Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

dearieJulia Child was bigger than life.  Her gregarious manner, outspokenness, and towering height made her a force of nature, and a friend of millions, when she first signed on in the early 1960s with WBGH, the public television station in Boston, to do a cooking show.  The French Chef, as it was called, ran for ten years and made Julia a household name.

But long before that, she was Julia McWilliams, who grew up in a well-to-do family in Pasadena.  After finding it difficult to pin down a career, in her early thirties Julia joined the Office of Strategic Services with posts in Washington DC, Ceylon, and China.  While over in Asia during World War II, she met Paul Child, an East Coast native who had a taste for good food and conversation.  They married, and after the war, Paul maintained a government job, which got them posted to Paris – and Julia had her first epiphany with French food.  She not only loved to eat the delicacies in France, but wanted to learn how to cook them.  She took classes at Le Cordon Bleu and earned her mettle there in classrooms largely made up of American servicemen.

Julia’s approach to French dishes had its first exposure to American audiences with the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961.  Several shows and cookbooks later, she was still shouldering on, living a schedule that would put others half her age under.

Dearie gets to the core of all things Julia – her early disappointments with employment, her troubled relationship with her father, and her ultimate flowering as a media icon.  It’s an admiring biography, but the author is not averse to showing Julia’s rough edges.

Julia Child was an indefatigable personality who deserves an exhaustive biography.  She gets it here.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I enjoy learning about psychology, and after repeatedly running across references to this quietbook, I decided to read it.  You’ll probably want to read it if you:

  • Have heard the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” and wonder exactly what they mean
  • Suspect (or know) that you are an introvert
  • Suspect (or know) that your spouse, child, or other loved one is an introvert
  • Teach, supervise, or work with introverts

Although one-third to one-half of people in the U.S. are introverts, our culture tends to applaud extroverts.  Many workplaces and schools are organized for extroverts, and some introverts feel that they can succeed only by becoming “pseudo-extroverts.”  This book can give any reader food for thought and a better understanding of himself and of other people.  There are tips for introverts and for extroverts who interact with them.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Gene Everlasting by Gene Logsdon

Despite the title, Gene Logsdon looks, not so such for immortality, but for the eternal in thegene natural world, observing the lives of plants and animals that are unfazed amidst the encroachment of suburbia and pesticides and keep coming back.  He sees this continuation as a type of everlasting life, albeit one that is in a constant state of renewal.  Logsdon also considers humans part of this circle of life.

This latest set of essays finds the author ruminating widely – on common weeds, the culture of buzzards, pig butchering, the deaths of pets and loved ones, even his own shaky bout with cancer.  Logsdon is very much an advocate of nature, but he doesn’t sugarcoat his observations, even voicing his dislike of persistent flora.  He manages it all with a kind of laconic wit, and in his own gentle way, invites us to view what’s around us (city, country, or wherever) with a different eye.

Gene Everlasting is not a book you have to finish in one sitting.  Each essay runs 5-6 pages, with a few longer.  It is a book that begs for quietness – a good porch read, preferably with bird song in the background.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy by Lyle Estill

With the Shakori Hills Festival going on this week, it seems appropriate to review this small is possiblebook, a survey of the grassroots businesses of Chatham County.

The author has lived in the area since 1990.  During this time, he’s worked for an independent Internet company, created metal art, and run a biodiesel facility.  As such, he’s a big advocate for sustainable businesses and environmental issues.

Small is Possible highlights the people who make a local economy work.  They are artists, craftsmen, shop owners and other business types who have grown to trust each other and see the viability of keeping commerce within the community.

There’s lots of stumbling blocks along the way – financing is always one of the hardest.  It can be hard to talk a loan out of a banker when they consider a fledgling business questionable.  Convincing locals to shop at a food co-op instead of at a big box store is also a big hurdle.  And, there are times when idealistic ventures don’t quite work to par (read the chapter “Housing Ourselves” to find out).  Still, there’s enough success stories here, and Estill writes with an understated humor that keeps this book an engaging read.

Keep it local.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

one summerIn his latest book, Bryson describes an eventful summer.  He summarizes it in these words:  “Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs.  The Federal Reserve made the mistake that precipitated the stock market crash.  Al Capone enjoyed his last summer of eminence.  The Jazz Singer [the first popular talking movie] was filmed.  Television was created.  Radio came of age.  Sacco and Vanzetti were executed.  President Coolidge chose not to run [for another term].  Work began on Mount Rushmore.  The Mississippi flooded as it never had before….Henry Ford stopped making the Model T…And a kid from Minnesota [Charles Lindbergh] flew across an ocean and captivated the planet in a way it had never been captivated before.”

If none of these long-ago events intrigue you, I still recommend that you take a look at this book.  Bryson knows a good story when he sees it – and he found a lot of them while doing his extensive research!  I found the entire book fascinating, especially enjoyed his tales about colorful characters, and laughed out loud a number of times.

I’ve enjoyed a number of Bryson’s other books and particularly recommend In a Sunburned Country, a travel book about Australia.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine

How do female brains differ from those of males?  Why do infant girls spend more time gazing at their mothers’ faces than baby boys do?  Why dofemale brain little girls so often begin playing with sentences beginning with the word “let’s,” as in, “Let’s play dolls, ok?”  Why do teenage girls gather in groups, while spreading negative rumors about these friends?  What traits make a woman consider a man to be husband material?  How does a woman’s brain change after the birth of a child?  What changes occur in the brain of a middle-aged woman?

This book by a neuropsychiatrist, based on extensive scientific study and on her practical experience with patients, answers these questions – and many more.  Brizendine tells us that, although “more than 99 percent of male and female genetic coding is exactly the same,” men and women are significantly different.  The differences, which often go back to our Stone Age ancestors, come from our body chemistry as well as from our DNA and our training.

This easy-to-read book will help women to understand themselves and will guide both women and men to a better understanding of other people.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke

I enjoyed seeing Judy Garland in the movie The Wizard of Oz during my childhood and, years later, with my children.  After listening to a CD of her interpretations of holiday songs, I decided that it was time for me to find out more about her life.

get happyGet Happy draws on many sources – the bibliography is twelve pages long, and the footnotes go on for forty-nine pages!  These sources include Judy’s unpublished, unfinished autobiography, as well as numerous interviews with people who knew her.

There are happy moments in the book, especially the descriptions of her performances and her phenomenal popularity as a singer and actress.  She began singing in public before her third birthday, loving the sound of applause.  As an older child, she sometimes sang a love song on a darkened stage.  Her voice sounded so mature that the audience was amazed when the lights came on!  This biographer describes her appearance at Carnegie Hall as a perfect performance.  She was a movie star during her teens and her adult years, winning the 1940 Oscar for outstanding performance as a juvenile.  As an adult, she won two Oscar nominations (1955 and 1962).

Much of her appeal as a singer came from the emotional poignancy which she brought to her performances and which came, at least in part, from the many heart breaks which she suffered.  The book tells about her psychological problems, her conflicts with her mother, her dependence on pills, and her five marriages, all ending unhappily.

Through joy and sorrow, Judy Garland was an icon whose story makes fascinating reading.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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