Books Archives

August 12, 2007

A Traveller in Rome, H.V. Morton

I'm not a big fan of modern guide books. I usually have a couple with us on our travels, but I much prefer to read older accounts before we go. My favourite author is H.V. Morton. I have just finished reading A Traveller in Rome, first published in 1957. I have a copy of the 1960 printing in good condition, complete with dust jacket.

Here is his description of his co-habitants of the pensione where he lived early in his visit:

"Much the same kind of visitors drifted through my pensione. They were nearly all young and earnest, and few ever stayed more than two days. I would often say good-morning to Swiss, Danes, Germans and French, and good-evening to English, Spanish, Swedes and Americans. The place was in constant movement and in a week or so I was the oldest inhabitant. There were two thin-legged girls in brown shorts, who appeared one day with Australian flags stuck into immense packs whose size and weight would have driven a guardsman to mutiny. Bent double, they were walking through Italy on those thin legs, their vision confined to the earth. In the evening they had changed, most surprisingly, into fresh cotton frocks, and the next morning they had vanished."

I wish I could write that well.

Among many well-written and descriptive insights into Rome a half-century ago, I was thrilled to discover his account a 1950's-era Scavi Tour. We have it booked for September 3. In addition to contributing the historical background for our visit, Morton's description also provides a point of reference for what we can expect to see and experience. I can hardly wait

August 19, 2007

Bill Clinton and I

Bill Clinton is 61 today. So am I. We were born on August 19, 1946 and it is about the only thing we have in common. I discovered our common birthday around the time he became President and I read all I could find out about him for several years. By far the best source was David Maraniss' First In His Class. Published in 1995 and based on research of events long before the difficulties of his second term, Maraniss provided background and insights into the intelligence, gifts and flaws of this most interesting person. Whenever the subject of Bill Clinton has arisen since, I've recommended the book.

I also plowed through My Life, but Maraniss has written the better book.

I consider Bill Clinton to be the transcendent political figure of our generation, a force for good in the world.

Happy birthday, Bill. I hope we can share many more together.

April 27, 2010

New books

Five new books arrived in the mail today from Chapters:
1. The Bridge; The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick. This book should be a winner for two reasons. I've read two of Remnick's earlier books Lenin's Tomb and King of the World. He's an excellent researcher/writer and the subject of his current book is engaging. Very good reviews, too.
2. The Venus Fixers; The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II by Ilaria Dagnini Brey. Recommended by Doru on Slow Travel - sure it will be interesting.
3. About Alice by Calvin Trillin. I like Calvin Trillin's writing style and a lot of his topics. My favourite title is Travels With Alice.
4. Jazz Cleopatra; Josephine Baker in Her Time by Phyllis Rose. I'm going to the Dordogne this September. This book is part of my background reading.
5. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson. I've read the first book by Larsson, The Girl Who Played With the Dragon Tattoo. He only wrote three before he died suddenly. Great books to read when you have chunks of time - like maybe on the airplane to France in September.


October 23, 2010

The Conscience of a Liberal

I'm reading Paul Krugman's book. It is easy reading and helps answer a question that has perplexed me for some time. Why do so many Americans vote for a political party (Republican) that is not in their best interests to support?

For much of my life I didn't think there was much difference between Americans and Canadians. I admired America for its entrepreneurial spirit and position in the world as a superpower.

American politics seemed familiar when I was growing up, but no more. It is difficult to understand the political importance of irrelevant cultural and religious issues at the expense of economic and social problems, the denial of such obvious truths as climate change and evolution, the overwhelming control of corporations and many other oddities of the current American political system.

Krugman's book is a guide to explaining how American politics evolved. It is not uplifting, but it is instructive.


April 30, 2011

Last Book Read ..... Julie & Julia by Julie Powell


This is one book I never thought I would read - a book by a woman who cooked her way through Vol. 1 of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, blogged about it & got a contract to write a book.

I remember when it first came out a few years ago. Gimmicky, I thought - like the guy who wrote a book about living Biblically for a year. Not much interest for me. But I did read & enjoy My Life in France, Julia Child's posthumous memoir of her years in France after WWII.

Saw the movie of with Amy Adams as Julie Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child. But, whereas the film takes the title of Julie Powell's book, it is Meryl Streep's portrayal and details from Julia Child's book that dominate.

With so many books out there I thought I could safely pass on this one. BUT, guess what? About a year ago I joined a cooking project inspired by Julie & Julia. Only there are nine of us cooking & blogging our way through Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, one recipe per day from start to finish. It's taken over a year and we're near the end. My last recipe, "Apulia's Olive Bread" appears on June 1. It's been a great experience - a lot of excellent recipes (only a few duds) & learning lots of new stuff - never would have attempted many of the recipes I have been assigned.

So, I thought I would see how closely Julie Powell's experience mirrored mine.... Actually, not very much, as far as I can tell. I had to prepare one recipe a week over about 16 months. She set herself the challenge of preparing approximately 1.5 recipes a day over 365 days. Also, since she had a full-time job, many of her meals weren't ready until very late in the evening. And while her blog may have been mainly about the cooking experience, her book is more of "A Year in the Life of Julie Powell".

But some of here experiences rang true to my own:

- sourcing oddball ingredients
- problems created by skimming over directions
- spending a lot of time on recipes that really weren't worth it - see Bitch Rice
- making crepes (or crespelles, in my case)
- boning a duck
- organ meats
- the joy when everything turns out well.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I anticipated. I read the first few chapters at a very leisurely pace, then when I got used to the setting, characters & her style, I sped through the rest. Recommended, even if you have seen the film.

May 28, 2011

Last Book Read .... The Big Short by Michael Lewis


This focus of this book is a very small group of investors/traders/financial managers who saw through the insane financial house of cards that brought the American economy to the brink of destruction in 2008. Their story is fascinating and in the larger picture, it is criminal that the perpetrators of this fraud are not in prison.

Lewis maintains that he really isn't that knowledgeable about how the financial markets worked, or failed to work, but his story is engrossing. Highly recommended.

June 1, 2011

Last Book Read .... Amarcord by Marcella Hazan


Just over a year ago, I never would have read this book. A memoir/autobiography by a person, Marcella Hazan, totally unfamiliar to me - a person who wrote some Italian cookbooks. I don't think so.

But, I was invited to take part in an interesting online blog - Pomodori e Vino.
- in which a group of geographically disparate people cook their way through Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by the self-same Marcella Hazan.

So having prepared over fifty recipes from her book and having been on the receiving end of many comments from Marcella over the past year plus, I decided to read what she had to say about her life.

I think Marcella has been very candid in this memoir - about her sensitivity to a physical issue; her relationship with her husband, publishers, and many other people in her life; her business success and failures; the important decisions she made at several times in her life.

The book is full of surprises. I had no idea that she spent a large part of her life in the United States (she now resides in Florida), how widely known she was in some circles or that operating cooking classes could be a career. The biggest surprise for me was her main reason for moving back to the United States after being based in Italy for several years. She was attracted by the U.S. health care system, which suggests that she had many more business successes than failures.

I can recommend this book if you already are familiar with the name Marcella Hazan. It is a very well-written and informative account of her life.

August 1, 2013

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

I picked up a copy of Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington a few days ago at Chapters at the Kanata Centrum - a hardback copy for 10 bucks! I was attracted to the book not so much by the price as by the author & subject. A few years ago I read Chernow's biography of John D. Rockefeller - Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. - thoroughly engrossing & a great complement to a visit to Kykiut, the Rockefeller estate & mansion in the Hudson River Valley. A dauntingly thick book, greatly redeemed by an easy and descriptive writing style.

Well, so far Washington is living up to my expectations - at 904 pages it is a bit difficult to pick up, but it is even harder to put down. I've read David McCullough's excellent biography of John Adams, so this is my second extended visit to the years surrounding the founding of our great southern neighbour.

One similarity I've noticed between the lives of John D. Rockefeller and George Washington - the most formative influence in their early lives was a strong-willed mother. It must be a coincidence, eh?

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