Feb 232014

we-need-new-names-3e60731d6539be68A young girl growing up in the disintegrating country of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe escapes by moving in with her aunt in Detroit, Michigan.  Her account is covered in this two-part, highly autobiographical novel of life in two cultures.  Part one is the joy and hunger of growing up with your friends on the streets in Zimbabwe.  Darling, the main character, and her friends play outside all day long.  They steal guavas from rich people to squelch their gnawing stomachs.  Their clothes are torn, dirty donations.  Their elders are away in South Africa searching for income or contracting HIV.  Even as children, they are not nearly so ignorant of the world as we Westerners perceive: they know how to play the aid organizations, how deceptively palliative the churches are, and with surprising accuracy what opportunities exist in the U.S.  Part two in some ways is more predictable.  Life in America is hard for immigrants torn from the tastes, aromas, dust, and relatives back home.  Darling finds American culture confined to computers, texting, shopping malls, school exams, cars, and cable.  Coming of age is hard; doing so in a foreign country is harder; forsaking your homeland, even in search of opportunity, is always wrenching.  The contribution of this book is its contemporary view of the experience.

Feb 122014

shipsI loved Rose George’s, The Big Necessity about toilets and the lack of them around the world.  I’m also fascinated by the sea and even once talked my way onto a container ship transiting the Panama Canal so I had high hopes for “Ninety Percent of Everything.”  Unfortunately, the title just about says it all, and the subtitle finishes the task: “Invisible shipping, the invisible industry that puts clothes on your back, gas in your car, and food on your plate.”  The rest of the book consists of George’s multi-week trip aboard a freighter traveling from England to Singapore.  Along the way she scrounges up facts about shipping with a particular focus on the unusual and dangerous pointing to particularly heinous acts of piracy, unscrupulous ship owners, and wrecked cargo vessels, their poor workers abandoned to the sea.  But it all feels like a stretch, as if someone wrote a book about the airline industry largely overlooking the hundreds of thousands of uneventful daily flights to focus instead on the one crash decades ago in the Andes where the passengers cannibalized one another to survive.  In the end, shipping is a business and working aboard ships is no more glamorous than driving a truck, slaughtering beef, or manufacturing sneakers.  We demand the products and Rose George makes us think hard about where they come from and how they get to us, but it never quite amounts to a full book’s worth of information.

Feb 092014

nytA despised editor of a very thinly disguised New York Times is found spread-eagled and more than dead in the basement of the paper’s headquarters.  An editor’s spike is hammered into his chest with a taunting note appended.  An investigative journalist from the paper’s staff is handed the story and an upstart female officer of the NYPD is assigned the case.  More murders, lots of clues, red herrings, and way too many characters to keep track of populate the mystery.  The author, a Times reporter, feels compelled to include every editor, publisher, writer, columnist, and assistant who works at a paper so you learn a lot about how the news is assembled.  Moreover, the timing of the story in the late 2000s when print media was under deep threat from the Internet, bloggers, bundlers, and tweeters is an interesting reminder of how much has changed in the delivery of the news.  It is a case of wrenching the Old Gray Lady into the new century.  There are some very funny bits about stories that find their way into the news to sell papers — styles of the young and hipsterish, gossip, cooking videos — and neither gore, nor action prevail.  Best if read as a period piece about the nature and value of traditional news reporting.

Feb 062014
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Multigrain Cripple Creek Sourdough

This baby had flax seeds, oats, sunnies, cornmeal, and bulgur.  It was still the softest, tastiest (Cripple Creek starter) sourdough you can imagine. A bit of butter and jam was better than cake.

Feb 062014

Retarded Rye

One of my best breads in like forever.  I let his pair of light rustic ryes grow very slowly for 24 hours in the fridge before baking.  Retarding a dough in the fridge lets sourdough flavors (Meadville starter in this one, for those of you keeping score at home) develop without raising the loaf.  It was three days from start to finish, but talk about beautiful crumb and super chewy texture.  I didn’t realize you could persuade wheat and rye to become that supple and resilient.