The Apprentice

Jacques Pepin’s charmed cooking life, in written form, poorly edited. As in, typos sprinkled throughout the pages. My inner editor wouldn’t let that go. Besides that, a sweet story of his upbringing in the kitchen, from apprenticing out at age 13, through many French kitchens, Parisian kitchens, and escaping to the US for some adventure and finding culinary freedom. His protests about his friend Craig’s gayness seemed a bit over the top– why even mention it? Why create that distance for himself?
Test kitchens at Howard Johnsons, reading Julia Child’s manuscript, the car accident that kept him from the kitchen and forced him into private instruction, KQED launching him on his TV career… quick mouthful to digest and move on from.

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Maximum City

A terribly boring book about India, I’m afraid. Some parts are engaging, like the story of how this ex-pat comes home to India after 20 years, brings his family, gets settled in and learns how to deal with the country that says “No” instead of America. Once he veered off this storyline into the gangsters and bar girls and Indian history it got painfully boring to me. In desperate need of an editor, and generous portions of snipping. Do long chapters make one crazy? Yes, I say yes, I say yes.

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The Fattening of America

It started out as such a promising book, but I ended up disappointed by the shoddy overall impression; the mixup over how long the Iraq war had been going on, poor date editing, etc. Basic premise is that an obesity researcher applies economic models to the fat epidemic, we’re getting fat b/c food is cheaper (and healthy food is expensive while McDonalds is cheap) and we’re obligated to sit on our arses for 40 hours a week as part of our jobs, and drive everywhere. Goal is 10k steps per day, and most of us don’t reach half that.
Obesity drug named Alli being tested. Take another pill, forget the idea of eating better and exercising. And in today’s news, apparently we don’t need to drink those 8 glasses of water a day anymore.
Interesting idea about abolishing the price controls on corn, soybeans, in order to give other fruits/veggies a fighting chance, price-wise.

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New library cards

I promise, I’m still reading. I’m in the middle of a couple of yummy books and about to head off on a trip, which guarantees reading time in the airport and on the plane. But while I finish up those, I wanted to share a tiny bit of my delight: a new library card!

SFPL lets you trade in your old card for a fancy new one (take your pick of one of the four new designs). Free until April 30, then $1. Bonus: keychain cards available too!

Beautiful Children

Not sure where I picked up this recommendation, but it seems to be the “book of the season”, on every bookstore’s lips as a suggestion. And as such, I’m wildly disappointed. I’ve been struggling to get into it for about a week, and finally devoted most of today to plowing through the 400 bland pages of the seedy real life of Las Vegas, complete with strippers, runaways, pervs.
The main story focuses on the disappearance of 12 year old Newell Ewing, which we’re fed with tiny breadcrumbs through the book. We witness the destruction of Newell’s parents’ marriage as time passes, and dive into the past where Kenny (aged 25) and Newell (12) pal around the comic book shop to foist Kenny’s drawings on a visiting comic celeb.
The book is a mishmash of maudlin, overblown sentiments, taking itself way too seriously. Apparently took Bock 13 years to write this crap, which leaves me feeling hollow and discourages any literary effort of my own. Look for it to be adapted into a mediocre movie by Warner Brothers in the next few years.

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Scratch Beginnings

In an effort to disprove the construct of Nickel & Dimed, Adam Shepard shows us just how far you can get with the right attitude and worth ethic. Slipping off to Charleston, S.C. with $25 in his pocket, Adam gets into a homeless shelter the first night and takes us on the wild ride out of abject brokeness to being relatively flush with cash & a car.
One of the stories that resonated most with me was his tale of learning how to get a job from one of the shelter patrons– you gotta tell the hiring boss you’re the best damn candidate for the job, you’re a hard worker, you’ll show up every day, and that you want the job. Great advice, as I’ve interviewed dozens of people who seem to have little or no interest in the actual job I’m hiring for.
Adam writes a letter to the bus driver on his daily route and gives it to him on the last day of his run, to express his appreciation for the driver’s enthusiasm and ability to transform his day.
Biggest takeaway is that we’re capable of doing anything, if we have discipline and a goal.
Thanks for the free PDF, Adam! Best of luck for your future publications and careers!

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Three Junes

Good book until the last ridiculous 100 pages. A story told from the perspective of the father, a son, and a girl the father met in Greece the summer after his wife died. Scottish family, proper and all that. The son a “poofter”, and his complicated relationship with Mal. Setting up a bookshop in NYC based on birding.
Ridiculously awful last 100 pages. Stupid and inane. Makes me nearly physically ill that it won the National Book Award.

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On My Own Two Feet

I admit it– I’m addicted to personal finance books and blogs. This latest is nothing ground-breaking, but always a good refresher on the basics. Best thing I took from it: make sure you’re spending money on areas of your life that bring the greatest joy.
* Save 15% of your gross income
* Pay off credit cards every month
* Get smart about your FICO score
* Insurance is necessary (health, car, renter’s/homeowners, and term life if you’ve got dependents)
* Power Trio of budgeting: 25% to income tax, 45% to “foundational” expenses (housing, groceries), 15% fun expenses (entertainment, clothes, booze), 15% future expenses (this is your savings)
* Invest!
* Max out retirement and tax saving accounts
* Talk to your SigOth about finances

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Women & Money

Skimmed this last night. There were some interesting bits about Suze’s early life, borrowing $50k from the patrons of a restaurant she worked in Berkeley, losing the money in an ill-advised investment, then going to work for that investment firm.
Includes a great deal for people just getting started:
TD Ameritrade will give $100 to people who set-up auto deposit of $50 or more each month for a year.
1. Go to by 3/31/08.
2. Enter offer code 701.
3. Open a new TD Ameritrade account
4. Set up direct deposit for $50/month for 12 months
5. After a year, TD deposits $100 into your account.

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A Spot of Bother

A decidedly British novel, as you can tell from the title. A whirlwind of family troubles besets George Hall, who has just retired and finds a lesion on his thigh, spinning his thoughts to cancer and causing panic attacks. His daughter Katie has announced an upcoming marriage to Ray, of whom no one approves, but who is perfect for her. His son Jamie is unwilling to bring his boyfriend to the wedding, so he and Tony break up, only to reunite in grand style at the wedding. His wife, Jean, is having an affair with his old colleague, David. George walks in on them one morning and his mental faculties further deteriorate. He attempts to self-surgery the lesion off his thigh, resulting in an ambulance to the hospital and blood redecorating the carpets and walls. All in all, a quaint, readable, beach-read type book to be lightly consumed with a cup of tea.
Recommended as the best fiction Nicholas Felton read in 2007

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Books that make you dumb

We’ve all been there– you finish reading a book that saps your brain juices as you turn each page. For me, there was the accidental Candace Bushnell read.
Virgil Griffith correlated “favorite books” from Facebook college networks with the corresponding average SAT score of those colleges to give you a breakdown of books that “make you dumb“. Books < => Colleges < => Average SAT Scores
I would argue that you’re already at a certain level of intellectual stimulus by the time you get to college, and the books don’t influence your intelligence but are merely a reflection of it. Another big caveat to this data is the notion that SAT scores reflect your intelligence. For example, note that all “African American” books are clustered in the 800-975 range; the SAT is notorious for bias against race, or better said, bias against socioeconomic factors.
Regardless, this is an interesting classification system. I’ve snipped the “Classics” section here for your viewing pleasure, but all genres are worth checking out.

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Gipsy Moth Circles The World

Sir Francis cobbles together his impressive tale of small craft circumnavigation of the globe in this book, relying on notes from his log and long ornery recollective tales that seemed to always follow this formula:
“My leg hurts, yet I reset the sails 87 times today, repaired the self-steering mechanism, enjoyed a gin/tonic which brought on a gale and got no sleep. Haven’t eaten in days due to lack of appetite.” Substitute in a sore elbow instead of leg and you get the homeward voyage.
More faux quotes that sum up the book;
“Wah wah, the boat’s construction sucks, I get leaks into my favorite bunk, all the drawers in the cabin are sealed shut. Hoping for some flying fish to land themselves on deck for my breakfast. I put on my velvet smoking jacket and cracked some champagne for rounding the horn. Too bad it was Aussie champagne.”
Ok, so it’s not cool to evaluate this book on literary merits, and it’s unfair to rail against its incomprehensiveness because I am utterly lacking of sailing knowledge. “I gybed my f’sails and ran the halyard up the scupper.” God help me if I ever set sail.
Still, it was an interesting glimpse into the solitary life of a sailor, tossing his 19 dozen eggs overboard after they’d spoiled a few weeks out of Plymouth, constantly problem solving with the myriad of things that went wrong onboard.

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Tantalizing book recos, Kafka quotes and more

A couple of weeks ago I checked out the National Book Circle panel on New & Unrecognized Voices and came away with several book recommendations. Unfortunately, these aren’t at ye old biblioteca yet.
Clane Hayward: Hypocrisy of Disco
John Brandon: Arkansas
Ismet Prcic
The other bit of wisdom is that agents/publishers are looking for fiction with a non-fiction hook. Obviously. Today’s world can’t be bothered to truly give themselves up to imagination.
And a nice bastardized quote from Kafka: literature is the ax that cuts the frozen sea within us.