Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson (Weekend Cooking)

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and EatConsider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Published by Basic Books

From the publisher:

Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. Tools shape what we eat, but they have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide of the modernist kitchen. It can also mean the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks.

In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson provides a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of everyday objects we often take for granted. Knives—perhaps our most important gastronomic tool—predate the discovery of fire, whereas the fork endured centuries of ridicule before gaining widespread acceptance; pots and pans have been around for millennia, while plates are a relatively recent invention. Many once-new technologies have become essential elements of any well-stocked kitchen—mortars and pestles, serrated knives, stainless steel pots, refrigerators. Others have proved only passing fancies, or were supplanted by better technologies; one would be hard pressed now to find a water-powered egg whisk, a magnet-operated spit roaster, a cider owl, or a turnspit dog. Although many tools have disappeared from the modern kitchen, they have left us with traditions, tastes, and even physical characteristics that we would never have possessed otherwise.

Blending history, science, and anthropology, Wilson reveals how our culinary tools and tricks came to be, and how their influence has shaped modern food culture. The story of how we have tamed fire and ice and wielded whisks, spoons, and graters, all for the sake of putting food in our mouths, Consider the Fork is truly a book to savor.

I almost never participate in Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads every Saturday, but I almost always wish I did. I figured the fact that I read a foodie book recently is as good a reason as any to join this week!

I’m not sure why exactly I got this one from Audible – I think it was a daily deal or deeply discounted or something – because it’s not really something I’d pick up on my own. I like food, and I like food books, and I like history, which is probably what made me think I’d enjoy this one, and I did enjoy it, but it’s pretty different from the typical nonfiction I read.

First, let me say that Consider the Fork is impeccably well-researched. To say there’s a ton of food history here is a huge understatement – Wilson traces food technology from the days before the invention of the knife up to the present, details how different cultures have used different technology in different and unique ways, and makes what could be quite a dull subject incredibly interesting. I learned a lot, and I think if you’re a bigger foodie and more accomplished chef them myself (which is probably most people), you will get even more out of the book than I did.

The audio was well done, too. Alison Larkin narrates and she has a sweet voice with an English accent that makes for a very pleasant listening experience. Whenever I spent time listening to the book, I very much enjoyed her narration.

The only issue I had with Consider the Fork is that I just wasn’t hugely compelled to pick it up almost ever. When I listened to it, I enjoyed the experience and came away with some nugget of new knowledge, but I never felt that feeling of being excited to pick it up again – does that make sense? I’m wondering if I personally would have benefited more from reading this one in print? I’m not sure, to be honest. It also could be that I’m just not super excited about and interested in food history/technology.

Either way, I can still recommend Consider the Fork for foodies and those who love learning about cooking history and technology. Wilson did an incredible job with her research on this one, and even though I can recognize this might not have been the best book for my personal tastes, it is clear that those with interest in this subject will find a lot to enjoy within the book.

Mini-reviews: Celebrity Memoirs

Love LifeLove Life by Rob Lowe
Published by Simon & Schuster

I really liked Lowe’s first book, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, so I knew I’d get to this one as soon as I could. Love Life isn’t so much a fluid memoir as it is a series of anecdotes, vignettes, and stories about Lowe’s life – both the career side and the personal side. He talks a lot about his family in this book, and I loved getting to know him more through the stories about his wife and children. There’s less name-dropping in this book than in the first one – this one seemed more personal to me, less talk of other celebrities, unless they were integral in some way to a story about something else. Of course, I listened to the audio of this one, narrated by Lowe himself, and it was phenomenal. I could listen to that guy’s voice all day long. If you’re a fan of Rob Lowe, I highly recommend this book.

Brunette AmbitionBrunette Ambition by Lea Michele
Published by Harmony Books

I really like Glee and I think Lea Michele is super talented. I was heartbroken for her over the passing of Cory Monteith, and I admired the way she handled herself immediately after his death. Unfortunately, her book is not something I enjoyed. It seemed that the overall message of the book is “be unique, be yourself, you are special just the way you are”, yet the entire book is her telling her fans what’s worked for her in all aspects of her life – food, style, health, etc. So if the reader is supposed to be their own unique self, why would they read this book and become exactly like Lea Michele? The message was very confusing to me. Also, I tried making one of her recipes (for Italian Vegetable Soup), hoping that the recipe would redeem the rest of the book, and the soup turned out just okay. Nothing special. So even though I’m still a fan of Lea Michele, I did not like her book.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham
Published by Random House

I’ve seen the first two seasons of Girls and really admire the way Dunham is so unflinchingly honest in that show, the way the characters say and do things that are real and authentic but rarely shown/discussed on TV. I was excited to read this book because I wanted to get to know Dunham more as a person, outside of the character she plays on the show. I liked this book enough – basically she’s the same raw, authentic person in real life as Hannah, the character she portrays on her show. She’s not afraid to tell the truth and nothing embarrasses her. I didn’t love this book, though, and I think I was just expecting more. I guess I was expecting more of a deeper read – I don’t know how to explain it. But I liked it! I admire Dunham a lot and I am glad I read her book. Also, I listened to the audio of this one, which is narrated by Dunham herself, and it was a great choice.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsDavid and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
Published by Little, Brown and Company

From the publisher:

In his #1 bestselling books THE TIPPING POINT, BLINK and OUTLIERS, Malcolm Gladwell has explored the ways in which we understand and change our world. Now he looks at the complex and surprising ways in which the weak can defeat the strong, how the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals (often cultural determined) can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success. Drawing upon examples from the world of business, sports, culture, cutting-edge psychology and an array of unforgettable characters around the world, DAVID AND GOLIATH is in many ways the most practical and provocative book Malcolm Gladwell has ever written.

I’m a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I like his take on unusual topics and I love how he turns typical wisdom completely on its head. He always makes me think, and I love challenging my brain. David and Goliath was no different from his previous books in that way – it definitely helped me see things in a new and very different way.

The main thing I got out of this book is that the “Davids” of the world can’t beat the “giants” of the world using the same tactics as the “giants”. Does that make sense? New and innovative ways of thinking and doing things must be discovered in order for underdogs to win. Also, underdogs can win by finding the weakness of the powerful and using that to their advantage.

Gladwell uses several real-life examples to illustrate his point and I really liked the variety of examples used. None of them were an obvious comparison to the David and Goliath story, but each one worked in its own way. The different examples and how he showed how the underdog won against the powerful each time kept my brain buzzing – it was the perfect amount of thinking with entertainment, too.

I love Gladwell’s books on audio. He narrates them himself, and his speech has this strange, almost over-enunciating quality to it that for some reason I just love. I listened to this one, too, and it was just as great a listening experience as his previous books.

I’ve really enjoyed all of Gladwell’s books. If I had to rank them, however, this would probably be my least favorite of the four. That being said, I enjoyed it quite a bit! So definitely pick up one of his if you haven’t, and if you’re already a fan, David and Goliath is a must read.

Mini-reviews: Books about which I have little to say

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
Published by Crown

If you’re not familiar with The Martian, you must have been living under a rock these past few months. EVERYONE has been raving about this book and I now understand why. Basically, it’s about this guy, Mark Watney, whose mission to Mars was aborted after a huge sandstorm occurred, which caused his crew to believe he died, so they had to leave him there. Except he didn’t die, so he has to figure out how to survive on Mars all by himself for quite a long time. While the scienc-y stuff wasn’t the easiest for me to navigate, the technicalities of it aren’t necessary for understanding the novel, so I was able to skim a lot of those parts. And there’s a point at which NASA figures out Mark is still alive, and that’s when the book really picks up speed and goes from interesting/good to great. Mark is hilarious, super sarcastic and totally makes the novel. I really enjoyed this one and I totally see what all the fuss is about.

Believers: A Journey into Evangelical AmericaBelievers: A Journey Into Evangelical America by Jeffrey L. Sheler
Published by Viking Adult

I don’t really know why I read this book. I guess it’s because I can’t resist any kind of book about any kind of faith, and I’m even more intrigued when I see a different perspective on my own faith than my perspective (which is kind of the case with Believers). The book was mostly good, well-researched, but I’m uncertain as to what exactly Sheler’s point was. I guess he wanted to figure out what Evangelical Christians are all about? It seemed to me like he was looking for generalizations, looking to find out what exactly motivates and inspires and pushes Evangelicals but what he discovered, instead, is that (shocker) Evangelical Christians are a diverse group with tons of different kinds of people in the mix. The conclusion kind of felt like he was saying “gosh, Evangelicals are people too. I didn’t expect that.” But I liked learning more about groups of Christians I was somewhat unfamiliar with – Wheaton College scholars, Focus on the Family (not personally a fan, but interesting to learn more about them nonetheless), Saddleback Church (where my in-laws are members, actually), and more. So, overall, interesting to me but not particularly enlightening.

The Lonely PolygamistThe Lonely Polygamist by Bradley Udall
Published by W. W. Norton and Company

I really did not like this book. I started reading it in audio but it was SO LONG and taking forever that I read the second half in print, and I didn’t enjoy the novel in either format. The book is about (obviously) a polygamist named Golden Richards, who has four wives and twenty-eight children. It’s told from three alternating points of view: Golden’s, his fourth wife, Trish’s, and one of his sons, Rusty’s. Despite the complicated family dynamics and tons of tragedy and even some comedy, I just did not get why I’d heard such great things about this novel. It seemed monotonous, over dramatic, and mostly the people within its pages were just plain miserable. And while the ending was heartbreaking, because I couldn’t bring myself to care about these characters, I wasn’t too emotionally affected by it. I don’t know – this one just wasn’t my thing.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Published by Little, Brown and Company

From the publisher:

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is every bit as charming and wonderful as everyone says it is. I put off reading this one for a while because I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype – it seemed like literally EVERYONE loved it – but it turned out that all that hype was for good reason.

Semple does so many things well in this novel. She crafted such flawed, ridiculously real characters in Bernadette, her husband, and all of the secondary characters that are sprinkled throughout the book – the moms at school and her husband’s administrative assistant come to mind most prominently. And Bee is SUCH a charming, sweet girl that I just wanted the best for. She’s crafty, super intelligent, creative, spunky, just an overall awesome kid. And the fierce love and protectiveness she felt for her mother absolutely melted me.

Semple really knows how to structure a book to get the reader fully invested and take them on this incredible journey with the characters. Her set-up to Bernadette’s disappearance took nearly half the book, and throughout that time I grew so attached to these characters, all the while knowing that their worlds were about to implode, and I was both looking forward to that part in the book and fearing it at the same time.

Another thing that I loved about the novel is the incredible sense of place that Semple created with her writing. I have been to Seattle once, and I loved it, and Semple made me want to go back there right now. Even though Bernadette hated Seattle, the ways she described it still held my interest and reminded me of all the things I loved about visiting there. And once the disappearance happens, and Bee and her dad go off in search of Bernadette, the descriptions of where they went to look for her were fantastic. I wanted to go there, too (I won’t tell you where they went!).

The search for Bernadette is kind of like a wild goose chase but was handled perfectly in Semple’s highly capable hands. I couldn’t stop listening as Bee and her dad got closer and closer to figuring out what happened to her mom. There were some major surprises toward the end and I was truly satisfied by the time it was over.

I listened to the audio of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and it was an excellent choice. Lots of the story is told through emails and other nontraditional forms of communication, but somehow the narrator, Kathleen Wilhoite, handled the whole thing flawlessly. It wasn’t difficult at all for me to follow what was happening, who was speaking, etc. – it was just perfect.

This book really is as wonderful as everyone is saying. I absolutely loved it.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

The Silver Linings PlaybookThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
Published by Sarah Crichton Books

Pat Peoples has just gotten out of a mental health facility where he spent several years after an unnamed incident occurred. Pat doesn’t know how long he was there or why he was there, but what he does know is that his goal is to get back together with his estranged wife, Nikki. Unfortunately, no one in his life will talk to him about Nikki, and he’s being pursued by another woman, Tiffany. Also, everything has changed since he’s been gone and he just can’t figure out why.

This novel is so absolutely wonderful and quirky and sweet and a little sad but really just fantastic. I enjoyed every minute I spent inside Pat’s head and Matthew Quick is an author I’m very intrigued by after having read this book.

I loved getting to know Pat, frustrating as he was. He was just so determined to get back together with Nikki even though it’s obvious to everyone, including the reader, that this is an impossibility. Why this is impossible isn’t quite clear, as Pat doesn’t seem to recall himself what exactly happened that led to their separation. The fact that he doesn’t know all the facts of his own life creates a tension-filled story, as the reader desperately wants to understand what happened, but only gets bits and pieces along the way as Pat’s gaps in memory are slowly filled.

The supporting characters really give the book that extra push that it needed to be truly successful. Since Pat is such an unreliable narrator, we need these other characters to help him (and the reader) come to the full reality of his situation. Pat’s mother and to a lesser degree, his father, his brother, his therapist, and his best friend, they all help him uncover the truth about his life and help get the reader to see it too. Tiffany, although also somewhat in the dark about Pat’s past, sort of ties everything together as she has a past of her own that she’s trying to heal from. I loved Pat and Tiffany together and as they got to know each other better, their two types of crazy just fit so well together. Theirs was a sweet relationship, one that worked so well because it was so incredibly flawed but so very, very human.

I listened to the audio of The Silver Linings Playbook, and narrator Ray Porter did an excellent job. The emotion in his voice was spot-on and in my head, he truly was Pat Peoples. I highly recommend the audio if you are going to read the book.

I did watch the movie, too, and I’m glad I waited until after I read the book because the movie is very different from the book. The basics are the same, but in the movie the big event that changed Pat’s life is revealed at the very beginning of the movie, and in the book it’s this big secret that the reader doesn’t learn about until the very end. I HIGHLY recommend reading the book first if you’re going to do both, because the movie would totally ruin the book for you otherwise (in my opinion of course). But the acting in the movie was, of course, fantastic, and I did enjoy the movie quite a bit.

The Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderfully sweet novel that really surprised me. I loved getting to know Pat Peoples and his story is one of forgiveness, redemption, and moving on in life when things don’t quite go your way. I highly recommend the novel and I look forward to reading more from Matthew Quick.

Mini-review binge

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Published by Random House

June Elbus is fourteen years old in 1987 when her beloved uncle Finn dies of AIDS. Her family can barely speak of the reason for his death, and they definitely don’t talk about the man they believe killed him by giving him the disease, his long-time partner Toby. When June begins a secret friendship with Toby, she learns of this whole other life that Finn had, a life he kept her completely out of, his life with Toby.

You guys, this book is everything. Heartbreaking, unflinchingly honest, great characters, perfect writing, EVERYTHING. I loved it and I need you to read it. I just wanted to reach through the pages and give this girl some love. So, so sad but so beautiful too. Please read it.

House of BathoryHouse of Bathory by Linda Lafferty
Published by Amazon Publishing

Elizabeth Bathory, a countess in the early 1600’s, ruled a castle in Slovakia, and rumor has it that she tortured and killed hundreds of young women, after which she would bathe in their blood to preserve her youth. Four hundred years later, Betsy Plath, a psychologist, is working with difficult teen Daisy Hart, when the two of them discover ties from the legend of Bathory to their own lives.

This book is why I love being in book clubs. I never would have picked this up on my own, it is totally not my thing, but I really, really liked it. The plot was intense and unique and, especially in the second half, like a thrill ride that I didn’t want to put down. My only complaint would be that the writing is far from perfect, but honestly I was so captivated by the craziness and the characters that I didn’t really care about the writing.

Eating AnimalsEating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Published by Little, Brown and Company

This book is by far the most compelling and well-written case against eating animals that I’ve ever read. I’ve always gone back and forth between wanting to go vegetarian and loving meat and Eating Animals might just have pushed me over the edge. Although I can’t quite get there all the way (I still eat seafood, eggs, and some dairy products), I haven’t eaten red meat, pork, or turkey since I started reading this book, and I’ve only had chicken a handful of times. I have to say, if you don’t want to question your meat-eating, I wouldn’t pick this one up, because it’s just that good, and it will force you to at least consider cutting down your meat consumption. But if you’re at all concerned about where your food comes from and the truth about how we treat animals at factory farms, Eating Animals is a must-read.

VirtuosityVirtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Published by Simon Pulse
Review copy received at SIBA 2012

Carmen is a teen prodigy, a violinist who is thisclose to winning the prestigious Guarneri competition. She decides one day to scope out her competition, Jeremy, and while she finds him arrogant and obnoxious, she can’t help falling for him a little, too. When the urge to be with Jeremy gets in the way of her competitive drive to win, she has to make an incredibly difficult choice.

I really liked this one and it’s stayed with me even though it’s been a while since I finished reading it. I felt deeply for Carmen, as the pressure her family and peers put on her to be the best became suffocating to the point that she had to take anti-anxiety medicine just to get through a violin lesson, let alone her performances. When she grew close with Jeremy, I rooted for them to figure out a way to be together, despite their circumstances. This really was a sweet YA novel that had some tough subjects wrapped up in that sweetness.