasn’t a very good description of this book but it was weirdly wonderful. Each chapter (and the chapters are long) makes a significant jump in time and focuses on someone different in Holly’s life that is affected by these “radio people.” The fantasy element was well done but even without those parts the book would have been interesting and worth the read. I loved how slyly Mitchell connected characters and elements from Holly’s life together. This book is definitely on the top of the best books I’ve read this year.
The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year by Andy Cohen
(Henry Holt and Co., 2014, 352 pages)
Inspired by Andy Worhol’s book of diaries, Andy Cohen published his own diary of a year in his own life. Cohen does not hold anything back between name dropping celebrities to his secret wishes to buy the apartment above him after the elderly tenant passes away. Andy seemed to filter himself a bit when dealing with Housewives drama but also seemed to drop enough hints that readers could figure out who was causing the latest behind the scenes drama. Cohen had a busy year between announcing his new deal with Bravo and his production company and hosting multiple big name guests on his show Watch What Happens Live but the biggest addition to his life was his rescue dog, Wacha.
I really enjoyed Andy’s last book, Most Talkative, so I was happy to hear he was coming out with his own diary over the past year. He started out a tad grumpy but that quickly changes once he hires a trainer and adds Wacha to his life. Andy doesn’t try to make the book more than it’s supposed to be and is honest about all his encounters with friends and random celebrities (good or bad). One of my favorite parts of the book was seeing that he asked his doorman to provide a blurb for the back cover of his book, which just adds to the fact that this is a fun, lighthearted read.