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Powell's Q&A | September 3, 2014

Emily St. John Mandel: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Emily St. John Mandel

Describe your latest book. My new novel is called Station Eleven. It's about a traveling Shakespearean theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North... Continue »
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    Station Eleven

    Emily St. John Mandel 9780385353304


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takingadayoff has commented on (26) products.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child

takingadayoff, August 12, 2012

ANOTHER bio of Julia Child? Is there anything else worth saying? Yes! What Bob Spitz reveals in Dearie, even as he shows great affection for Julia, is Julia's Evil Twin. We are accustomed to reading about the irreverent Julia, who brings a blowtorch to the kitchen to finish off the creme brulee or who sends Valentine's Day cards of herself and husband Paul naked in a bubble bath. What we haven't heard about until now is the Julia who walked off the Live With Regis and Kathie Lee Show in a fury. The Julia who hired a ruthless and unpleasant lawyer to act as her agent, to the distress of her longtime colleagues who had to deal with the agent. The Julia who drove Jacques Pepin to fits of swearing by making unannounced last minute critical changes to their joint live and TV appearances, to his on-air consternation. The homophobic Julia, who to her credit, would later change her opinions.

Dearie clocks in at over 500 pages, and it never felt bloated or too long. The Julia Child that emerges from it is focused and ambitious. She knew that her fame, and therefore her success, was based on her being on TV, on being in the public eye. She was protecting her brand before anyone thought to use that now overworked term. This may not be the most likeable Julia Child you've read about, but it's well-documented, gripping, and very revealing.
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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Steve Jobs

takingadayoff, January 1, 2012

It lives up to the hype! Biographer Walter Isaacson doesn't pull many punches. He paints a Steve Jobs who is prickly, unpleasant, petulant, and possibly a genius. Or maybe he was just quirky. In any case, it's a great read.
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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

takingadayoff, September 19, 2011

Only seventeen years after the assassination of Lincoln traumatized the nation, madman Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield. The wound was survivable, indeed, many Civil War veterans sustained similar wounds and lived normal lives. But in the confusion surrounding the shooting of a president, one of the few doctors who did not subscribe to the principle of sterilizing hands and medical equipment managed to intimidate everyone into allowing him to take charge of the President's medical care.

Candice Millard tells the story in a clear narrative way that was so full of fascinating details that I kept stopping to check facts. How did she know what Guiteau was thinking or that Vice President Chester Arthur was in tears? Were these colorful speculations that the author tossed in using artistic license? Not at all. Every statement is backed up by endnotes. Millard consulted diaries, letters, court testimony, newspaper accounts and she documents everything rigorously.

I usually find 19th century history a bit of a snooze, but Destiny of the Republic had me hooked from the start.
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Julia Child's the French Chef (Spin Offs) by Dana B Polan
Julia Child's the French Chef (Spin Offs)

takingadayoff, April 26, 2011

In Julia Child's The French Chef, Professor Dana Polan begins in traditional scholarly style (this is a university press publication, after all) by launching a long introduction that outlines the book. Once he's completed that requirement, the rest of the book is a two-course treat. First, Polan takes a look at the the social influences of the time leading up to The French Chef. What were the movies, the trends, the pastimes that made people receptive to the idea of learning to cook French food at home? The second part examines the influence that The French Chef had on America.

Much of the first part is a social history of the early days of television in America, with an emphasis on locally produced cooking shows. You might have thought that The French Chef was one of the first cooking shows on TV, but Polan describes a history that predates The French Chef by a couple of decades. It's an offbeat history, including surprises such as a blind chef aided on air by her 10-year-old son and a young Ernie Kovacs as emergency substitute host on a local cooking show.

In the second part, Polan dissects The French Chef in detail, from its concept to the several variations over the years. Polan includes minutiae such as correspondence between the Childs and the producers at WGBH, the grocery receipts Julia Child submitted for reimbursement, and flyers inviting viewers to attend tapings of the show.

The details are pretty interesting, I must admit, but so are the more general observations that Polan makes, such as that Julia Child wasn't just a cooking show host, she was a TV host, on a par with Captain Kangaroo, Jack LaLanne, and Vampira. And although she wasn't assuming an alter-ego, she was playing a role of sorts, as she even acknowledged when she referred to "the performance of me."

Polan notes that for all her emphasis on preparing French food, Julia Child embodied American-ness. She was large and energetic and confident. She seemed friendly and unaffected. Despite not fitting any of the usual TV stereotypes, she became incredibly popular. Do-it-yourself and How-to are as American as apple pie, even if you are showing your audience how to make tarte tatin.

Julia Child was also about hard work. She and husband Paul teamed up to create what became an industry, what would later be called a brand, and the brand was Julia Child. Starting with the bestseller Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she jumped at the chance to host her own cooking show and promoted it enthusiastically. She wrote magazine articles and newspaper columns and in 1972 she promoted an early version of the video cassette player. The French Chef was the first PBS program to feature captioning for the hearing-impaired.

Julia Child's The French Chef is big, exuberant, down-to-earth, a lot of fun, extrememly informative, and pays serious attention to detail and research. I think Julia Child would have approved.
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Drawing Conclusions (Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries) by Donna Leon
Drawing Conclusions (Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries)

takingadayoff, March 11, 2011

After the disappointing A Question of Belief and About Face, I had resolved to quit reading Donna Leon's new books and go back to her excellent first mysteries. The way she combined social issues with fast-paced detective work in the early books was irresistible. My favorite was her first -- Death at La Fenice.

Then her books started to emphasize the social issues more than the mysteries until in the last few books the murders seemed to take a back seat. I stopped reading about halfway through A Question of Belief when there had been no apparent crime yet.

In Drawing Conclusions, there is a dead body very quickly and when Brunetti takes the call, he suspects that it may not have been an accidental death. There are clues and suspicious characters in abundance and the story moves briskly in police procedural fashion. Along with Brunetti, we consider the evidence, imagine possible scenarios, weigh motives and opportunities.

And don't worry, Leon hasn't lost her social conscience - elder care and domestic violence play prominent roles in the story.

With help from Signorina Ellettra and despite the usual obstructions from his superior, Vice-Questore Patta, Brunetti comes to a conclusion that is somewhat unorthodox by traditional mystery standards, but completely satisfying. Welcome back, Donna Leon!
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