Update on Sports Month

Ok. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t stayed on track for Sports Month. Go ahead, say it….SLACKER!!!!

1) Part of the reason is that we are reading The Hunger Games for our monthly book club meeting next week. Suffice it to say if you’ve ever read The Hunger Games, you know it’s like a potato chip….you can’t have (or in this case, read) just one. So I plowed through Catching Fire, which I actually liked more than The Hunger Games, and I’m halfway through Mockingjay, which I don’t like as much as the other two. Especially since a lot of good characters die in it.

2) As part of my commitment to not be a giant lump of lard on my upcoming 4oth birthday, I joined a gym about a month ago and I must say I love going. Between that and not eating fast food every day, I’ve already lost four pounds! Only two million to go!

3) So our Toshiba laptop is a certified hunk of CRAP. It keeps doing this weird white screen blinky thing when I try to boot it up and it is making me absolutely apeshit. So I am stuck hunting and pecking on my husband’s iPad. Seriously, don’t be jealous. I would do anything to have my Toshiba POS up and running. The keypad on the iPad sucks (first world problem, I know!)

4) Enough with the litany of excuses, already. Believe it or not, I have actually read some or part of the books I set for myself for Sports Month. I’ll give brief synopses here:

Friday Night Lights: I really, really enjoyed this book. I actually finished it about two weeks ago, but if you’ve read it, you know how complex this book is, and how only part of the story involves football. It is also about a very downtrodden town in West Texas that went through some major economic and sociological changes back in the 1980’s, to the point where high school football was the only certainty in their lives. And this town has one of the best high school football teams around. Devoid of everything in terms of excitement, the life of the town revolved around the high school football season, and every year the expectation of a state football championship was placed on the backs of this team of teenage boys, who were treated like gods by their classmates and the townspeople….as long as they’re winning. They leave high school only to find out that they’re regular people out in the real world. Some kids would never recover from those glory days.

The Majors: Borrrring….just like actual golf.  And I love John Feinstein. Sadly I probably won’t finish this one.

Ball Four: An interesting day by day journal of a major league pitcher’s season. It gets a little long winded. I mean, something amazing can’t happen every day, right? Plus the book is huge….it’s about 600 something pages. I’ll probably continue to read it, but it’s huge to haul around and I have to read it in bits and pieces.

Among the Thugs…I am currently reading this now. It’s about crazy British soccer fans and what makes them start riots and beat people up and destroy property. Can’t just be because of soccer, right? It’s morbidly fascinating, and like Friday Night Lights, is more a sociological study than a sports book. I loved Bill Buford’s second book, Heat, and the writing style I so loved in Heat was definitely present in his first book as well. I will probably finish this in the next couple of days.

Update from Food Month

 Ok, so you may have noticed a dearth of reviews in the past couple weeks. There is a very good reason for that. I have fallen into Food Month in a very, very big way.

 I so enjoyed Michael Ruhlman’s book The Making of a Chef (which I apologize for not having reviewed yet but when I do it will get about an A+++++), which describes Ruhlman’s time at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I was so completely taken in by Ruhman’s descriptions of the challenges of cooking school that I decided I wanted to find out for myself what it would be like. I did some research and discovered that the famous cooking school Le Cordon Bleu offers classes for nonprofessional chefs, which are taught in their kitchens by their very own chefs. I am so fortunate that the Minnesota campus of Le Cordon Bleu is a mere twenty miles away! So I took the big step and signed up for their Taste of Italy class, which I attended this past Saturday.

About sixteen of us were herded into a professional cooking kitchen, which was awesome. We watched demonstrations by the chefs of searing veal cutlets, making our own pasta, and then making capelletti pasta, which are like little tortellini. We were then put into groups of four and during the course of the four hour class were given the daunting task of making some famous Italian foods I had always heard of but never tried myself, such as polenta, risotto, pesto, a tomato sauce and bechamel sauce, and some fried foods. I was tasked with making the bechamel sauce (which is a bland, creamy white sauce) and a fried risotto and bolognese meatball with a mozzarella center. We all made our own pasta dough, rolled out our own pasta with the pasta maker, and then attempted to fill our pasta and fold it in the specific way needed for cappelletti. Getting the specific shape for the cappelletti was more challenging than I thought it would be! Chefs make everything look so easy!

Needless to say, I am no professional cook, and don’t even pretend to be one in my spare time. Luckily none of my tablemates were either, so we had a blast. Chef Jeremy helped me thin out my bechamel when it got too thick too fast, and the risotto meatballs were fabulous. Using the deep fryer brought me back to my high school days. 🙂 I was shocked at how easy it is to make your own pasta dough, and how quickly fresh pasta cooks (I think we boiled it for two or three minutes only!). I managed not to embarrass myself too much, and Chef Jeremy was awesome.

Surprisingly, there were other challenges I hadn’t counted on. I’m so used to my own kitchen and knowing where everything is that I was completely thrown for a loop in such a large space. The school had every single ingredient there for us, and a walk in cooler, gas ranges, and even a Kitchen Aid mixer for each group. Plus every type of kitchen gadget known  to man. I felt like I did a lot of running around trying to find stuff at first. It was also challenging since the recipes we were given utilized metric measurements (grams and milliliters) instead of ounces and cups. Happily the chef did all the conversions for us, but it was a great reminder of Le Cordon Bleu’s French ancestry and the fact that everyone else in the world totally knows what a pint is. It was also difficult working in a group. The women I was with were very friendly, but I was so used to having my own stove and my own space that it was very challenging working around others when two of us were trying to do sauces on the stove at once. It gave me a good feeling for the craziness that so many of the food books I’m reading have described a professional kitchen to be like.

So the best part came at the end, when we all got to relax and eat everything we made (which was PHENOMENAL!) and they gave us aprons and certificates to take home. We also didn’t have to do our own dishes, and THANK GOD. I never realized what a sloppy cook I would be. It gave me new respect for the cooking profession and those who go through the schools to learn how to do it.

Happily the school has classes that run during the whole year, so I will gladly be heading on back there very soon! I promise reviews of The Making of a Chef and Gabrielle Hamilton’s wonderful Blood, Bones and Butter (I’m 3/4 of the way through it) will be up soon!

Wrapping Up True Crime Month….Kicking off Food Month

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed True Crime Month. Out of five books I read, two were outstanding (Devil in the White City and Killer Colt), two were better than okay (Confessions of a Jewel Thief and The Poisoner’s Handbook), and one sucked (Sex on the Moon). That’s a pretty great month of reading, if you ask me! If anything, I realized that criminals do some pretty dumb things, and they almost always get caught.

I’ve read some other great True Crime books on the blog before True Crime Month, and wanted to give those a shout-out in case any readers out there want to pick up some great reads. Check them out on the sidebar.

Okay! We’re moving right along to my other favorite subject (besides reading)…FOOD!!! I have some great food reads lined up for February.

Julie and Julia, Julie Powell

Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

Bones, Blood and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton

Heat, Bill Buford

The Making of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman

If It Ain’t Good, Don’t Finish It

Life is too short to drag oneself through a really lousy book. That’s how I roll.

When I first selected Ben Mezrich’s Sex on the Moon at the library three weeks ago, I was somewhat excited to read it, having enjoyed his more famous book, The Accidental Billionaires (and the movie it inspired). Although The Accidental Billionaires was fun and compulsively readable, it wasn’t what I would consider pure nonfiction. If you’re wondering what I mean by that, here’s an example: both The Accidental Billionaires AND Sex on the Moon begin with the following disclaimer:

 “Details of settings and descriptions have been changed to protect identities; certain names, individuals’ characterizations, physical descriptions, and histories have been altered to protect privacy, in some cases at the characters’ own request. I do employ the technique of re-created dialogue.” 

It was nice to know at the start of the book, before I got emotionally involved with any of the characters or formed opinions about their actions, that some of it would be made up. It was almost reassuring, in a way.

For some reason, I was okay with this in The Accidental Billionaires, mostly because I was already somewhat familiar with the main characters and all the drama surrounding the founding of Facebook. Plus he didn’t change the names of most of the main characters in Billionaires, so I had a frame of reference.  I could look them up on Wikipedia if I wanted to. Mezrich described them just as they were. Even though I ended up not liking any of Mezrich’s characters in Billionaires, the collaboration of all of these unlikeable characters resulted in something that had an impact on my life.

Unfortunately for Sex on the Moon, I had no frame of reference. I knew nothing about the premise of the book or any of the characters. Google searches of character names either turned up nothing, or turned up their real names and pictures of people who looked nothing  like they were described. The sense of unreality heightened as Mezrich populated NASA’s premier research center with supermodel-gorgeous engineering students, making me wonder if NASA picked interns for its selective program based on pictures rather than SAT scores. No one drove anything worse than a BMW. Interns could seemingly wander in and out of high security areas with ease, no questions asked. And it didn’t help that I hated the main character, Thad Roberts, a dumb-ass, thrill-seeking NASA intern who stole moon rocks as a way to impress his girlfriend and make people think he was cool. Never mind that he was married when he had the girlfriend, betrayed nearly everyone who trusted him personally and professionally, and wrecked any chance at what looked like a promising career with NASA. How can you root for a  guy like that? Who wants to spend 300 pages watching someone flush their life down the drain for some chick? Plus Mezrich weirdly intersperses the chapters with excerpts of hyperdramatic love letters Roberts apparently sent to his girlfriend while serving time in jail (which were all returned to him unopened–it was nice to see someone had some common sense. It was the most realistic part of the book). And in the end, I just couldn’t care. It was like some stupid fraternity prank gone horribly wrong.

I read nonfiction because I like true stories, about real people and real things that happened, so I was disappointed in this book on many levels. Although it’s undisputed that Roberts stole the moon rocks and served many years of jail time, the rest of the book is fluff. Many reviews out there suggested that Mezrich is now writing more with the Hollywood screen in mind than real fact, so I suspect we’ll see this one at our local movie theater before too long. Maybe someone should suggest to Mezrich that his real calling lies in screenwriting rather than nonfiction. It would save many of us hours we’ll never get back.

Grade: Unfinished.

January is True Crime Month at Prologue

  • I’ve decided to do things a little differently here at Prologue in the upcoming year. Every month will be dedicated to a specific genre of nonfiction. We’re going to kick off 2012 with True Crime for the month of January. We’ve already read 6 great True Crime books here on the blog…click on True Crime in the category cloud on the right sidebar to see what we’ve read. I’ve got some great reads lined up for January and I hope you’ll feel free to post about your favorite true crime books, and/or if you’ve read any of my upcoming picks!

Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief: The Astonishing True Story of a High Society Cat Burglar….Bill Mason with Lee Gruenfeld

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America…Erik Larson

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York….Deborah Blum

Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History….Ben Mezrich

Killer Colt: Murder, Disgrace and the Making of an American Legend….Harold Schechter

Can’t wait to get started! Happy 2012 to all of you!

 

Books I Started But Didn’t Finish Challenge

Here at Prologue we get busy, especially around soccer season (roughly Jan-Oct every year). We’ve bought a lot of books. I mean, a LOT of books. The ones that were captivating, amazing, and all around awesome were lucky enough to get reviews here on our blog. There have been many books though that didn’t make the cut, either because the subject matter at the time wasn’t absorbing enough to keep my very short attention span alive, or because I happened to find something  more interesting and set it aside.

Well, some of those books are about to get a second chance in 2012. Jillian over at A Room Of One’s Own came up with the epic idea for the Books I Started But Didn’t Finish Challenge. What we have to do for this challenge is list the books we want to get through in 2012 and then the prize we plan to award ourselves for finishing them. I’m not going to overwhelm myself by listing the entire contents of the severely overcrowded shelves of unfinished books I have, but I’m going to go with five. Here they are, in no certain order:

In The Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson

The Greater Journey, David McCullough

A Walk In the Woods, Bill Bryson

Reading Jackie, William Kuhn

The Secret of Chanel No 5, Tilar Mazzeo

I’m so excited about this challenge! Hopefully it will be motivational for me to make time to finish these books up (especially since three are on my Nook and can’t be returned!). I will buy myself a great new nonfiction book and cup of coffee when I finish them. That sounds nice.

Check this challenge out if you need a push to tie up some of your loose literary ends next year!