What’s That Book? Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

Welcome to What’s That Book, sharing book recommendations from readers and bloggers. Today’s guest reviewer is Austin Vitelli.

Title: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Author: Anthony Bourdain

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What’s it about?  Anthony Bourdain provides a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to work in the food industry, highlighting many of the juicy details of what really goes on in a professional kitchen that’s surely to raise some eyebrows for those who have never worked in one. The thing is, he said he originally wrote the book specifically for chefs and figured no one else would find it relevant—almost like a series of inside jokes. But the book, which was first published in 2000, quickly became a New York Times bestseller, capturing the attention of millions of people around the world, whether they had experience in the food industry or not. It also catapulted Bourdain’s career as a “celebrity chef,” a term he begrudgingly adopted due to its negative perception.

The story itself surely captured such a wide audience for a reason—people naturally love gossip, and of course many people have a love for food. The book provides endless stories of people whom Bourdain worked with over the years, his countless jobs and relevant escapades in the industry, and most importantly, the truth about how many kitchens (at least at the time) functioned. Bourdain’s blunt and detailed-to-a-fault account of his experiences, including his battle with drug addiction, immediately establishes himself as a trustworthy storyteller. Other than a few people’s names, he basically holds nothing back. And mostly importantly, while “the times” in 2000 certainly were no stranger to sexist and otherwise questionable behavior in that industry, Bourdain still had the awareness to know that it was wrong, making sure not to glorify that type of behavior too much, even though he later worried that the book still somewhat normalized it.

How did you hear about it? I watched Bourdain’s CNN travel/food show Parts Unknown, which ran for 12 seasons until his death in 2018.

Closing comments: If you have any sort of curiosity about the food industry or what a professional kitchen looked like 20 years ago, I highly recommend this book. And if nothing else, Bourdain is one of the best non-fiction storytellers I’ve ever seen.Contributor: Austin Vitelli is an editor for a medical publishing company in Pennsylvania. He graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism. You can learn more about him and his writing experience at austinvitelli.com.


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it? Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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Book Review: Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise
by
Scott Eyman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I just finished this new biography of Cary Grant and now I’m in the mood to re-watch some of my favorite movies starring this legendary actor. Scott Eyman has written an excellent and thorough book, a detailed account of Grant’s life, beginning with his childhood in Bristol, England.

Long before he became a famous movie star and heartthrob, Cary Grant was a neglected child from a working-class family. He was Born Archibald Leach in 1904 to an alcoholic father and an overly protective and controlling mother, who one day disappeared from his life. It would be years before he learned that his father had committed her to a mental institution. Archie spent much of his youth on the street and joined a troupe of vaudeville acrobats where he learned physical comedy. He arrived in New York at sixteen and, after traveling with the Bob Pender Troupe, made his way to Hollywood, where he signed with Paramount Pictures and changed his name to Cary Grant.

Grant starred in over seventy films, including Bringing up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, An Affair to Remember, Suspicion, Notorious, North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief. His numerous famous co-stars included Ingrid Bergman, Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly, and Sophia Loren.

If you remember Cary Grant, you most likely think of him as a handsome, sophisticated and smooth-talking comedic actor and irresistible leading man, but this was a carefully crafted persona. Underneath he struggled with depression and feelings of abandonment and spent his life trying to reconcile these very different sides. He also struggled with relationships and married five times.

Grant longed to be a father and was thrilled when his fourth wife, Dyan Cannon gave birth to their daughter, Jennifer. To find inner peace, he experimented at least 100 times with LSD (when it was still legal) sometimes under a doctor’s care and other times by himself, proclaiming this was the reason he finally forgave his parents for abandoning him.

In addition to showing how Grant worked at achieving this goal, Eyman provides a history of the movie business and how it changed, from the 1930s through Grant’s retirement in 1966. Classic movie fans will enjoy reading about the greats he worked with, including talented writers and directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Donen and Leo McCarey.

Although friends and colleagues complained about his unwillingness to pick up the tab at dinner, Grant was a smart businessman who understood how to negotiate contracts and was one of the first to demand not only an actor fee, but a percent of gross and profit and ownership of the negatives. He often made deals as a free agent, an almost unheard-of arrangement.

I totally enjoyed this biography and learned a lot about Grant and the movie business during that time and I recommend it to all readers.

Here are a few quick videos about Cary Grant.

The Hidden Origin of Cary Grant – from Simon and Schuster
Cary Grant: From Vaudeville to Hollywood | BFI video essay
Cary Grant receiving an Honorary Oscar®

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Audiobook review: Inside Out by Demi Moore

Inside Out
by
Demi Moore

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When you’re a celebrity, your image is a product of the media and what you want to share about yourself, and those things are often at odds. I recently listened to Demi Moore’s memoir, Inside Out to find out more about an actress who was very present in the entertainment world beginning in the 1980s. I knew all about her movies, including St Elmo’s Fire and A Few Good Men and of course her famous marriages to Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher. But I didn’t know much about her childhood and how she became an actress.

It turns out Demi Moore had a pretty bad childhood. Her father was an alcoholic and her parents fought constantly, and they moved a lot, to get away from creditors. This unstable childhood forced Moore to live her life in survival mode, a mode she carried with her into her adult life.

Unfortunately, her confidence was only on the surface, but it was so believable that it led people to think that she could handle tough situations. Underneath, she desperately needed taking care of. Because of her father’s alcoholism, she was determined to avoid the devastating effects of addiction, but she could not and her memoir covers these years with honesty. She openly discusses her relationship with alcohol and later other drugs, and how these dependencies nearly wrecked her relationship with her family.

Having a mother who wanted to be in the limelight as much as Moore was also difficult and they had a tumultuous relationship because of it. In the end, Moore found a way to forgive her mother and love her.

I enjoyed listening to Moore’s memoir, which she narrates and which makes much of her story relatable. I also liked hearing about her marriage to Bruce Willis and give them credit for keeping their split amicable. But it’s also the point in the memoir where Moore seems to make a lot of bad decisions. She talks about her marriage to Ashton Kutcher who was only twenty-five when they met and fifteen years younger than Moore. There’s a lot of bitterness in that story.

There seems to be a shift in the later part of Moore’s tone as she talks about the years when her daughters refused to speak to her. By then, Moore was in her fifties, still drinking and using drugs and readers and listeners might think it was about time she held herself accountable.

But in the end, the point is that all anyone wants is to be happy so I was glad to hear that she was able to pull herself out of the mess even though you can’t help but think she made much of it herself in the later years.

Inside Out is a very fast listen. It’s not full of substance, but it’s intelligently told and I’d recommend it to readers/listeners who like celebrity memoirs.

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Book Club Mom’s recommended biographies and memoirs

Here are twelve fascinating biographies and memoirs of important historical and influential figures, and some regular people too. I like reading all kinds of life stories and recommend these:


Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb – an excellent collection of mini biographies of twelve famous personalities, explaining their known or likely battles with mental illness.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – a remarkable and amusing record of Franklin’s life in America during the mid- to late 1700s.

Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover – Westover’s account of breaking out of an isolated and abusive childhood, with a violent sibling, a controlling and paranoid father and a mother who deferred to her husband.

Helen Keller – The Story of My Life – the story of an American girl from Alabama who lost her sight and hearing as a baby and determinedly overcame these obstacles to become a writer, a social activist and an advocate for the blind and deaf.


Howard Hughes: The Untold Story by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske – the story of a dashing billionaire inventor, pilot, and a filmmaker who used money to and control his business and personal life.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – I avoided Lab Girl at first because I am not a science person. But this memoir is for all readers. Jahren writes beautifully about her lonely childhood in Minnesota, college life and early years trying to make it as a scientist.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – a great story about being different and making it anyway. In some ways, it is a classic success story about perseverance, but mostly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who’s not mainstream.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Using notes stored away for nearly thirty years, Hemingway began working on a memoir of his days in Paris, where he was part of the expatriate community of writers, artists and creative minds, known now as the “Lost Generation.” He died leaving the book unfinished, but his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, edited the manuscript and the first edition was published in 1964.


Night by Elie Wiesel – Elie Wiesel’s memoir about being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II. The New York Times calls it “a slim volume of terrifying power” and I couldn’t agree more.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore – an in-depth look at the lives of two young men with the same name, who grew up on the same streets in Baltimore, Maryland and took two divergent paths.

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman – a young woman from West Virginia dreams of becoming a concert violinist and gets a job playing in a prestigious touring orchestra, only to discover that the microphones are turned off. Listeners instead hear music that sounds suspiciously like the score of the popular 1997 film, Titanic.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – a young doctor at the crest of a brilliant career as a neurosurgeon and scientist, Kalanithi was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. During the short time he had left, he was determined to live a life with personal meaning, so he continued working, fathered a baby girl and wrote this book.

What biographies and memoirs have you read? What do you recommend?

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Book Review: Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

Hidden Valley Road
by
Robert Kolker

In 1945, Don and Mimi Galvin welcomed their first child into the family. They settled in Colorado Springs and, over twenty years, added eleven more children to their brood, with a final tally of ten boys and two girls. Don’s early years were in the Air Force while Mimi ran the busy household and, to outsiders, they seemed like a highly functioning, although rambunctious group. All of the kids were good-looking, tall and athletic and their proud parents felt they were living the American Dream.

But as the children grew, six of the boys would become schizophrenic while the healthy kids lived in terror of developing the same mental illness. Despite many stays at the Pueblo state hospital, Mimi was determined to care for them. In an endless cycle of psychotic breaks, debilitating medications and returns home, the Galvin house was anything but normal. The six healthy children had to fend for themselves emotionally as their mother tended to their six sick brothers.

Hidden Valley Road is a fascinating look at the Galvin family and a comprehensive study of how patients with schizophrenia have been treated during the Galvin family’s lifetime. What causes this devastating illness? Is it nature or nurture? What kinds of treatments work best and what kind of life can patients and their families expect?

There are no concrete answers or cure and what makes it even more frustrating is that each patient has a unique situation. Sometimes drugs help, sometimes they don’t and they all have undesirable side effects. Controversial electroconvulsive therapy sometimes works, but not without a cost. Research has been slow and long with many dead ends and not enough breakthroughs.

Chapters alternate between the imploding Galvin family and descriptions of different theories and treatments. Most of the family’s problems are impossible to untangle. Sibling rivalry is at its extreme and violence, abuse and chaos make the home frightening and unsafe for the healthy kids. Later chapters describe how the six healthy children, when they become adults leave the home. Some never look back. Others are conflicted and return. They all feel anger, resentment and fear of becoming like their brothers. The two youngest Galvins, sisters Margaret and Lindsay do their best to stay together. Lindsay dedicates much of her adult life to helping her brothers and keeping the family connected.

Don and Mimi spent these years in stunned denial. Mimi was especially sensitive to the idea that her children’s illnesses were her fault. One theory termed the cause as “schozophrenogenic,” a belief that domineering mothers were at the root. Later thought supports the theory that it’s not nature vs. nurture, but a combination of the two and that schizophrenia is triggered by specific life events. Other ideas believe that nutrition during pregnancy may help. Another modern belief is that psychosis exists on a spectrum that includes bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Early intervention, talk therapy and family support are also newer ideas.

We all seem to love hearing about big families and how parents manage such large clans of kids. No one expects to have problems like this. A small piece of comfort to the healthy members of the Galvin family is that they have become an important case study. Almost all of the family members have contributed to the Human Genome Project, started in the 1980s to understand the function of every human gene.

I was thoroughly absorbed by Hidden Valley Road and learned a lot about schizophrenia and its effects on all members of a family. While a sobering story, it is very well told.

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Short reviews from 2013: Twisted, The Shoemaker’s Wife and Steve Jobs

In celebration of my 7-year blogging anniversary, here are three short reviews of books I read in 2013.


Twisted
by
Laurie Halse Anderson

This book is a little bit like a modern Catcher in the Rye and I liked it for that reason. Twisted was on our school district’s summer reading list for rising ninth graders a couple years ago. There is some mature language and content, but I think it is realistic. I think kids want to read something contemporary that has an edge to it and Anderson understands how to incorporate this element into quality writing.

In Twisted, Tyler returns to his senior year of high school, after being punished during the summer for vandalizing the school. He struggles with a poor self-image and how others, most importantly his father, perceive him. Tyler navigates through adolescence and important relationships and, like many coming-of-age stories, learns the true meaning of family and friendship.

Final scenes with his family are raw and emotional and show Anderson at her best.


The Shoemaker’s Wife
by
Adriana Trigiani

I liked this family saga of immigration, near-misses in love and brushes with greatness, with the appropriate doses of disappointment and sadness. It is a light and entertaining read. I enjoyed reading about Italy at the turn of the century and life in the Italian Alps. The author does a nice job bringing the main characters to life.

I think the author’s strengths lie in the story’s initial setting and characters. Her early descriptions of Ciro, Eduardo and their mother are moving. In addition, Trigiani’s descriptions of the Ravanelli family show warmth and devotion. It is the foundation of a really great story.

Ciro’s success as a shoemaker and his assimilation into New York life move at a believable pace. I enjoyed this part of the story much more. Despite the unlikely nature of meeting Enza on her wedding day, we all know it is coming and accept the feel-good moment.

Some other parts I like include Ciro’s relationship with Sister Teresa at the San Nicola Convent. I also like how Ciro is accepted for who he is at the convent, and how the nuns do not force him to be a believer.

An entertaining read and a great way to escape to another time and place!


Steve Jobs
by
Walter Isaacson

This biography gives us the full picture of Steve Jobs, good and bad. It is a detailed history of Jobs, his life and his creations at Apple, NeXT, Pixar and Apple again. And it’s a look at the impatient frustrations of a perfectionist who, with the genius of vision and presentation, liked to distort reality, had poor people skills and thought no rules applied to him.

I don’t know what to think of Steve Jobs. He derived his happiness from creating and was driven to do so. Isaacson shows a man who manipulated people, berated them, and often ignored his wife and children. He regularly took credit for ideas that came from his creative team and rearranged facts to benefit his point, all with no regrets. But time and again he enabled people to achieve the impossible by refusing to believe that something could not be done.  The combination of persistence and genius made him a remarkable man.

AND…Steve Jobs gave us the Mac, fonts, graphics and desktop publishing. Then he gave us the iPhone, the iPod, iTunes and music. He allowed us to re-experience the feelings we used to have in record stores as we excitedly flipped through albums and heard new music on the store speakers. Then he gave us the iPad, movies and books all with a touchscreen. He knew what we wanted, just as he said, before we knew what we wanted.

This was a very interesting read. My only negative comment is that it was sometimes repetitive, particularly on the subjects of distorted reality and Jobs’ belief in closed-end product design. I also thought the author often portrayed Jobs as too much of a beloved hero in the second half of the book, once Jobs returned to Apple. But then again, that’s when we got all these great products. And I don’t think I could live without them.

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On animals, nature, books and live feeds

Hi Everyone,

I wrote a post on our library blog today and shared live feeds of scenes of nature around the world. I’ve become fascinated with them, especially one of eagles and their babies.

I’ll share the link to that post at the bottom, but I also want to share a book I read last year, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery. I think it ties in nicely with these nature feeds. Montgomery is the author of 28 books for children and adults and her New York Times Best Seller, The Soul of an Octopus, was a finalist for the National Book Award for nonfiction. I recommend How to Be a Good Creature to anyone who is interested in animals, from those in the wild to the ones curled up in your lap or at your feet.

You can check out my review here.

Click here for more information about The Soul of an Octopus.


And to see how to get to the live feeds, with more book suggestions, check out this post: Explore nature’s creatures with, live feeds, books and magazines.

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Audiobook Review – Maid by Stephanie Land

Maid
by
Stephanie Land

Rating:

This is going to be one of those reviews that goes against a popular and well-received book. But it also raises an important question that readers should consider when they’re reading a memoir.

First, though, a quick summary of Maid by Stephanie Land. It’s Land’s story of how, as a single mother, she found herself homeless and had to turn to public assistance in the form of grants, food stamps and similar programs to help her find a place to live and provide daycare while she worked. In an eye-opening explanation, she lists the programs and specific requirements she needed to meet in order to qualify. As a former coffee shop worker and part-time landscaper, she had only a high school degree and struggled to find regular work. She took on jobs cleaning houses, working for herself and also through a maid service. But for a long time, there were never enough hours for her to earn a proper living

It’s also her success story of how she was able to pick herself up and get a college degree in creative writing and eventually write this book.

I’m all for this kind of success story and that’s why I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by the author.

The problem I have with the story is that the author is whiny, chippy and judgmental about the people she interacts with, including her family, who do not support her. I’m not going to get into the details about these relationships, her actions and the decisions she makes, except highlight a couple that really bugged me.

I thought her attitude towards the people in the homes she cleaned was hypercritical and downright shocking. Looking at receipts, going through papers, trying on clothes, snooping through their prescriptions, and the worst, opening up the urns of one family’s ashes and imagining how they died – that stuff is appalling. So much complaining about their bathrooms and the dirt in their homes. It was tiresome.

My other chief problem comes from a highway car accident in which the author left her daughter alone in their pulled-over car to a retrieve a toy that had gone out the window. There were many more things that rubbed me the wrong way, including major facts that were left out, that seemed to spin her story the way she wanted it.

But I want to raise a question about how readers are supposed to react to another person’s actions, when they’re put out there in a memoir, particularly the overcoming adversity type. As I said before, I like inspirational and uplifting stories and I don’t begrudge anyone’s success and happiness. As many other reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads have noted, I’m glad she dug herself out and found success. And if the book gives others in her situation the hope to do that, I’m for that.

I don’t mean to offend anyone who enjoyed reading or listening to Maid. As I said above, I’m glad she found happiness. But if readers feel something else, along with that message, something that doesn’t ring right, can’t we say so? What do you think?

To be fair, I’m sharing some positive and a couple skeptical WordPress reviews of Maid. And you can also click on these Amazon and Goodreads links for a full selection. It’s clearly the reader’s right to like the book, even though it wasn’t for me. Even Barack Obama liked the book, so what do I know?

Visit these blogs for a variety of reviews:

Becky’s Books
Hit or Miss Books
Ink Drinker Society
Arguably Alexis
The suspense is killin’ me—

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Books to Pen – Book Club Mom’s creative writing blog

Hi Everyone,

I just launched a new blog called Books to Pen, dedicated to my creative writing efforts. I posted my first piece of short fiction which you can find here. I hope you will take a look. Feedback is welcome!

https://bookstopen.wordpress.com


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Book Review: Howard Hughes: The Untold Story by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske

Howard Hughes: The Untold Story
by
Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske

Rating:

I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know much about Howard Hughes when I opened this biography. Most of it happened before I was born and I was too young to understand what happened later in his life. But I knew his name and I had a vague knowledge of his involvement in aircraft and the movies. That was it.

Hughes had a lot going on in his life. He was a dashing billionaire inventor and pilot, ran two giant corporations, built a major airline, was a filmmaker and used his money to get and control whatever he wanted, including a shockingly long list of glamourous women.

Born in Texas in 1905, Hughes grew up an only child, smothered by his mother’s obsessive attention and fear of germs. Already different and uncomfortable around other children, he preferred to play alone in the workshop his father built for him, where he tinkered with many inventions. He became a millionaire at nineteen, when his father died and left behind a successful oil drill bit business (Hughes Tool Company). The timing of his life, his engineering genius and business instinct resulted in decades of profits in the tool, aircraft and government contract businesses. With all this going on, he plunged into movie-making and made many successful films.

But there were many things askew in Howard Hughes. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a condition that was less understood at the time and often untreated or self-treated, affected all aspects of his life. More than a dozen head injuries, a syphilis infection and an alarming drug habit no doubt contributed to an increasingly bizarre and reclusive life.

He surrounded himself with staff and security who would do anything he asked, including hunting down beautiful stars and starlets, some of them in their teens, setting them up in bugged apartments, with detectives reporting on their every move. He seduced hundreds of famous women, including Jean Harlow, Kathryn Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, married twice, and was engaged to multiple young women and girls at the same time. He declared his love to all of them and some of them bought it. Hughes’s behavior with women was glamorized at the time, but from a modern reader’s perspective, it is disturbingly predatory.

Despite these conditions, he continued to negotiate huge deals for Hughes Tool Company, Hughes Aircraft, RKO Pictures and Trans World Airlines. He was also a political contributor, sometimes to both parties and had ties to President Richard Nixon’s adversary, Democratic National Committee Chairman Larry O’Brien. It’s believed that Nixon’s interest in knowing more about O’Brien’s relationship with Hughes was one of the reasons for the Watergate break-in.

In his prime, Howard Hughes was deemed an American hero, but in his final years, he was barely lucid. And it turns out, his loyal staff had their sights on his riches and pumped him with shocking amounts of codeine and painkillers. He died at age seventy in 1976.

There is much more in this book, too much to mention and better to read first-hand. There is no question that Hughes’s unbelievable life story fits Mark Twain’s observation that “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

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