Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Recommended Read: I'll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich

I love a sardonic wit. 86 year-old Betty Halbreich is the personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman. A position she's held for 39 years. (She's featured in the documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's, which apart from Betty, is somewhat of a bore.) Part biography, part style guide, she discusses her privileged life and how she landed at Bergdorf's. Many rich and famous people have visited her dressing room, including Candice Bergen and the late Joan Rivers. She has even helped studios outfit their actors for shows, in particular she helped Patricia Field dress the women on Sex and the City.

She may appear proper, but she's not afraid to tell it like it is. In fact, that is what attracts customers (repeat customers value that quality too). And that is what attracted this reader to her book. She's not only honest about her successes, but also her failures in life, and quite eloquently to boot.

Halbreich says "As soon as I get home, I undress, brush my clothes, put them on the proper hangers, and give them an airing before they return to the closet- which, containing a lifetime of garments, is a Narnian portal to times and place that no longer exist." She is a relic, not because of age, but because of her habits, which is oddly refreshing.

I'll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Podcast Obsession: The Planet Money Podcast

Lest you think I’m responsible citizen of the world, just saying the words “global economy” pretty much puts me to sleep.  I had one measly economics class in college, and it was the only course I took pass/ fail.  Usually thinking about the economy makes me a little confused and a lot scared.  So, I’m not exactly the target audience for this NPR podcast.  

However, after hearing a plug for the show on the Slate Culture Gabfest (another podcast favorite), I checked out Planet Money and it has since become one of my favorite podcasts.  The show has a unique perspective on the global economy, and always finds unique and quirky ways to highlight different economic issues. For instance, they recently had a show on cattle theft in Oklahoma and the special agent who tracks down the thieves (Episode 583: Cow Noir).  Another recent show (Episode 575: The Fondue Conspiracy) described how fondue’s popularity was actually caused by the dominance of the Swiss Cheese Union in Switzerland during the early part of 20th century.  

The show’s various hosts and reporters are good at explaining economic theories and principles while still being interesting and fun; so even economic neophytes like myself understand and remain entertained.  The podcasts are always enjoyable and are sometimes very funny.  While I certainly haven’t become an economic genius from listening to show, I do have a better grasp of world issues and can occasionally make smart chatter at dinner parties.  Fans of Freakonomics would probably enjoy the show. Although, I personally like Planet Money quite bit more than those books.  It’s worth a listen whether or not economic issues are something you are super interested in.  The show is a spin off the NPR juggernaut, This American Life, so fan of that show may enjoy it as well.

For more information on Planet Money check out their blog on NPR, or listen to the podcast.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Recommend Reads: Recent Releases

 Contrary to popular belief, librarians are paid to read all day (I wish!).  Instead we have to fit reading in when we aren't working.  Meaning we pretty much have endless "To Read" lists.  Luckily, I had the opportunity to take a couple trips recently, so I had time to catch up with a few good recent titles:

The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai (2014).

Makkai's previous book The Borrower was one of my favorite reads of 2011.  So I was super excited to see that she had a book coming out this year. The Hundred Year House is set in a large mansion in the northern suburbs of Chicago (::cough:: Lake Forest ::cough::) that used to be an artist colony called Laurelfield.  The first part of the book takes place in 1999, when the house is on the verge of its centennial, and then the book works back through the house's history.

In 1999, we follow the saga of Marxist English professor Zee and her unemployed academic husband Doug.  Zee was raised at Laurelfield, and she and Doug move into the coach house when the couple falls on hard times. Doug is purportedly working an a career making tome about a poet Edwin Parfitt, who once stayed at Laurelfield.  However, he spends more of his time writing for a Baby Sitter's Club like series and flirting with Miriam, the artist wife of Zee's brother-in-law Chad with whom they share the coach house. When Dough starts asking questions about the artist colony and looking around for papers, he's surprised to find Zee's mom, Gracie, oddly standoffish and protective of the topic.  Is she hiding something?  This section is very funny and works as both an academic satire and a very shaggy mystery novel.

The book then cuts to earlier history of the mansion.  In 1950s, the artist's colony is shut down, so Grace DeVohr (Zee's mom) can move their with her abusive, alcoholic husband.  Separated from her family and without a friend nearby, Grace finds her situation increasingly desperate.  We also glimpses of Laurelfield in the 1920s, as an active artist colony, including when Edwin Parfitt stayed there.  Finally, the book ends were the house began, with the original owners, including Zee's ancestor, a beautiful woman who committed suicide and supposedly "haunts" the mansion.

The Hundred Year House is a great read  There are various connections between all of the stories taking place at Laurelfield throughout the decades.  Once you finish the book, you'll probably want to reread it to catch all the links.  Makkai has a lot of fun filling the book with made-up cultural references.  I googled a lot of the artists and celebrities she created for this book, thinking they might actually be real.  The Hundred Year House has occasional dark moments, but it is definitely a lot of fun.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell (2014).

Rainbow Rowell is a staff favorite.  I highly recommend reading any book by her.  Landline is her latest release, which focuses on the struggling marriage between the hard-working TV writer, Georgie McCool, and her stay-at-home husband, Neal.  Two days before Georgie is set to go with Neal and their two daughters to Neal's childhood home in Nebraska, she and her writing partner Seth get the opportunity to write their dream pilot.  Unfortunately that means staying in L.A. and working over Christmas.  Neal is not so thrilled with the idea, and takes his two daughters to Omaha without Georgie.

Meanwhile, Georgie is left fretting over the state of her marriage.  Did Neal leave for vacation or her all together?  Rather than be alone in their house, Georgie stays temporarily at her mom's house with her sarcastic sister Heather.  While staying there, she makes an interesting discovery, the landline phone in her bedroom allows her to call back into the past, and she begins talking to Neal from a time shortly before they became engaged.  Will the phone time travel save her marriage, or prevent it from ever happening?

The premise for the book sounds a little bit unusual (certainly much more Sci-Fi than Rowell's other work), but don't let it sway you from checking out the book.  Rowell is able to write really funny characters and dialogues.  The interactions between Georgie, her free-spirited mom, and her sister Heather are often laugh out loud funny, and were one of my favorite parts of the book.  It was also refreshing to read a story where the romantic arc is between a long married couple, rather two people just falling in love.  Rowell does a great job of showing how external strains can really affect the relationship between two people who genuinely love each other. 

Station-Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014).

Sci-Fi books and dystopias usually aren't my cup of tea, but something stood out about this book by Canadian author Mandel.  It takes place in the recent future and begins at a Toronto production of King Lear starring famous Hollywood actor Arthur Leander.  During the production, Leander suffers a fatal heart attack on stage.  Soon Georgian flu sweeps across the world wiping out 99 percent of the population.

The plot then pick ups twenty years later when civilization no longer exists as we know it.  There is no longer air planes, telephones or even electricity.  Kirsten, one of the child actors playing Lear's daughter, is now a woman who is part of a traveling theater company known as the "Traveling Symphony."  The symphony travels from ram shack town to town performing plays (Kirsten prefers Shakespeare) and music.  While journeying through the ruins of the Midwest, the symphony encounters a dangerous man called the "prophet."

The book also follows several other people connected to Leander: the paramedic who tried to save his life, his first wife, Miranda, and his best friend.  Most of these plots take place before the Georgian flu epidemic, but don't be too surprised to see some of the characters pop up later on in the book.

I really enjoyed Mandel's inventive descriptions of how towns and society functioned in a post-apocalyptic environment.  Mandel also slips in some nice satire about current society, mostly delivered by Arthur's best friend.    The book is incredibly dark at times, but also moving or lightly funny.  It definitely is an absorbing read. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's National Candy Day!

Sweet candy facts:

  • The first commercial solid eating chocolate was produced by Fry & Sons in Bristol, England, in 1847
  • M&M’s (packaged in cardboard tubes) were first manufactured for soldiers during World War II. Forrest Mars got the idea for M&M’s when he visited Spain during the Spanish Civil War and saw how soldiers kept chocolates from melting by rolling them in sugary coating.
  • When peanut M&M's were first introduced in 1954, they were only available in the color brown
  • Milton S. Hershey, the founder of Hershey, owned a caramel manufacturing company before he focused on chocolate
  • The M's in M&M's stand for Mars & Murrie: Forrest Mars (son of Frank Mars) entered into a partnership with Bruce Murrie, son of William Murrie (president of Hershey). Hershey provided the chocolate for M&M’s.
  • A Milky Way bar is known as a Mars bar in the United Kingdom

Here are some recommendations if you are looking for some candy-centric books to celebrate National Candy Day:

* For even more fascinating history behind the Mars and Hershey candy companies, and the people who started them:

The Emperors of Chocolate:
Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars
by Joël Glenn Brenner
338.766 BRE
Find it in the catalog!

Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams
by Michael D'Antonio 
Find it in the catalog!
* If you have bags of leftover Halloween candy and would like a fun way to use it all up:

Candy Construction:
How to Build Edible Race Cars, Castles, and Other Cool Stuff Out of Store-Bought Candy!
by Sharon Bowers
641.86 BOW
Find it in the catalog!
* If you want to take on the challenge of making your own candy:

Field Guide to Candy:
How to Identify and Make Virtually Every Candy Imaginable
by Anita Chu
641.853 CHU
Find it in the catalog!

The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook:
How to Make Truly Scrumptious Candy in Your Own Kitchen!
by Liz Gutman
641.853 GUT
Find it in the catalog!
* If you want to give homemade candy as presents for the holidays:

Sweet Christmas:
Homemade Peppermints, Sugar Cake, Chocolate-Almond Toffee, Eggnog Fudge, and Other Sweet Treats and Decorations
by Sharon Bowers
641.568 BOW
Find it in the catalog!

Delicious Gifts:
Edible Creations to Make and Give
by Jess McCloskey
641.5 MCC
Find it in the catalog!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

New Non-Fiction

A selection of new non-fiction titles that recently hit our shelves:

101 Two-Letter Words by Stephin Merritt. You may recognize the author's name, but from a different medium: he's the founder of the band Magnetic Fields. Short (and sweet) book of two-letter words presented in a witty, rhymed fashion.

Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen With an Indian Soul by Aarti Sequeira. Recipes that fuse Indian and American cuisine from the Food Network chef. Lots of photos!

The Edge of the Sky: All You Need To Know About the All-There-Is by Roberto Trotta. Astrophysicist Trotta undertakes describing cosmology using the most common 1,000 words so that the average person (and non-astrophysicist) can understand it. Short book that comes in at 85 pages.

How We Got To Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. Johnson details six technologies that changed our lives: refrigeration, clocks, lenses, water purification, recorded sound, and artificial light.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel. Based on studies (particularly Mischel's eponymous Marshmallow Test) about self-control and delayed gratification.

The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour-- and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News by Sheila Weller. Details how these three women cracked the news industry and became successful, even influential.

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne. A biography of the other famous Confederate general.

Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century! by Steven Pinker. I was excited about this book, until I read the subtitle. Then, I re-thought this position and got excited again. Mainly because I could probably stand to read this book, as evidenced by my posts.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons From the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. Anecdotes from a young, female mortician. This book had a lot of "pre-pub" buzz.

Wheat Belly Total Health: The Ultimate Grain-Free Health and Weight-Loss Life Plan by William Davis, MD. Sequel to Wheat Belly, with new tips and information for success with this diet.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Drinking Cure: Cocktails for what ails you

"Here's to Alcohol!  The cause of- and solution to- all of life's problems."- Homer Simpson ( "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment," The Simpsons: 8th Season).

While many people have turned to drink to (perhaps unwisely) cure their ills, many liqueurs and cocktail mixers were actually created for their medicinal purposes.  That is not to say that turning to your liquor cabinet is the best solution to your cold, though it might make you care a little less about it!  But if you are going to have a drink anyway, why not tailor it to what ails you?  Below are three recent non-fiction titles highlighting the curative properties of drinks.  Enjoy in moderation, of course!:

Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks  by Warren Bobrow (2013).
Call #: 641.874 BOB
Find it in the catalog!

Want your drink to have a little bit of medical history as a side?  Check out this informative book.   As a cocktail geek, I love finding out the role that liqueurs, bitters, and cocktails played in early medicine.  This book goes into a the history of several "restorative" drinks and includes recipes for both traditional and new cocktails made with healing herbs.  The drinks are divided up into seven categories: digestives and other curatives (drinks that aid digestion and other ailments), winter warmers, hot-weather refreshers, restoratives (drinks to cure hangovers), relaxants and toddies (to help you sleep), painkilling libations, and mood enhancers.  I personally argue that any drink will accomplish the last three tasks!

Stand out drinks include a unique spin on the Corpse Reviver using Calvados (apple brandy), gin and cognac  (p. 74, a restorative cocktail), the Cocktail Whisperer's Painkilling System #200 (a Tiki inspired drink with two types of rum, sure to numb your pain!, p. 116), and the Iberville Street Cocktail (a less potent spin on the class New Orlean's cocktail the Sazerac, using Lillet Blanc and brandy. Absinthe makes it a digestive, p. 20).

Dr. Cocktail: 50 Spirited Infusions to Stimulate the Mind and Body by Alex Ott (2012).
Call #: 641.874 OTT
Find it in the catalog!

This book has a more modern spin on the homeopathic cocktails and features drinks that are the author's creation.  If you are all ready a cocktail snob, this is a great book to check out for something new.  It's also recommend for people who prefer their cocktails made with vodka, which is less common in more historical cocktails.   Ott has his drinks divided into several different categories including "appetizing libations,"  aphrodisiacs, and "memory-evoking elixirs" (this sounds kind of scary for those who drink to forget!). 

Stand out drinks include the great for Valentine's Day "Love in a Glass" which mixes vanilla vodka, chocolate syrup, and espresso (p.95); "Bardot"- a combo of citrus flavored vodka and grapefruit juice (p. 118), and "Scottish Mary"- a play on the brunch staple Bloody Mary using Scotch (p. 64). 

Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons (2012).
Call #641.874 PAR
Find it in the catalog!

This is perhaps the geekiest book on the list.  It appeals to those interested in the history of bitters and those ambition enough to want to mix their own.  For those unfamiliar with bitters they are aromatic flavoring agents usually sold in small bottles that you put a couple shakes into a drink to add a particular flavor.  The two most famous types are Angostura Bitters (used in Old Fashions and pretty much everything) and Peychaud's Bitters (used most famously and deliciously in a Sazerac).  Traditionally, bitters were usually invented for their restorative properties (Angostura and Peychaud's included).  This book is an excellent primer on bitters and setting up a decent bar.  Recipes are divided among the traditional cocktails using bitters (i.e. Champagne Cocktail, Manhattan, Negroni, etc.), and new drinks using bitters.  This book is highly recommended to cocktail geeks!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Walk Across America

If you're into travel memoirs, this one certainly falls into the realm of a classic. A Walk Across America follows the journey of Peter Jenkins, a young college graduate from a sheltered upper-class East Coast family, as he backpacks his way across 1970's America in search of meaning for himself and his country. While his writing can be considered average at best (often times his book reads like a 1st grade easy reader), the memoir proved to be somewhat inspiring with excursions into the deep south, antidotes about the bond between man and his dog, and explorations into religion and love. Find it in the catalog!