Sunday, November 29, 2020

Review: American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World

American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World by Joe Berkowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Squeezing this in for Nonfiction November - this book looks at American cheese (all cheese, not just the bright orange variety I always called "plastic cheese.") The author examines the industry, visits cheese conventions, cheese competitions, and follows people who are training to be cheesemongers. He visits small producers trying to make names for themselves, including Rogue River Creamery before they won the award for best cheese in the world...I blame this book for the taste of it that I felt compelled to order! But the author is hitting the American Cheese stride right as the world is starting to pay attention, so that's good timing, or it would have been, if only tariffs hadn't gone up that negatively impacted the export of cheese, the import of the manufacturing equipment required to make it, and more people are forgoing travel at all much less culinary travel to obscure cheese producing locations. (We have traveled some of the WNC Cheese Trail so we know obscure mountain cheese locations!)

This book is more about the people surrounding cheese and the obscure culture of the beliefs and practices of those people. It's like an ethnography of a separate culture living amidst the rest of us. And while you will learn about some of the cheeses of America at the same time, it's not really the focus. The author was funded to travel to write this book so he threw in a trip to France as well (smart although his description of the French cheese made me more curious about their cheese than ours, particularly some of those Alpine cheeses. Sign me up!)

I still enjoyed most of the book aside from a few strange word choices (kibbutz for a not even obscure use but unknown and I don't think it works; yeet in a way that should not be used unless you are a tiktok teenager- how will the old people who buy this book at Costco know what he means? I had a review copy so perhaps they fixed it.)

A similar book to this, about French cheese and really focuses on the cheese that I would recommend, perhaps as a companion book to this one, is The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese by Kathe Lison, which remains my favorite single ingredient book I've read.

I had a review copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss. It came out October 6, 2020. You will be amazed how much cheese you can order off the internet to have delivered to your house because this book will make you hungry.

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Review: Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West

Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Oak Flat is a serene high-elevation mesa that sits above the southeastern Arizona desert, fifteen miles to the west of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. For the San Carlos tribe, Oak Flat is a holy place, an ancient burial ground and religious site where Apache girls celebrate the coming-of-age ritual known as the Sunrise Ceremony. In 1995, a massive untapped copper reserve was discovered nearby. A decade later, a law was passed transferring the area to a private company, whose planned copper mine will wipe Oak Flat off the map--sending its natural springs, petroglyph-covered rocks, and old-growth trees tumbling into a void...The book follows the fortunes of two families with profound connections to the contested site: the Nosies, an Apache family whose teenage daughter is an activist and leader in the Oak Flat fight, and the Gorhams, a mining family whose patriarch was a sheriff in the lawless early days of Arizona statehood."

I understand the print version of this to have stunning visuals; I enjoyed the audio with multiple narrators. I appreciated that the issues raised are more broadly shared with various indigenous groups but I also enjoyed learning more about Apache ceremony and this one family's experiences with it.

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Review: The Beadworkers

The Beadworkers The Beadworkers by Beth Piatote
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These short stories, some poetics, and one play/script type story focus on relationships between people in the northwest that have some kind of indigenous background, most often Nez Perce. The author includes some Nez Perce language and some elements of traditional tales (Coyote may show up) but for the most part the stories are contemporary people navigating their lives.

I was immediately drawn in by the cover because Mt Hood was my closest mountain growing up and my morning bus ride often included a view of the sun coming up behind it. Looking closer, the image is rendered in beadwork by Marcus Amerman (beadwork is a tradition mentioned in multiple stories.)

My Mom had a close friend who grew up on the Yakama rez which is mentioned here, and I went to a few salmon bakes in my childhood, so in some ways the characters feel familiar to me. They are diverse - a wide range of rural, suburban, and urban people with shared ancestry that comes along with its own set of expectations and traditions often unknown to the non indigenous people around them, including gifts of blankets and specific locations for ceremonies. Some stories are experimental in form (one revolves around the creation of a board game) while others are more narrative. Highly recommended!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Review: Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know this just won the National Book Award and I finally read it because that included it on the Tournament of Books long list, but I really did not enjoy reading this book. The entire structure and setup is satire? allegory? and the characters aren't real in the sense that characters are, they stand in to play a didactic role about how Asians, particularly the Chinese most of the time but also all Asians, are seen in America. As this was not news to me, I did not particularly enjoy the four hour audiobook lecture about it.

I have liked other books by Charles Yu but experimental fiction will always carry the risk of people liking it or not. I mean, I feel pressured to give it three stars because I like him otherwise and it's winning awards and other people find it very clever but cleverness is not enough to sustain a novel for me and it will never be. I'm a substance over style person.

One thing I noticed in listening to the audiobook is how much the rhythm of his writing feels like George Saunders. I challenge anyone who cares to go back and listen to Tenth of December as read by the author and see if you can hear what I mean. The audiobook narrator of this does not have George's accent, so that's not it, it's something about how the words and sentences fall. (George is also someone who I prefer when he isn't experimenting, funny....)

I listened to this in the Random House Audio Volumes app, where they have given me access to most of their new audiobook titles. I chose to listen since I was interested in this book due to its placement in the ToB, but honestly would not have been drawn to reading it otherwise, and only selected it because it is rather short and could accompany me while working on Thanksgiving prep. Therefore I'm not sure I'd exactly call it a review copy except to say that if they hadn't provided it I would have purchased it just the same, and then ended up even more disappointed that I'd spent an Audible credit on a book that was short yet not enjoyed. It came out way way back in January 2020, when the world felt very different, and I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more at that point in time. But even so, that was around when there were all these great Asian-American forward movies and tv shows coming out (at long last) so is this historical fiction?

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Review: Pizza Girl

Pizza Girl Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Electric Literature says Pizza Girl is the "The Queer Slacker Pizza Delivery Novel We’ve Been Waiting For" and I'm not even sure I can say it better than that, but I'll try.

"Her name was Jenny Hauser and every Wednesday I put pickles on her pizza." And that's how the novel PIZZA GIRL begins. I've had this book on my radar but the comparisons to Moshfegh didn't make me want to try it - but it is one of the shortest books from the Tournament of Books longlist that I could get from the library without waiting.

The main character, whose name you don't know most of the time since it's all from her perspective, recently lost her father. She bonded with a classmate at a grief group and by the time the novel starts, he's moved in with her and her Mom because she is pregnant. She is 18 and is working part-time delivering pizzas in what I like to call "regular California." The most social interaction she has comes from the people she delivers pizzas to and the lives she comes up with for them.

I enjoyed (?) the read despite some heavy handed metaphors and some random narrative tangents (usually when the story would jump to someone else's drama at the pizza place - one I had to reread three times to figure out what happened) - the mother and boyfriend seem like good people but they are not able to stop the MC from spiraling, and that journey is the crux of the plot. In the E.L. article linked above, the author talks about the role of imagination in the MC's life and where that can go wrong, and it wasn't something I particularly zeroed in on but enjoyed thinking about after finishing the novel.

As far as the Tournament of Books goes, I'm not sure this is one of the top 16 reads, however I would love a match between this book and Jack by Marilynne Robinson. Both stories revolve around a slacker type character with people around them who can see the issues but not help. The writing and focus are entirely different but they actually have more in common than not.

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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Review: Jack

Jack Jack by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Friday, the 2021 Tournament of Books Long list came out, and I had a healthy number of books from it already on hand that I hadn't read yet. So I picked up this book, which I had from the publisher through Edelweiss but was a bit delayed in reading.

This book fits in with all the Gilead novels, which tell pieces of the same story from different perspectives. I was surprised when Lila came out and definitely didn't expect another one after that. Since a lot of people ask, you can read this as a standalone in the sense that it has its own start and finish, but it will mean a lot more in the context of the other three. For me, it had been years since I read the others and I was a bit hazy on the details.

And Robinson doesn't repeat herself. Since she assumed we know three versions of Jack's story already, she jumps in with a disagreement he is having with a woman, and the reader does not immediately know what is happening. All is revealed, but time is not entirely linear in Gilead and we will revisit some of the story a few times, from different angles.

Robinson is obsessed with Calvinism and other deep regions of thought where religion and philosophy intersect. I went to see her speak once and she was a lot more deep and narrow than I was particularly interested in, if I'm being honest. This novel is full of that type of rumination. Jack spends a lot of time reading in the public library so his vocabulary is rich and full of poetic meanderings. Della teaches English, so she contributes her own ideas. The entire 1/3 and many other chunks of the novel are long conversations of these two characters talking. And reading friend, not a lot happens, until it does.

It was nice to shift a bit from character study to ideas, but I didn't get nearly enough from Della's perspective. Some of her choices seemed strange and I don't really understand her well. Does this mean we will end up with a fifth novel? Would Robinson dare to try to write in the voice of an African American character? I'm not sure she should but I'm also not sure she should have written this novel without it, if that makes sense.

Regardless, this has a lot to discuss, making it a great book to be in the Tournament of Books.

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Review: One Life

One Life One Life by Megan Rapinoe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not the audience for this book as I'm not really that impressed by or interested in sportsing, much less women's soccer, haha. But I tend to like to listen to accounts from people who are the best, and Megan Rapinoe will not hesitate to tell you she is! I probably appreciated the social justice pieces of this the most - the cost of being out at the Olympics, the cost of a kneel, etc.

I had a copy from the publisher as an eBook but ended up listening to the audio since it was read by the author. This is somehow the second book this year I've read where the author had dated Abby Wambach. This came out November 10.

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