Reviews of Non-fiction
Click in the extracts to read the full reviews.
Browse all authors referenced on this site.
Sometimes you have to admit you don’t know enough to give an opinion. For Appetites – A Cookbook, I asked food and wine critic, Andreas Rompel, for his review. In the past I’ve judged Anthony Bourdain’s memoirs from a literary point of view, no problem, and I’ve admired and enjoyed his writing, “…a poetic, stream-of-consciousness food-rap.” But this time, it’s about food and recipes – about which I know just about enough to not ruin scrambled eggs completely. It’s Bourdain’s first cookbook in ten years, and it’s a demonstration of his expertise. The man knows food – no doubt about that. (Continue reading…) For the review of Bourdain’s Medium Raw, go here…
In this book famous British artist and maker of porcelain, Edmund de Waal, tells the story of porcelain in five stages or origins, Jingdezhen, China; Versailles, France; Dresden, Germany; Plymouth, UK; and Dachau, Germany. It is an amazing story, and quite an eye-opener. The secret of pure white porcelain creation was an obsession for many around the world for centuries, the cause of espionage, skullduggery, battles, enslavement and madness. De Waal describes white porcelain objects using many creative visual devices so as to allow the reader to grasp the distinctions between types of porcelain, but white being white, he eventually, and surprisingly, resorts to using musical terms. Probably only a truly passionate and dedicated artist, like De Waal, could actually hear porcelain. The book opens the door to an esoteric world, revealing to the reader how scientifically complicated to make, highly prized and beautiful, porcelain is and has always been. (Continue reading the long review here…)
Tiffin roots out the truth behind the scripted words that you have probably never read. Believe me, the actual words are much more interesting than the quotes you remember from films. When you read it, you realize the skill, beauty and impact of those words. So, if you want to get the real thing, to find out what was really written and said, read this. I have always imagined that writing a book must be a sort of torture. You spill your guts in the hope of getting something back from a heartless and uncaring and faceless public. I’ve just finished George Tiffin’s All the Best Lines, an excellent book on screen-writers and their best writing, and I thought: Imagine that you wrote this screenplay, the greatest achievement of your life, and no-one knows you wrote it. They know the movie’s name, and the actors’ names, but not yours. Imagine how awful that must be. Seriously, how many of you know the names of the writers of your favourite movies? The Great Gatsby? (the screenplay, not the novel) X-Men? Sherlock Holmes? The Hateful Eight? (Continue reading…)
When I heard this book was in production I was skeptical – who dares tackle such a literary institution? Would it just be another posthumous money-spinner, like the Stieg Larsson and Ian Fleming novels? Or will the Pioneer Girl manuscript be mired in sensationalism, like Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman? So I waited a year while the industry responded. My opinion: it is a serious, thoroughly researched, beautifully produced and objective work. It does not pander to sentiment, and thus reveals so many interesting new aspects of the writer and her life that it is Laura Ingalls Wilder reborn. It is surprising, insightful, strange, sad, and lovely all at the same time. (Continue reading…)
Mark Hogancamp lives in a trailer and is something of a celebrity – but for good reason. Obscure people who suddenly become famous are often famous for doing something of no great value. They have 15 minutes of fame and that’s it. Mark Hogancamp is the exception. He was simply doing something to deal with his recovery after being beaten almost to death in 2000. He built a little village that he calls “Marwencol”, that he says is frozen in time in World War II Belgium. And he makes all the characters in the village out of commercially produced military figurines, Barbie dolls, and movie action figures, creating their looks, clothes, equipment, everything to the finest detail. Then he photographs it all and tells stories about Marwencol, and the people living there. This he made outside his trailer, basically in the bare dirt – all painstakingly by hand. He is obviously a wonderful model maker, and a fine photographer. (Continue reading…)
Red Herrings, Murders at Mealtimes and Mystery Recipes
Considering the quality and quirkiness of books published by Quirk Books, I was expecting something very nice when I was asked to review The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. 1) I love mysteries and detective novels; 2) I love cookbooks and cooking and 3) How weird is the combination – culinary crimes? Killings in the kitchen? The book is a neat blend of both worlds – a cookbook with a murderous twist. It may be too pretty to live in my kitchen with the rest of the dog-eared, scribbled on and greasy-paged cookbooks, but until I decide to sacrifice it, it will make good reading on my fiction shelf. Want to know which are the favourite dishes of some of your favourite mystery writers? (Continue reading…)
Hedwyg van Groenendaal recognized the potential of Prezi early on. Back in 2010 the Dutch author and trainer published Presenteren met Prezi (Presenting with Prezi), the first book about Prezi. She also founded Prezi University in Amsterdam, and is the author of five books on Prezi, including the instructional manual Prezi HOTSHOT. If you feel it’s painful learning software step-by-step, imagine how hard it is to write the teaching materials in the first place. It is tediously precise. And on top of all the technical details, it has to – at the very least – pose challenges and offer inspiration. The question is: Did Van Groenendaal manage all of the above in this book? Technically, yes. Follow the instructions and you will be able to create things like a prezumé (a résumé using Prezi) or a prezi in PechaKucha style (a sort of 20-second visual flurry). (Continue reading…)
More famous than ever – 200 years of pride, publishing and public profiling of Jane Austen
This hard-cover book is a lovely thing to hold and handle (kudos to Quirk) – beautifully designed by Andie Reid, printed and bound, with silky paper, glowing pictures and text carefully pruned to the right length and level of detail. Even if you know nothing about Jane Austen, never read one of her novels, and never seen a movie adaptation of them, you still have to admire the sheer depth and detail of the data collected in this book of Jane Austen covers. It is, frankly, eye-popping. Who’d have known? (Continue reading…)
As always, it’s a thrill to hear from an author, but let me be the first to admit that it’s easy to write a positive review if a book is good. It is difficult to write a negative review of a book that is badly written, especially when you’re trying to be polite and at the same time trying to figure out why you didn’t like it. Hardest of all is lying in a review. Lying takes concerted effort and consistency. Albala’s book, like his paintings, is really good. So writing this review was a pleasure – and simply the plain truth. Mitchell Albala’s guide on landscape painting techniques broke my embargo on how-to books. It is different, it is useful, and I read every word. (Continue reading…)
Enlightenment for biking newbies
First let me say that the freedom and affordability for everyone to blog as they please have caused some pretty ghastly stuff to be published on-line. Pokings-about in the primal ooze of cognition in bad grammar – not nice stuff, not fit to be read. I am no exception, I am frequently tempted to let my nastiest thoughts get out and write what ought not to be expressed. (Thankfully, you can always edit it out the next day.) So I was a bit taken aback when I realised that this cute little book had been written by a blogger (www.bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com). However, it is actually very good; witty, astute observations about cycling and cyclists, and the motorists who try to kill them. Bike Snob knows his Sociology theory all right. Bike Snob, a.k.a. Eben Weiss, explains the basics about bikes and why people want to ride them, something that I, as an absolute beginner, found very useful. (Continue reading…)