Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Few Books About Food

Michael Pollan changed the way I buy food, and has increased my need to read about food and the environment. And, summer is a good time to do this, considering all the great farmers markets and fresh, local food around. I am more aware of buying local (I joined a CSA for the 3rd year in a row) and the need to support local organizations that are rooted in my community. In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan has a great line that says: "If your parents or grandparents would not recognize what your eating as food, then don't eat it." That is a rough quote, not exactly verbatim. Pollan would like people to think about local, sustainable avenues for food consumption; and no, buying from the local gas station does not count. The quote hark ens back to a time when people had no choice but to buy and eat locally. Which leads right into a new book by Mark Kurlansky called The Food of a Younger Land.

Back in the 1930's the WPA sent out a group of writers, from Eudora Welty to Zora Neale Hurston, to chronicle what Americans ate. This was before chain restaurants and fast food joints took over the country, this was the land of the New York Automats and of the Mint Julep controversy. It was the New York Soda Fountain Slang guide for ordering your food that I found fascinating(for instance, Hug One was Orange Juice, and Blind 'em was two eggs fried on both sides). Kurlansky did a great job of putting together the files that the writers left behind, reading this book makes you hungry, very hungry. This book is a lot of fun, I felt myself wishing for these simplier times again with the good food (yes, I know the great depression was in full swing). And as for the section on Wisconsin, we can still order up the regions specialty in the Friday Fish Fry.

An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage delves into the deeper history behind food and civilizations. He starts off in the near east with barley, wheat, and sustainable agriculture and then, moves through history touching on the potato famine and the spice trade. He points out that the history of food intersects with that of the history of humanity and that they go hand-in-hand all throughout. He focuses on a few net causes in history and shows them repeating throughout (for instance, that food was used to pay taxes which then was used to pay government workers), maybe a few times too many, but this was a good, interesting read. He is the author of Salt and Cod, he always has something interesting to point out that others may have missed.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Journey to Salt Lake City and a Couple of New Books Out This Week

Back in January, when Daniel first announced that he was going to open a book shop at the Downer Ave location, we travelled to Salt Lake City to help prepare for the coming adventure. It was the host site of Winter Institute, an educational weekend, where booksellers talk to other booksellers, some publishers, and authors for upcoming books. I must say that Salt Lake City was nothing like what I thought it was going to be.

It has a couple of great independent book stores in The King's English Book Shop and Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore. Both shops are the complete opposite of the other. Sam Weller's is a huge three story bookshop that could swallow up our bookshop whole. It has their used books mixed in with their new books, which I thought was great, and they have a labriynth in the basement of really old books and magazines. The King's English is full of nooks and crannies and a great selection of titles. I loved the way they displayed and took their teen books out of the kids section. They are on a fantastic street full of restaurants and a few other retail shops. A great middle eastern restaurant that we ate at was Mazza, I highly recommend the falaful sandwich.

I was lucky enough to get invited to a dinner with Macmillan and their authors while I was out there. It was lucky, because I was excited to meet Mishna Wolff. Her new book, I'm Down, which came out last week, was hilarious. She grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her white father who thought he was black man. He walked the walk and talked to the talk, however Mishna never fit in. I liked the book mainly for her wild attempts to garner attention from her father, and quite possibly because of the crazy cover. She joins a basketball team that only has black girls on it. Her mother shows up into the picture, and moves her to a prep school, mostly all white. She still does not fit in, this time for the opposite reason. Her stunts at attempting to be accepted by either culture are funny and left me feeling awkward for her. Ultimately, she has to find her balance that makes her happy. I highly recommend this book.

However, after talking to Mishna Wolff about her experiences about writing the book and the food, Macmillan had the authors move to different tables. Shannon Hale sat down at our table. I knew who Shannon Hale was, but had never read her. I must say that she was highly entertaining and has us rolling in our seats. The main theme of her new adult novel, she writes mostly for young adult and has a new Bayern novel coming this fall (our children's booksellers knew who she was right away), centers around a wife meeting a celebrity that is on her top five list. Everybody knows the list, it contains celebrities that your significant other would run off with. My wife only has one that I know of: George Clooney. Never going to happen, so no worries. In The Actor and the Housewife, Becky meets her dream guy, and they hit it off. Not an affair so to speak, but they quickly become best friends. You can see where the monkey wrench gets thrown in. Anyway, Shannon Hale was a lot fun, and if you need a good beach read, I think this might be the one for you.

Both books are recent arrivals at our shop and our being featured in our Boswell's Best at 20% off this month.