Monday, November 30, 2009

Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China.

Jen Lin-Liu is an American journalist and food writer living in Beijing, China. She decides to hone up on her cooking skills by taking Chinese cooking classes in a state run cooking school. Her adventures have lead to the book, Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China.

So is this book about Chinese cooking? Yes - but it is so much more. It is also a study of China today and where it is headed. It is about the ambition of it's people and where they have been. Who knew that one of the most important people that she meets is the secretary and caretaker of the school? This "non" teacher becomes Jen's guide to the China of yesteryear as well as her traditionalist cooking advisor and friend. As Jen discovers and learns about different regional cuisines, she travels and cooks in different areas and restaurants. Everything from your local small lunchtime noodle shop to the high class international restaurants of Shanghai.

A good book for Chinese food fans, history fans, and those who are trying to get a grasp on the Chinese culture today. After reading this, one has a better understanding of how the latest food scares out of China can happen and why they will probably continue. An excellent read.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A little Big Star

Paul Westerberg half sings, half croaks, "I never travel far, without a little Big Star" on the Replacements (tribute) song 'Alex Chilton' from their 1987 Pleased To Meet Me album. I can certainly see why he wouldn't want to. Big Star were an amazing, neglected 70s rock band from Memphis, TN and with the recent release of the Keep An Eye on the Sky box set, Big Star's name should be cemented in the skulls of rock fans far 'n wide for certain now. Similarly, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton should be taking their seats in the group photo for best songwriting duo(s) of all time. Ok, that probably won't happen, but maybe it should and the revision of history can begin with us, you and me. Ringing and chiming guitars, towering and crumbling bombast, fragile acoustic songs, it's all there. For a few short years and three albums, they were as simultaneously desperate and hopeful as any rock band on the planet. I've been on a steady diet of Big Star since this box set was released and I figure it's past time I spread the word so that somebody can join me. There's been so much written about them already that I couldn't top, I'll get you started with a couple of

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Offical Book Club Selection

Official Book Club Selection

by Kathy Griffin

“Are you there, Oprah? It’s me, Kathy”. She has made it no secret that she wants to be on the Oprah show and have her book become an official Oprah book club selection. This is her big chance to score that coveted book club endorsement that she has always wanted.

A funny honest look at Kathy Griffin, she writes like she talks and I found it entertaining and a great read, but being a fan I’m probably biased. Whether you’re a fan, you’ll respect her tenacity, work ethic and loyalty to her parents. It’s an honest intimate look at her life before and after she made it big, living in a dysfunctional family in suburban Illinois, her plastic surgery disasters to her highly publicized divorce.

Along the way, she shares her celebrity encounters on the red carpet and stories about her early years with Lisa Kudrow, Julia Sweeney, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz and Margret Cho just to name a few.

Check out the nifty reader’s guide provided at the end as a clue that there’s intellect, wit, politics, religion, romance, tragedy and plenty of gossip at work on these pages, which merit careful reading and reading between the lines.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Amelia Earhart: courageous and adventurous

Amelia Earhart has been a positive role model for women since the 1930's. The Library has twenty-three books, both adult and children's, on her life and mysterious death in 1937. The movie, "Amelia", in theatres now, is a biography of aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart and her fateful 1937 attempt to fly around the world. Hilary Swank, Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor star in this film.

There are many reasons for continuous interest in the life story of this courageous, adventurous, charismatic, talented, articulate, gracious and glamourous woman. Her fascination with aviation began in Topeka Kansas as a young girl. She was six years old when Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first sustained flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. Amelia was seventeen when her father took her to a Winter Air Tournament near Los Angeles. Her father arranged her first flight during which she knew she "had to fly." Lessons began soon thereafter.

She is most famous for her decision to fly around the world at its waistline. "Here was shining adventure," she said. Her route of 27,000 miles would be the longest world flight ever attempted. Fred Noonan, a respected and experienced navagator joined Amelia on the projected circling of the globe. On June l, 1937, after a first aborted attempt, Amelia Earhart began her second attempt to circumvent the world. The Navy and Coast Guard thought they were prepared to offer every aid near tiny Howland Island where their plane was scheduled to refuel. Amelia's last radioed message to the Navy ship, Itasca, "We are on the line of position 157-337...we are running north and south." Then there was silence. They had never been close.

A popular song in 1937 after Amelia Earhart's last flight ends:
"Happy landings to you Amelia Earhart.
Farewell first lady of the air."


Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Time of My Life

The Time of My Life
By Patrick Swayze

I have always been a big fan of Patrick Swayze. Who doesn’t remember Dirty Dancing and Ghost? In his career spanning over 30 years he shows us his versatility from the stage to the screen and onto television, he has become one of our most beloved actors.

I found the book simple and honest and his relationship with his wife Lisa Niemi shows great insight to how much he truly loved her, which is reflected throughout the book. Their simple principles, their love for each other and their bond together throughout there years in Hollywood is an inspiration for every married couple.

Patrick describes his early years with his Texas upbringing, his relationship with his mother, a choreographer, and very critical of Patrick and his siblings. He felt he could never measure up to her expectations and he also talks about how he use to get beat up because he wanted to become a ballet dancer, his breakthrough in North and South and also his acting experiences with Dirty Dancing and Ghost. He talks about his father’s death at 57 from a heart attack and his sister’s suicide which started his struggles with alcohol.

In February of 2008, Patrick was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He refused to let the disease bring him to his knees. Instead he chose to be a fighter where we saw his bravery which has inspired fans and cancer patients everywhere.

Although written in the final months of his life, the book does not concentrate on his illness, but portrays a man who looks back on his life with appreciation, admiration for his loving wife and the legacy he had become and soon left behind.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First in Food Writing

After seeing the very popular movie Julie & Julia, I started thinking about the food writing trend. I thought about all the food books that came before and I loved every one of them. So I began thinking about which one was the first one, and I remembered Like Water for Chocolate. It was originally written in Spanish Como agua para chocolate by Mexican author Laura Esquivel. It was a huge hit in Spanish and in English in the early nineties and if you like food reading and writing it should not be passed over. The reader is drawn to the recipes and the food which assumes a sort of magical quality. The book was adapted for the screen with the same title and is a good interpretation of the book.

Here is a short list of other good food writing, both fiction and nonfiction.

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser
Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran
Pomegranate Soup By Marsha Mehran

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gym Candy by Carl Deuker

If you are into sports novels, especially ones that involve teens, then this is a great read for you! Gym Candy, set in a town near Seattle, the book focuses on a 15 year old named Mick who eats, sleeps, and breathes football for not only himself but for his father. Though Mick had a lot of talent, he still wasn't up to par when it came to playing for his high school team. With his father constantly pushing him, telling him that Football is Life, Mick started on a healthy road to success---by working out at a gym that his dad recommended and set him up in. Being a failed NFL player himself as a youth, Mike Johnson wanted nothing more than for his son's name to be up in lights someday, so anything he could do to lead him down that path he would certainly do. Mick first started with harmless power shakes and vitamins, but it spiraled out of control with the introduction of "gym candy" a.k.a. steroids. This gave him strength and a sense of power he never had, all the while making his dad proud of him. Mick eventually gets caught up in big-time trouble and ends up shooting himself in the head, and then immediately going to drug rehab for his addiction. A super read for a young adult, and one that is on the 2010 Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award nomination titles list. Not only great for boys, but for girls, both athletes and not. Smooth and interesting even for those who are not into sports.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Opera for the Millions II

The next half of our Chicago Lyric education series is also filled with wonderful stories and intrigue. Within 3 1/2 years of its premiere, The Merry Widow was performed more than 18,000 times in German, english, and American theaters.

Donizetti wasn't one to slave over every note, fussily revising and rewriting - he wrote The Elixir of Love in two weeks. On February 24, 1988, Luciano Pavarotti (tenor) received 165 curtan calls and was applauded for 1 hour 7 minutes after singing in Gaetano Donizetti's E 'Elisir 'Amore at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Germany.

"Did you know that Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838) provided Mozart with the inspiration for Don Giovanni,The Marriage of Figaro, and Cosi fan tutte. Da Ponte was a Venetian priest who fathered a child with a maried woman, was run out of town, moved to Vienna, forged a letter of introduction, passed himself off as a librettist, worked with Mozart, had several affairs with leading divas, moved to London, got heavily into debt, and fled to New York, where he started a grocery story and the Italian department at Columbia University. It's safe to say that Lorenzo da Ponte is the greatest librettist ever to be burried in Queens." (Opera for Dummies)

Did you also know that Mozart's real name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.

Come hear more stories and music in the Maynard Room, given by a docent from the Chicago Lyric Education Corps.

The Merry Widow by Lehar - Wednesday, November 18
The Elixir of Love by Donizetti - Thursday, January 14
The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz - Thursday, February 11
The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart - Thursday, February 18