Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spotted: Delizia: The Epic History of Italians and their Food by John Dickie

Where: B63 bus from Sunset Park to Park Slope, Brooklyn
Who was reading: A wispy sort of brunette with a wilting updo that would have been well suited to one of Jane Austen’s heroines.
Phrenology may have gone the way of the dodo… but for those who actively practice and adhere to the tenets of Rhinopsychology (ie. me, and maybe my mom?)—the bony contours of her schnozz showed unequivocal proof of great personality and intellect.
A People's History of the United Steaks: Delizia is as much a social history as it is a tale of cuisine, establishing ties between the flavor and character of a people in turmoil and the edible matter  with which their teeth, tongues, and esophagi came into most frequent contact over the years.
The Sunday Times of London called it: "A book that is as much a feast of horrors as delights...[Dickie's] book is hard to fault: densely researched, enlightening, and consistently moreish."
Includes recipes! Such as the Silvio Berlusconi-inspired "Bunga Burger": an old cut of mutton sandwiched between two hot tamales and advertised relentlessly across all channels of media. It's worth noting that many Italian traditionalists find this particular dish distinctly unappetizing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spotted: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: An old man whose skin was crinkled and yellowing like an ancient scroll. He wore a hempen button-up patterned with new-agey swirls resembling paramecia, and sweaty coils of graying chest-fur peeked out from the V where the top buttons joined. An arm dangled listlessly across his lap like a sleeping baby.
Why anyone would leave their baby in a petri dish of paisley paramecia... is beyond me. Maybe it toughens up the immune system?
Anyway, that book title seems a little over the top, no? In fact it takes pride of place among the  great deceiving titles of our day, a venerable list that includes such varied tomes as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and The Neverending Story.
They should have called it "All the Ways the World Can End." That's the major takeaway I got from the book in any case; that life on earth is perilous and accidental—constantly on the brink of collapse—yet at the same time humorous and fascinating. 
Especially (and this is the key) when you filter it through the droll voice of Mr. Bill Bryson. That man writes nonfiction like it's a pop song. Catchy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Spotted: Vivas en su Jardín by Dedé Mirabal

Where: N-train
Who was reading: A black woman with excellent posture and a rectangle patterned dress. She was prim and orderly, yet there was a sweetness about her, much like the Malvina Reynolds tune "Little boxes".
Apropos of which, can you guess which of the following bands did not cover that song? 
A. The Shins
B. The Decemberists
C. Bright Eyes
D. Death Cab for Cutie
E. Linkin Park
First person to answer correctly gets a copy of my new favorite book about the Subway.
Anyway, stumbling back towards the point... the book is an autobiographical account of three sisters known as "las mariposas" who actively opposed the Rafael Leónidas Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Though only one sister lived to tell the tale, the movement of which they were part succeeded in taking down Trujillo's oppressive regime. 
All in all, a gratifying vindication of the "pueblo unido" protest chant.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close—no, not the sweaty, loquacious masses packed into the subway car—a book by Jonathan Safran Foer!

Where: N-train
Who was reading: A tawny-skinned woman with dirty blond curls cascading over her face like a droopy fern. She wore an attractive dress with scribbles on it, and was a bit plump of face.
"Extremely Cloying and Incredibly False" This is what New York Press reviewer Harry Siegel had to say about Safran Foer's hotly anticipated follow-up to Everything Is Illuminated. Reviewers in general weren't particularly fond of the novel—especially compared to its predecessor.
But the critics were downright amorous towards the book his wife (Nicole Krauss) published that same year: The History of Love.
Oh to be a fly on the breakfast nook bench in the Safran Foer Krauss house when those reviews started pouring in: 
"C'mon Baby, don't be that way, they just resent your creative genius." 
"Get thee gone, Wench! Don't you have a National Book Award gala to attend, hmmm....? Or perhaps you could go fanny about some press conference with your Edward Lewis Wallant. That always makes you happy."
Funny how in my imagination... Jonathan Safran Foer talks exactly like Stewie from Family Guy. Weird, right?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spotted: A Feast For Crows (Book IV in A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R. R. Martin

Where: N-train
Digital reading device: A Nook, I believe.
Line from the text used to track down the book title later: “Meribald was a septon without a sept, only one step up from a begging brother in the hierarchy of the Faith.”
Since you asked... in Game of Thrones lore, a septon is a priest in the Faith of Seven.
And a sept = a temple.
Speaking of George R. R. Marvelous, did anyone go to this? If so, color me jealous (a deep shade of puce, I think).
Who was reading: A balding man in a baggy pinstripe suit. He perched tensely upon the subway bench, long limbs folded close to his body like the wings of a vulture. In fact, his general demeanor was not unvulturelike at all—I could easily picture him roosted atop some lonesome desert snag, watching.
Anyway, like a vulture(?), he was unadorned by notable fripperies, but for a watchband that had snakeskin pattern stamped upon some leather of indeterminate origin—cowskin at best, rat leather at worst, and fruit leather at tastiest.
Speaking of which… they should totally make fruit-leather-bound editions of classic books. (Are you listening, Everyman’s Library?) For the first time, readers will find Finnegan’s Wake easily digestible. Gluttonous bookies may even finish the likes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in just one sitting!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Spotted: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character) by Richard Feynman

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A thin man, probably in his early thirties, wearing a gray t-shirt and slacks that billowed around him like the robes of an ancient Greek scholar or one of the characters from Harry Potter.
Opposites a-track-t (like a train track, get it? (ugh)): The reader and his girlfriend made an interesting tableau as their outward appearances stood in sharp contrast, yet the two were practically inseparable. Rather than gray swaddling, she was dressed head to toe in clingy garments the color of summer fruits and had eyes like a Disney Princess—wide, saucerous orbs that gazed at him with unveiled affection. His right index finger was constrained by a cast, but its neighboring digits slid up and down her forearm in a caress that lasted from Astoria to Midtown Manhattan, while higher up, her right thumb was occupied in rubbing his bicep. Occasionally they would break apart to point and chuckle over something in the text, but inevitably they were drawn back together like two Simpsonian aliens exchanging long protein strands. Cute.
Another odd pairing: theoretical physics + “engagingly eccentric” and “entertaining” writing.
But allegedly, this anecdotal autobiography of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman has both. Indeed, it “proves once again that it is possible to laugh out loud and scratch your head at the same time (NYTBR).”