Sunday, January 24, 2010

What the Dog Saw -- Malcolm Gladwell -- 3 Stars

I am a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan. I loved all of his books and gave a great review for Outliers. I've talked to a lot of other people who don't like him so much and think he really is stretching to relate the stories he tells as evidence to make sense of his theories. Well this might be the first time reading anything of his that I agree with those people.

What the Dog Saw is a collection of short stories
Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker. He organizes them into three categories, though I really struggle to understand how many of the stories have anything to do with the theme for that group. The stories are typical Gladwell, taking things that seem obvious or established as "fact" and making the reader rethink set conclusions. There were some great essays like: why there are many brands of mustard and few ketchups, how to easily solve homelessness, why some people choke and others panic, and how to correctly hire. There are, as well, a few really bad essays. I especially disliked the essay about Hair Dye (L'oreal vs. Clairol -- seriously?).

The biggest problem with the book and why it did not get a more
Gladwellesque rating is that it lacked so much of the 'pop' and firepower of his other books. Usually when reading his stories used as examples to prove some idea (The Beatles and Bill Gates in Outliers immediately comes to mine), the stories are so clear, well-thoughtout and ultimately perfect in supporting his thesis. I kept expecting these stories to do the same but it never happened. I would continually finish one of his essays (which, I remind you, have nothing to do with one another) and think to myself "That was really interesting but I am not sure his point". Some essays were better than others and almost all were interesting, but many really struggled to have any giant "oh wow, I never thought of it that way" moment like his other books do.

Overall, I still really enjoyed the book and was captivated by nearly all of his essays. Even if they often did not deliver on an "aha" moment, there all written nicely and each topic and story is interesting to read. I would not suggest going out and buying this book (I was lucky enough to have someone let me borrow...I never buy books but that may be a topic for a future blog). Instead, I would either borrow from the library, or, just read them all for FREE on this New Yorker link. If nothing else, do check out a few of his essays;
Gladwell is one of the few writers out there that can you make you truly rethink the most simple and routine parts of life.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My Life in France – Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme----- 3 STARS

I recently had the pleasure of watching the very cute movie Julie and Julia. It's a very nice little movie and is the story about Julie (a writer/blogger) who redoes many of Julia Child's most famous recipes. She kind of bores me in the movie, but the scenes with Julia Child (played by the timeless Meryl Streep) were excellent. In fact, I was so intrigued and taken by the whole idea of Julia Child that I knew I wanted to read something by her.

My Life in France is Julia Child's autobiography about her most formative years learning cooking in France from 1950 to the mid 1960s. If you don't know who Julia Child is, she is the person who basically made French cooking in America popular and also fashionable. Additionally, she was the one who started the idea of cooking TV shows. Although we all take the Food Network and others for granted, Julia Child was the first one to have a real show (The French Chef). Her shows were very popular and started in the mid-1960s and ran for 40 years.

As for the book, it is very nice and average but nothing astonishing. It was one of the few instances of reading where I got exactly what I expected. A story about her leaving her OSS job (yes, she was a spy...sort of) to learning the art of fine French cooking in France for a decade. The story illustrates her early learning with great French chefs, to eventually writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which made her famous), to a few other cookbooks through the late 1970s.

The book has got a nice tone to it but the organization is a but jumpy and seemingly random events and activities are mentioned with no real connection. One wonders how much she happened to just remember when writing the book that she felt obligated to include. She includes a great deal about meals created, food studied (she is the self-proclaimed expert on mayonnaise) and recipes detailed. Reading the book it would have been nice to have a working knowledge of French as most recipes she includes are in the native French. Although this does add authenticity, it also provides the reader with no clue what was made or eaten on certain nights (some you learn though; canard is duck, for instance).

In general, it's a very nice book about Julia's life, easy to read, and includes a number of great photographs by her husband Paul. I would highly recommend it to any fans or people specifically interested in Julia Child. It is still worth reading if you have any interest in French life or French food or if you a just a gourmand like me.