Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the month “November, 2022”

Review: Vegan Serendib: Recipes from Sri Lanka, by Mary Anne Mohanraj

I’m not sure I’ve ever reviewed a cookbook before, so please bear with me. Also, I should note that while Ms. Mohanraj and I have not met in person, we have had several interesting conversations on Facebook Messenger when I had questions about recipes from her blog. I was also a supporter of both this book, Vegan Serendib: Recipes from Sri Lanka, and her first cookbook, A Feast of Serendib on Kickstarter.

That said, I was really knocked out by Vegan Serendib: Recipes from Sri Lanka! There are so many recipes in there that I want to try, especially as I have been trying to get more non-meat foods into my diet. I’m especially looking forward to trying some of the eggplant, beet, Brussels sprouts, okra, and cauliflower dishes since those are among my favorite vegetables. Savory dishes, however, are not the only things that Ms. Mohanraj covers. She also covers breakfast dishes, party dishes, desserts, and beverages.

In this volume, she keeps the storytelling to a minimum, which I kind of miss because she is an excellent storyteller, but I understand that she opted to include more recipes instead. She also has a small glossary, beautiful pictures of the foods, and advice on substitutions, which is very helpful for those of us not living in Sri Lanka.

I have no idea how she made the time to do this book: Ms. Mohanraj is not only a cookbook author, she writes science fiction/fantasy, runs several organizations promoting Desi literature, is a full professor of literature, has sat on a library board, and on a school board. She also designs beautiful fabrics, and now has taken on running a small press. Just listing all she does makes me dizzy!

Still, I hope she writes more cookbooks and explores her culture in them more deeply. If you like cookbooks, ethnic foods, excellent writing, and information, this is a book you need to add to your cookbook shelf and use often.

Review: Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak

I was a lot less impressed with Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago than I thought I’d be. The sad thing is that it was not the length of the book that was my problem…the characters just didn’t hold my attention. Thinking I was missing something, I asked my wife, who is as big a reader of difficult material as I am, what she thought. Her opinion is that it was the romanticized movie and his political activity that has caused this work to be so popular, but that she had not cared for it either.

I may come back to it someday — I am willing to believe that my perspective is far from the only one, so the book may well deserve another chance. Or it may be that this book needs to be read, not listened to.

Still, I feel like I’ve been through a war just to get through it, and it will definitely be a while before I contemplate picking it up again.

Review: Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band of All Time (of Authors) Tells All, edited by Sam Barry

Sigh. Another book I didn’t review the first time around.

Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band of All Time (of Authors) Tells All, by Sam Barry, is the second book about the Rock Bottom Remainders, a “supergroup” made up of a number of best-selling authors (and some family members and friends, and a ringer or two).

The book is clearly a group effort, although this time the curator is Sam Barry, Dave Barry’s brother, who was the harmonica player for the band. The book is part tribute to the Remainders that were no longer alive by the time it was written, most notably Kathy Kamen Goldmark, who founded the group back when she was an author escort.

Like much of what I’m reading, this is a book built of stories — in this case the memories of gigs and other moments on a rock tour. It’s much more of a look through a kaleidoscope than a coherent, chronological tale, and that alone helps to capture the insanity of being “on the road.”

I recommend Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band of All Time (of Authors) Tells All to anyone who ever wanted to be in a band. Moreover, I recommend t to anyone who wants to spend a little time remembering what it was like back when “the music” was the thing that made you tick. The trip is definitely worth the price of admission.

Review: Radio Girls, by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Jan from the Virtual Silent Book Club recommended Sarah-Jane Stratford’s Radio Girls to me, and I’m glad she did.

This historical fiction is an account of MI-5 agent Hilda Matheson, told from the viewpoint of a fictional member of her team at the BBC, during the ramp-up to World War II. At the same time, it’s about the entry of women into other than secretarial slots in broadcasting, and — indeed — the changing events in many women’s lives, such as gaining the vote, standing for political jobs, etc, as well as the resistance of many men to these changes.

As an ex-college-radio-engineer myself, I was fascinated by the work Hilda, Maisie (the fictional team member) and the other women at the BBC did to break into broadcasting — clearly a boys’ club — with shows and stories about/of interest to women. And this was long before the women’s movement of the 70s, so these (and the women they represent) are the true foremothers of women in broadcasting.

One of the best things I found in this book was the way that many of the characters who were actually sympathetic to the changes also had to recognize (or not) their own resistance to them, and their own hypocrisy.

All in all, it was an interesting take on a heroine I had never heard of before, and I want to find out more abut her, so I recommend this book not just for the excellent writing, but for introducing me to aa new heroine and piquing my interest to learning more about her.

I think that this book would be great for anyone interested in Ms. Matheson, the history of the BBC, Britain’s ramp-up to WWII, the history and uses of radio, and women’s history.

Review: Playing in the FM Band: A Personal Account of Free Radio, by Steve Post

I picked up Steve Post’s Playing in the FM Band: A Personal Account of Free Radio with more than the usual mix of anticipation and trepidation. You see, I, too, am a Pacifica orphan — not at anywhere near the level Post and contemporaries were, but WBAI-FM was – from my sophomore year of high school until my mid-twenties – one of the places that shaped me. I volunteered at the station, doing everything from equipment setup for concerts to stuffing envelopes and answering phones during marathons. The two major relationships of those years were with men I met at the station. Heck, one of my cousins even became Operations Manager there (long after my time, but still…).

that said, the book is a fascinating look behind the scenes at what was a very exciting time for radio — at least here in NYC. Some of the items Post talks about I only knew bits and pieces of, others I was right there for. The men who shaped my life in those days, Steve Post, of course, Larry Josephson, and Bob Fass are all gone now. The last of NY’s great free-form radio announcers, Vin Scelsa, retired in 2015. Still, the memories I’ve on, and it was good to see them from someone else’s viewpoint.

As with much of my reading this year, this book is –in many ways — about stories and how we communicate them.

I do recommend this book (if you can find it – it’s kind of hard to find) if you are into radio, or into the changing music, environment, world, and political era Post reflects on. If you ever took part in college radio (announcer, news, engineer) or held an FCC 3rd Class (or better) license, you will also find much to remember here.

Review on Second Reading: The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

I didn’t review Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita the first time I read it (earlier this year) because I felt it was a bit beyond me. This second reading, however, just proves the assertion by both Steve Allen and Benjamin McEvoy that classics are made to be read more than once.

For one thing, my familiarity with the story made it easier for me to relax and see just how widely funny The Master and Margarita is. It also made it much easier to track the characters and their storylines. It was definitely easier, too, to follow how the storylines interacted with each other.

I can definitely say I will come back to this book again, to see what I find on a third reading, but for now I am content t have proven Allen and McEvoy right.

Review: Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism, by Harold Bloom

I think that Harold Bloom’s Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism is a good book, but I also think that it is a bit more than I was ready for at this time.

I will, therefore, count it toward my Challenge, but will also put it aside to read again once I am more familiar with the works Bloom covers in it.

Review: The Scarlet Plague, by Jack London

I enjoyed Jack London’s relatively short piece, The Scarlet Plague, although I must admit I kept mentally flashing to Stephen Vincent Benét’s By the Waters of Babylon. I found this a bit odd because the two pieces don’t have a lot in common other than being post-apocalyptic, but there you go. In fact, London’s piece was first published in 1912, while Benét’s wasn’t published until 1937.

Sadly, the way the protagonist’s grandchildren interacted with him was all too recognizable to this former school aide — two of the three have total disrespect for the man, and the third is more about de-escalating the situation than respecting his grandfather.

Still, this was well-written, which shouldn’t surprise me. I’m no Jack London expert, but every time I do pick up a book of his the quality of the writing pleases me.

I would say give this a read, even if it’s not your kind of thing. You just might be pleasantly surprised. In fact, if you are in the mood, do try both of the pieces I mentioned. The Benét has stuck with me since I first read it in junior high school, which means it was so memorable that I’ve carried it in my head since 1965.

Review: Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, is an excellent book with only one fault — which is one of the things I have issues with a lot of modern writers. There are several spots where scenes are repeated word for word from other places in the book. To me, it means that at least one of the repeated scenes is filler, and it annoys the heck out of me.

Other than that, the book contains two major storylines, which finally do melt into each other (and in a pretty satisfying way, too). Each storyline is pretty thoroughly explored, so you feel as if you know the characters involved. It’s also about growing into who you really are as a person. And, like many of the books I seem to be coming across these days, it’s about stories. So much of what we learn comes through stories, and it seems that we as a people are finally beginning to realize the importance of stories in our lives.

I note that this book is a bit out of my wheelhouse, being about the West, with the earlier story taking place around the end of the Gold Rush, but that doesn’t make it less interesting. In fact, I would say that the different setting might be one of the elements which forces you to look at the stories being told.

So, if you can live with my one caveat, you should give this book a try.

Review: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen, by Mark Shaw

I was a lot less impressed with Mark Shaw’s The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen than I wanted to be. Sadly, much of the book seems to be “pearl-clutching” rather than the solid reporting that Ms. Kilgalen herself espoused. That is not to say the book wasn’t interesting, but it just wasn’t a) enough, and b) what I expected it to be.

It did hold my attention, but I think it’s really only going to interest those who are into some of the conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination because it doesn’t really shed any light on Ms. Kilgallen’s actual career (at least there was very little there that I didn’t already know, so that may be a personal issue with the book). But if conspiracy theories are your thing, give it a try.

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