Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

The Big Rewind by Nathan Rabin

December 7, 2011

When you have Roger Ebert, Chuck Klosterman and Patton Oswalt chucking up praise on the back cover of your book, what else is there for anyone else to say? On top of that, this is a memoir, and I’ve never been entirely sure what I should say about such things. If someone’s life story kinda sucks, and is a boring read, why should I be piling on at that point? I don’t read a lot of memoirs or autobiographies, so maybe some are so hideously poorly written that it’s a reviewer’s  responsibility to the public at large to point it out on barely noticed blogs everywhere, but I haven’t had to plant that knife in anyone’s back. Yet.

This is a memoir I went into totally blind. While I knew of this “Onion” thing that is mentioned throughout the book and placed liberally in the author’s bio, it’s not something I ever spent much time perusing. I didn’t have any real clue who Nathan Rabin was when I grabbed his book off the shelf at the Friends of the Library Sale (sorry Nathan, bought the thing second hand, for less than a buck. But it did go to support a library, so don’t complain), and I think I probably got it just as much for it’s cover as for anything else. And thank god the cover was interesting enough to make me throw down my pennies for it.

Rabin is seriously funny, despite his having one of the saddest, most ridiculously ill-fated lives I can imagine. The guy makes Precious look truly blessed for only having to deal with AIDS and her abusive mother and molestering “father.” The only thing that appears to have gone ridiculously well for Rabin is his falling in with The Onion, and that has ended up blessing us all (apparently, if you read it. I really should look at it sometime).

The only part that dragged for me, ironically, was the bit towards the end of his relationship with an overly sexed up grad student who thought getting gang banged was the equivalent of a religious experience.  Other than that, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, addictive and a whole lot of other things that Roger Ebert already said about it on the back cover. At the end of the book, after the acknowledgements, there is one line in the center of a page, all to itself: ever feel like you’ve been cheated? Yes, I have, but not this time.

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Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – review (sort of)

November 14, 2011

At this point, I’m not sure there would be anything left to say about Anthony Bourdain. He has his own television show, he’s published numerous books, and he was a chef at a moderately well-known restaurant in the capital of the world, New York City. I’m fairly certain that if you’ve been at all conscious for the past few years, you’ve heard of him, you’ve seen him, and you’ve wanted to travel to half the places he’s traveled to and ate at least a quarter of what he’s eaten.  Hell, it’s why I grabbed this book off the shelf (albeit the clearance shelf at the local Half Price Books, though that’s more a reflection of my poverty status than of the quality of the book). A memoir of my favorite foodie, talking about his life, restaurants, food and everything in between? I’m in. Except I also didn’t know what I was going to write about.

Now, I do know, but it’s not really the book. It’s a great read. If you’ve seen No Reservations, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Bourdain’s voice is all over this thing, just like his ever present voice overs move us through his television show. Ribald one moment, juvenile machismo the next, and then dropping just the right note of seriousness at just the right moment to remind you that,yes, despite his behavior, he’s actually a pretty decent guy; the kind of guy you would want to go to dinner with, and not just watch him act like a jackass on television for the rubber necker factor.

Still, outside of that, I didn’t know what to write about as I moved through this book. I figured it would become another in a long line of books that I have read lately that I haven’t been able to put a blog together for. As I read, though, I came to know Bourdain better, to get a better idea of his world, but I was also able to discover a bit more about my Uncle J.  He died a few years ago, working nearly 30 years as a chef/kitchen manager, the majority of which for a relatively well known national Italian chain. I looked up to him, literally (he was well over 6ft tall) and figuratively. He was one of the few people in my family who had been able to go into the world, and make a pretty decent living doing something he enjoyed. Unfortunately, his work forced him to live pretty far from home, most of the time, and to move often. I didn’t get to see him, or talk to him, nearly enough in the years leading up to his death.  His death was very unexpected, and it’s something that still bothers me. I had been in his kitchens a few times at work, but I’d never really gotten an idea of what it was like. It’s been a part of his life that I’ve always been curious about.

Reading Bourdain’s book gave me an idea of what my uncle’s life must have been like. From how Hispanics dominate the kitchen staff to how the restaurant business, especially the kitchens, are a sort of way station for the lost, the oddballs, and the outcasts. It’s a world for those who don’t really fit in anywhere else. And the appeal of the business suddenly made  a lot of sense. My uncle grew up in a very small town. He was a very big guy, height and weight, and the weight was something he battled with all his life. And he was gay, though not openly around home. Still, he was an easy target. He never forgot how he was treated, he avoided places where he figured he would be likely to run into former classmates, I had the very clear impression that he loathed coming home because of it. I have a feeling that a kitchen was one of the few places where he could just fit in, where he could be accepted, not necessarily despite his differences, but because of them.

Bourdain wrote a wonderful book. It’s worth the read. As for me, I owe him for giving me a better understanding of the life my uncle lived, and that’s been priceless.