Books: 60 posts

Books and reading lists

Top 15 Cookbooks for Fall : From Venice to Sri Lanka

If like me, you haven’t accepted the end of summer and would like to carry a sunny note through fall, there are several means to achieve it. For instance, scents can help but so can flavors. One of the reasons I love cooking is that it allows me to blend two of my passions–and savor the results. This fall, cooking is even more exciting because 2017 has been a year with many excellent cookbook releases. I had difficulty picking just a couple, so I decided to show you my favorite 15 books, from which I’ve cooked already and which I recommend wholeheartedly. They will satisfy your hunger as well as your wanderlust.

Europe

Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Country Kitchen by Valeria Necchio

Venice is on the well-trodden tourist trail, but its food and that of its region isn’t. This is a shame, because Venetian dishes blend a full spectrum of flavors and ingredients like polenta, pine nuts, rosemary, raisins, shellfish, white wine, and saffron. Veneto is Valeria Necchio’s debut cookbook, and it’s exquisite. I don’t mean the photographs and styling, beautiful though they are. The recipes are the only thing I’m interested in. For a taste of real Venetian cooking, I suggest trying fried marinated pumpkin with onion, pine nuts and raisins, prawn and Prosecco risotto, stir-fried beans with basil and garlic, and ricotta pudding cake.

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Nazik Al-Malaika on Why Do We Fear Words

Do you want to feel impressed and inspired? If so, here is the story of the Iraqi poet Nazik al-Malaika (1923-2007). Her life could be a movie script–wrote her first poem at the age of 10, studied at Princeton before it accepted women, established a university, turned the ancient tradition of Arabic poetry on its head.

If anything, my synopsis understated what a meteor this woman was. Al-Malaika was born into a literary family. Her father was a teacher and her mother was poet, who as was common at the time, published under a male pseudonym. Nazik al-Malaika not only would revolutionize Arab poetry by adopting a novel, free-form style, but she also would secure a place for women in literature and lend her name to a poetry prize. Al-Malaika won a scholarship to study literary criticism at Princeton where she was the only female student. She earned a comparative literature degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1959, and when she returned to Iraq, she taught at the University of Baghdad and helped to establish the University of Basra. The rise of the Ba’ath Party forced her into exile in 1970, and al-Malaika lived the rest of her life in Egypt, where she published several collections of poetry and prose.

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Christian Dior’s Guide to Colors, Scents and Elegance

The world moves in cycles and so does beauty writing. A few years ago magazines were awash with articles singing paeans to the ineffable allure of French women who’ve solved the mysteries of bringing up bébé and tying scarves better than other creatures on the planet. Now we learn that French style is too limiting and severe. And–here comes the major revelation–that you can’t enjoy your croissants and fit into slim jeans too. Apparently, French women do get fat along with the rest of us.

It’s true that French style has a distinctive aesthetic based on a series of subtle subtractions. Like ballet, it makes difficult things look effortless. It’s limiting, I suppose, since the way to achieve it lies in removing, rather than adding elements–paring down accessories, color palette, shapes, etc. But it’s never boring, which is why it continues to fascinate us. Once beauty magazines are finished instructing us on how to look like Scandinavian amazons and achieve hygge and lagom with scented candles, we’ll be back to reading how to breathe like French women.

Despite its vintage (circa 1954), Christian Dior’s Little Dictionary of Fashion (public library) is still a good guide to the art of French style. Fashion and the world in general have changed dramatically since Dior wrote it, but the basic premise of the attention to shape, quality and elegance holds. Mind you, at no point does Dior talk about his Dictionary as French; it’s his guide to fashion in general.

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Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow : Love and Essence

When I sat down to write about Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow, I struggled to find the best way to describe it. A love story seemed too banal. An exploration of the fathers and sons dilemma too simple. An answer came to me as I was reading another book, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Spring Snow is an attempt to recapture a memory, a moment long gone, set into the frame of a tragic love story. And just as in Proust’s masterpiece, fragrance is a leitmotif for Mishima’s story.

Kiyoaki is the son of a nouveau riche family who has been raised in the aristocratic Ayakura household. His father, Marquise Matsugae, conscious of their provincial origins, desired for Kiyoaki to imbibe the manners and elegance of the nobility. But by the time Kiyoaki turns eighteen, he feels confused and torn between the two worlds, the old and the new. He has all of the hallmarks of an aristocrat with his refined aesthetic sensibilities and sophisticated manners, but he feels no respect for the emperor or the tradition. He is floating, unable to understand others and unable to make himself understood.

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Roses, Tobacco and Places in Between : Kapka Kassabova’s Border

“Today, the Valley of Roses near the main rose-producing [Bulgarian] town of Kazanlak (from the Turkish kazan, cauldron) still produces fifty per cent of the world’s rose attar… The other fifty per cent is produced by Turkey. Like Oriental tobacco, the rose is a bitter love story between Bulgaria and Turkey. When Bulgaria broke away from the Ottomans in the 1870s, workers from the rose industry travelled south across the border with cuttings from the Valley of Roses and planted them in the soil of Anatolia. They must have really loved their roses.”

The story of rose damascena is one of many shared by Kapka Kassabova in her odyssey across the borders on Europe’s southern edge, between Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece. In the times of ever hardening borders reinforced by barbwire and prejudice, reading Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe (public library) is an unsettling experience. How can mere lines on the map have the capacity to cut into people’s lives and haunt their thoughts?

That borders haunt is something I’ve experienced myself. I’ve been fascinated with maps ever since I was a child, sleeping under a large map of the world. A large part on it, colored dark pink, was the Soviet Union, with Ukraine, a jagged diamond sitting on its western border.  “Ukraine” meant “the borderland.” I was born in Kyiv, and finding the city in the middle of the diamond, my finger traced a journey west–Lviv, Krakow, Prague, Vienna. But past Lviv, near the village of Shehyni, a thicker line started, and the dark pink space yielded to a mosaic of colors. I may not have understood the post-WWII arrangement, spheres of influence and the Iron Walls, but I knew one thing with certainty–I couldn’t cross the line at Shehyni. The border was there to keep me in. The more I became aware of it, the more I wanted to see what was happening za kordonom, behind the border. The more I was deterred, the more it entranced me.

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