Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

17707720Anything That Moves is Dana Goodyear’s journalistic endeavor to discover just what modern day American foodies are made of and the extreme things they’ll eat to remain at the top of their game. Jimmy and I (along with several friends) consider ourselves amateur foodies and so this kind of book pushes my buttons. If nothing else, I thought it would provide some interesting fodder for future supper club outings we organize every Wednesday night.

Goodyear’s book reads more like a collection of similarly themed magazine articles that cover a wide range of foodie topics such as foodie bloggers, the raw movement, and insect eating. She sets out with many different foodies from all walks of life to discover why, how, and what they eat. She also provides a decent amount of background, historical information on the origins of some of the bizarre foods/movements mentioned. It’s a great introduction to the foodie society.

Some have complained about Goodyear’s disconnect from the weird food experiences she’s writing about. I think this is a valid complaint. She was pregnant through much of her research and didn’t feel safe eating the questionable foods. I understand her decision, but it leaves a rather large gap between her and her subject matter. My favorite bits involved her actually describing her personal experiences with the food – the tastes, smells, textures, and emotional responses to what she was eating. So just be prepared for several third party moments.

My personal favorite topic she discussed was insect eating. It just fascinated me. Not only how psychologically against turning bugs into an edible protein source most Americans are, but also how sustainable and environmentally friendly these little critters can be. And I’m not going to lie, they sound delicious. Well, the crunchy ones. I still have mental issues with worms and such. I don’t like squishy things. I started trying to Google Atlanta restaurants that serve things like tempura fried grasshoppers and couldn’t find any. I suspect I’ll have to use underground methods to discover such delicacies.

So, if you’re adventurous and aren’t overly sensitive to graphic depictions of eating animals, I’d suggest this book as a fascinating look inside the food culture of modern America. There’s a lot to learn and some genuinely disgusting moments such as the eating of a baby bird (bones, beak, feathers – the whole shebang). If you’re already well-established in the foodie world, you’ll have tried many of the rare meats and food described here, but it’s still fun to see if anything Goodyear discovers will gross you out! And I’ve now removed foie gras from my diet. I had no idea how it was made and now I’m amazed that such a thing is even legal (which it isn’t in many states).

What are your favorite foodie investigation novels? Any food bloggers you love to read? What’s the strangest food you’ve ever tried? Mine is probably stinky tofu, but I also love chicken gizzards.

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Southern Lit Month: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It really doesn’t need more of an introduction than that. I can’t imagine there is a conscious reader who exists without having at least the vaguest idea of this novel or its film adaptation. My book club selected this book to read for January which ties in nicely to Southern Literature Month taking place on my blog this month. We all blew through it and met up yesterday to share our critical thoughts and gossipy opinions. And it was glorious.

John Berendt wrote for Esquire and New York Magazine before churning out this sordid tale of a 1980s murder that occurred in Savannah, Georgia. Berendt weaves the story of Jim Williams’s shooting of Danny Hansford through his wheelings and dealings with Savannah’s people – her upper crust snobs and her dazzling outcasts. Savannah and her cast of characters upstage the main event and that is not a bad thing.

Because Savannah is a saucy minx, a devilious lush. She has secrets – really scandalous secrets. And for whatever reason, her residents let this Yankee journalist in on so many of them. The pages turned quickly and Google was always open on a computer or phone nearby. You just HAVE to see images of these people, the streets, the architecture as you read along. The ladies and I discussed Savannah at length – how haunted she feels, how gorgeous she is, and even how the trees seem to be looking at you and following your every move! It’s such a unique place with a vast history.

Berendt writes almost episodically. Each chapter feels like a short little love story (or horror story, you decide) dedicated to a city he was only beginning to know and understand. So the pacing was superb. We quibbled over whether or not Midnight could really be considered nonfiction because Mr. Berendt took many, many liberties within the pages. Apparently, for this reason he didn’t win the Pulitzer. But I imagine his version makes for better reading. What shocked the hell out of me was how willing Savannah was to open her doors and share all her demons. But I guess she was just too drunk to care.

So we liked it! We really, really liked it and hope you will too. It’s not perfect. Our author protagonist suffers from what I lovingly call ‘white man disorder’ so sometimes his female, gay, and black characters are left unattended or wrongly attended, perhaps. But for everything he gets wrong, he gets something else as equally spot on. As a Southerner and a native Georgian, I’m glad I read this and can’t wait to seek out the movie. Because Jude Law as a young male hooker just rings a lot of my bells.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

30852Admittedly, The Woman Warrior is an odd book. It’s also a book that’s rarely spoken about at least in the various bookish worlds I belong to. And that is a shame. The only reason I know about it is that I had a couple of college professors who adored Kingston’s work and taught this novel. All that aside, I can see how some readers might find it difficult to connect with.

TWW resides in the nonfiction/memoir section of the library, but is told through an nontraditional narrative. It’s more anecdotal than linear – very episodic in nature – and Kingston often derails from reality to explore Chinese myths and legends as metaphorical stand-ins for literal truth. At its foundation, TWW explores Kingston’s childhood as a first generation Chinese-Amercian girl growing up in California. She battles reconciling her parents’ culture with that of the people and the country she actually lives in – particularly as a female.

Told in five or so sections instead of traditional chapters, you’ll enjoy some parts far more than others. This book isn’t something you can read lightly and works best in an academic setting as the writing can be dense in theme, symbolism, and metaphor. So I’d advise reading TWW when you’re in the mood to truly absorb the stories being told.

As a feminist work, TWW is terrific. So interesting to see how women are represented in two cultures and the struggles Kingston must face since she has a foot in each of these worlds. You’ll also learn so much about Chinese culture, history, and perception. I’d have loved to read a novel told through her mother’s eyes in comparison. So fascinating.

What I most appreciate about TWW is Kingston’s brutal honesty about herself and others. She doesn’t romanticize her mother, relatives, Americans, China, or even herself. Sometimes her childhood experiences are hard to read and sometimes they’re funny as hell. So the next time you’re in the mood to learn or explore a unique take on feminism, TWW might definitely be for you!

Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau

swoon-coverThe cover is gorgeous, no? And the title sucks you in, yes? Exactly my thoughts when I selected this novel to review for the lovely TLC Book Tours. I love that TLC is bringing my attention to some nonfiction, cultural anthropology works that I always crave reading, but never bite the bullet and pick up on my own.

Swoon does exactly what it says it’s going to and delves into the traits that seem to attract women to what are known as ladies’ men. You know those men, the ones who are constantly swarmed by harems of adoring females. And most of the time you can’t put your finger on what is so mesmerizing about these guys. Some are good looking, sure, but some are absolutely horrid looking. How many movies have we seen where ugly guys get the girls? How does this happen?

Prioleau has done her research! She’s read histories of great Lotharios such as Casanova and met face-to-face with men who are currently making their own histories all over the world! She also doesn’t shy away from modern romance literature and the Hollywood celebrities that women adore so much. The book is separated into small sections discussing one particular trait at a time  such as laughter, charisma, character, and sense-of-self. She breaks down previous stereotypes of the common bad boy womanizer and uncovers that most sought after men actually love and respect women, have wonderful relationships with their mothers and sisters, and that the brain might just be the sexiest organ alive!

The great thing for me while reading this novel was the conversation it garnered between me and my husband. We spent more than one dinner discussing the traits that Prioleau believes makes knees melt. He would alternately get defensive and agreeable. We would bicker and then laugh! He’s been pleading with me to read a book from the opposite perspective to balance out the views – and Prioleau wrote that exact book before this one, so I might need to pick it up soon.

I also enjoyed thinking about whether these traits in men worked for me, personally. And most did! I love a strong personality, a quick mind, and laughter! I’m also not shocked to learn that sex matters big time and that the most successful men always focus on female pleasure first. This makes us sound a little selfish, doesn’t it ladies? But I’m still not surprised.

So much to love here, but not everything was perfect. I did feel that certain sections were a bit repetitive and that the book could have used a tighter editing. But even the repetitive sections used fresh examples and gave new historical facts and interludes to enjoy. I also think this book needs to be tempered with the opposing perspective so that you don’t come away thinking only women are silly little creatures willing to give up husbands and children for the sake of enjoying time spent with some modern day Casanova. And so many women did just that!

So go read Swoon! If for no other reason than to learn juicy little tidbits about the sexiest of sexy men such as Lord Byron, Jack London, Sam Cooke, and many more!!

I’m thrilled to be able to give away one copy of Swoon to some very lucky reader! Just fill out the form here and I’ll announce a winner Sunday, March 17th! Residents of the US and Canada only, please.

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and Norton for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review! You can check out the rest of the tour here!

About the Author:

Betsy-Prioleau-Photo-1-198x300Betsy Prioleau is the author of Circle of Eros (Duke University Press) Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love(Penguin/Viking), and most recently, Swoon:  Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them (W. W. Norton, 2013).  She has a Ph.D. in literature from Duke University, was a tenured associate professor at Manhattan College, and taught cultural history at New York University.  She has written numerous essays on literature, relationships, and sexuality. She lives in New York City.

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Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I picked this book up during a 2007 visit to Chicago with the hubs and his family. Interestingly, Chicago was in the midst of bidding for the Olympics during 2007 and the book opens with Chicago bidding to be the site of the World’s Fair in the late 19th century. To sum things up quickly for those who will stop reading at the end of this paragraph anyway – I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is even slightly interested in American history.

Larson recreates a world where light and dark collide. Chicago during the 1890s was dirty, the stench of slaughter permeated the air, and the water was barely drinkable. In the middle of this ‘black city’, rose the pristinely white world of David Burnham’s World’s Fair. We follow Burnham and his fellow architects, landscape architects, and other visionaries as they strive to build something beautiful – something that will incite a strong sense of patriotism during the chaos of a crumbling economy, the rise of labor unions, and corrupt politicians. But as we’ve already discovered light can only come out of darkness. Foiled against our hero Burnham, Dr. H.H. Holmes calmly makes colleagues, wives, and children young and old disappear – claiming somewhere between 9 and 200+ victims and the title of America’s first serial killer. This is history you don’t want to miss!!

While the story is fascinating, the beginning does start a bit slow. The chapters are fairly short which always helps move the narrative along a bit quicker. The chapters also alternate between tales of Burnham and Holmes – so you never get too bored with one character before being thrown back to the other – a brilliant bit of novel design to keep interest peaked. One fault I found was the editing. For some reason, commas are sorely neglected, often leaving me to re-read sentences a couple of times for clarity – particularly after a prepositional phrase (I am a total grammar geek).

All in all, Larson has created a wonderful tale of murder, magic, and the macabre with just the right mixture of storytelling and truth.

Annoying star rating: 4/5