Book Corner 2019.20


Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted

A defense of truth in foodie advertising.

First off, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a delicious hard grating (and snacking!) cheese, unlike any other to hear him tell it.  I’m all for Parmigiano-Reggiano.  But Grana Padano has all the same characteristics.  I’m more familiar with the latter than the former, so maybe I need to go find some P-R and be transported into ecstasies by what I’ve been missing; but I have to say I’ve had damn good G. P.  He talks about G. P. being passed off as parmesan, and I’m all for truth in labeling and advertising; but he never stakes any claims as to why G. P. is such a worse thing.

And a confession here.  That “cardboard” powder that comes in the shakeable green can?  It ain’t Parmigiano-Reggiano or even lousy Grana Padano or even, I guess, cheese.  But (whisper) I kind of like it?  It has its place?  It’s an easily shakeable umami I can put on my pasta.  Shaved hard cheese is delicious, but it’s not the same thing, is it?  I like the grated stuff.  Grew up with it.

Onward… parma ham – I’m not familiar enough with it to comment.  Fish labeled as the wrong species – again, I don’t want things mislabeled.  But he doesn’t really sufficiently go into why the species is so important.

Olive oil – a very informative chapter.  And I’ve been destroying my bottle of super-authentic olive oil that I carted personally all the way from Italy, by keeping it next to the toaster-oven – DOH!  But sigh, to hear the experts tell it, we have to buy oils and spices and grains in practically single-serving sizes since they allegedly become inedible so quickly.

Truffle oil, another informative section – basically, don’t.  Just don’t.

Kobe beef…  You haven’t had it.  There are only three places in America serving the real deal.  Meanwhile, we have a lot of “wagyu” beef floating around… this is nominally the same species as the cows used in Japan to make Kobe beef, but that doesn’t make it Kobe beef, or good, or anything, really.  Anyway, Kobe beef doesn’t sound like something I want.  The way it’s described reminds me of a croissant – fat, fat, fat, and just enough lean [muscle/flour] to keep the structure together and not just be a stick of fat.  Meh.

Champagne – I don’t even like.  Scotch – even less so.  More about cheese.  And wine – provenances and varietals.  Useful info, like what percentage of a varietal is needed in the U.S.A. to use the name of the varietal in the label (used to be 51%, now it’s much higher)…

Don’t let my negativity fool you, the book was A.O.K. with lots of info; I guess just a few too many sections about foodstuffs I’m not interested in.

Book Corner 2019.18


Life Admin by Elizabeth Emens

From what I could see, she didn’t learn to do less, do better, or live more.  All I got was a lot of complaining.  And enough about the Flexible Spending Account already.  Apparently I am a weird mash-up of the “Admin Denier” and the “Admin Super-Doer.”  I am “on top of things” while at the same time am convinced that IT’S JUST NOT THAT IMPORTANT.


Book Corner 2019.17


Reading Jane Austen by Jenny Davidson

Bought this semi-impulsively, needing some quick reading material during travel.  Though I was afraid it would read like one of those “book report” books (here’s a quote to support my thesis… here’s another… but what about this one), maybe I am being non-objective due to my love of the subject matter, but it never got tiresome.  AND, it’s inspiring me to, well, re-read Jane Austen.

Book Corner 2019.16


So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

This is my third Lionel Shriver, and I didn’t love it as much as the first two, because the secondary plot was a bit annoying and tiresome.  Without it, the book may have garnered five stars and been a more satisfactory length as well.

Our hero has a dream, and has had it since he was 15: to work and save enough to finally move somewhere cheap enough to live out the rest of his life without having to work anymore.  He marries someone allegedly simpatico, but who manages to find a reason to nix every destination that they explore as a possible retirement grounds.  Having had enough delay, he decides at around age 50 to buy the tickets unilaterally and lay down the ultimatum that he is finally going, to Pemba, an island off the coast of Tanzania, very much hopefully with her, but with or without her.  And she in turn lays down the bombshell that he can’t go, because she’s been diagnosed with mesothelioma, and she’s going to need his health insurance.

Shep loves his wife, and thus do his plans immediately invert.  For the next year plus, it’s all about trying to keep Glynis alive and get her well.  And each chapter begins with a statement of the balance of his life savings, which falls surely, immediately, and then precipitously, eventually to near nothing.

There’s a side plot about his friend.  I won’t summarize that plot or any more of this one…  What is wonderful about Lionel Shriver is that she writes about people like me and situations I know.  Her characters are in my demographic.  These live in Westchester.  They have sometimes unspeakable feelings that I have too.  Nobody really talks about the expense of end-of-life, and how that expense feels to those who have to undertake it, and how it feels to know you aren’t supposed to feel ANYTHING about money when someone’s life is at stake, even if the prognosis is hopeless.

Shep really does love his wife, but he’s not unfeeling about the fact that the means to fulfill his life’s dream is dribbling and then pouring away into her probably futile treatments; and the tragic fact is that he is destined to outlive her, and might still want to pursue his dream.

Oh, and then there’s his aging father and guilt-trip-laying sister.  Yes, these books are really about people like me and situations I know.

It’s all very real and not something you usually read a novel about.  And the ending is FANTASTIC.

Book Corner 2019.15


The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu

I hardly know what to say about this.  Cantu works as a border patrol agent for the first half of this non-fiction book, wanting to get first-hand experience.  The second half sees him working on behalf of an undocumented deported friend, who is trying to rejoin his wife and three boys in the States after going home to be at his mother’s deathbed.

Just today, VPR reported on the impacts that are resulting from Vermont having seen the smallest influx of refugees into the state for the past decade, thanks to the odious anti-immigration policies made higher up.  There is now a small infrastructure in Burlington and Winooski set up to help support new Americans, and its services are going wanting, and more importantly jobs are going unfilled.  We hear constantly that we need more people in Vermont – more young people, a bigger tax base, more entrepreneurship, a bigger labor pool.  We need people.  And the world is literally full of people begging to come here, and not being allowed to, and for what?

I hardly know what to say about this.