2023 Reading ListJanuary 01 2023
This is the reading list for 2023.
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
- Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
- The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- Action Hero Scouting Report by Shea Serrano
We’ve been binging Top Chef, and as a result, I’ve generally gotten more interested in cuisine and cooking as a career. Anthony Bourdain is one of those guys that I was always vaguely aware of - I watched a few of his travel shows and saw him as a judge on some of the Top Chef episodes. He has a natural charm that exudes from the screen. I never actually thought of him as a chef, though. I don’t remember what possessed me to check out this book, which is essentially his breakout hit, but I’m really glad I did, as this is the most engrossing book that I’ve read in a very long time.
Bourdain’s on-screen charm comes across clearly in his writing as well. I immediately was rooting for him, even though I knew the outcome of his career (he’s mega famous, no longer has to cook, and wealthy enough to do whatever he wanted). This book focuses on his career as a middling chef, bouncing from place to place, struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and never really “making it”. One of my favorite movies is Ratatouille, and there is a line in there that is especially alluring, when Chef Colette is training the younger Linguini on what it means to be a chef: “We are artists. Pirates. More than cooks are we.” This book captures that sentiment perfectly.
This book very effectively romanticizes the cooking profession without ever actually making the reader want to try it. The hours are long and grueling. The pay is low. The actual work is rote and repetitive. But the culture is very singular, and everyone within the culture seems to understand it and bond on it.
I watched HBO’s Station Eleven and it was my favorite TV series of 2021. It not only captured a lot about living in a pandemic, but it was stubbornly romantic, focusing on the arts and Shakespeare as a means of adding color to a difficult life of survival. I was aware that the show was adapted from Station Eleven, and I decided to check out some of Mandel’s writing. For some reason, I decided to work backwards (Sea of Tranquility is her most recent book).
This was a very quick and easy read. It’s well written, with nice character building, and a hint of sci-fi (there’s time traveling, and the plot wraps itself up beautifully). One of the main characters seems to be based on the author herself, and in particular, how she has dealt with the unexpected fame of becoming a best-selling author.
The Glass Hotel is a more in-depth and satisfying read compared to Sea of Tranquility. This book has no science fiction. The characters are more fleshed out. And it’s nice to see a little universe developing between the author’s last three books (this one, Sea of Tranquility, and Station Eleven).
This book is a loose fictionalization of the Bernie Madoff pyramid scandal, but mostly from the vantage point of Vincent, a young trophy wife of the novel’s Madoff stand-in. Vincent is really well-written. It feels easy to know and understand her. And her decisions at the end of the book, while seemingly quite surprising, are in context not at all surprising.
And now finally I’ve read the book that started this little Mandel binge. Station Eleven is a beautifully written book, with an interesting theme. We’re in a post-pandemic world, but “survival is insufficient”.
The story itself is not as entwined or satisfying as the HBO adaptation, which really took a lot of liberties with the plots and the characters. In this one, there is no Jeevan and Kristin story line beyond the first night of the play, and hence no union at the end. The Tyler / Prophet story line ends quickly and suddenly, and in restrospect, his character is actually pretty weak in the book. Still, the basic beats are the same. Shakespeare and music play a huge role in the central theme - that even though humanity is reduced to an absolute struggle for survival, there is still a time and a necessity the unnecessary things.
Bill Simmons once introduced the concept of a “season pass” for actors, as in, whatever movie or show that actor is in, I’m going to check it out. Well, I think I have a season pass to Shea Serrano. He’s an inspirational story, from teacher to writer. He created a TV show based on his life (Primo) which is actually really funny. And of course, I’ve been reading his “and other things” books series, such as “Basketball and other things”.
This one is a short one, where he just lists a bunch of action hero movie characters and produces a scouting report on them, including rating their origin story, skills, humor, etc. It’s a predictably easy read and I finished it in roughly an hour while on an airplane ride. Still, it was enjoyable and funny, and it was a bit of trip down memory lane for some movies that I had watched long ago but never really thought about again. One such example was Rush Hour - reading this actually prompted me to rewatch the movie, and it really is quite wonderful as a piece of popular cinema, with nice (but dated) jokes and some kung fu action.
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