Thursday, June 17, 2010

Winter in Melbourne - Books for the Fireside

For all the obvious reasons I tend to read more in winter.     I am inside more, and spend more time lolling around on the couch.  Similarly the children watch more DVDs (I know I know) and there is only so much Buzz Lightyear I can watch, so I sit with them and read.   You need escapism more than ever in winter, something to draw you in and warm you up. 

I was concerned I was becoming addicted to my Kindle so it has been quietly removed from my bedside table and replaced with real paper books.

This is what is absorbing me at the moment.  Firstly, Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain:

Ah Tony.   You, along with Antony Beevor and Ian McEwan, can come over to my place for dinner any time.  I will serve eye fillet with Bearnaise sauce, crushed potatoes in goose fat, rosemary and garlic and a perfect green salad and you will enjoy it.  We would probably have to drink quite a lot, so I would also serve some of our best Australian shiraz in proper Reidel glasses.   We will finish with some Delice de Bourgogne and some local quince paste and King Island cheddar.   You could sign your new book, to make a matching partner to Kitchen Confidential, which you signed for me when you were in Melbourne 8 years ago. 

We could all chew the fat about Berlin and Stalingrad, the challenges and difficulties of writing history, climate change sceptics, 'third book syndrome',  the politics of selling out, London house prices, whether the film 'Atonement' was any good,  the Cipriani business model for restaurants and how to talk your daughter out of wanting to eat McDonalds.  It will be really fun.  My husband will be there too, but that's okay isn't it?  You can bring Ottavia if you want. 

This is the 'sequel' to Kitchen Confidential, which changed this restaurateur, chef and former heroin addict's life in all ways possible.   He is still mighty angry, and some people question why. But having money and a comfortable life doesn't require bland acceptance of all around you, does it?

The cover describes the book as a 'Bloody Valentine' to the world of food and and those who cook.   Perhaps it is better described as a slightly rambling and very unstructured look at Tony's life post best seller where he basically writes about what he feels like writing about (a bit like this blog really).  

It opens with a cracking story about a secret dinner of chefs in New York eating a forbidden food but then doesn't really get going until about page 84.     I think he is at his best when writing about some of the amazing meals he has consumed globally over the last decade in places ranging from Hanoi to Tribeca, or pointing out some of the obvious flaws in the organic and locavarian food movement (the book contains an entertaining but slightly unfair evisceration of Alice Waters of Chez Panisse - I would not want to be on Tony Bourdain's bad side). 

He is at his worst and bordering on self indulgent when talking about the effect fame has had on him. It is also a pity that he makes so many assumptions about the level of knowledge his audience has about the US food scene. Yes I know who Mario Batali is. But Wylie Dufresne, one of your heroes, I have never heard of. And other than emphasising that he does what he wants in his resturant, you don't explain who he is.

For something completely different I am also reading this, about my favourite decade:

The author achieves her objective largely by peppering her story with lots and lots of little examples and anecdotes about the daily lives of those who lived in that decade, from poor housewife all the way to the King.  This does give the book a real intimacy which many such expansive histories do not achieve.  Running to more than 570 pages, it does sometimes feel a bit like reading a very well written PhD thesis.  It opens with the tragic stampede in the Glen cinema in Paisley, Scotland in 1929 (71 children died) and takes us all the way up to the eve of the war.  

There is happiness in between but it is heavy going.  Perfect for reading in an over furnished English country style living room.  

So, as a remedy to all the sensible shoes, workers' strikes, flowery dresses and fascism, I am also reading this book by the sparkling Lucy Moore:

I cannot believe that there were autographed copies of this in Hartchers when I was last in London which I passed up because of concern about my luggage weight.  I now have to content myself with the paperback.   How can you not love this era? This book largely focuses on the 1920's in the US, and has been criticised for its lack of primary sources.  However it is still absorbing and transporting.   Perfect for sitting in a white room (which I have just noticed seems to have two fireplaces!).

And last but not least, a book I can't read now because it won't be published until September, but I am dying to get my hands on this.  What a fantastic title: A perfectly kept house is the sign of a misspent life. 

This book by Mary Randolph Carter is described as being for all those who live imperfectly with the messy things they love. It shows you how to do so happily, creatively and with style.   The book looks at how 'real life tastemakers 'integrate their lives to live well with their passions, histories, conveniences and inconveniences'.   Doesn't it sound just perfect? 

Such a book should clearly be read in these kinds of surrounds with 'special to you' treasures making a happy eclectic space:

But wait, I need more.  Any tips for a good front of the fire book?

(Images (1)(5)(7)(9) Airspaces)


debra@dustjacket said...

Oh thanks for the reviews, think I'd love Lucy Moores book.

That sounds just horrific about the stampede.

re comment your mum sounds like one stylish woman.
xxx DJ

Josephine Tale Peddler said...

Love the reviews, Jane. The final three sound my cup of tea. I shall look out for The Thirties. I have been reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog which I have been enjoying Perfect title, really. My other book on the go is Lovesong by Alex Miller. I have an enormous tower of books to work my way through. Another favourite of mine is Perfect English Cottage by Ros Byam Shaw. I do love well-written ghost and crime in winter as well. xx

Mise said...

The more I read your blog, Jane, the more I'm convinced you're really me abroad. These are exactly the sort of books I'd over-winter with. I hadn't realised that Bourdain has produced a sequel to KC (I stopped at 'A Cook's Tour'), and it's gone straight onto my list.

As for what to read, I'm currently on Kate Atkinson's 'One Good Turn', which I think would be perfect escapism on a chilly day with a little Buzz Lightyear in the background.

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

I love your book reviews Jane - and always take away more than I feel I can offer you in return! However, I am currently reading 'Cleaving' the follow up book to Julie & Julia, and it couldn't be more surprising. I can hardly believe it is written by the same person. 'Committed' by Elizabeth Gilbert - her follow up to Eat Pray Love, and an interesting take on marriage, and Alexander McCall Smith's Corduroy Mansions is my go to bed with book!

brismod said...

I just finished reading Indignation by Phillip Roth, but as to whether it's a good by the fire book is debatable. One book which was fun to read was Madeleine St-Jean's The Women in Black - a satirical book set in the cocktail dress section of a Sydney department store in 1960. A lovely read. I'm also starting Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

obviouslyanon said...

Enjoyed your reviews and loved the interiors you selected. Keen to see the '... misspent life' book. I have an eternal battle with my natural messiness in this clutter-free world. Would curl up with a book in any of these rooms. Great post.

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Jane what terrific post. Matching great reads with the perfect reading spot. I adore Bourdain & I know this book would be a good one. He is actually speaking in Portland, OR & my daughter Kate said she planned on being there. I go nuts for non-fiction books & everything to do with great history; thus the Thirties will be on my list. All good, good reads. I just want to know how you eek out the time? You, are amazing x

Millie said...

I adore simple men just like M. Bourdain, nothing complex about him at all! I'm just about to delve into Jane Stanton Hitcock's Mortal Friends, it looks good.
Millie ^_^

Jeanne Henriques said...

I love this post have it have set the scene with the perfect book. Don't you just love Hatchard's..I know the section you mean. It is the first place I stop at when I visit the store. You have some great book suggestions. If you need more, stop in and read 'Have you read" from earlier in the week. I have a long list of blogger favourites:)

Best wishes for a wonderful weekend!


Laura said...

Sounds like an excellent reading list! I do have a similar love/annoyance relationship with Mr. Bourdain. Although I have to say that the one time I ate in the "great" Wylie Dufresne's restaurant I was wildly underwhelmed. And over charged. Depending on your mood I would absolutely pick up anything that Chelsea Handler has written. It is a tad trashy but utterly hilarious nonetheless.

Aspiring Kennedy said...

oh- the book about the lost decade of the 30's looks really amazing. have you read it yet?

Lately, by the time i sit down to read, it's typically for an escape from reality & all i can mentally process is comedic chic lit. :)

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