Thursday, August 02, 2012

Books with Birds on the Cover

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine

Treasure Island!!! is a weird book. It was recommended to me because I wrote a (admittedly weird) story about a crazy cat person who ends up releasing all of her cats. You kind of had to be there. But this book is about another type of crazy animal person, a college graduate who works at a pet library (a make believe kind of place where you can check out an animal for a night or two) and becomes increasingly obsessed with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. She basically becomes incapable of doing anything without relating it to the book and drives everyone around her insane.

I listened to this book on my iPhone while I was walking and while I can say I enjoyed listening to the story--it often made me laugh out loud or get completely transfixed just because it was so bizarre--I HATED the woman's voice who read it for audible. Something was completely grating about it. I ended up listening to the last two hours of it at 3X normal speed just to get it over with, and just to try to make her voice more tolerable.

But the book itself is short and funny in an odd way. It has a kind of frenetic energy that builds up with the weirdness of the narrator. It's another kind of book in the genre I've been reading--books written as continuations or homages to classics. The idea of allowing a character to obsess over a classical work is an interesting narrative inspiration.

My recommendation: Library check-out worthy. Probably not one I'd purchase, but it kept me entertained. A decent and funny read, especially if you've read the classic Stevenson tale.

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

If only for my love for Julia Child's memoir, My Life In France, I can say I'm a fan of the chef memoir genre. For some reason reading about food is enjoyable to me. (Just like eating food is, you know, enjoyable to me.) I think cooking and learning to cook make good, interesting stories. I'm not sure why.  And this book by New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton had lots of moments that I just adored, but it didn't seem consistent enough for me, and I found myself not really enjoying the end.

Hamilton grew up with a french mom who taught her appreciation for food in the most practical kind of way. Through the book it's clear that Hamilton espouses this kind of view of food rather than more trendy ways of looking at it. I found that made her likable. The whole food-is-for-everyone-and-some-people-appreciate-it-because-they-have-to thing was interesting and not like what I've read from other self-proclaimed "foodies." And as Hamilton described her forays into waitressing, learning basic kitchen skills, catering, cooking for a children's summer camp, and getting her MFA, I was in. Definitely. As a MFA student I found her honest observations completely interesting.

Where this book diverged a bit was in the final third or so as she described her marriage and subsequent annual trips to Italy with her Italian husband. I don't mind a narrator showing a change in perspective, but her thoughts seemed less like epiphanies and more like complaining. And that's not to say that everyone has to enjoy the heck out of summers in Italy, but it started to feel like her writing went in circles. It didn't feel like it was moving forward anymore, only in circles of greater and greater frustration. Certainly, her view of marriage is unique in the first place and confirms for me that there are so many different kinds of normal. But I just didn't like the last part of the book, and I started to feel bored with it.

My recommendation: If you're super chef-y and into cooking books, you might like it. There are definitely things here that satisfy, but I wanted it to be better than it was.

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