Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kitchen Confidential

This weekend, our bookclub met in Orillia, Ontario to discuss Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. The ironic thing about this is that our book club consists of four near-vegans, one vegetarian who doesn't eat wheat, and one omnivore nutritionist, and Mr. Bourdain is one of the more notorious anti-vegetarians out there, as discussed in this post on my veggie blog.

Out of the five of us who finished the book, three of us quite enjoyed it, while the other two got bored halfway through (he does mine the same ground a bit too often). Another fault of the book is that a few of the chapters near the end seemed out of place... articles he'd written for magazines which got lumped into this book for the hell of it. Overall though, if you take a deep breath and ignore his vegetarian views, this is a very enjoyable book.

Here are some discussion questions, or book club questions, I put together for this book:

a) In an interview attached at the end of the book, Bourdain's publisher gushes "writers have the voice or they don't have it. You have it in a big way. you could have written a book on flower arrangement and people would have been as admiring and fanatic about it."
How good a writer is Bourdain? Were there any moments when you were wincing and wanting to skip ahead a few paragraphs?

b) Does this book have a climax? (For example the "Day in the Life" chapter?)

c) Dismissing the restaurant/food focus of the book, does Kitchen Confidential work as a bildungsroman? A story of a boy's growth into manhood?

d) In the introduction, Bourdain talks about how his book has scared some people AWAY from being a cook, and inspired others to say "yeah that's for me!" Does K.C. make you feel more or less attracted to this profession?

e) Kitchen Confidential is marketed as being the "sex drugs and rock and roll" story of life as a cook - does Bourdain actually make being a cook sound cool?

f) Bourdain positions himself as a champion of the Latin American migrant cooking staff. Do you believe this? Does he really strike you as being compassionate towards his staff?

g) Did you learn anything that you're going to keep in mind and remember the next time that you eat out? Anything that surprised you? For example, the "don't eat fish on Mondays" story, or the "don't order a well-done steak," or "your bread was probably recycled from another table."

h) Does Bourdain make you envision cooking as a type of artistry or as a type of mindless manual labour? Is Bourdain an artist or a mechanic?

i) On page 4, (second page of the Appetizer chapter, Bourdain outlines what he wishes to accomplish with this book. For example... I'd like to convey the strange delights of the language, patois, and death's head sense of humor found on the front lines.
Does he succeed with the goals he sets out for himself on this page?

j) On vegetarianism:
Does Bourdain really understand the vegetarian argument? For example, the three big ones of going veggie for personal health reasons, environmental reasons, moral reasons regarding the treatment of animals? Does he really understand these arguments, and disagrees with them? Or does he have a preconceived notion of vegetarians as whining pussies, and finds it funny to attack this stereotype of vegetarians and conveniently ignores their true reasons for being vegetarian?

Friday, March 23, 2007

David Sedaris - Naked

The pick last night was Naked by David Sedaris.
Laura, Mark, Danielle, Annalise and I atteneded.

I couldn't find any discussion questions so I made a few up:

  • How would you feel if you were one of Sedaris's siblings, and were the subject of one of his stories? Would you feel violated at all?

  • Do you believe that the stories are all true? How would you feel if you were told that they were largely fabrications?

  • Describe David Sedaris the person in three words.

  • Does Sedaris ever truly attack anyone? Think of Jon in "C.O.D.", Dupont in "Something for everyone", T.W. (the drunk truck driver) in "Planet of the Apes", does Sedaris attack them?

  • How big a part of Sedaris's humour is his homosexuality? Does it provide him a special view of the world which makes him funny? Does it provide him his basic material?

  • Compare Sedaris's portrayal of his mother vs. his father.

And, if you're doing this book, try to find an article by Alex Heard called "This American Lie." It appeared in the March 19, 2007 "New Republic".
Heard goes out and tries to find out how much is actually true in Naked. Sedaris himself freely admits that he "expands" a lot of the events and dialogue to make them funny.

Quick rundown of books

We haven't been updating this blog at all, but here's a list of the books we've done over the last while, to the best of my memory.

  • Claire - Roy Macgregor - Canoe Lake

  • Claire - Russell Martin - Picasso's War

  • Laura - Arundhati Roy - God of Small Things

  • Annalise - Sylvia Townsend Warner - Mr. Fortune's Maggot

  • Mark - Cory Doctorow - Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

  • Mark - Yukio Mishima - Spring Snow

  • Jeff - Graham Greene - Graham Greene

  • Danielle - Sarah Waters - Fingersmith

  • Cindy - Barbara Gowdy - The White Bone

  • Chris - David Mitchell - Number9dream

  • Annalise - Jose Saramago - Blindness

  • Danielle - Miriam Toews - A Complicated Kindness

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Blindness - June 2005

Ok I have no idea how this works and Chris isn't here to help me! I hope I'm not accidentally hacking into some secure government server that's gonna get me killed. Maybe I've been watching too much Alias this week. Hmmm. So, I'm here to post a re-cap of our June 2005 book, Blindness by Jose Saramago. Natasha kindly offered her patio on a warm evening late in June for us to discuss this book. We had an interesting discussion about the plausability of the book's plot...namely, that blindness becomes a contagious epidemic plaguing an entire country...or the world (it's not quite clear)....and the pure chaos that ensues. I'm having trouble recalling what each person thought about the book, but I think that Danielle and I were onto something rather brilliant...anyone remember more details?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Group Member MishMash

Part of Danielle's 28th birthday party, and... the contrasting effects of a Bon Jovi song?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Group Members at Karaoke!

Yes, when we're not reading we're lounging around in Karaoke bars ~ what a bunch of prima donnas!

Group Members - Chris and Danielle

Is it really fair to tease a guy just because he has separate "I'm here" and "I'm going home" pants??

Group Members - Annalise and Chris

Annalise and Chris

Group Members - Natasha, Danielle, Claire, Chris

Graduating! left to right = Natasha, Danielle, Christine (honourary member), Claire, Natalie (honourary member).

Curling! Clockwise from top left = Matt (honourary member), Chris, Laura, Rod and Amy (honourary members), Danielle and Natasha.

The Now Lounge: left to right = Natasha, Danielle, Claire, Christine (honourary member).

Group Members - Mark and Danielle

The Winnipegers! Mark and Danielle.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Enduring Love - Summer 2005

Host = Chris
Book = Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
Location = Natasha's Place
Present = Mark, Danielle, Natasha, Annalise, Claire, Chris
Food = Pizza

Natasha kindly hosted this one at her house and we sat on the back porch on a summer evening discussing one of this Booker Prize winning author's earlier books.
Despite all the awards and acclaim McEwan has had, I had only read one book by him previously, his Booker Winner Amersterdam. I really and truly hated Amersterdam, but McEwan was supposed to be a bit more dark and violent as a younger author, and almost everyone else I knew liked him, so I was pretty open to giving him another chance when I chose Enuring Love for my next title.
I didn't "hate" Enduring Love, but I didn't like it very much either, and I'm never giving McEwan another chance. (Well, never say "never" but his books are going to be WAY down my "to read" list from here on out).
I don't think the book club as a whole really dug Enduring Love. Despite a plot which had a stalker breaking up the relationship of a man and woman, there wasn't really much of an emotional draw with the book, and none of the characters were all that captivating.

Life of Pi - Summer 2004

Host = Chris
Book = Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Location = Toronto Islands
Present = Chris, Mark, Danielle, Roni, (roni's friend), Nancy, Kristen, Claire?
Food = Miscellany of Picnic things, including crackers and cheese

Not wanting this rowdy group in his living space, Chris made them take a ferry all the way to the Toronto Islands to discuss Martel's Life of Pi. We took picnic snacks and ate merrily in the sunshine over on the islands. The book was generally well received. Nobody hated it, and some of us quite liked it.
I found Pi's love of all religions early in the book pretty interesting, and the interview at the end with the Japanese shipping agents really cracked me up.
The most interesting thing about the book however is how the author puts the onus on the reader to decide which set of "facts," or which "story," he/she wants to believe. Although the book's main story (Pi on the raft with the animals) is obviously the dominant and most interesting story, there is a totally plausible alternate story which is actually far more believable, and Martel kind of says "Here you go ~ You decide!"