Weekly Read

WR1Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown is the perfect book for the New Year and all those resolutions you may have made – including eating better and saving money. It is one of those things that many of us struggle with: the challenge to eat well but no go over budget as it seems the cheapest foods tend to be the worst for you. But in her wonderful cookbook, Ms. Brown has given us a blueprint for making it all work out.

About Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown: “While studying food policy as a master’s candidate at NYU, Leanne Brown asked a simple yet critical question: How well can a person eat on the $4 a day given by SNAP, the U.S. government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program informally known as food stamps? The answer is surprisingly well: Broiled Tilapia with Lime, Spicy Pulled Pork, Green Chile and Cheddar Quesadillas, Vegetable Jambalaya, Beet and Chickpea Salad—even desserts like Coconut Chocolate Cookies and Peach Coffee Cake. In addition to creating nutritious recipes that maximize every ingredient and use economical cooking methods, Ms. Brown gives tips on shopping; on creating pantry basics; on mastering certain staples—pizza dough, flour tortillas—and saucy extras that make everything taste better, like spice oil and tzatziki; and how to make fundamentally smart, healthful food choices.”

In addition to being filled with delicious, healthful recipes for people on a budget, with every copy of Good and Cheap purchased, a second copy will be given to a person or family in need – which fulfills that other resolution we made this year: to give more back.

Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown is available from Amazon and other fine book retailers.

southernAs an old New England Yankee now living in the Midwest, I am oddly attracted to the culture of the southern US – go figure. I fancy myself as a modern day Rhett Butler, the perfect southern gentleman who is a bit of a rascal but has all the charm in the world. To help me in this fantasy I have found a great primer: A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen: Adventures in Cooking, Eating, and Living in the New South by Matt Moore

About A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen by Matt Moore: “Today, in addition to being chivalrous, honest, and generous, a Southern gentleman is socially connected, well-traveled, and has an appetite for life. In this part-cookbook and part-guidebook, Matt Moore embraces a fresh perspective on what it means to cook, eat, and live as a true Southern Gentleman in the 21st century. Moore takes readers on an entertaining walk through the life of a Southern gentleman using recipes for 150 distinctly simple Southern dishes for every meal of the day, plus tales from family and some well-known friends. Gorgeous full-color photography graces this culinary update on authentic Southern cuisine. Featured recipes include everything from Seafood Gumbo and Gameday Venison Chili to desserts like Grilled Georgia Peach Crisp and favorite cocktails like The Brown Derby and NOLA Sazerac.”

More than a cookbook (and there are some great recipes in here) A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen is also a handbook and guide to living a great life in the “New South” and anywhere else with a little imagination.

A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen by Matt Moore is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.


cashI love the LIFE Unseen series from the editors of LIFE Magazine. The folks at LIFE have been curating their vast catalog of images and releasing great books displaying never-before-seen pictures of the 20th Century’s greatest figures. A great example is LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash: An Illustrated Biography with Rare and Never-Before-Seen Photographs, which manages to present the great artist in a way that seems new and fresh while honoring his legacy.

About LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash from the editors of LIFE magazine: LIFE partners with Sony Music Entertainment and its vast archive of photography to launch a new series of special books: LIFE Unseen surprising looks at some of our most legendary stars. We kick off the series with Johnny Cash, who passed away 10 years ago, but it seems like he has never left us. There have been iconic American performers whose lives seemed even larger than their stage personas. Then there was Johnny Cash, unique and-yes-transcendent. He is seen as a country singer, but he is also in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Gospel Hall of Fame. Coming out of Arkansas, rebellious and an early adherent of rockabilly (he was part of Sun Studios’ Million Dollar Quartet, along with Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis), he found his audience. Cash was also a TV star and he formed supergroups with other top recording artists. Movies were made about the Man in Black, and he would have been calcified as a ‘legend’ had he not been so genuine.”

As a huge fan of Mr. Cash, I loved flipping through the pages of LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash to see images of the Man in Black in his prime and reading bits about his life from the people who knew him best. LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash is the best kind of biography – a visual oral history.

LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash from the editors of LIFE magazine is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

NUTSI took a break from my summertime reading of novels to read a memoir, My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall. Miss Marshall, best known as Laverne from the hit sitcom Laverne and Shirley and later as a prominent director of popular movies, has written a very entertaining book about her life and times.

I was familiar with Miss Marshall’s career of course, I pretty much grew up with her on television. However, I really did not know much about her earlier life or what was going on behind the scenes during the height of her career. In My Mother Was Nuts, Miss Penny Marshall shares an intimate portrait of her childhood and her life when she was one of the biggest television stars in the world. By the way, she was married to Rob Reiner at the time he too was on a top sitcom, All in the Family – which makes for a very specific story of life as a 1970s pop culture icon.

About My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall: “Most people know Penny Marshall as the director of Big and A League of Their Own. What they don’t know is her trailblazing career was a happy accident. In this funny and intimate memoir, Penny takes us from the stage of The Jackie Gleason Show in 1955 to Hollywood’s star-studded sets, offering up some hilarious detours along the way. My Mother Was Nuts is an intimate backstage pass to Penny’s personal life, her breakout role on The Odd Couple, her exploits with Cindy Williams and John Belushi, and her travels across Europe with Art Garfunkel on the back of a motorcycle. We see Penny get married. And divorced. And married again (the second time to Rob Reiner). We meet a young Carrie Fisher, whose close friendship with Penny has spanned decades. And we see Penny at work with Tom Hanks, Mark Wahlberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert De Niro, and Whitney Houston. Throughout it all, from her childhood spent tap dancing in the Bronx, to her rise as the star of Laverne & Shirley, Penny lived by simple rules: ‘try hard, help your friends, don’t get too crazy, and have fun.’ With humor and heart, My Mother Was Nuts reveals there’s no one else quite like Penny Marshall.”

As an added bonus, I took advantage of reading the Kindle version of this book in concert with the audio version from Audible.com. You can toggle back and forth from reading the book on a Kindle app to listening to it on the same device. This allowed me to hear Miss Marshall read her own work and I must tell you it greatly enhanced the experience. Having Miss Marshall’s voice (literally) in my head made me appreciate her casual writing style more and made her tale much more personal.

Like many memoirs and autobiographies, in the end My Mother Was Nuts is a snapshot of a life and not the in-depth review you would get from a more scholarly biography. Nor is this book a namedropping tell-all. Sure, Miss Marshall shares stories of her famous friends and family, but it is all part of her story and she is very respectful. My Mother Was Nuts is a charming and funny book that captures the spirit of Miss Marshall’s unique personality.

My Mother Was Nuts a memoir by Penny Marshall is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

EOTNWhen I was a kid, my siblings and I used to joke that my father never read a book that didn’t have Nazi insignia on the cover. It is true that he loved novels, and nonfiction, about World War II and it was pretty much true that there was that certain symbol on most of the covers. One such book I remember was Ken Follett’s 1978 novel Eye of the Needle.

It is so funny, I remember the cover of the paperback very well and my dad’s excitement when the movie version came on HBO. Like most kids, the last thing I wanted to do was show interest in anything my parents did so I never picked up any of my dad’s books to read for myself.

However, in recent years I discovered the works of Mr. Follett, most notably Pillars of the Earth and his Century Trilogy. Having read and enjoyed those more recent works, I have gone back through Mr. Follett’s catalog and read some of his older novels. Recently, I was looking for a vintage best seller to read, as I like to do in the summer, and came across Eye of the Needle and I knew in an instant that I had found the perfect summer read.

Eye of the Needle is a traditional spy thriller set during World War II and although formulaic and somewhat dated, it is still a great story in the very capable hands of Mr. Follett who was at the top his game when he wrote this book.

About Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett: “One enemy spy knows the secret of the Allies’ greatest deception, a brilliant aristocrat and ruthless assassin—code name: ‘The Needle’—who holds the key to the ultimate Nazi victory. Only one person stands in his way: a lonely Englishwoman on an isolated island, who is coming to love the killer who has mysteriously entered her life. Ken Follett’s unsurpassed and unforgettable masterwork of suspense, intrigue, and the dangerous machinations of the human heart—Eye of the Needle.”

Part of the joy of reading this book for was thinking about my dad reading it all those years ago. It is one of those truisms that one appreciates his/her parents more as you get older. By reading books that I know my dad liked back in the day makes me understand him a little bit more.

Meanwhile, Eye of the Needle was the perfect escapist novel for summer reading.

Eye of the Needle is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

TCVIt must be summer… I just finished a novel. The novel I chose was the first “adult” novel by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame: The Casual Vacancy.

Ok, let me get this out of the way first: this book is just about as far a departure from the fantasy of the Potter world as you can imagine. The Casual Vacancy is a sober novel about contemporary English society – a genre I happen to like, in the vein of Nick Hornby or Will Self.

When I first dove into the novel it was on my mind that the author was the creator of the Harry Potter phenomenon and it was a distraction. However, once I got into the story and the well-crafted plot and cast of characters, the book carved out a niche of its own. It is clear that Ms. Rowling is a gifted writer no matter the genre.

About The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: “When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.”

The Casual Vacancy is a story about ordinary people dealing with circumstances in their world – in other words, it’s about Muggles. I do have to say that Ms. Rowling’s seems to delight in writing about the real life of teenagers in this book. The school-aged kids in The Casual Vacancy deal with all the reality you can imagine, from drugs and sex to alienation and bullying – they are most certainly not looking for a magical spell to save wizardry.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

pilgrimOn the eve of Thanksgiving, there is a lot of talk of the Pilgrims who celebrated the first feast in Plymouth.  For today’s Read, I feature a book about a different kind of pilgrimage.

I am a huge fan of master photographer Annie Leibovitz and have loved her work as long as I can remember. Like many, I came to know her work from her iconic photos of the superstars of popular culture over the past 30 odd years (notably featured in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, et al). However, I have also admired her pure talent of composition and artistic interpretation whether it be in a photo of a rock star or an automobile.

In her book Pilgrimage, Ms. Leibovitz leaves behind the conceits of celebrity culture to document subjects that are much more meaningful to her and shares her journey with us through her amazing lens.

About Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage took Annie Leibovitz to places that she could explore with no agenda. She wasn’t on assignment. She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. ‘That’s when I started making lists,’ she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.”

Pilgrimage is a wonderfully personal book despite the great production values. Ms. Leibovitz’s photos are amazing and though the subjects she picks may not be as well-known as her past celebrity models, she manages to make most every image compelling.

Having experienced this book my admiration of Ms. Leibovitz has been further cemented and I am happy to have taken this journey with her.

Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

grimmI believe that every house should have a nice bound volume of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, whether or not there are kids around.  The original text of these stories is still wonderful to read as an adult and you will find many of the stories much darker and nuanced than the Disney-fied versions we are most familiar with.

The awesome publishing house, Taschen, has produced a wonderful bicentennial edition of brothers Jacob and Wilhelm’s enduring tales. In Taschen’s volume, many of the Brothers Grimm stories have been compiled along with an incredible collection of the artwork that has been created to adorn these stories over the centuries.

About Taschen’s collection of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Noel Daniel: “In honor of their 200th anniversary, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm brings to life twenty-seven of the most beloved Grimm stories, including classics such as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel, in a vibrant and meticulous new translation commissioned for this publication.  Containing a selection of charming vintage illustrations from the 1820s to the 1950s by true masters of pictorial invention-—the legendary Kay Nielsen, bestselling children’s books author Gustaf Tenggren, British artists Walter Crane and Arthur Rackham, and giants of nineteenth century German illustration Gustav Süs, Heinrich Leutemann, and Viktor Paul Mohn, as well as many new discoveries—this compilation also features historic and contemporary silhouettes that dance across the pages like delicate black paper lace.”

The new translation and the classic artwork make the Taschen version of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm a nice way to bring these stories into your home.  Or, if you like the hunt, look for a nice vintage version as you go about your picking rounds. But beware, not all Grimm books are the same.  With the tales long in the public domain there are many versions out there with little provenance to the original text.  This being one reason Taschen’s book is so great.

This book may also help me fill in some of the blanks I have watching NBC’s hit series Grimm – which I love.

Taschen also offers a wonderful The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm calendar featuring some of the great vintage artwork from their compilation book.

Taschen’s The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm is also available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

CONSTITUTIONI feel strongly that every citizen of the United States should read the Constitution from time to time to ensure an understanding of the foundation of this great nation.  As the Presidential Election looms, and debates go on about interpretations of this seminal document are discussed, we can better make informed decisions if we come to our own individual view of what we are all about.

OK, enough of the non-partisan preaching.  Taken as just a historical document, the U.S. Constitution is an interesting read.

You can certainly find the text of the Constitution on the internet and in multiple – and free – printed forms.  However, I recommend investing in a nice bound edition like the U.S. Constitution Pocket Sized Book available from Portland OR-based Canoe (and other fine retailers).

About the U.S. Constitution Pocket Sized Book“The subject of controversial interpretations throughout its history (perhaps never more than today), the U.S. Constitution remains the chief rights and governing document of the United States. This 192 page, pocket sized, leather bound edition contains the complete Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and every constitutional amendment to the present day. Also included is an impressive array of documents, revealing the ideas, aspirations, and differing views of the founding fathers, including the Declaration of Independence.”

See the U.S. Constitution Pocket Sized Book all the really neat products curated by Canoe here.

DRNOI am kicking it old school with this week’s read, Dr. No by Ian Fleming.  I came across an old paperback version of this classic James Bond novel while I was sorting through some old books out in the barn.  I put the book aside and thought it might be fun to read at some point because it was relatively short and I had never read a Bond novel before.

So a few weeks ago I picked up the well-worn paperback and sat down to read it.  Maybe it was my mood, or maybe it was my newfound fascination with Mr. Fleming’s real-life exploits or maybe even a penchant for rediscovering the manly pursuits of the Mad Men-era, I ate it up and read it pretty much straight through.

About Dr. No by Ian Fleming: “James Bond travels to the Caribbean to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a secret service team. As he uncovers the astonishing truth about strange energy waves that are interfering with U.S. missile launches, he must battle deadly assassins, sexy femmes fatales, and even a poisonous tarantula. The search takes him to an exotic tropical island, where he meets a beautiful nature girl and discovers the hideout of Doctor No, a six-foot-six madman with a mania for torture, a lust to kill, and a fantastic secret to hide.”

Dr. No was not the first James Bond novel, although it was the first to be made into a film starring Sean Connery.  Growing up, my brother was big Bond fan and watched the old movies all the time. However, I really never got into them.  Even today I am not really a fan of the Bond series, even though I can’t deny their success and the lasting effect they have had on popular culture for over 50 years.

But by going to the original text, I was able to see the character Mr. Fleming was trying to create minus all the Hollywood pretensions.  The story is a very basic, if not a simplistic spy adventure.  However, in the hand of Mr. Fleming, it is a very entertaining story and surprisingly witty and well written.

Reading Dr. No today, versus when it came out in the late 1950’s, is also like stepping into a time capsule.  In addition to Cold War fears, there is a sexist, ignorantly racist and definitely non-PC tone – and it is oddly refreshing when viewing it through a contemporary lens. 

Dr. No by Ian Fleming is still in print and available in its many incarnations (including Kindle) from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

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