October 31, 2002

laurielikesbooks Blog for October 2002

laurielikesbooks.blog-city.com — October 2002

laurielikesbooks.blog-city.com — October 2002

A Whine

I'm going to apologize up front for the whininess of this blogging. I've been bummed out for a day now, which I know is ridiculous, but I am regardless. Here's why: yesterday I discovered purely by chance that a link to AAR had been removed from the web site of an author whom I've known online for the better part of a decade. While she still visits AAR almost daily, she writes that removing the link was a sort of silent protest on her part for our posting of our very controversial Lost in Your Arms review.

She and I had exchanged a few emails at the time of our posting of the review earlier this year, and I assumed we were going to agree to disagree, but that our fundamental relationship would stay the same. She even participated in an ATBF segment at some point after the review went online; had I known how disappointed she was in AAR I would never have asked for her help.

When I discovered the link had gone missing, it didn't take a genius to figure out why, and since I'm a blunt person, I came out and asked her directly. She answered me equally directly and we exchanged several emails throughout yesterday afternoon and evening trying to work through the problem. I don't know that we have... or that we will. I do know I feel quite badly about the whole thing and wish I'd known the extent of her disappointment with AAR from her personally so that we could have worked through this - or at least tried to work through this - sooner.

One of my strengths is also a weakness. I try to be a moral person and do the right thing without judging other people. I come through on the first part of that equation more often than I do the latter. Taking the high moral ground sometimes leads me into being self-righteous. When I watched the PBS's Frontier House earlier this year, I watched in horror as Karen Glenn became increasingly self-righteous and petty as the project progressed. I hope that in those instances when I take the high moral ground and start to feel too good about it, I'm not being as righteously indignant as she was.

Having lived now through 41 years, I realize that life is not black and white. Instead life is filled in by shades of gray that often leave things in a hopeless muddle. I'm not necessarily happy about that, but I accept it. When members of my personal circle of family and friends do things that go against my personal code of ethics, I try very hard to leave disappointment out of the equation, to accept that I cannot force my morality onto them. If I'm asked to help solve a problem that was created by a bad decision someone made, I try not to fall into the "I told you so" trap, but instead attack the problem and try to help them resolve it, which of course leads to another of my strengths and weaknesses - I never give up. While this means I often solve problems others would have given up on, I can also be like a dog with a bone - not a pretty picture. Not every problem can be "solved."

But because I tend to set the bar very high (just ask my daughter), it's unusual for me to feel as though I disappointed somebody else in terms of something I did... at least somebody I care about. It's not a good feeling, nor is it a good mental place to be. I hope I can find my way out of it quickly.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

It's Tough to be a Grown-Up

I had this wonderful blogging all written out in my mind as of Saturday morning. That's when things went wrong. On Friday morning my husband, daughter, and I flew from Dallas into LAX for my nephew's bar mitzvah. Technically he's my first cousin once
I had this wonderful blogging all written out in my mind as of Saturday morning. That's when things went wrong.

On Friday morning my husband, daughter, and I flew from Dallas into LAX for my nephew's bar mitzvah. Technically he's my first cousin once removed (and my daughter's second cousin), but his father was more like a much older brother to me throughout my entire life, and his wife like a very cool older sister. Their son is in many ways much like my daughter, so even though there's three years between them in age, they get along extremely well.

There was never any doubt in my mind that we'd take this brief trip to celebrate his important day - one of the things he and my daughter share is a love for ritual and tradition. He'd taken an active part in planning his bar mitzvah for many, many years, and his parents worked hard to give him exactly the day he wanted. We understood that, which is why, as I wrote this blogging in my head Saturday morning, it even had a title - The Watch.

What do you give a boy who, according to Jewish tradition, is becoming a man, a boy who is so smart it's scary, a boy who marches to a different drummer, a boy for whom people, places, and events have more meaning than they do for the average person? What do you give a boy who "gets," really gets the whole bar mitzvah thing? The traditional government bond wouldn't do, nor would a nice pen suffice.

As in all things about good men, I looked to my husband, and immediately thought of one of his favorite watches, one he'd had for years and years. My nephew looks up to my husband - and I don't blame him. One reason my husband is so special is that he "gets" it too. This watch of his, one of many, actually, for he collects not only watches but fountain pens (and uses them daily, and not pretensiously), was given to him by his parents. Expensive? Yes. Flashy? No. But it's a "man's" watch, a traditional watch, a watch that reminds you of your father - you know, the man with that special scent, the man who carried a hankie in his pocket and lent it to his wife or daughter when she needed it.

My husband may not carry a hankie, but he is one of those wonderful men who make the best husbands and fathers. It's true he's smart, sexy, and good-looking, but he's also a great husband and father because my daughter and I can look to him to care for us, to keep us safe when we cannot do so for ourselves. Just as my husband knows I would do anything to defend him, care for him, and love him, I know he will do the same for me, and the same for our daughter. When he signed on, it was for life. Some women might find that boring... I find it romantic.

As sad as it sounds, the idea of a lifelong commitment between a man and woman sounds has a quaint, old-fashioned ring to it that I resent. Not long ago I had a conversation with my daughter about a news report we were listening to on the radio about the children of divorce. I remember telling her how sad it was that some of her friends' parents were divorced when she said it was "no big deal." Well, I happen to disagree with that. Divorce may be common, which is what I think she meant, but that doesn't mean it's not a big deal.

Lots of people look at marriage the way they do jobs or career paths; it's just a step along the way of the rest of their lives. They don't see it as a life-long commitment. Just as there are starter houses, now there apparently are starter marriages. One reason I read romance novels is because they feature marriage for life. I don't read a romance novel for a short-term HEA. I read a romance because the relationship is going to last forever. I've been with my husband now for well over half my life. I'd never say we've got it made and that we won't need to work on things in the future because I know we will; we have in the past. But we have common goals as far as our commitments to each other and our family are concerned, and are helpmeets for life for each other. (And it certainly doesn't hurt that we genuinely enjoy one another's company, make each other laugh, and have a terrific sex life.)

My husband's watch is a symbol of all of that for me; it is beautiful in its understatement, in its dependibility, in its tradition. When his parents gave it to him, they knew he would cherish it forever, just as I know that my nephew understands a bar mitzvah is not simply a ceremony to endure in order to get to the party and the presents. I've known both kinds of kids and discerning this difference isn't all that difficult. When my nephew opened his gift box at dinner after Friday night services, he said, "Wow...a real watch!" Had I given that same watch to two other young men I know, they'd have been disappointed in the watch's lack of gizmos and wondered why it didn't also translate English into French or tell the time in seven different zones.

My nephew's bar mitzvah was at the most lovely temple I've ever seen. It looks more like the old churches you find in Greece than a temple a mere few minutes from Beverly Hills. Friday night's services were held in a tiny chapel on the second floor, not far from the temple's collection of silver spice boxes (if you've ever seen antique, ornate salt cellars in a European museum, you'll have an idea what these looked like). The chapel couldn't have held more than 50 people, and my nephew sang his prayers in a beautiful, unchanged voice. After the service had concluded, we went to dinner, he opened his gift, and we all had a wonderful dinner, with terrific food, wine, and the enjoyment of each others' company. That's where The Watch was to have ended - nice "life event" story, warmed cockels, etc.

Unfortunately, The Watch didn't end here; instead, my little homily should be renamed It's Tough to be a Grown-Up. Our intimate family evening became "Guess Who Wasn't Invited to Dinner," our attendance at the bar mitzvah was treated as the second coming, hurtful things were said in public by people with hurt feelings, phones were slammed down in anger, and a family feud was born.

The toughest thing about watching a family feud ignite is that those watching the flames can see both sides quite clearly but cannot articulate them during the inevitable "take sides" discussions that occur in the aftermath. One of my mottos is "It's tough to be a grown-up," and it really is. My philosophy at all family events is to expect nothing; if something turns out well, it's a bonus to be enjoyed. I expect to suck it up, bite my tongue, go with the flow, and stay under the radar. I think that's part of being a grown-up and while it may sound rather cold-blooded, the disassociative path allows me to keep my sense of humor when I want to scream instead.

I'm a firm believer that a sense of humor is the best defense to being with family. As far as I'm concerned, the family survival guide is a tautology of sorts; you've got to be a grown-up when with family, but one of God's little ironies is that being with family makes us act like children.

It's a good thing my husband understands this as well, for at one point during the weekend I became a child myself and he had to rescue me in a very big way. He now gets what he wants for 20 years... or the next time we go to a "life event" for his side of the family, another family feud erupts in the midst of five or six formal meals, picture sittings, or ceremonies, I'm asked to take sides, and am forced to "suck it up" above and beyond the call of duty.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Yarbro, Gaiman, & Krahn

I read three books while out of town this past weekend. The first was the recent reissue of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Hotel Transylvania. Originally released in 1978, the book was the first in a series about the vampire, known in this book as Count Rago
I read three books while out of town this past weekend. The first was the recent reissue of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Hotel Transylvania. Originally released in 1978, the book was the first in a series about the vampire, known in this book as Count Ragoczy Saint-Germain. The series jumps back and forth through various periods in history with Saint-Germain taking different names in each book.

The page at Yabro's website devoted to her Saint-Germain series lists the following titles:

  • Hotel Transylvania - 1743 France
  • The Palace - Renaissance Italy
  • Blood Games - Reign of Nero
  • Path of the Eclipse - China, Tibet, and India in late 1100's/early 1200's
  • Tempting Fate - Russia and Germany between WWI and WWII
  • The Saint-Germain Chronicles - Short stories during much of 1900's
  • Darker Jewels - Poland/Russia during reign of Ivan the Terrible
  • Better in the Dark - Medieval Germany
  • Mansions of Darkness - Pre-Columbian South and Central America
  • Writ in Blood - A prequel to Tempting Fate
  • Blood Roses - Medieval France during the Black Plague
  • Communion Blood - 13th century Rome
  • Come Twilight - Spain in the Dark Ages
  • A Feast in Exile - 14th century India
  • Night Blooming - Dark Ages France

There are four related titles as well, and one is about the female protagonist of Hotel Transylvania. Its name is Out of the House of Life. Why I'm providing all this information I don't really know because I didn't much care for Hotel Transylvania and can't imagine reading the remainder of the series. Touted for fans of Anne Rice, Laurell K. Hamilton, and with a blurb by Charlaine Harris, I expected quite a different book than the one I read. Set in Paris in 1743, the book is less a vampire book than a book about a group of Satanists trying to gain power in France. Though this is a sub-plot, it intertwines with the main plot surrounding the debut of a brilliant and beautiful young noblewoman and her involvement with the heroic Saint-Germain. Alchemy and the making of diamonds provide additional sub-plots that could have provided more interest than they did. There's little of Saint-Germain's vampire essence to draw the reader in until close to the end of the book, and as a vampire, I found him wanting. Here's a vampire who doesn't need to avoid sunlight, and other than a little foreplay, he doesn't suck the blood out of anybody. As revolting as the Satanists were, they were the most interesting part of the story, although if I read another book featuring evil homosexuals, I'll dent my walls. I doubt I'll be reading further books in this series.

Based on my daughter's recommendation, I also read Neil Gaiman's Coraline. This is a book that has gotten raves everywhere; my daughter gave it a grade of B+, so I went into it with pretty high expectations even though I find Gaiman an uneven author (witness my earlier blogging about American Gods).

I quite enjoyed Neverwhere, Good Omens, and the short story Snow, Glass, Apples, and thought his first children's book, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, was pretty fun. But I couldn't get into some of his other short stories, and thought Coraline wasn't so much scary as it was grodie.

Coraline is a young girl who has moved with her parents into part of an old house. Her neighbors are quite eccentric, and one day she wanders into a sort of parallel world that at first seems like a lot of fun. Things are not as they seem, however, and soon she is trying to free the souls of lost children and her parents so they can all escape the clutches of an evil black button-eyed creature. I think it was the ending that bothered me most - if you've ever seen a scary movie and discover that, after the "bad stuff" is supposed to be over and instead there are a final few ultra-creepy moments, you'll know what I mean.

Although my daughter's already read the book twice, I couldn't wait to finish the book for my one and only reading.

I read a third book while away this past weekend, one that I had bought without realizing it was a reissue under a different name. But since I'd been wanting to try a book by Betina Krahn, I didn't much mind. And even though it was written in the sort of "old style" romance I generally don't enjoy, I read this book in close to one sitting, breaking only to wipe my eyes.

I hate to leave you all hanging, but I'm going to save discussion about this book for the October 15th At the Back Fence column.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Behind the Scenes

I've got a some site-related things on my mind that are most definitely "behind the scenes" items to get off my chest. The first is that many of our recent reviews appear to be quite controversial in that the readers posting about them on our Reviews Message Board seem to disagree w/our assessments. This seems to be something I'm noticing more and more. I can't say whether it's really happening more, or that we've just got more squeaky wheels given the site's growing popularity. It's something to keep an eye on. We've got two new reviewers joining us soon as three go on hiatus. We'll see what happens.

We posted a wonderful DIK Review last week for an author who seemed quite geniunely pleased with the review, only the one minor criticism our reviewer had is what she's publically posting about. I'm not really sure why I find this irritating, but I do. A more glowing review you'll rarely read at AAR. Oh well.

One of our long-term advertisers has suffered some setbacks and may be ending her campaign with us. This is most definitely a bad thing, but I'm going to try and work it out with her so that this valuable exposure for her can continue and this valuable revenue stream for us can go on as well. Since Amazon commissions are so much lower than they were last year at this time and we had the outlay for AAR Bookbags, and fewer people seem to be donating via our Freeware Program, this is the last thing we need. I hope she'll change her mind.

Mrs. Giggles and I exchanged emails over the weekend about how Yahoo has switched its search engine and is now using the Google technology. We were higher up on Yahoo's results for the "romance novel" keyword than we've been at Google, so I hope some slight changes to our home page and a request to sites that link to us asking that they include the term "romance novel" in our site description will help.

We've been having our best months ever; September 2002 saw a 42% increase in unique visitors over September 2001, but apparently the changes didn't take effect until October. I'd hate to see our momentum slowed down because of this; I'm going to assume that because we have so many pages online that we'll maintain a good level at Google.

Finally, I got a disconcerting tip today regarding a large discount retailer who might not be stocking a book we gave DIK status to because of the book's content. I don't want to go into more detail until I get a response from the retailer and possibly their distributor; I started that process today and will report back when I know something definitive. We've heard reports in the past about books not being shelved at this chain because of their covers, but content is entirely another kettle of fish.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

What's the Big Deal?

My life since Monday has been mostly one major frustration after another, although a couple of good things did happen in the midst of the frustrating. Good things first - the author who had delinked to AAR (see my earlier blogging) has changed her mind and will be relinking. I'm glad that fence has been mended; it took effort on both our parts but I think it was worth it. The other good thing is that an author who really considers me the devil incarnate (and AAR presumably the devil's tool) wrote me a very nice email this morning regarding my coverage of what I'll call "the WalMart incident." Now for the bad - "the WalMart incident" has become so frustrating for me that I'm alternating between wanting to rip my hair out and wishing I'd never gotten involved in the story.

Let me explain. At the end of my last blogging, I mentioned that I was working on a story about a large discount retailer refusing to stock a book because they were concerned about its hijacking content. Since then, I've written a story about it and roughly 90% of the reader response on our message boards has been quite hostile to my concern about the issue.

Reading through all the posts on the Reviews MB, reading posts on several discussion lists about it, and hearing AAR's staff talk about it certainly helped me better understand the point I was trying to make, but it appears that, for the most part, nobody really cares. My husband, whom I can usually count on to help me work through a brain teaser like this, told me he understands I am upset, but doesn't understand why. He's a kind of litmus test for me, so I've accepted at this point that I'm never going to convince people that the slippery slope for this is a dangerous one for readers of romance novels.

It's frustrating because I've been saying since 1996 that the reduction in distributors and publishers for books can only lead to mediocrity as far as reading choices are concerned. Which is why I'm so very bothered by the fact that WalMart/Anderson Merchandising is not shelving Susan Grant's Contact because it contains a hijacking theme.

Part of the problem in trying to frame the issue is that I was initially quite limited in what I could report without revealing a source and/or stating something difficult to prove. Because of that, even though it's now been fairly conclusively presented that yes, the book is not being sold because of content - which I find a scary prospect and a form, yes, of censorship - many people will not believe that's the true reason. And they look at the official response from the retailer and accept it at face value, even though the very fact that the statement was written so ambiguously lends credence to the original charge - that they and/or their distributor refused to stock the book because they feared some sort of backlash from readers. After all, I asked a couple of point-blank questions and neither was answered. If the book truly was not stocked because of its content, why just not say so?

The fact that there are fewer distributors and publishers out there means that those with big pockets grow to have more and more clout. In essence, this incident scares me because I think it's quite possible books in the future may not be published because publishers fear distributors/giant retailers won't sell the books not because of their quality, but because of their content. It's not as though the book advocated something violent, was salacious, or obscene. One has to wonder why the retailer/distributor thought a book written by a pilot of 747's with a military background that included an alien hijacking would so upset women that they would either ask that the book be banned from the stores or would, what, boycott the stores? "Why, I do declare...why bother my pretty little air head with something that might remind me of September 11. I'm just a poor, defenseless woman who needs somebody to protect me from a book I might otherwise read."

I've been bombarded with questions about just why this incident got my dander up when the retailer regularly excludes other books for sexual content or sexual covers and won't sell certain CD's. Well, it's because I can understand not wanting to sell sexually provocative books (even though I don't agree with it). To me that's quite different from not selling a this book.

The Cassandra in me is frustrated that few of our readers see that this is potentially a big step down the slippery slope. Do I want this retailer/distributor having an influence on what books I can read down the line? As they continue to grow in size, they will continue to grow in influence. Remember the old line, "What's good for General Motors is good for America?" Well, what if pretty soon it's "What's good for WalMart is good for America?" To me that's a scary prospect. Even though I'm going to follow up on one last lead on this story, it's kept me up for two nights now, and that's two nights too many. I've simply got to let it go.

I do appreciate the private email from various authors and readers, and particularly appreciate AAR's own Sandi Morris because she "gets it." What I don't appreciate is an unnamed reader who thank goodness doesn't darken AAR's door anymore, but still delights in getting in her shots at other venues. She took quite a nasty potshot yesterday and I'm petty enough to admit I enjoyed the comedown she received in response from Susan Grant herself, who confirmed our story as accurate. I'm always amazed at the people who think we're evil, unprofessional bitches but can't stay away regardless.

Well, that's enough for me tonight. I need to prepare for the meeting I have in the morning with a web company that may finish our database project. And, even though we had a screaming fight tonight over homework, I can't forget that my daughter's almost through with the first quarter of her new school year. She got herself elected as class VP, had her idea accepted for the class project (to raise money for the "orphanage" for the vet clinic where we adopted one of our cats), and got A's on her two most recent tests. In balance, I'd say things could definitely be worse.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

A Review in my In-Box

I've said in earlier bloggings that reading an enthusiastic review for a new book is one of my great joys in publishing AAR. That said, and call me a total bitch if you will, but reading a well-written D or F review can really brighten my day as well.

A review just landed in my in-box of a highly anticipated book by an author whose writing I don't care for. But since my tastes are often contrary to many on our staff, I had no idea what to expect when I saw that the review was of this particular book. As Blythe assigns all books, I rarely know who's been assigned which books until I see the reviews themselves. That's the way it should be, and it provides me with a sense of being a kid on Christmas morning; reading our reviews is often like opening a present because they can be so well written, informative, and fun.

Let me just say that the reviewer doesn't seem to care for this author any more than I do, and the review was written with such joie de vivre that even if I disagreed with her, I'd still have loved the review. Sandy Coleman's recent review of the upcoming Judith Ivory, for instance, was so wonderfully written that even though I don't read her books, I was as caught up in the review as Ivory's greatest fan would be, and look forward to its release even though I won't be buying it myself. Not only that, I hope it sells like mad!

Oh dear...did I just out myself? I like Judith Ivory tremendously; when I met her many years ago and had the chance to pick her brain about the ins-and-outs of romance publishing, I came away from that meeting thinking she damn creative, smart, fun, funny, honest, trustworthy, and someone I'd definitely want to keep in touch with over the years. I continue to believe all those things are true, but she's one of a few authors whom I admire as writers even though I don't read their books. And I definitely admire her as a writer and look forward to each of her successes as I do other writers I admire - regardless of whether or not their books are for me.

It's hard to go public with other authors whom I respect as writers even though I don't read them - yes, even I worry about hurting feelings. Very early on, in an old Laurie's News & Views, I said Laura Kinsale was an author others loved whom I didn't "get." Count her as another author whom I respect as a person but don't read her books. And then add Jo Beverley to that list. Beverley handles herself better online than just about any other author I know, and I love her knowledge of history - she's a great teacher! - but I don't read her either. And though Gaffney is considered an historical goddess, I gave up on her historicals after one effort even though I enjoy her contemporary women's fiction. Where Gaffney is concerned, however, I'm going to try her again...someday. I'll even be trying Beverley again at some point; I did read a short story she wrote and found it compelling, but which of her single title historicals to try remains a mystery at this point. I won't try Kinsale again; after finishing two of her books, I swore I'd give Flowers From the Storm a try, got stuck about 1/3 through, and decided that was it for me. Again, though, I think she's a terrific online personality because she's willing to be honest, and because so many of our reviewers believe she's a goddess, I think the fault for my not liking her writing (and the same goes for Ivory) is within me.

I don't know whether it was something Leslie McClain, the founder of The Romance Reader, said to me when I mentioned I'd met Judith Ivory that ruined her books for me. We were both in the press room at the 1996 RWA national conference and I'd told Leslie about meeting Judith, and we were talking about Judith's book, which was up for a RITA that year. I mentioned I wanted to read it, and she said, "Well, you need to know she writes very differently." Odd how that one statement put me off reading this author. And to this day I haven't read her, and wonder whether or not the association she has with Gaffney and Kinsale is part of the reason I don't read her, and haven't given Gaffney another historical chance.

I'm sure that when I post the biting review sitting in my in-box now for that keenly anticipated book, we'll get lots of disagreeable posts on our Reviews MB. But hey, it's been what...two days since the last blow-up?

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

"The Laurie"

Do any of you remember The Jimmy, an episode from the sixth season of Seinfeld? If not, let me refresh your memory with the first sentence of a plot synopsis from this online episode guide for the show: "The guys play a game of basketball with '
Do any of you remember The Jimmy, an episode from the sixth season of Seinfeld? If not, let me refresh your memory with the first sentence of a plot synopsis from this online episode guide for the show: "The guys play a game of basketball with 'the Jimmy,' a man who talks about himself in the third person."

I remembered that this morning after reading about myself in Pat Holt's Holt Uncensored column for today. After having AAR referenced in books and articles and having been interviewed a few times in the past, I never expect to read about myself anywhere; it's rather an out-of-body experience when it occurs.

So it was a shock to read about myself in this column and to hear myself called "the Paul Revere" of the romance novel industry. Who knew? I had absolutely no idea my reporting on the WalMart/Anderson story was being widely read, had no idea Pat Holt even knew who I was, when a friend informed me this morning I was in her column. Even freakier was that she'd obviously poked fairly deeply into the site as one of the quotes she used from me was from a 1996 column.

We're going to arrange for a bit of synergy; she's going to write up something for AAR on topic and I've already written up something for her site on the topic that gets her going - major book store chains versus the indies.

Speaking of the WalMart/Anderson story, I've got to say that when I was growing up, I was a profound liar. Even if caught with my hand in the proverbial cookie jar, I'd deny I was taking a cookie. I still occasionally think up convoluted ways to weasle out of things, deny things, or simply omit them, but the fact is that I can no longer lie. Somewhere along the way to growing up I became constitutionally unable to lie. I consider myself a "reformed liar." Which is why it always shocks me to have someone lie to me - how do they do it when I can't? It's pretty clear from hearing from both sides in this story that the truth isn't somewhere in-between both sides. I've been presented with two distinct sets of facts, and have come to the conclusion that one set of facts is a fabrication. Apparently one of the people I talked to in investigating this story simply decided that lying was the way to go and did so seemingly without compunction.

My frustration in reporting this story is that I have a pretty clear idea who the liar is, but can't come straight out and report it as fact. And so the best I can do is provide both sides of the story and hope readers pick up what I picked up, all without slanting my reporting in the process. It's truly at times like this that I wished I had more of a background in reporting. I have some, but is it enough? I read accusations on the 'Net that present information without providing the detail to back them up. I endeavor never to do that at AAR because that's not how I was taught to report a story. Whether I'm successful when doing one of these investigations is something that worries me, but then I start to wonder whether I'm simply taking things and myself too seriously. If these other sites can accuse without providing back-up, maybe I should simply lighten up.

But then I realize...that's just not me. It's that whole "authority issue" thing again; sitting on my shoulder as I'm writing are Mark Seal and Phil Seib, the two journalists whose classes I took in college. I know they'd give me a bad grade if I didn't write my stories the right way. I know that's pathetic, but it's true.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

Anthony Bourdain: Gonzo bon vivant pirate chef

Last night was mostly a good night. The only thing not good about it was having to drive home one of the two 10-year-old girls (who were going to spend the night after attending a school party) at midnight when, instead of going to sleep, she had a m
Last night was mostly a good night. The only thing not good about it was having to drive home one of the two 10-year-old girls (who were going to spend the night after attending a school party) at midnight when, instead of going to sleep, she had a melt-down. If I'd had five more minutes, she'd have been asleep, and all would have been well. Oh well.

By the time I got home from driving her home (my husband, the coward, had fallen asleep at 11:30 and missed all the coughing, wheezing, crying, etc.), I was too wired to sleep and decided to start reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. I've been intrigued by this book since it was first released a couple of years ago, and while the girls were at the "dance" (not that 10-year-olds actually dance with boys), we went out to dinner and hit the bookstore and record store. We bought a fabulous gospel CD by The Mighty Clouds of Joy called I Want to Thank You. We also took a look at Bourdain's A Cook's Tour, the companion book to what may in fact be my husband's favorite television show. As he wasn't interested in buying that book in hardcover, I convinced him to get the paperback of Kitchen Confidential instead.

Bourdain, if you've not seen, heard, or read him, is rather a gonzo bon vivant pirate of a man. He speaks extremely well, and when I "heard" his voice in my head as I was reading last night/this morning, I realized I was in for a good time. I enjoy cooking shows even though I can't cook. I also like the more cheesy shows on Food Network that take you into a food factory; they remind me of Mister Rogers' visits to see how graham crackers, crayons, or construction paper were made, always my favorite part of his show, which I never appreciated until my daughter was born. (There's a terrific Salon.com article about Rogers for anyone interested, and his wonderful children's book, Making Friends, was one I read to my daughter time and time again.)

But back to Bourdain - here's a guy whom some author should model a romance novel hero about. One senses that for him, cooking is both a sensual and swaggering experience. This is a "rock 'n' roll" chef who clearly saw and did a lot of nasty things over the years, and yet cooking is such a nurturing activity that it's hard to categorize him. His show, A Cook's Tour, follows him, documentary style, as he eats and drinks through a variety of cultures. But don't mistake his show for a PBS travelogue aka Rick Steves; travelling, eating, and drinking to Bourdain is a macho test. What's the most dangerous place for him to visit, what's the weirdest thing he'll eat, and what's the oddest thing he'll like? Even though he's often over the top, the episode where he and his brother visit his father's village in France and he reminisces about eating his first raw oyster, while not exactly Proustian, is touching nonetheless.

If you find Bourdain not to your liking, you might prefer Peter Mayle's Provençe books, the best of which I think are A Year in Provençe and Toujours Provençe. Or you might like to read about Tuscany in Frances Mayes' Bella Tuscany/Under the Tuscan Sun. These books are particularly fun because they provide a "slice of life" look at what it's like to move to as a foreigner to Provençe or Tuscany, try to fix up an historical estate, and deal with the colorful locals, of which there appear to be an unending supply. There's a loving but wry sense of humor here, not as out-and-out hilarious as, say, Calvin Trillin's writings about the whacky people he's known and loved, but in the same vein. These books give me the opportunity to have a fly-on-the-wall experience of people who have managed to do what I cannot, which is the ability to relax and enjoy the world passing by.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books


'A visitor' left this comment on 2 Jan 07
Anthony Bordain is perhaps the most sensitive bastard and the brightest person you will ever meet. His sense of the people and the food are truly outstanding.
'A visitor' left this comment on 24 Feb 06
I have been a cook all my life. I've recently tried to up that to chef and all I can tell you is in more ways the one Anthony Bourdain is my hero. Ohh He also sheds a very accurate light on the culinary world.