Friday, July 20, 2007

Ktichen Confidential

If you see this man, keep your children away from him. He is a bad man. He is angry, vulgar, belligerent, and ill-tempered. He is also a world-class chef. He is Anthony Bourdain. Kitchen Confidential, his first delve into the world of auto-biography, is an un-polished and brutally honest look into the world of cooks and cooking, past the clean white linens and seemingly effortless dance of waitrons, cooks, busboys and maitre d's at your favorite restaurant. As Bourdain says himself, this is a book for cooks and about cooks. It is not meant to frighten the general public away from eating out or trying new and exciting foods. In fact, it is meant to do the opposite: Bourdain shows with clarity and honesty what it means to become a cook, to work as a cook, to know and love food; in essence to show just what it is like to be the person cooking YOUR food.

There are plenty of notable passages, paragraphs you will no doubt be repeating to your friends and loved ones when the subject of cooking or restaurants comes up; you will never be able to forget why for instance you should never order fish on Monday or why hollandaise sauce may not be such a good idea for breakfast after all. As an aspiring home cook and someone who loves to learn about food and cooking as much as I love to actually preparing food, and after reading this book, there is A LOT I have to learn.

Seeing as we all have to eat, and unless there are people out there who are willing to subsist on bland protein and starch combinations, we actually like to ENJOY whatever we push into our maws. So it seems to me that it would be in just about every one's interest to learn what happens to your food before it is set in front of you. Bourdain will take you there: He will gross you out, scare you a little, and you may not look at the people preparing your food the same way again. But he will also make you want more, and maybe just a little bit more adventurous. And maybe, just maybe, the next time you have the chance you might give those raw oysters or escargot a try. Maybe.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Middle of the story

The second story of a trilogy, some times called the "Empire" story for the greatest and most famous middle stories of any trilogy ever, can be and usually is a bit less exciting than the opening and closing and usually involve a whole lot of story. It is the book that always drives the action across the bridge from the dramatic opening into the land of the heart-pounding ending. It is, in effect, the boring story, the story that doesn't really build up or conclude because, well, that is just not what is was born to do. The second story heightens the tension, tightens the thumb screws, cranks up the voltage so that the conclusion hits you that much harder.

So here we have Day Watch, the second in the brilliant Night Watch trilogy from Russia which began with Night Watch and will conclude with Twilight Watch. The story is a well known one: The eternal struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, day and night. The forces of the light, defenders of humanity and all things good, run the Night Watch. On the other end is (you guessed it) the Day Watch, the defenders of darkness, and mortal enemies of the Day Watch. Many years ago these two groups forged a treaty that stated that neither of these groups could use their powers to influence the course of humanity without an equal use of power from the opposing side. So the Watches were formed to keep an eye on one another.

No that you have the general idea of how the story goes, the second book, Day Watch, follows members of the Day Watch, or the followers of darkness, as they conspire against the light ones in a massive game of chess to ultimately defeat the forces of light in the biggest war in a thousand years. Of course, the Night Watch is conspiring to accomplish the same thing. Each side makes their moves and gets all of their important players into position for the final push for victory. And this, of course, is why it is the second book. The book is all building, posturing, and moving pieces into place for the big showdown. And it does not dissapoint. The next book, Twilight Watch, finishes the saga, with what I am sure will be a huge flourish.

It should be noted, also, that the books are also movies, Day Watch just having left theaters in late June. Both movies, Night Watch and Day Watch, are subtitled from Russian and for all of those Sci Fi junkies out there showcases some of the most innovative effects and cinematography this side of lucasfilm.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The loss of something you love

Just a quick note today - The Waldenbooks down the street from our house on West Portal in San Francisco is closing. Now, for us book buyers, the event is fortuitous; It allows us bibliophiles to gather up all of the books we have been wanting or were not sure about buying at full price at 25% or more off. However, it is still a sad day. Any time a bookstore closes, even one that is part of a major corporate national chain, is a sad loss. It means that people do not go out of their houses any more to buy books; it also means that people are generally just not buying and reading books any more. It seems in this day of instant information and entertainment, the "old-fashioned" pastime of reading a book sentence by sentence, page by page is starting to go the way of the Dodo.

Now, not to worry; if you were concerned about the welfare of the employees of Waldenbooks West Portal, they are being transferred to other Borders locations. And it is not as though West Portal is without other bookstores. It is the meaning implicit in the closing of the bookstore that bothers me. As much as I love to find instantly what I want online, click once or twice, and have it magically appear on my door step in five to seven days, I much more enjoy walking into a store lined from floor to ceiling with books for me to see, touch, and smell. It is a sensory experience for me as much as it is a shopping trip. You also get the chance to talk to the people working there, the people working closest to the books, about the unique little world of bookselling.

That's it, really. I just wanted to share my dissapointment with you all in a world that would allow a bookstore to close and yet another hair and nails salon to open up down the street. There is no excuse for that.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Neat and Tidy

So how else could a novel about a national crisis and political infighting end but all wrapped up neat and tidy with no uncomfortable loose ends or painful tragedies. No one dies, no one looses everything or has to make a painful decision that will shatter their lives for ever. Everyone lives happily ever after. People make their decisions, change their lives around for the positive, and ride off into the sunset happy and fulfilled.

Maybe I am just jaded. Maybe I am used to being left guessing, left wonding if the lives of the characters I have just shared so much with will reach a positive end. But I am still left guessing. I am used to things falling apart, the end being left open to a sundry of different possibilities, both positive and negative.

"Boomsday" was a hysterical and sometimes scathing commentary on our current political system and all of its many skitzo personalities. But it did not leave me guessing what was going to happen next, or how these things would be resolved. Because all of the problems got wrapped up in a nice tidy package and mailed off to me in the final ten pages of the book, so now I have no reason to worry about the moral or philisophical implications of the last 300 pages. Mr. Buckley did that for me.
Ok, maybe I am asking too much. This wasn't exactly "Gravity's Rainbow", but I guess I was hoping for a little bit more.... well... turmoil.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Change the world

Go on Gen X'ers, its time to wake up and start changing the world. Apparently we have a number of crisese on our hands and no one seem to be willing to step in and do anything about them but us. We've got wars, global warming, the collapse of Social Security, natural disasters, the list just keeps going and going. And apparently we are the only generation with enough smarts and gumption to make any sort of a difference in this quickly disentigrating world of ours. Apparently, we have to think of a solution so outrageous, so shocking that it will finally get the world talking and eventually, somewhere down the line, maybe, solve the problem.

Or maybe we are being just a bit too idealistic. Maybe we are expecting too much of ourselves and not giving the older and younger generations enough credit. Maybe there are still some lessons for us to learn before we can really say we tried our damnedest to save the world. Eventually, after the Baby Boomers go gentle into that good night and we take their place at the top of the retirement food chain, we will wonder "what the hell were we thinking?" As a nation, we are faced with a number of very real, very overwhelming crisese; there is no debating that. What is up for debate, but sadly is not being debated to seriously at the moment, is what we are going to do about them. Our current novel, "Boomsday" offers an interesting "meta"-idea for solving the Social Security crisis, which manages to get stuck in the muck and mire of US political sandbagging and deal making. But the purpose of the idea stands out still: Are we going to have to go so far as to ask our retiring parents to "transition" themselves before they collect a cent of Social Security in order to save our generation from writing the check?

At the moment, no one seems to be offering up any more possibilities. (This isn't actually being offered up as a possibility, either; remember folks, it's just fiction.) Will we be able to stop Social Security from collapsing? Will we ever find a peacefull resolution in Iraq? Will we be able to slow our consumption of raw materials and fuel enough to slow global warming? Will George W. ever learn that the word "Internet" is not plural? I guess we will just have to wait and see.