Monday, October 29, 2007

The Zen of Fish - Trevor Corson

The Basics: The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi from Samurai to Supermarket, Trevor Corson, 2007, 372 pages, hardcover

How I found it: When I was looking into The Sushi Economy, I discovered this book as well.

What's it about?: Unlike The Sushi Economy, this book is more about the sushi and less about the fish. It is a thorough explanation of how to make different types of nigiri sushi, maki and sashimi, the history behind sushi, and how it became globally popular, especially in California. Corson uses a class of students at the California Sushi Academy as a launching point for each of his sections. As the class learns about making non-traditional rolls, Corson launches into a history of fusion sushi. Within the class, the book primarily follows the hapless Kate, a 20 year old wannabe sushi chef. However, other characters in the class, the teacher, and the master chef are all profiled as well. Corson's book gives a face and a personality to sushi chefs while explaining the clinical precision behind their art.

Did I like it?: I really enjoyed this book. I am a huge sushi fan - it is far and away my favourite food. I thought I knew a lot about sushi and sushi culture, but this book proved me wrong: I have a lot to learn and I learned a lot from this book. Of course, this book also made me incredibly hungry. The descriptions of the food preparation are meticulous while remaining interesting, if a bit gross at times. I also enjoyed the human factor of including the experiences of the student chefs - it brought a human element to the book that I thought was mostly lacking in The Sushi Economy.

Will you like it?: If you have ever eaten sushi this book is a must read. It explains the history and preparation of everything you have eaten, and it does so in a very compelling manner. I couldn't put this book down and it is likely you won't have any trouble getting through it either.

But don't take my word for it: The usual industry blurbs and reader reviews from amazon, a review from the blogger Canuck Librarian, one from Maclean's, another from the UK's Independent, one from the New York Times, one from the fabulous Lotus Reads, and a collection of favourable reviews from Corson's website.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mouthing the Words - Camilla Gibb

The Basics: Mouthing the Words, Camilla Gibb, 1999, 238 pages, hardcover, winner of the Toronto Book award in 2000

How I found it: I read Gibb's excellent Sweetness in the Belly this summer and loved it, so I wanted to read more of Gibb's work.

What's it about?: Moving the Words is the life story of Thelma, a girl who grows up with in a dysfunctional and sexually abusive home. To help her cope with her difficult life, she has several imaginary friends that stay with her into adulthood. Thelma's story is told from her perspective and the reader gets an inside look into her thought process and the delusions behind her mental illness. As Thelma gets older, she manages to finally escape from her family to some degree and begins to study law. Despite the seriously depressing subject matter, Thelma's story is at times humorous and entertaining.

Did I like it?: Somehow, I loved this book and couldn't put it down. Generally I find that books about sexual abuse and mental illness end up being too depressing or cliched, but that is definitely not the case with this book. Gibb writes beautifully, and at times Thelma's delusional thoughts are almost like poetry. The plot manages to keep things interesting as well. Thelma's experiences and personality are very far removed from my life, or from anyone's that I know, but I still managed to emphasize with her situation.

Will you like it?: I highly recommend this book. It is well written, and is a great read. The dark subject matter could be a turn-off, but I think the black humour found in some parts will more than make up for any depressing bits.

But don't take my word for it: The usual industry blurbs and reader reviews from Amazon, a collection of favourable quotes from reviews on the author's website, and a review from someone named Marty Smith's personal site.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema - Anupama Chopra

The Basics: The King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema, Anupama Chopra, 2007, 250 pages, hardcover

How I found it: This book was mentioned by another book blogger, lotusreads so I thought I'd check it out. I grew up in the multi-cultural city of Vancouver, and often watched Bollywood music videos on TV, so I was already interested in Bollywood in general.

What's it about?: This is part biography of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, and part history of Bollywood from its origins in the '20s to the present. It is written to cater to readers who have no working knowledge of Bollywood and its culture, so I guess it is primarily for a Western audience.

Did I like it?: I didn't particularly enjoy this book. While it wasn't bad, it just wasn't good either. It is written well, and organized well, but I'm not really sure who this book is for. If you are a fan of Shah Rukh, the book is probably too much of an overview and tells you things you already know. If you don't know much about Shah Rukh, as I did, you are presented with only an idealized picture of him. As well, it is unclear how the Bollywood history piece fits into a biography like this one.

Will you like it?: If you are interested in Bollywood, this might be a good read. However, I am sure there must be better books on the history of Indian cinema. If you are interested in learing about Bollywood, renting a film is probably a much more entertaining way to go about it.

But don't take my word for it: The usual industry blurbs from amazon, a review from the New York Times, and one from the Delhi based Hindustan Times.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Other Side of the Bridge - Mary Lawson

The Basics: The Other Side of the Bridge, Mary Lawson, 2006, 359 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I was browsing the new Canadian fiction section at my local library and came across this book. I was given Lawson's first novel, Crow Lake, as a Christmas gift a few years ago. I wasn't enthralled by that book, but I decided to give Lawson another chance to wow me.

What's it about?: This novel takes place in a small town in northern Ontario. The story centers around the lives of Arthur Dunn and Ian Christopherson. Arthur is a generation older than Ian and is a farmer, while Ian is the son of the town doctor. The story revolves around how the two men interact, and their love of the same woman. Their respective family issues also play an important part. Arthur has a difficult relationship with his brother, while Ian has a difficult relationship with his mother. The lives of the two men, which could seem so disparate, are told in a careful parallel.

Did I like it?: I loved this book. I thought the plot was beautifully constructed. The way the lives of Arthur and Ian played off each other was fantastic. The character development was also very well done. Usually when I read a book with male protagonists I don't relate to them very well, but Lawson has done such a good job that I was able to empathize with both Ian and Arthur. I couldn't put this book down and was quite sad when it was over.

Will you like it?: I highly recommend this book. It's a great story with great characters and even a few plot twists to keep in interesting. The parallels between Arthur and Ian, and the title itself would make great discussions for a book group. Although this is a book I got from the library, I will most likely purchase a copy as I know I will want to read it again.

But don't take my word for it: The usual industry review snippets and reader reviews from Amazon, one from The Guardian, another from the Washington Post, one from the book loving website curled up, and finally one from the journal Canadian Literature.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Storm Glass - Jane Urquhart

The Basics: Storm Glass, Jane Urquhart, 1987, 127 pages, hard cover

How I found it: I was desperate for something new to read so I went on a binge reserving books at the library. I searched for a few of my favourite authors (Urquhart being one) to see if there were any of their works that I hadn't read. This was one of them.

What's it about?: This is a collection of short stories. Some of the stories are grouped together in sets with similar themes, such as the five stories under the "Five Wheelchairs" heading, and the seven stories under "Seven Confessions". Overall the stories have nothing to do with each other and take place in different time periods with different characters and tones.

Did I like it?: This is one of Urquhart's earlier work from the time when she was primarily publishing poetry and it shows. Like a lot of Margaret Atwood's early work, it is very angsty and self-consciously arty with confusing plot twists and purposely ungrammatical sentences. As a result, I found it a bit annoying and amateurish compared to her later works and didn't enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed her novels.

Will you like it?: I would only recommend this book to hard core Canadian Lit fans, otherwise, please, please, please go pick up The Whirlpool, The Underpainter, Map of Glass and especially the Stone Carvers. They are all phenomenal and much better that these short stories.

But don't take my word for it: The usual from Amazon and her wikipedia page are all I could find.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Geisha, A Life - Mineko Iwasaki

The Basics: Geisha, A Life, Mineko Iwasaki with Rande Brown, 2002, 297 page, paperback

How I found it: I have been fascinated with Japan and Japanese culture since high school. One of my favourite books is Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, and I also really enjoyed Liza Dalby's Geisha. I did some searching at my local library to see if I could find some real, rather than fictionalized, memoirs of a geisha, and came up with this book.

What's it about?: This is Iwasaki's autobiography. Due to complicated family circumstances, she was adopted into a geisha family as a young child and school in the Japanese fine arts, especially dance. She excelled and as a teenager debuted as one of the top geisha in Japan. She tried to enact reforms in geisha society, but was unsuccessful so she chose to retire at age 29 at the height of her popularity.

Did I like it?: I really enjoyed this book. It is not as sensational as Memoirs of a Geisha, but that's okay since it seems so much more real. Iwasaki has lead a very interesting life. She also spends portions of her book explaining how geisha society works, which was educational. Unlike the protagonist in Memoirs of a Geisha, I didn't really identify with Iwasaki. I found a lot of the decisions she made quite strange. However, she is a strong, independent Japanese woman, which is a rarity and is commendable.

Will you like it?: If you are at all interested in geisha, this is a great book to read as a sort of counterpoint to Memoirs of a Geisha. That book is a better story, but this is real life, and there is something to be said for that.

But don't take my word for it: The usual info and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from the Asian Review of Books, a review from a westerner living in Japan, and one from the UK regional newspaper Echo.