SARA BERMAN’S CLOSET by Maira Kalman & Alex Kalman

October 31, 2018

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From the publisher:

Maira Kalman, the author of the bestsellers The Principles of Uncertainty and The Elements of Style, and Alex Kalman, the designer, curator, writer, and founder of Mmuseumm, combine their talents in this captivating family memoir, a creative blend of narrative and striking visuals that is a paean to an exceptional woman and a celebration of individuality, personal expression, and the art of living authentically.

In the early 1950s, Jewish émigré Sara Berman arrived in the Bronx with her husband and two young daughters When the children were grown, she and her husband returned to Israel, but Sara did not stay for long. In the late 1960s, at age sixty, she left her husband after thirty-eight years of marriage. One night, she packed a single suitcase and returned alone to New York City, moving into a studio apartment in Greenwich Village near her family. In her new home, Sara began discovering new things and establishing new rituals, from watching Jeopardy each night at 7:00 to eating pizza at the Museum of Modern Art’s cafeteria every Wednesday. She also began discarding the unnecessary, according to the Kalmans: “in a burst of personal expression, she decided to wear only white.”

Sara kept her belongings in an extraordinarily clean and organized closet. Filled with elegant, minimalist, heavily starched, impeccably pressed and folded all-white clothing, including socks and undergarments, as well as carefully selected objects—from a potato grater to her signature perfume, Chanel No.19—the space was sublime. Upon her death in 2004, her family decided to preserve its pristine contents, hoping to find a way to exhibit them one day.

In 2015, the Mmuseumm, a new type of museum located in a series of unexpected locations founded and curated by Sara’s grandson, Alex Kalman, recreated the space in a popular exhibit—Sara Berman’s Closet—in Tribeca. The installation eventually moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show will run at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles from December 4, 2018 to March 10, 2019; it will open again about a month later at the National Museum of American Jewish History from April 5, 2019 to September 1, 2019.

Inspired by the exhibit, this spectacular illustrated memoir, packed with family photographs, exclusive images, and Maira Kalman’s distinctive paintings, is an ode to Sara’s life, freedom, and re-invention. Sara Berman’s Closet is an indelible portrait of the human experience—overcoming hardship, taking risks, experiencing joy, enduring loss. It is also a reminder of the significance of the seemingly insignificant moments in our lives—the moments we take for granted that may turn out to be the sweetest. Filled with a daughter and grandson’s wry and touching observations conveyed in Maira’s signature script, Sara Berman’s Closest is a beautiful, loving tribute to one woman’s indomitable spirit.


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I received this book in the mail from a publicist at Harper Gallery and was immediately fascinated. Was it a graphic novel? Was it an art book? I didn’t know quite what to make of it so I looked inside and there was no title page. I brought it to work at the library and showed it to Jessica, a co-worker who used to work as a children’s librarian. She said sometimes children’s books put the title page at the back of the book, and sure enough, that’s where it was. What I was looking for was the classification of the book, the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress numbers.

I was shocked to see it classified as “Juvenile fiction.” Jessica explained that the juvenile designation meant it was geared for young children through third grade, and the book was meant to be read by an adult to the child. At 128 pages, that seemed a bit much to me. I took the book home and sat down and read it.

The text in the book is in cursive writing, most children at that age would not be able to read it themselves and frankly I occasionally had some difficulty myself.  The subject matter, as explained above in the publisher’s synopsis, is not child friendly, to say the least. While I really liked the book and loved the artwork, I could not imagine this as a children’s book. Interestingly, Amazon has it classified thusly:

  • Books > Arts & Photography > Collections, Catalogs & Exhibitions
  • Books > Arts & Photography > Graphic Design > Commercial > Fashion Design
  • Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Specific Groups > Women

Someone took a good look at it and came up with categories that actually fit the book. I’m guessing that the publisher gave it the Juvenile classification and for the life of me, I don’t understand why. And if that’s correct, I’m really puzzled as how I came to be a recipient of a children’s book. I rarely review them and I’m not on most children’s publicists radar. Then again, this book isn’t published by a children’s imprint, but rather an art imprint.

All that said, I loved this book. It is beautiful, the story interesting and compelling, and I think it would make a good gift book for sure. Thank you, Katherine Beitner, for sending this to me. And maybe you can get with the Library of Congress and have the Juvenile designation changed to something more appropriate?

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SARA BERMAN’S CLOSET by Maira Kalman & Alex Kalman. Harper Design (October 30, 2018). ISBN 978-0062846402.  128p.

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SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat

October 28, 2018

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Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

Illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton

I remember when this book was getting nominated for all kinds of awards, and from the reviews, I thought it was going to be a beginners cookbook so I didn’t pay it much attention. Then came the Netflix show.

My husband and I watched the first episode one Saturday night a few weeks ago. Samin is totally adorable, smart, funny and just, well, lovable. That first episode takes place in Italy, which didn’t hurt either. So we said, okay, we’ll watch the next one. That one was in Japan. An hour later, we thought, why not, let’s watch the episode in Mexico. And then there was only one episode left so we watched that, too. Yes, I lead an exciting life, binge watching Netflix on a Saturday night. It wasn’t the first time, and probably won’t be the last. But it was fun, and inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable and it led me back to her cookbook.

To be honest, I liked the TV series more than the book, and that is a very odd thing for me to say. It is, as I feared, very much a beginners cookbook. The first two hundred pages of the book just explains salt, fat, acid and heat. The rest of the book is called, “and now that you know how to cook…” and includes “recipes and recommendations.”

The first part of the second part? Not recipes, “Kitchen Basics” starting with “choosing tools, choosing ingredients, a few basic  how-tos” with illustrations. Like how to slice an onion, how to turn garlic into a paste, how to chop parsley and other info on knife cuts. Then, finally, recipes. Sort of.

There are pages on salads but nothing that looks like a recipe you’d find in any other cookbook until you get a ways in. There are pages about ingredients used in salad, a chart with suggested combinations, and then some actual recipes. Avocado, Beet and Citrus Salad. Shaved Carrot Salad with Ginger and Lime. Then some dressings – progress! After the salads come stocks and soups. beans, grains and pasta, fish, chicken, and so forth, even a handful of desserts. There is no table of contents, but there is an extensive index.

All that said, there wasn’t a whole lot I would make. It’s just too basic, I’ve been making most of this stuff for years. So it’s not a cookbook I would cook from, if you will, and for me, that defeats the purpose.

A reviewer from the Atlantic called it a “meta-cookbook” and I totally get that. Other reviewers felt that it changed the way they cooked or even the way they thought about food. It didn’t do that for me. That said, it would make a terrific gift for a beginning cook or someone who doesn’t like to cook or even worse, thinks they can’t cook. Samin is a remarkable teacher, and that shows on every page. Her love of food comes shining through, along with her will to make everyone feel the same way – and she truly is a force to be reckoned with – but in the most irresistible way. Buy it for the novice cooks in your life. And definitely watch the show!

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat. Simon and Schuster; 4th edition (April 25, 2017). ISBN 978-1476753836. 480p.


THE ESCAPE ARTISTS by Neal Bascomb

September 30, 2018

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A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War

Stories mainly untold about war are those of the soldiers captured on the battlefield and held prisoner until the end of the war they have fought in. Neal Bascomb has written such a book involving British prisoners held in Germany during World War One, their treatment by the German military, their thoughts and dreams and the many and varied attempts at escape successes and recapture.

The amount of research that has obviously gone into the project dealing with events of a century ago is prodigious to say the least. Drawing on documents held by museums, families of the men that lived the experience, and scholarly works as found help to bring to light stories of real people and real events during the War to end all wars.

The first section of the book involves experiences of many men in various prison camps, descriptions obtained by research of the actions involved in the attempts and of course the results. By no means a dry chronicle of old news we have the experience of meeting real young men that had faced the entrance into the horrific experience of modern combat and than being captured and imprisoned. They lived lives of complete and utter boredom in the prison camps as well as facing deprivation of normal meals, and atmospheres of filth and possible brutality at the hands of their jailers.

The final section of the book is a description of the breakout of prisoners from one of the worst of the camps: Holzminden situated about 150 miles from Holland than neutral and the planned destination of the escapees. Twenty six prisoners fled the camp at one time making it the largest escape attempt up until that time. Details of the plans, the coordination and the results are presented and make the breakout real to any reader of the book.

I must indicate that the book is nowhere near the dry tome that it might thought of as being. The young men had real lives and certainly went on from their captivity to life after the war. There is chronicling of some of them, including several that went on to present their experiences to groups of soldiers and airmen destined to take part in World War Two. The point is made that the accounts presented helped to sharpen the escape attempts of these men in their turn.

9/18 Paul Lane

THE ESCAPE ARTISTS by Neal Bascomb. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 18, 2018).  ISBN 978-0544937116. 336p.

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BIBLIOPHILE by Jane Mount

September 20, 2018

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An Illustrated Miscellany 

I am a long time fan of Jane Mount’s art and often spend time drooling over her website, the Ideal Bookshelf. If you are not a complete book wonk like me, Mount offers paintings/prints similar to the cover of this book. She has hundreds of collections and books to choose from and you can create your own “ideal bookshelf”. This is my dream gift!

This book is a really fun read for any book lover. Fully illustrated, there are pages for almost every genre, like historical fiction and romance, but also super creative ones like “Book Club Darlings,” “Novels of the Millennium: Optimists Confusion,” “Books Made into Great TV,” and collections of titles with various covers, like Pride & Prejudice and 1984.

Also included are many illustrations of “Beloved Bookstores” and “Striking Libraries” from around the world. Mount offers her unique illustrations of the Strand (NYC), Librairie D&Q (Quebec), San Librario (Bogota) bookstores and the Library of Parliament (Ottowa), Seattle Central Library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of The New York Public Library (the one with the lions) and lots more.

There are fun quizzes, like “Fictional Planet Universe” where there are illustrations of 20 or so planets and you have to name the book or comic where the planet appears. She offers insight into how books are made (“The Physical Book,”) “Designers’ Picks” and “Writing Rooms.” There are “Writers Pets,” “Read Around the World” maps, “Every Day Food Inspiration” and many more.

I could go on for days and tell you about every page in this book, but it is so much better to see it for yourself. Amazon has some of the illustrations available:

Did I mention I love this book? With the holidays right around the corner (have you seen the Christmas decorations at Costco?!) this book would make a beautiful gift for the book lover in your life.

You’re welcome.

9/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BIBLIOPHILE by Jane Mount. Chronicle Books; Illustrated edition (September 11, 2018). ISBN 978-1452167237. 224p.


DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard

September 16, 2018

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Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South

WINNER OF AN ASTONISHING FOUR IACP AWARDS, INCLUDING COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR AND THE JULIA CHILD FIRST BOOK AWARD

Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s A CHEF’S LIFE, celebrates the flavors of North Carolina’s coastal plain in more than 200 recipes and stories.

This was a serendipitous find of a cookbook. First, it showed up on several lists of cookbooks to look for. Then it won the IACP Cookbook of the Year award. Then I was looking around PBS and stumbled on this show called “A Chef’s Life” and it took a few episodes before I realized that this show starred the author of this cookbook I kept hearing about. Kismet!

I selected it for my cookbook discussion group (there is such a thing and I’ve been facilitating this group for several years at my library,) ordered 15 copies and waited. We met yesterday to discuss and watch the “Broccoli” episode where Vivian begins her book/food truck tour. Yes, this chef went on tour with a food truck. How brilliant was that? Made me wonder why all chefs weren’t doing that.

The consensus of the group was that we loved reading the book – her stories are just wonderful. However, cooking from the book was an entirely different thing. A few people felt intimidated by it, and remember, this is a group of people who cook regularly from cookbooks, most for many years so that really surprised me. Most people felt the recipes were overly long and complicated and a few others didn’t care for the style of the food but loved reading the book. Southern cuisine is not for everyone, and this is a very specific, eastern Carolina style of food. One of the group is actually from eastern Carolina and has relatives still living in the area and she probably enjoyed this book the most. Vivian Howard is a hero there.

So about the book – the positives. There are stories, lots of stories, and they are wonderful. The book itself is beautiful, sturdy, heavy paper sewn into the binding so it lies flat pretty much at every page. Towards the end of the book (it is a big cookbook, over 500 pages) the sheer weight of the book tends to snap it closed. There are also instructions on how to can fruits and vegetables, which seems important to a cookbook like this.

There is a table of contents (which is odd, by any standards) and then a very detailed Recipe Guide which is in a completely different order and sectioned differently from the table of contents. At the end of the book is an index, which is a sorry thing that often refers back to the page of the Recipe Guide to find the actual page number of the recipe. Confusing? Yep. So for clarity’s sake, on the left side of this picture is the actual Table of Contents, with the chapters:

Looking at just the table of contents, one would think there were no chicken, beef or fish recipes, for instance, but there are. There is an explanation given as to the way the book is organized. Vivian says,

…the way I ordered the chapters and recipes is personal, driven more by story than anything else. But it’s a cookbook, after all, and I want you to cook from it, and that’s why I’ve included this more practical guide (that would be the Recipe Guide.)

On the right side of the picture is the beginning of the Recipe Guide. It is divided into sections that make a bit more sense, more like a traditional cookbook, with sections called Breakfast and Brunch; Sandwiches; Pickles, Preserves, and Relishes; Sweets etc. I do like that she included a box at the end of this guide with “Eastern North Carolina Traditions”, a list of recipes that are truly native to that area like Collard Kraut, Fresh Corn Roasted in Chicken Drippings, Squash and Onions, and so forth.

One of my members made the Squash and Onions and said she made the rookie mistake of not reading the recipe all the way through before beginning. By the time she realized that these vegetables would be cooking for hours, she was already into it. She said that to her, a Yankee born and bred, this dish epitomized everything that is wrong with Southern food, taking beautiful, fresh ingredients, like summer squash straight from the farm, and cooking it until it is an unrecognizable mush. She ended up taking the mush, adding in quinoa and finely chopped mushrooms and turned it into a most delicious veggie burger. The mushy squash acted as the glue in holding it all together.

Another member of the group, the one from eastern North Carolina, made the Stewed Collard Greens with Ham Hock. She said this recipe is very similar to the way she grew up making this dish and it was delicious.

We all noticed that citrus plays an important role in many recipes, and we all liked that. I loved the Citrus Sweet Potato Butter although I did leave out the sugar, and found it more than sweet enough. I will be making that again. When I have some time off from work, I am going to attempt the Sweet Potato Onion Bread, which is a four page long recipe that requires a lot of attention, this is no mix it, knead it and wait recipe. I also am planning on making the Stuffed Butternut Bottoms, where butternut squash “bowls” are roasted then stuffed with a mixture of sausage, leek, turnip greens (or kale) and cheese, then topped with bread crumbs and baked again. She doesn’t specify the type of sausage so I’m thinking maybe a spicy chicken sausage would be good here. It sounds really good and winter squash season is almost upon us.

I did not care for the Watermelon Tea – basically a mixture of tea and pureed, strained watermelon that I thought would be akin to a sweet tea without adding actual sugar, but I found it an odd combination of flavors. Another member of the group made the Peaches and Cream Cake, another four page recipe (including pictures) and loved it but said it really was overly complicated. I also made “Viv’s Addiction,” a spiced pecan that was delicious. The nuts are folded into a stiffly beaten egg white with lots of spice then baked. I love these things, but this was the most complicated spiced nut recipe I’ve ever made. Breaking apart what is essentially a sweet & spicy praline required a bit of attention but I think the end result was worth it.

I mostly enjoyed reading this cookbook more than cooking from it, if that makes sense. But if you are looking for unusual recipes, and you like Southern food, and you enjoy the challenge of long, complicated recipes, you may love this cookbook.

9/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard. Little, Brown and Company; y First edition edition (October 4, 2016). ISBN 978-0316381109. 576p.

 

 

 


THE DONALD J. TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TWITTER LIBRARY

August 20, 2018

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Presented by The Daily Show with Trevor Noah; Forward by Jon Meacham

From the publisher:

As seen on The Daily Show, an illustrated portrait of the Donald J. Trump Twitter account, with analysis and “scholarly” commentary from the writers of The Daily Show and an introduction by Trevor Noah

In June 2017, just steps from Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah opened The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, a 4,000-square-foot museum space that gave the 45th president and his amazing Twitter legacy the respect they deserve. In the single weekend it was open to the public, the Library pop-up drew 7,500 visitors and had to turn away countless others.

But the Presidential Twitter Library experience should not be limited to the elite coastal few. Not fair! All citizens, even the Mexican ones, should have the chance to see Donald Trump’s tweets in their rightful context—organized and commented on in the fearless, hilarious, insightful voice of The Daily Show.

This one-of-a-kind exhibition catalog presents the Library’s complete contents, including:

• The Masterpieces: In-depth critical appreciations of history’s most important Trump tweets, from “Very Stable Genius” to “Covfefe” to “Trump Tower Taco Bowl/I Love Hispanics!”
• The Greatest Battles: @realDonaldTrump’s brutal Twitter campaigns against fellow Republicans, Diet Coke, women generally, and Kristen Stewart specifically
• Sad! A Retrospective: a compendium of the many people, events, and twists of fate that apparently made Donald Trump feel this human emotion
• Trumpstradamus: DJT’s amazing 140-character predictions—none of which came true!
• The Hall of Nicknames: the greatest of Trump’s monikers, from “Lyin’ Ted” to “Low I.Q. Crazy Mika,” accompanied by original caricature artwork
• Trump vs. Trump: You’re going to want to sit for this one. Donald Trump has sometimes been known to contradict himself.
• Always the Best: the greatest boasts of the greatest boaster of all time, ever!

Comprising hundreds of Trump tweets, and featuring a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham, and even a place for readers to add their own future Trump tweet highlights—because he is making new Twitter history literally every day—The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library is a unique portrait of an artist whose masterworks will be studied by historians, grammarians, and mental health professionals for years to come.


Regular readers of this blog (and my Twitter feed) know which way my political leanings go. The only way I am surviving this presidency is by reading romance (I need the happy endings,) listening to podcasts (bless you, Crooked Media) and laughing (it beats crying.) Books like this help.

Noah introduces the book thusly:

When Donald J. Trump launched his campaign for president in 2015, I laughed at the idea. If there’s one thing I knew about Americans, it’s that they wanted their presidents to be dignified, intelligent, and black. Trump had none of these qualities. Even worse, Trump had tweets!

That made me sad, but it also made me laugh. So if you don’t find it funny, then this book probably isn’t for you.

Meacham takes his forward seriously, compares Trump to previous presidents like FDR and Woodrow Wilson, and simply nails it: “As president, he has raised narcissism to Homeric heights – a difficult thing to do when one recalls that politicians, as a species, consider public notice to be slightly more essential than oxygen.”

The illustrations are terrific, the graphs and charts intriguing and it all made me feel a little less lost in America. The old saying “misery loves company” is a proven theorem here. Thanks to Trevor Noah and the team at the Daily Show.

8/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE DONALD J. TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TWITTER LIBRARY by The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau (July 31, 2018). ISBN 978-1984801883. 144p.

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32 YOLKS by Eric Ripert

July 29, 2018

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From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line

From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Hailed by Anthony Bourdain as “heartbreaking, horrifying, poignant, and inspiring,” 32 Yolks is the brave and affecting coming-of-age story about the making of a French chef, from the culinary icon behind the renowned New York City restaurant Le Bernardin.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR

In an industry where celebrity chefs are known as much for their salty talk and quick tempers as their food, Eric Ripert stands out. The winner of four James Beard Awards, co-owner and chef of a world-renowned restaurant, and recipient of countless Michelin stars, Ripert embodies elegance and culinary perfection. But before the accolades, before he even knew how to make a proper hollandaise sauce, Eric Ripert was a lonely young boy in the south of France whose life was falling apart.

Ripert’s parents divorced when he was six, separating him from the father he idolized and replacing him with a cold, bullying stepfather who insisted that Ripert be sent away to boarding school. A few years later, Ripert’s father died on a hiking trip. Through these tough times, the one thing that gave Ripert comfort was food. Told that boys had no place in the kitchen, Ripert would instead watch from the doorway as his mother rolled couscous by hand or his grandmother pressed out the buttery dough for the treat he loved above all others, tarte aux pommes. When an eccentric local chef took him under his wing, an eleven-year-old Ripert realized that food was more than just an escape: It was his calling. That passion would carry him through the drudgery of culinary school and into the high-pressure world of Paris’s most elite restaurants, where Ripert discovered that learning to cook was the easy part—surviving the line was the battle.

Taking us from Eric Ripert’s childhood in the south of France and the mountains of Andorra into the demanding kitchens of such legendary Parisian chefs as Joël Robuchon and Dominique Bouchet, until, at the age of twenty-four, Ripert made his way to the United States, 32 Yolks is the tender and richly told story of how one of our greatest living chefs found himself—and his home—in the kitchen.


This was not what I was expecting at all. I have read several memoirs by chefs, and I expect the hardship of the kitchen. But I did not expect the hardship of a childhood, and Ripert’s was not especially pleasant. His mother was a very successful shopkeeper, so they had money, but for everyone who thinks that money is the answer to all problems, I suggest you read this book to find out why that is rarely the case.

The high pressure of the kitchen and how Ripert worked through it was inspiring to read. He holds the unique distinction of taking over a 3 Michelin star & NY Times 4 star restaurant, and holding on to those stars for over thirty years, a remarkable feat not repeated anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the book ends just as he arrives in America which leads me to hope there will be a sequel.

Co-written with Veronica Chambers, who also worked with Marcus Samuelsson on Yes, Chef, his memoir, she does an excellent job. For foodies who want more than what’s on TV.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

32 YOLKS by Eric Ripert. Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0812983067. 256p.

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FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dory-Stein

July 20, 2018

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A Memoir

This memoir is getting lots of buzz and I can see why. It is compulsively readable, despite the fact that the author is a bit of an idiot. Or maybe that’s why.

Dorey-Stein was one of the White House stenographers under President Obama. I didn’t know there was such a position, and neither did she until she answered a Craigslist ad and eventually was told what the position actually was. My mom was a stenographer in the 1950’s, which meant she worked for a man (it was always a man) and took dictation using Gregg shorthand, writing squiggly lines on steno pads. Then she would type up whatever it was, usually letters I think. Steno pads still live (check out Office Depot if you’re not sure what they are) but apparently their use has changed. The White House stenographers do not take shorthand. They record every utterance the President makes then type it up for wherever it will go, usually the archives and the press. It is an extremely interesting and sensitive job. It makes the Putin-Trump summit all the more remarkable in that the private meeting was not recorded, an extraordinary breach of protocol and history.

One of the reasons Dorey-Stein got the job was because she was a substitute teacher at the Sidwell Friends School. If that name sounds familiar, it is probably because the school is famous as providing the education for many presidents’ children, including the Obamas. Since she already had security clearance to be around those kids, it made her entree into the White House that much easier.

While there, the 25-year-old Dorey-Stein often traveled with the President and was at many, many historic meetings, summits, appearances, etc.; rather Forrest Gump-like in fact. She often ran into the President in hotel gyms where he was always kind to her and often kidded her about her running. Dorey-Stein presents yet another glimpse of the man who exuded charm, intelligence and charisma and was the epitome of grace and civility. Yes, I miss him.

But Dorey-Stein writes about her personal life as well, and that is where the comparisons to “Sex and the City” come in. Not my comparison, but it keeps cropping up when I see anything about this book. Mostly because she has a boyfriend but is constantly falling into bed with a co-worker who is a womanizing pig. But charming. Dorey-Stein falls a little bit in love with him, which is well beyond my understanding but I haven’t been 25 in many years. And by that age, I was already married so what do I know.

While I may not approve of the cheating, and I may not understand why she did it with such an openly sleazy guy, I have to give Dorey-Stein props for the writing, it is amazing. She is truly talented. Here’s a short sample:

We’re always just a few ticks, clicks, updates and pings away from personal and collective disaster, but right now we’re not our titles but our own selves-people with backgrounds and futures and exes and half-dead pets and crazy parents and broken hearts and big dreams; people who are listening to the president as he tells a funny story from two countries back, twelve hours ago, depending on which time zone you’re counting in. We’re so different, but we’re swimming in this same punch-drunk delirium, and we have one major thing in common: We’ve found ourselves, shockingly, amazingly, how-the-fuck-did-this-happen crazily, flying halfway around the world on Air Force One. We are lucky.

It was also a very nostalgic read and I was reminded time and again of how Obama handled all the nightmares during his presidency; crying while talking about Sandy Hook, singing “Amazing Grace” at the black church where people were shot and killed for no reason, all the mass shootings in fact. I’m assuming that some of the names have been changed in this book but I did enjoy the touches of reality, the David Plouffe stories, Jon “Fav’s Abs” Favreau’s brief mention, and more.

Dorey-Stein did work briefly for Trump as the stenographer is not an appointed position. In fact, the woman in charge of the department had served under many presidents. But the chaos that ensued with the new staff was enough of an impetus for her to leave.

If you have any interest in what it is like to work for the President of the United States, and travel on Air Force One, this is your book. It was a fast read and I couldn’t put it down, I finished it in one night (your speed may vary) and it was mostly enjoyable.

Bonus: On July 17, 2018, Dory-Stein wrote an op-ed in the NY Times, “I Was a White House Stenographer. Trump Wasn’t a Fan.”

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dory-Stein. Spiegel & Grau (July 10, 2018). ISBN 978-0525509127 . 330p.

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CALYPSO by David Sedaris

July 14, 2018

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So I broke a crown, a molar, next to another crown and they both have to be replaced. In the dentist’s waiting room, I was reading this book and laughing out loud like an idiot despite the pain in my mouth. I was reading on my phone so I don’t know what the other people in that office were thinking and I really didn’t care. There’s nothing like getting bad news and knowing at least you have a funny book to get back to. Feel free to send donations. Did I mention I need TWO crowns?!

I am a long time David Sedaris fanatic. When I worked at Borders, I stumbled across Holidays on Ice, with the original cover showing Santa standing at an urinal. I’m not sure why that cover was changed. That book has the story about when David was a Christmas Elf in a department store and NPR airs that story every year at Christmas. It still cracks me up no matter how many times I’ve heard it. I got to see him in person a few books ago at the American Library Association conference and I laughed until I cried. I probably mention all of this in every review I do of his books because, why not.

So Calypso. A friend/co-worker told me she didn’t especially like it, she thought it was very melancholy. I was shocked. Then she said maybe I’m losing my sense of humor and I assured her that she was. Yes, there are some parts of the book – dealing with his aging father, his sister’s suicide, that are sad. But even in those stories there is humor.

I loved “Your English is So Good,” in which David dreams up the idea to teach foreign business traveler’s visiting America English. He goes off on upselling, buying a magazine at the airport and being asked if he wants a bottle of water then demanding coffee, ONLY coffee, at the Dunkin’ Donuts and the cashier asks if he wants a cup. This is funny stuff! I also liked his collecting words that should be outlawed, like “awesome!”

Another fun essay is called “Little Guy” in which he laments his lack of height and wonders how tall Rock Hudson was. That leads to how his computer is always so wholesome and his sister Amy’s computer is always spewing porn no matter what question Google is asked. The essay that titled the book, “Calypso,” explains how a friend of David’s is an artist but her latest project is just finding pieces of plywood that she sees things in. Like the face on the cover of this book. Which led to a whole diatribe on his seeing various doctors while on book tour across America. The tumor stuff was unbelievable and I will leave it at that.

I loved this book and there are some Trump references in it that also made me laugh.

Thank you, Mr. Sedaris, I sure needed that.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CALYPSO by David Sedaris. Little, Brown and Company; 1st Edition edition (May 29, 2018). ISBN 978-0316392389. 272p.


THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer

July 10, 2018

Click book cover to purchase

A Memoir

Jonathan Santlofer is an artist and a writer and someone I consider a friend. In 2013, he lost his wife, Joy, quite suddenly, and his way of coping was to draw and write. This book is the culmination of that endeavor.

There are many books written about grief and many about losing a spouse, but most are written by women about losing their husbands. I hate to generalize but I’m going to. Men tend to be more stoic about loss, less likely to talk about it, much less write about it. But Jonathan is not your average man.

I’ve known Jonathan a long time but didn’t hear about Joy’s passing until a year or so after the fact. At the time, he couldn’t really talk about it and I understood that. When he told me about this book many months ago, I got a digital galley and put it aside. Even though he told me about it and I knew he wanted me to read it, I had to come to grips with reading about his pain. It’s a difficult thing to do when you know and care about the person who is in pain. But with publication looming, I put aside my usual escapist fare and sat down to read it.

Jonathan’s voice was immediately recognizable. This isn’t some new-agey, self-help guide but rather a journey through loss and devastation, grief and pain, and ultimately hope and love. There are many drawings as well, drawing was one of his coping mechanisms and he explains how it helped him. The drawings are simple and beautiful and so expressive of a life well lived.

Joy had been working on her own book called Food City when she passed. A food historian who taught at NYU, she had worked for six years on this book about the food history of New York City and it was truly a labor of love. When she died, she left a manuscript that was twice as long as was contracted for and in need of serious editing. Jonathan and their daughter raised money to pay for an independent editor and along with her publisher, and both of them, they were able to get the book completed. (See my review here.) It was the culmination of an exhaustive project, yet bittersweet that Joy never got to see her finished book. But what a way to honor her.

Lest you think this book is a maudlin meandering of thought, it most certainly is not. Jonathan has a terrific sense of humor and understands the absurdity of life and loss.. He is self deprecating and self aware, and even through some of the most difficult parts of the book, his humor shines through. Don’t get me wrong, I cried through much of this but I also laughed.

Stories about how friends tried to help, or didn’t, were mostly encouraging, occasionally discouraging, and often funny. The set ups, (single men are always a target) not to mention a friend who tried to get him to hire hookers from a website, and poignantly, the realization that widowers are treated differently (better) than widows. I especially loved the chapter, “Stupid Things Said by Smart People,” which was so honest and pointed to something many people struggle with.

A couple of quotes that I thought were simple, eloquent and elucidating:

The fact is, losing one’s partner is an unsolicited litmus test. Some friends pass the test beautifully and others fail.

And this:

Grief is two-pronged: to get past it is to move on, a good thing; to get over it, to forget your grief and your former life and all that is attached to it, impossibly sad.

Comparisons to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking are inevitable, and Jonathan is the yin to her yang. This is a beautifully written, haunting and emotional memoir about loss, grief, love, and moving on. It is thought provoking, intelligent, important and ultimately inspirational. This is a book worth reading and sharing.

I’m very glad Jonathan decided to share his Widower’s Notebook.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer. Penguin Books (July 10, 2018). ISBN 978-0143132493. 272p.

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