Monday, April 22, 2013

A Review of 'Yes, Chef: A Memoir' by Marcus Samuelsson

"It begins with a simple ritual: every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother's house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner.  The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic.  The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson.  This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations.  

Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister-- all battling tuberculosis-- walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa.  Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Gรถteborg, Sweden.  It was there at MArcus's new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken.  From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.

Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson's remarkable journey from Helga's humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four.  But Samuelsson's career of 'chasing flavors,' as he calls it, had only just begun-- in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem.  At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fulfilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room-- a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses.  It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.

With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens up about his failures-- the price of ambition, in human terms-- and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet the father he never knew.  Yes, Chef is a tale of personal discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors-- one man's struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen, and in the world."

This is the first book in a while that I have read excitedly.  Being in a reading slump is no fun, but this brought me back to the wonders of reading for fun (you might notice that a lot of the books I've been reviewing lately are books that have been assigned for school).

Right away, this book delves into Marcus' childhood.  I loved reading about his interactions with his grandmother, his mormor.  I loved seeing Swedish sprinkled throughout the pages, especially since it's a language that is so unfamiliar to me.  In my head, I'm butchering the words, but on paper, they look lovely.

I loved how fearless of a writer Samuelsson is.  He addresses topics like race, classism, sexism, and segregation without batting an eyelash.  He also addresses Africa as a continent, which is quite an undertaking, mainly because it is seen as a lost cause or a waste of time to think about.  He sheds light on things like poverty, the stark contrasts within the different countries themselves, but also what rich cultures each country (in this case, Ethiopia) has.  I also love that Samuelsson tries to bridge the past and the present between these two covers.

It sounds like such a hefty read, looking at the paragraph above, but Samuelsson is such an articulate person that it reads quite easily.  You might be uncomfortable at times because of the difficult conversations he tries to instigate, but don't let that stop you.

One thing that bothered me about this book was how alone Marcus seemed (this isn't to say that he was lonely-- I didn't quite pick up on that vibe).  About halfway through the book, I was really happy that I've decided to go into teaching as opposed to the culinary arts.  Cooking is a hobby of mine and I love it, but I could never do what Marcus did.  He doesn't get a lot of sleep, he spends long shifts at the restaurant, works his butt off trying to make as few mistakes as possible.  He's under so much pressure all the time.  I don't understand how he doesn't develop an ulcer.  He talks about the people he grew up with and who he worked alongside as he developed professionally, but just about everything that happened for Marcus was because of the things that he did.  He decided to learn and reflect as opposed to going out for a drink every once in a while with the others from the kitchen.  He decided to live away from his biological daughter in Austria.  He depended upon himself in the kitchen and worked others just as hard as he worked himself.

I can't help but admire Marcus Samuelsson, but I also can't help but feel empty for him because he didn't have these things as many others in the world do (in some way, shape, or form).

If you're looking for a great memoir to read or are looking for a reading revival, definitely give this book a shot!

I give 'Yes, Chef':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, April 15, 2013

A Review of 'Watchmen' by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

"This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings.  Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.

One of the most influential graphic novels of all time and a perennial bestseller, WATCHMEN has been studied on college campuses across the nation and is considered a gateway title, leading readers to other graphic novels such as 'V for Vendetta,' 'Batman: The Dark Knight Returns' and 'The Sandman' series."

Spring Break has been a good week for finishing books!

But I am angry with this book (graphic novel) and I'll tell you why:  Philosophical questions are hard.  Especially when they're about humanity and even more so when you're apart of humanity.

Don't get me wrong, this was a very well-written, visually interesting, and thought-provoking graphic novel.  It's well-worth the read, though if this is your first graphic novel, it might be hard to cope with.  But it's worth working up to!  When I say that I'm angry with it, that just shows how engaged I was with the end.  I know that I need to read it again because I missed so much.  I need to read it in a shorter span of time as well.

Here is the question that really bothered me and one that I hope we never have to make a decision on: Is it better to lose millions of lives to save billions or to take chances on humanity in the event that nuclear war could occur?  I had so much trouble with this question because no matter what you do, there are a lot of people at risk.  And that's a scary thought.  I was mad when one person decided to make this decision alone.  This one person had a plan and it ultimately worked, but I am (still) upset that he took humanity into his own hands.  What right does he have?  He should NOT have that much power!

I would have been vaporized by Dr. Manhattan.

The ending was difficult for me because I believe in humanity more than I probably should.  I know that there is evil present in this world (it's ubiquitous in the news across time), but I still can't help but feel that people are ultimately benevolent (you remember that I am in love with Henry David Thoreau).  So to make the decision to kill off millions of people when I believe that they are ultimately capable of working through this huge problem and fear just makes me livid.

Aside from the anger I feel towards the ending, the visuals were great.  I love how there were many subplots going on and more most if not all of those subplots, it was pretty easy to see how they connected to the main plot.  It was really cool-- my inner fan girl was convulsing with joy.

This is a great read if you're in the mood to grapple something difficult, if you'd like to read one of the most renowned graphic novels of all time, and if you're ready to engage your friends in philosophical discussion afterwards.

I give 'Watchmen':
Thanks for Reading!


Friday, April 12, 2013

A Review of 'Man's Search for Meaning' by Viktor Frankl

"'Man's Search for Meaning' has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival.  Between 1942 and 1945 psychiatrist Viktor Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished.  Based on his own experience and the stories of many of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.  Frankl's theory-- known as logotherapy, from the Greek word 'logos' ('meaning')-- holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.  In the decades since its first publication, 'Man's Search for Meaning' has become one of the most influential books in America; it continues to inspire us all to find significance in the very act of living."

On the back cover, this is labeled as a book about psychology, which is true, but I've been using it as a philosophy text book!  When I started this book, we were discussing suffering-- what it is, what it means, etc.  The Holocaust, as we all probably know, was full of suffering, which makes this, paired with Night by Elie Wiesel, a great combination for a dynamic discussion.

This was a unique book about the Holocaust because it felt so... positive, I guess, is the closest word I can find, though it's not quite right.  In 'Night,' the main focus is suffering and how awful it was to 'live' in the camps and how much of a struggle it was just to live.  But while reading Viktor Frankl, I was surprised by the number of good things he could bring out of this tragedy despite all of the horrible things that happened to him and to his family.  The camps were completely unsanitary, gray, deathly, and horrible, but when he and the other inmates could see a sunset, it was a very big deal, because it was a beautiful thing that the Kapos could not take away from them.  Frankl also had some control over his life path.  When he was given opportunities by the Kapos, he was free to take them or leave them.  They were difficult decisions to make though, because no matter what he chose, there was no guarantee that he was going to live to see his next opportunity and make his next choice.

I try not to get too excited about the books I read for class, just because they can be so dry and I'm probably not even supposed to like what I'm reading.  But I love that my professor chose this book for us because she really wants us to be engaged with what we're talking about.  This is such an engaging read.  What's nice is that if you're not terribly interested in psychology, this book can still work for you.  Like I said, this was one of my philosophy text books.  This is a very multi-purposed book.

If you're looking for a unique outlook on the events of the Holocaust, definitely give this book a try!

I give 'Man's Search for Meaning':
Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reading Is...

I am currently in a video production class and this is one of the things that I've created this semester.  I'm quite proud of it!

Have a lovely day!