I, Robot

Tonight I finished reading Isaac Asimov's acclaimed collection of short stories: I, Robot. This is my introduction to Asimov's writing but I enjoy it already. While I enjoyed his style of writing, I was most impressed by the heady concepts which I found pervaded the anthology. Besides the in-depth consideration of the psychology of robotic machines, we're presented with a picture of the human impact of the presence of such technology from its near introduction to its startling potential future.

At a brief 256 pages (or 192 in my 70's edition belonging to my wife's late father) it makes for a quick read of all stories. Now I feel like it's but a small taste to whet my appetite for more of Asimov's work.

A Tale of Two Geniuses

Malcolm Gladwell's recent New Yorker Article, "Late Bloomers," has already been linked around the internet, but I can't help chiming in having read the piece. Whether or not you or me or anybody else is destined to reach "genius" status, it's encouraging to understand that not all brilliance manifests itself at an early age. Additionally, I loved the notion that late-blooming talent is often aided by outside forces:

Sharie was Ben’s wife. But she was also—to borrow a term from long ago—his patron. That word has a condescending edge to it today, because we think it far more appropriate for artists (and everyone else for that matter) to be supported by the marketplace. But the marketplace works only for people like Jonathan Safran Foer, whose art emerges, fully realized, at the beginning of their career, or Picasso, whose talent was so blindingly obvious that an art dealer offered him a hundred-and-fifty-franc-a-month stipend the minute he got to Paris, at age twenty. If you are the type of creative mind that starts without a plan, and has to experiment and learn by doing, you need someone to see you through the long and difficult time it takes for your art to reach its true level.

The article is a lengthy one, but certainly worth a read. It makes me (and hopefully others who pursue good artistic output of any kind) relax a little bit about my own creativity and dulls the false sense of urgency to do something significant before I age "too much." The article also seems to celebrate the pursuit - the research and preparation as a component of the art itself. And that, I can appreciate.

Kitchen Confidential

cover of the book Kitchen Confidential

Last night I finished reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. This book was easily one of the funniest volumes I've read in the past several years. Coarse, profane, yet insightful - this book is less an exposé of the commercial kitchen than of the author himself. Bourdain shares expertly crafted anecdotes about his restaurant years, all the while exhorting the readers to accept and appreciate professional cooking (and it's oft unseemly cast of characters) for what it is.

Two stand-out chapters (also the longest, I think...):
1. A Day in the Life - Here we follow Bourdain from his waking before 6 AM through a grueling restaurant Friday ending, exhausted, in a bar at 1 AM. The pacing and detail is extraordinary, convincing me further that I never wish to run a restaurant :-)

2. Mission to Tokyo - The chef is sent by the owners of Les Halles to a satellite restaurant in Tokyo to consult about the menu. Left to his own exploring devices, Bourdain rapidly falls in love with Japanese food culture. The sense of discovery is palpable, and the reader (or at least THIS reader) is filled with a desire to see the Roppongi district.

I absolutely recommend this book. It's not for the faint of heart, but it IS hilarious and informative. The format is mildly scattered - more the feeling of semi-chronological narrative with various asides - but easily readable. Taste and enjoy.

Glengarry Glen Ross

Last night I started and subsequently got sucked into David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross - his drama which won the Pulitzer in 1984. This short play (2 acts, about 100 pages) feels like a series of rapid-fire conversations which demonstrate the lengths to which desperate and/or ambitious men will go for their ends. Mugs sent this to me shortly after Christmas, and it was well worth my reading. I highly recommend it.

Book Crazy

My father gave Valerie and I a spot of currency for Christmas, and I've decided to use a portion of it for several books I've had on my mind. Here's the short stack:

1. Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly - This is the book that, as I understand, identified Anthony Bourdain as the grand curmudgeon of the culinary world. I've always enjoyed his essays, so I look forward to this memoir of his days working in haute cuisine.

2. The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef's Craft for Every Kitchen - Writer Michael Ruhlman's latest book, even he refers to it as a "Strunk and White's" for the kitchen. Should have some excellent essays and provide a fantastic reference for technique.

3. Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing - Ruhlman was involved with this book as well. But really - it'll teach me to make my own bacon. Need I say more?!?

4. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto - This is Michael Pollan's follow-up to The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I've been anticipating it's release since I finished the latter.

I couldn't really pass up the free shipping on Amazon, so now I have at least a week to wait for my volumes to arrive, but I certainly have plenty of reading ahead for 2008 :-)

Death of a Salesman

picture of a book cover for Death of a Salesman

Merry Christmas to me. One of my Christmas gifts from Mugs and his wife was Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman". WOW.

I've read through it for the first time during this past week, and now that I'm back in Richmond I plan to re-read it with a pencil for note taking. I won't link it in the sidebar to Amazon because they don't seem to carry the fantastic and gorgeous Penguin Classics edition pictured above (which I received).

This is the second play I've read in as many weeks (after "The Iceman Cometh" by Eugene O'Neill), and it's my favorite so far. The tension throughout this short drama is so palpable that I was nervous from start to finish. I wish I could explain further, but I'm not yet prepared for commentary until I re-read it and gather my thoughts. In short, however, I was floored by the quality and content of this play.

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Tonight I finished reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Let me start by reiterating that I generally have trouble reading non-fiction. Consequently I have stayed mainly in the realm of the imaginary, save for the occasional essay. If this book, then, has accomplished one thing, it has shown me that non-fiction narrative writing can hold my attention from start to finish.

Pollan spends his 400+ pages unfolding what I can only describe as an exposé of eating. Sure, the subtitle claims the book is "A Natural History of Four Meals," but I feel the balance tips more in favor of process than past leading up to the food we eat. This serves my nerdy side quite well, feeding me (ha ha) plenty of both trivial and significant tidbits about the food industry, agriculture, and harvesting. The author's story-telling style grabbed me from the first chapter, captivating me with tales of corn harvests and mycophelia - topics I'd scarce considered on my own even as a burgeoning foodie. Over the past week I've found myself reading in bed just to finish one more chapter about grass farming, wild pigs, or feed lots.

For all the enjoyable reading Omnivore provides, however, what strikes me most about this book is how it's affected me. Other than the Bible, I've never read a book that so made me want to change how I live my life as Mr. Pollan's Opus (...look, I'm entitled to a really crappy joke every now and again). Having read about the effects of industrialized agriculture on the health of our nation's people, farms, environment, and economy, and the health and taste benefits of more naturally raised livestock and produce, I earnestly plan to seek out food co-ops, pastured meat producers, and local food purveyors than I presently patronize. Sure it'll cost more in dollars, but I believe in the long run my cooking will benefit, and so will my health. This book is a potential instigator of change in my life, and that's more valuable (or at least more intriguing) than simple entertainment.

I've held back on posts related to my reading of this book - partly because it was published last year and I'm (as usual) late to the party - but also because I didn't want to give away what I was in the middle of reading. The entry was a hint, and I'm likely to post more related links and such about natural food and the industrial food system we have in the US. Don't worry, this won't become some crazy soap box where I rail against the American Culinary-Industrial Complex. I will, however, whole-heartedly recommend to everybody reading my website to find this book and give it a perusal.

In the meantime, I anxiously await his follow-up, In Defense of Food, to be released in January.

Harry Potter and the Night of Too-Little Sleep

Oi. Last night I finally finished reading the last Harry Potter book to my wife. I was reading out loud from about 6:15 in the evening until 1:40 this morning - nearly 7.5 hours.

And this morning I pay the price for it :-)

However, now I can finally watch the news and surf the net more fully, my gentle paranoia about prematurely learning the ending no longer necessary. I can also contemplate the full magnitude of the ending, and glance approvingly or annoyed at countless reviews of the novel. Ultimately, though? I'm simply happy to be finished with what I believe was an excellent series in literature.

Glorious Weekend Ahead

I'm pretty psyched...I have a killer weekend ahead of me.

Besides the fact that today is Friday, I'm looking forward to a number of events and activities.

One of my best friends is getting married this weekend, so:
1. Tonight is the rehearsal, followed by
2. The rehearsal dinner, which should be quite a blast. Then,
3. Tomorrow afternoon is the wedding itself, and I love weddings (and participating!). Finally,
4. The reception, tomorrow evening! Party Down! That should be loads of fun, and I'm really excited about seeing a lot of friends there as well. Some of us may even go out afterwards to Capital Ale House in Innsbrook afterwards if it's not too late :-)

As if that wasn't excellent enough, Valerie and I expect to take delivery of the final installment in the Harry Potter series tomorrow. Any moment not involved in Wedding festivities will be spent reading. Huzzah!

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

My wife got me "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" for Christmas - truly one of the best gifts ever received by yours truly. The entirety of Bill Watterson's decade of genius bound smartly in three lovely hard-cover volumes, contained then in an equally eye-catching box. Each page is a faint creme color so as to set off the pure white daily strips, three to a page, with the publication dates at the bottom. The Sunday prints fill an entire page in full color, also with the publication date at the bottom.

I know what I'll be reading during my week off :-)