Books Aloud! – December 2008

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Capote in Kansas
Kim Powell
Da Capo Press
Street: 07.13.05
Kim Powers does little to make me care about Capote in Kansas. The metaphors are syrup level sappy. The author tells, rather than shows, how his characters feel, except in his annoying habit of writing dialogue in all caps to indicate to his readers that someone is angry or scared. And Capote himself is reduced to a caricature of a terrified gay man. Ultimately, this book did not captivate my interest. Anyone not infatuated enough with Truman Capote to overlook the flaws in this novel, might find the following pieces more rewarding:

•Stephanie Meyer’s dream journal

•White Chicks: The Novel

• Finnegan’s Wake II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold

• Soup: The Complete History

•David Foster Wallace’s suicide note – 328 pages, 712 footnotes

–JR Boyce

Mamarama: A Memoir of Sex, Rock n’ Roll and Kids
Evelyn McDonnell
Da Capo Press
Street: 02.2007
The Stepford Wives’ image of perfection is out as a new decade comes around. No longer are mothers supposed to be ink-free and unpierced. This memoir is the story of a young woman growing up in the fast lane, obsessed with bands and the boys in them. Sound familiar? McDonnell maps her route from early rebellion to political activism to motherhood in a larger cultural context. It mirrors the struggle that many people have in balancing work, relationships, individuality and parenthood. This is a very positive view on pregnancy. Although the memoir does seem a tad cliche, this type of scenario happens every day. The book’s main lesson is that motherhood shouldn’t be something done on the side, or something that pushes everything else away. It’s that balance that our culture should strive for. –Alexandra Harris

Totally Vegetarian: Easy, Fast, Comforting Cooking for Every Kind of Vegetarian
Toni Fiore
DaCapo Press
Street: 09.01
I have 30+ vegan cookbooks. It’s getting harder to find great vegan cookbooks with new recipes or original culinary presentation. Although not 100% vegan, the vegetarian recipes call for gourmet, unprocessed cheeses, which can be easily modified. Author and chef, Toni Fiore, has compiled an excellent selection of recipes from her cooking show on the DeliciousTV channel. Many of the foods are Mediterranean-based cuisine, like the quick and crunchy “Fried Polenta Squares.” Polenta is a well-oiled, flavorful cornmeal that is easily added to meals, but not always tasty alone. Her squares were simple to cook and made a great snack. I also made the “Tomato and Basil Bruschetta.” All recipes required so few ingredients that preparation was easy and cooking time was fast. I like that Fiore’s chapters are not separated by Appetizers and Entrees, but are labeled Salads, Soups and Stews, Breads and Pizza, Tofu, Tempeh and Seitan, etc. Sweet Finishes is my favorite section. I can’t wait to bake a “Tofu Coconut Cream Pie” and “Tofu Cannoli.” A great cookbook for novice cooks or professional chefs, vegetarian hippies or vegan busybodies. —Jennifer Nielsen

The Motel Life
Willy Vlautin
Harper Perennial
Street: 2006
The Motel Life might be one of the most bittersweet novels written in the last decade and Willy Vlautin has managed to accomplish this feat without use of simile, modifiers or any of the other cheap tricks a writer uses to manipulate an audience’s emotions. In the elegantly simple tradition of writers like Carver and Bukowski, Vlautin lets his quietly gut-wrenching story of two decent men with terrible luck speak for itself. His naked, natural voice reads like a court deposition from a very insightful, somewhat reticent barfly, allowing the reader to process the emotional content of the book on his/her own without being led by the hand like a retarded child to the moment where they are supposed to cry. If The Motel Life is any indicator, Vlautin is on his way to cementing a reputation as the Steinbeck of the 21st Century. (Hard Boiled Book of the Month Club Selection, to be discussed at 7 P.M. on 12/29/08 at Sam Weller’s Book Store) –JR Boyce

The Transparent City
Michael Wolf
Street: 11.2008
There has always been a discussion about contemporary street photography and whether or not it is voyeuristic in its nature. Taking snapshots of other people’s lives is inherently voyeurism, but as most Magnum photographers will tell you, photographers are the documentarians of life in this day and age. While this book isn’t “street photography” (at least in the traditional sense), it is technically pictures of the street. For this project, Michael Wolf used telephoto lenses to take pictures of buildings and architecture in Chicago. Most of the photos in this book were taken in the evening or at night from the windows of what I assume to be skyscrapers. The interesting part of the book (and the most disturbing) is the fact that in several frames you can see into people’s living rooms and bedrooms within their apartment buildings. To go even further, several pages feature crops of people’s windows that have been enlarged. Due to the enlargement, the photos are very pixelated, resembling early camera phone photos or gas station security cameras. The photos of the buildings at night, while beautiful, cross the line of invading the privacy of the buildings tenants. While I enjoyed looking at this book, it really helps the argument that photography in public places IS an invasion of privacy (something I personally disagree with). This book takes documentary photography two steps backward. Michael Wolf’s technical prowess with a camera is amazing in this book, but I hope the critics of documentary photography never see it. –Giuseppe Ventrella