Me and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me And Earl and the Dying GirlWhen I first heard that Jesse Andrews‘ debut novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was being made into a movie, and was being filmed here in Pittsburgh, no less, I immediately snatched the book up from our teen section at CLP – Mt. Washington.

Then it sat on a chair in my apartment for three weeks.

What can I say? It’s summertime.  There are trails to be biked and girls in sundresses to be ogled.  So after those three weeks lapsed, I renewed it.  Again, it sat while I found other activities to do rather than diving into those meager two hundred and ninety-five pages.  Suddenly, I saw that the holds list for the book was growing, so I got to reading.

I’m so glad that I finally did.

Narrator Greg Gaines is a high school senior who blends in with each social circle he encounters without ever fully becoming a member of them.  His only friend is Earl and together they make weird no-budget home movies inspired by the likes of Werner Herzog.  Greg’s only plan for his last year of school is to fly as low under the radar as he can.  His plan is foiled when his mother decrees that he must revive his childhood friendship with leukemia-stricken Rachel—the dying girl of the book’s title.  In the end, events transpire that cast off Greg’s carefully crafted cloak of invisibility that he has taken so long to cultivate.

I simply loved Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I was literally laughing out loud several times while I read it. The last book that made me laugh out loud as much was Mac Lethal’s hilarious and surprisingly heartwarming Texts from Bennet, a spin-off of the popular Tumblr of the same name.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is no less hilarious and no less heartwarming.

Since the book is based in Pittsburgh, I found it very believable and found myself easily relating to Greg. By now I’m sure you can tell that I love movies, not unlike Greg, so I saw a bit of myself there.  But there’s more.  I strongly related to Greg’s navigation of the cliques of high school.  When I was his age, I would often imagine what high school would look like if the social scales were suddenly inverted.  I always believed—and still do to this day—that if ever such a cosmic shift had occurred, I would have remained firmly in the center of the spectrum; my popularity would have been unchanged.  I believed this because while I may not have been friends with everyone, I was certainly friendly toward everyone.  However, my math might be a bit off since there were just over eighty kids in my graduating class whereas Greg goes to Benson High School, an almost certain stand-in for the recently sold Schenley High School.

Regarding the upcoming film version, news of it has been scant. As of writing this, the most recent piece of info was pictures of Olivia Cooke, the titular dying girl, surfacing from Comic-Con, sans hair.  According to Thomas Mann’s Instagram account (because that’s a place we go to for news these days), filming wrapped on July 20. Mann will be bringing Greg’s awkwardness to life in the film.

Photo by thomas_mann

Sightseeing at Mind Cure Records and The Copacetic Comics Company after getting a drink from Lili Café in Polish Hill…or is this part of the movie? We’ll find out whenever it’s released! Photo by thomas_mann on Instagram

I know I’m potentially setting myself up for disappointment, but based on how much I loved the book, I feel like I already love the movie.  I know, I know.  There are inherent dangers when adapting a book to a movie, but I have faith because Andrews himself wrote the screenplay.  If Andrews loves films as much as Greg does, I have hope.  There are several times in the novel when the layout switches from a normal book to the layout of a script. That was just one of the many things that endeared the book to me. I also loved how self-aware the book is. Greg is hilariously self-deprecating and directly addresses the reader several times. I kept thinking of movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day OffFight Club and Amélie while I was reading it. If the movie can capture even a fraction of the fourth-wall-breaking fun in those movies, I’ll be very pleased.  This movie could very well—potentially—be added to the pantheon of my favorite Pittsburgh-filmed movies.

Andrews has crafted a story that is realistic in both its humor and its treatment of how I’d imagine a socially awkward kid would react to a friend dying of cancer. I certainly enjoyed the book more than a certain other book about a girl with cancer whose movie counterpart also recently filmed here.  Is the trope “girls with cancer” approaching the territory of a cliché? I don’t know, but however you like your books about girls with cancer, either unrealistically saccharine or realistically humorous, you should definitely check out “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” while we wait for the movie. I’ll undoubtedly review it here whenever it comes out.

Have you read the book? Do you want to yell at me and tell me how wrong I am for not liking The Fault in Our Stars? Sound off in the comments below!

 

–Ross

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Us vs Them: or, a Rust Belt Sibling Rivalry

clevepitt

My regular late summer visit home to Cleveland was this past weekend with its requisite must do’s of each visit – family, friends, food, and cultural or sporting event. I’ve been living in Southwest PA nearly as long as I lived in Northeast Ohio, and the one constant over those many years has been the comments (some positive, but most not) from family, friends, co-workers, neighbors regarding the “other” city. If they only knew that each is more alike than not, and both cities have such great assets that citizens of each city should be eager to explore, and easy to do with such a relatively short drive down the respective turnpikes. And so I thought it high time that I point out some of the greatness of each city:

FOOD

westsidemarket

Who doesn’t need to eat, and make that part of any trip? Both cities have wonderful ethnic neighborhoods highlighting the melting pot aspects of each of these Rust Belt cities. Cleveland’s Little Italy  neighborhood near the cultural center of  University Circle, which hosted its annual “Feast” celebration this past weekend, is not to be outdone by Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, nor is Polish Hill and the pierogies produced throughout Pittsburgh to be outdone by Cleveland’s Slavic Village and those specialty foods produced by the hearts and hands of Northeastern Ohioans. And while Clevelanders have the historic West Side Market to make their purchases of specialty meats, cheeses, produce and more, Pittsburghers are able to stroll the streets of their historic Strip District and stop in to make purchases at the likes of Salem’s, Wholey’s, and Penn Mac.

Hot Sauce Williams is a must stop in Cleveland for lovers or ribs, and soul food specialties, but in Pittsburgh you have to do a little bit more digging to fill your craving for mac and cheese or greens and other soul food favorites. Cleveland, and more specifically my childhood neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, boasts famous chefs in residence (Michael Symon, Michael Ruhlman and James Beard award winning Douglas Katz). Pittsburgh has many of its own top chefs in the local restaurant world… including James Beard contenders and winners Justin Severino, Kevin Sousa and Trevett Hooper to name only a few… where it will just be a matter of time before many of these become nationally known food stars.

SPORTS

pncpark

Now, be honest, we must all agree that Pittsburgh has a bit of a leg up on this topic with the many championships achieved by the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins throughout the decades (brought to light in the very excellent Heinz History Center’s Sports Museum), but Clevelanders have something Pittsburghers don’t – a professional basketball team.With the return of basketball’s prodigal son whose name shall still remain nameless among many of my Cleveland family and friends, it may be soon that Cleveland will be able to crow about a being a city of champions.

WATER

clevelandlake

Pittsburgh has three rivers, which come together at “The Point”,  and the spectacular bridge architecture and terrain that goes along with those geographic features. Cleveland, on the other hand has a river (which no longer burns!) and a Great Lake, complete with beaches, marinas and fresh walleye. A trip along the Mon or Allegheny is just as enjoyable as a boat ride along “north coast” beaches and down the Cuyahoga River, famous for having caught on fire back in 1969, as well as having a beer and festival named after it.

CULTURE

Cleveland_Museum_of_Art_-_lagoon_with_statue

Two rust belt cities only 2.5 hours from each other are so fortunate to have world class orchestras, not to mention museums of art housing some of the greatest works of art from world renowned artists (one of which is free to get in!) Pittsburgh has a wonderful children’s museum, both cities have fun science centers, Pittsburgh can claim the wildly eclectic Warhol Museum and Mattress Factory, while Cleveland is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Pittsburgh’s contribution to the jazz world might be a surprise to outsiders, but with names like Eckstine and Strayhorn as part of the musical fabric of this town, this particular musical genre puts a plus in Pittsburgh’s column.  And neither city lacks multiple options for live theater venues for fans of Broadway, off Broadway, and home grown productions.

And of course…LIBRARIES

carnegie440

What kind of librarian would I be if I didn’t mention the plethora of FREE resources available to residents of both cities and their surrounding suburbs through their local public library system!? For those of you here in Pittsburgh, the city has 19 neighborhood branches for you to visit via the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and if that’s not enough the entire county of Allegheny boasts a total of 70 library locations! Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are equally rich in their public library offerings –from the downtown branch on Superior Avenue to the outlying community libraries in Euclid, Beechwood, Berea and more.

Beyond the spectacular architecture of many of the original Carnegie libraries, many branches in both cities boast special collections worth the trip out of your own neighborhood. The A.C. Free Library in Carnegie, PA has a special collection of Civil War memorabilia for all you history buffs, and speaking of history, the Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, PA was the first Carnegie Library in the United States! The Main Library of the Cleveland Public Library system’s historic Walker & Weeks building is home to a large circulation collection, special collections and the Eastman Reading Garden, which is home to a fantastic collection of public art. And CPL’s Main branch even has a drive up window!

Now, before you start commenting below, I know that I left out A LOT of other assets both cities have to offer (alternative music scene, green space, urban agriculture, educational institutions, public transit, brew pubs, and more), but I’m going to leave those for you to discover and share with your favorite naysayer when you make your trip up to Cleveland or down to Pittsburgh, because I know you will after reading this, AND I know that you will be pleasantly surprised at the fact that these siblings are more alike than not!

-Maria J. (proud to claim both cities as “home”)

(all images courtesy of Google Image search)

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Words, Glorious Words

Over the weekend, our friends at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Oxford Dictionaries Online added some new words to its listings

More than 400 of them, give or take a few.

I always think of Ammon Shea whenever these sorts of announcements happen.

Reading the OED He’s the author of Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,710 Pages, an account of the year he spent reading the Oxford English Dictionary.

“If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on,” writes Ammon Shea in this wonderfully quirky book. “I have read the OED so that you don’t have to.”

Ammon Shea loves words. He also loves dictionaries, and has amassed quite the collection. “By last count, I have about a thousand volumes of dictionaries, thesauri, and assorted glossaries,” he writes, adding, somewhat unbelievably, that he doesn’t view these thousands volumes of dictionaries as qualifying as a collection.

(Maybe someone needs to re-read the definition of that particular word. I’m just sayin’.)

Even more remarkable is that the Oxford English Dictionary – which he purchased all twenty volumes of, mind you – is not the first dictionary he’s read (I pity Shea’s mailman, who probably wished he had called out sick on the Monday morning that he brought five boxes of the Oxford English Dictionary – a total of 150 pounds – up a flight of stairs).

There’s only one way to pay homage to a book about one man’s determination to read the entire dictionary – the Oxford English Dictionary, no less, all 21,730 pages of it. Because Shea includes, with much wit and amusement, many of the obscure and bizarre words that he came across in his perusal of the dictionary, I thought I would randomly select one word from each letter of the alphabet … and try and write this review using these new (to me) 26 words.

Shall we begin? (Don’t worry, I’ll forgive you if you become a cachinnator while reading this baltering review.)

Reading the entire dictionary from beginning to end could be terriculament for most people, viewing it as a longueur. Either that or one could turn into a sansculottic noceur in order to finish it. Indeed, it is immutual for myself and the author, and I would be a minimifidian as to whether I could stick with this for an entire year, as Shea did. I would also imagine it would be a bit of of a kankedort for a significant other to discuss with others – kind of like the unpleasant experience of watching a couple halfpennyworth in public – unless you are Shea’s lexiographer girlfriend (or perhaps his wife, maybe a opsigamy situation?).

Never an ultra-crepidarian, Shea relates the experience of reading the dictionary, which is an agathokakological experience at times – probably not unlike that of being a deipnosophist (but still better than suffering from empleomania). I’d imagine whether to continue with this project may have been a quaesitum for Shea, who read the OED for upwards of eight hours every day. (I’d imagine there was lot of pandiculation going on!)

I can’t be a zoilus about Shea’s effort, and I admit I do have a healthy amount of velleity about this whole thing. I enjoyed Reading the OED, a repertitious find at the library (although I would have liked it as a xenium) and was finifugal at its conclusion, wanting to be introduced to more than the yepsen of new words I learned. (Kind of as one would be at a delicious jentacular gramaungere that you can only visit the buffet once.)

Whew! Assuming some of these words are new to you, too, here are the definitions:

agathokakological – adj. – made up of both good and evil

balter – v. – to dance clumsily
cachinnator – n. a person who laughs too loud or too much

deipnosophist – n – a person who is learned in the art of dining

empleomania – n. – a manic compulsion to hold public office  
finifugal – adj. – shunning the end of anything
gramaungere – n. -a superb or great meal

halfpennyworth – v. to bicker over minute expenses
immutual – adj. – not mutual
jentacular – adj. – of or pertaining to breakfast

kankedort – n. – an awkward situation or affair
longueur – n. – a long or boring piece of writing  (there aren’t any longueurs to be found in Eleventh Stack)
minimifidian – n. – a person who has the bare minimum of faith (in something)
noceur – n. – a dissolute and licentious person; a person who stays up late at night (Eleventh Stackers are known to be noceurs)
opsigamy – n. – marrying late in life
pandiculation – n. – the act of stretching and extending the limbs, in tiredness or waking
quaesitum – n.- the answer to a problem; the thing that is looked for
repertitious – adj. – found by chance or accident
sansculottic – adj. clothed inadequately, or in some improper fashion
terriculament – v. – to inspire one with groundless fear
ultra-crepidarian – n. – one who offers advice or criticism in matters beyond his scope; an ignorant or presumptuous critic

velleity – n. – a mere wish or desire for something without accompanying action or effort
xenium – n. a gift given to a guest
yepsen – n. – the amount that can be held in two hands cupped together; also, the two cupped hands themselves
zoilus – n. -an envious critic

If words and dictionaries fascinates you as much as it does me (and, apparently, Ammon Shea), Reading the OED is highly recommended as an amusing, quirky book.

~ Melissa F.

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Do You #BrowseCLP?

Finding something to read is a snap these days. We’ve all got wishlists and TBR piles. You can’t open your web browser without getting a reading suggestion from some social media outlet (definitely not a complaint – we librarians scour the web for great reads all the time). And of course, if you’re bookish, you’re probably friends with other bookish people with whom you swap titles, best-of lists, release dates, and reviews.

This led us to wonder if browsing for books was still a thing. After all, why go to the mountain when the mountain can come to you, right? Can sheer chance possibly deliver an enjoyable read the same way your trusted digital network can?

The Eleventh Stack team decided to throw caution to the winds and brave the uncharted territory of the library stacks to find a good book with no guidance other than instinct and personal preference. Here’s what we came up with:

Amy

Chemical Pink

This book is so weird.

Chemical Pink by Katie Arnoldi may be the strangest book I have ever ever read (and I’ve read Bear v. Shark). It’s the story of female bodybuilder’s highly unusual relationship with her sponsor, a wealthy man with some very… interesting… interests. If you choose to read it, you’ll learn all about the trials and tribulations of professional bodybuilding, but there are also pages and pages of crazy stuff that I just can’t write about on this polite library blog.

Those of us who serve in libraryland are familiar with Jo Godwin’s quote, “A truly great library has something in it to offend everyone.” If your library owns this book, it’s well on its way to greatness.

Jess

I Shall Be Near to You, by Erin Lindsay McCabe, is one of my favorites so far this year and I only noticed it because I was rearranging things on the new book table at Woods Run.

Did you know that over 250 women fought side by side with their husbands, brothers, and

Jess is currently reading this on a beach. We're not at all jealous. #lies

Jess is currently reading this on a beach. We’re not at all jealous…

friends during the Civil War? Based on the accounts of real women, McCabe gives us Rosetta – newlywed and a bit of tomboy, she finds that staying home to be a war bride is not her jam, at all – she certainly doesn’t fit the proper housewife mold that her new in-laws expect. Her husband, Jerimiah, has joined the Union army in hopes of sending home enough money so that they can eventually buy their own farm. Rosetta soon follows his regiment – to be near the only person who truly understands her and to double their payout. Jerimiah must come to terms with his wife’s new role in their relationship and Rosetta must keep her identity a secret at all costs, while Rebels loom over the next horizon.

Kelly

Up until high school, I had mostly read superhero comics. But around my junior year, my local library started a graphic novel collection. It was small, but high quality. Most of what I found there came from Vertigo, DC’s “mature” publishing arm. Some, like Hellblazer and Fables, are well-known classics. Others, like The Books of Magic, are less known but just as good. The other two, Deadenders and Kill Shakespeare, I found while browsing CLP’s graphic novel collection.

browsing-klt

All-you-can browse comics buffet

Hellblazer and The Books of Magic take place in the same universe. The first concerns a cocky, sharp-tongued demon-fighter named John Constantine, and the second bears many similarities to the story of Harry Potter — but make no mistake, The Books of Magic came well before Rowling’s young wizard. Fables tells the story of fairytale characters exiled to modern-day Manhattan, and Kill Shakespeare takes on the world of Shakespeare in a similar fashion, minus modern NYC. Deadenders is a single-volume science fiction dystopian comic.

Leigh Anne

I can’t read enough sci-fi, sorcery, or spooky stuff, so when I was browsing my eyes were especially drawn to the telltale blue stickers we use for those genres. And then the words

CATHORROR (1)

leaped off the shelf like a dare and dazzled me with their crimson menace.

The book turned out to be Twists of the Tale: An Anthology of Cat Horror, a collection of short stories featuring–you guessed it — fearsome felines. Edited by Ellen Datlow, whose work is well-known by those of us who crave good SF/F/H, this collection contains stories from Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Tanith Lee, Nancy Kress, and other kitten-smitten contributors. The tales are consistently creepy, and more often than not, the human protagonists are more monstrous than their four-footed counterparts. If your personal reading venn diagram overlaps with cats and Creepshow, you might want to check this one out.

I took a few pictures of the book to include in the blog post, but for some (sinister?) reason, every single shot was corrupted. Cue the Twilight Zone music…

Melissa

Browsing the historical fiction section

Browsing the historical fiction section

I get to browse our fiction section quite often. Usually while shelving returned items. The other day while doing just that in the Historical Fiction section, I pulled a few books off the shelf that were of interest to me. Then I discovered I had a “theme” going on. Apparently, I like fiction books about the 1920s, preferably set in New York City, but Chicago will do in a pinch. This is how my “to read” shelf of library books at home keeps growing and growing and growing…

Suzy

Economic Theory = Crazysexypartytime

Economic Theory = Crazysexypartytime

Have you ever wondered why you think the way you think? Why do you fall in love with one person, but not another? Do honor codes actually work? Why do you procrastinate? Do you know you actually spend more on “free” things? I love reading weird little books about sociology, economics and why people act the way they do. I discovered this book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely when I was looking for another book about economics for this blog post.

First of all, the author has an amazing, tragic story behind the writing of the book (in the hospital for THREE years!) And maybe Mr. Ariely doesn’t have the glamour of the Freakonomics dudes, but his book just as engaging and possibly better written. Finally, there is a whole chapter on beer and free lunches, which are two of my favorite things in the whole universe.

If you’ve enjoyed our browsing experiment, we have a fun weekend challenge for you!

1. Visit the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location of your choice.

2. Browse the shelves for your own perfect serendipitous read.

3. Take a picture and tweet your find to @CLP_tweets, using the hashtag #BrowseCLP

Can’t make it to the library this weekend? We’d still love to hear your thoughts on book browsing, either physical or digital, so don’t be shy about tweeting at us with that hashtag. And, as ever, you’re invited to leave us a comment here, with your opinion.

Happy browsing!

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Great SF eAudiobooks for Your Commute

If I could read in moving vehicles without experiencing that delightful form of nausea known as car sickness, I would be able to read so many comics in the time I spend on the bus commuting to and from work every day.

Thankfully, humans invented the audiobook, and eCLP lets me download these miraculous spoken books directly to the tiny computer I carry around in my pocket (you might know it better as a smartphone).

The Library adds newly released titles all the time, but one of my favorite facets of the collection is the classic science fiction available for the listening. Over the past few years, I’ve been reading some new-to-me Big Names of SF as well as old favorites.

Here are some of the titles I’ve enjoyed the most, alphabetical by author’s last name:

Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot
irobotBefore reading this collection of linked short stories, I’d only read a random sampling of Asimov’s short fiction, including the short story “Nightfall” that inspired the novel of the same name (and a movie adaptation). This book inspired a movie too, but from what I know of the movie, it’s nothing like the book. For one, the book’s main character is a female robot psychologist, and the robots are never allowed on earth. They malfunction, have emotions, read minds, kill people, and serve as metaphors for many things, but it all happens in space or on other planets. Asimov does touch lightly on sexism, as the main character butts heads with some of the male scientists in some of the stories, and she usually comes out on top, while the men look foolish.

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles
martianchroniclesA haunting collection of loosely connected tales, Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles essentially re-tells the story of Europe invading the New World, but with a twist at the end that I won’t reveal here. The coming of men to Mars spells doom for the Martians, who are wiped out by diseases the humans carry. Men build new cities that look like their cities back on Earth, but things do not go the way they might hope. The spirit and soul of Mars is not so easily corrupted or overcome. The only thing that gave me pause about this book was the fact that all the women are relegated to domestic roles, when they’re included at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect much more from a book published in 1950, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling
fledglingThe last novel written before her death in 2006, Fledgling explores themes of memory, race, sexuality, and belonging. It’s a vampire novel, but not a traditional vampire novel. The vampires in this book, known as Ina, bond with humans and only feed from the humans they’ve bonded with. They do not murder people, and live in tightly knit family groups that include their bonded humans. If an Ina dies, his or her bonded humans will die as well because of how strong their bond is. The plot revolves around Shori, who has lost her memory and her family, and wakes up not knowing that she’s a vampire. This is, unfortunately, the only Octavia Butler novel available as an eAudio book. I’ll have to stick to paper for the rest of her award-winning work.

Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
moonThis wasn’t my first audiobook foray into Heinlein, but it’s my favorite of his novels that I’ve read so far (the others being Starship Troopers and Citizen of the Galaxy). This book tested the skills of the narrator, as he had to speak in a Russian accent for much of the time, and he managed to do so without being annoying or sounding fake. The plot follows an intelligent supercomputer and his repairman as the lunar colony attempts to break away from the tyrannical rule of earth. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is more fun than the other two Heinlein novels I’ve read. It features more humor, and the characters are more likeable, so it’s a more enjoyable read.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed
dispossessedLe Guin is my all time absolute favorite author in the universe, and I wish the Library had more of her work in eAudio. The Dispossessed, however, is worth listening to over and over. It follows the story of Shevek, a brilliant physicist who has made an important discovery and is invited to live on a neighboring planet for a time. Shevek’s world and the neighboring world following different economic and political systems, and through Shevek’s eyes, the novel looks at the differences between the two and asks which is better, or if there’s a better way yet to be explored. Don’t let the high-minded themes of the book deter you, though. Shevek and his family ground the book in characters with real emotions, desires, and needs–the things that make for a good novel.

-Kelly

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Fire and Rice

I don’t know about you, but I love food.  I think it’s one of the best benefits of being human, that we can manipulate things to make fire. Because of our ancestors roasting beasts over open flames we have inherited a rich tradition of transforming ingredients and flavors, and enjoying the result!

Now, I’m not a natural cook.  When I was a kid I wasn’t interested in what my parents were doing in the kitchen, so I’ve been learning as an adult.  I love instructional material on cooking, but am not particularly thrilled with books or TV shows that are jam-packed with recipes.  When I read a book on cooking, I want to learn skills, tricks, techniques, and principles.  Don’t get me wrong, recipes are great, too, but what I look for are tangible skills that I can use.  These are some titles from which I’ve picked up more than just recipes to try:

The 4-hour Chef : the Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life – Timothy Ferris – By the author of The 4-hour Work Week.  This “cookbook” covers topics from learning languages to gutting a deer to making a makeshift survival shelter, oh and cooking too.  Mr. Ferris boils cooking down to the bare essentials:  ingredients, techniques, science, and no-frills cooking.

How to Cook : an Easy and Imaginative Guide for the Beginner – Raymond Sokolov – An excellent primer on the basics of cooking.  The author describes techniques and preparation in detail with plenty of excellent tidbits to give you the skills to thrive in the kitchen.  This book has plenty of recipes, but the focus is on the principles of cooking, and the recipes have very detailed instructions for preparation.

How to Cook Everything : Simple Recipes for Great Food – Mark Bittman – The popular New York Times food journalist explains how to cook everything in this monster tome!  Literally everything, from how to boil water and strain noodles to how to make haute cuisine. Much like the above selection, this book has recipes, but it’s more of a how-to.  This book in ebook format has awesome links to navigate back and forth between recipes and technique descriptions!

The Flavor Bible : the Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs and Culinary Artistry by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg –   This culinary couple has collected and distributed the culinary wisdom of the nation’s best chefs.  These books are filled with tips, principles, and charts to help you learn what works in the kitchen.  Excellent resources!

Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques : More Than 1,000 Preparations and Recipes, All Demonstrated in Thousands of Step-by-Step Photographs – Jacques Pepin – If you’re not familiar with Jacques Pepin, then it’s time to meet him!  He is everything a TV chef should be, and while enjoying his TV shows or books you will learn more principles and techniques than recipes.  He also did a great series with the legendary Julia Child, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home!

How to Grill – Steven Raichlen – Definitive primer on grilling.  You learn how to work with different kinds of grills, the difference between “direct” and “indirect” grilling, and Steven Raichlen’s 3 rules for great barbecue!

My next venture is delving deep into the art of cooking rice.  Until recently, cooking rice for me meant just getting out the rice cooker, rinsing the rice one time and proceeding to cook it.  That is not the only way; actually there are MANY different ways to cook rice.  I love the way people in Latin America use an aluminum pot to cook rice.

rice

Obtained via Google Image search.

Often times they fry a little bit of rice in oil before adding the rest of the rice and the liquid.  Also, the hard rice that sticks to the side of the pan is highly prized and referred to as “pegao.”  Rice cooked like this is way better than anything I could make using my rice cooker.

I also heard the story of Korean chefs washing rice up to 10 times before cooking it.  Then there are the different types of rice, different types and varying levels of starches in rice, and infinite ways to prepare rice.  This is why I need more than just a collection of recipes, I need how to books to provide me with knowledge that is transferable from dish to dish.    To assist me in this new culinary journey I’ll be checking out and reading:

The Amazing World of Rice : with 150 recipes for pilafs, paellas, puddings and more – Marie Simmons

The Rice Book – Sri Owen

Rice : from Risotto to Sushi – Clare Ferguson

Again, when I check out these books I’ll be looking for the books that have information on technique, principles, and even the science of achieving the desired flavor, consistency, and presentation.  Do you have any cookbooks that have been instrumental in your development as a cook?  I’d love to hear about them!

–Scott M.

 

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Joe

As a patent librarian, I often hear of interesting or strange new inventions from colleagues. One that I came across recently is this amazing alarm clock that actually makes you coffee! I don’t know of many beverages that are as polarizing as a cup of joe; most of us either love it or hate it, and those who love it usually have strong opinions about how to drink it (black, IMO). In honor of this amazing beverage, here’s a short book (and movie!) list:

God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect CoffeeJournalist Michaele Weissman travels the world trying to find the best cup of coffee. Committed caffeine lovers may relate.

Friends: Does anyone else remember that in the first few episodes Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe actually hung out in a bar? For the rest of the series they spent so much time in that coffee shop that it’s hard to think of them going anywhere else.

Coffee and Cigarettes: Both coffee and cigarettes figure prominently in other Jim Jarmusch films, but this one is a paean to both. My favorite vignette in this film is the one with Bill Murray and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work: This book describes, you guessed it, the daily rituals that various artists follow. It’s a fun read, and of course coffee figures in prominently in many of the daily routines. Balzac, in particular, has  feelings on coffee that border on fanatical: “Coffee glides into one’s stomach and sets all of one’s mental processes in motion. One’s ideas advance in column of route like battalions of the Grande Armée. Memories come up at the double, bearing the standards which will lead the troops into battle. The light cavalry deploys at the gallop… Were it not for coffee one could not write, which is to say one could not live.”

from The New York Tribune, 1919

from The New York Tribune, 1919

-Irene

 

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