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The Pollan Family Table: The Best Recipes & Kitchen Wisdom for Delicious, Healthy Family Meals

Corky, Lori, Dana, and Tracy Pollan. Scribner, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4637-1

The women of the Pollan family collaborate in this collection of 100 recipes, offering three generations of kitchen wisdom and strategies for the return of the family table. Michael Pollan’s mother, Corky, and sisters, Lori, Tracy, and Dana, have assembled an “empowering book” and practical guide for home cooks struggling to make healthy and fulfilling sit-down family meals. Showcasing the very best Pollan family recipes, these fresh ideas help families achieve the “Common Pot”—a ideal dynamic marked by communal cooking, eating, and laughing together around the family table. Recipes are kid- and adult-friendly, made with easy-to-find store ingredients, require little experience, and are time-savers. Along with culinary terms, sage advice, and sections on home-made condiments, there are lists of essential utensils and pantry basics. They favor ingredients, such as simple grains and vegetables and common-sense cooking low in fat and processed foods. Meat, poultry, and seafood recipes abound, along with comforting soups and chiles, and meatless Monday dishes include dressed-up pasta and salads. Current Pollan kid-favorite desserts are featured, too. Each recipe page has market and pantry lists for cell-phone snapshots cooks take shopping. From dishes prepared by their mother to Grandpa Max’s love of fresh-grown ingredients and their continued family table tradition, the Pollans find inspiration devising a new routine for the family sit-down meal. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Marcus Off Duty

Marcus Samuelsson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-470-94058-7

Many New Yorkers like to think of themselves as citizens of the world, but Samuelsson has the credentials to prove it. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, he cooked his way across Switzerland, Austria, and France before settling as a celebrity chef at his renowned restaurants in Harlem, Red Rooster. In this, his fifth book, he draws from all the quarters of his lifetime, as well as from many other parts of the globe, and offers over 130 “recipes I cook at home.” The Swiss influence is apparent in dishes such as his Grandmother Helga’s meatballs in a crazy gravy made with chicken broth, cream, lingonberry preserves and pickled cucumber juice. East African cuisine is reflected in his doro wat, a chicken stew served over tortillas and topped with a chicken liver spread. There are French crepes, Americanized with rhubarb-strawberry compote and American baked potatoes made French with blue cheese. The collection is organized into nine somewhat random chapters. Early on, there is a section with ten “special days” recipes for holidays as disparate as Passover, Mardi Gras, and Kwanzaa. Then the final third of the book is organized by type with chapters on soups, sides, and desserts. In between is a helpful Cooking with Kids chapter, and the author’s playlists of “music to cook by,” which suggest that his love for seasonings extends to Salt-N-Pepa, run throughout. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Prune

Gabrielle Hamilton. Random, $45 (576p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9409-4

This is one of the most brilliantly minimalist cookbooks in recent memory: no preface, no introduction, no interminable recounting of all that Hamilton has witnessed in her 15 years as the chef/owner of New York’s Prune restaurant. Instead, nested throughout the 250 recipes, in a handwritten font, are scribblings, usually in the form of orders rather than suggestions, as if the reader were on her payroll. It’s an appealing tactic, in a masochistic kind of way, which at once conveys the thrill of restaurant cooking and the wisdom of the author, while making for a charged reading experience. “Don’t just slam them into the pan and manhandle,” she advises in a recipe for razor clams with smoked paprika butter. Her carrot-peeling advice is equally blunt: “Long fluid strokes please—do not chisel away at them into a cubist rendering.” At the end of an entry for salt and sugar-cured green tomatoes, she challenges the imagination by planting a suggestion, like any good boss would, “We should figure out something to do with the interesting cured tomato water.... Maybe the bartenders have an idea?” Twelve of the book’s 13 chapters are jammed with intensely flavored entries. The other, entitled “Garbage,” finds purpose for limp celery and smoked fish scraps, of which the author warns, “I’ll kill you if you waste it.” Perhaps a little fear is warranted after all. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Edited by Amy Scholder. Feminist, $16.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-55861-866-4

In this collection commissioned by Scholder, editorial director of the Feminist Press, nine original essays explore the specific and personal impact of cultural icons—public figures, often celebrities, who become the objects of our everyday obsessions. The contributors—artists, musicians, and novelists in their own right—did not first encounter their respective subjects in history class. Most can pinpoint the exact moment when they became enamored with their idols. For novelist Jill Nelson, it was at age 14 in 1967 when she heard Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” booming from an open car window. Mary Gaitskill’s adoration of Linda Lovelace began at age 17 when she viewed Deep Throat at a hippie film co-op. Singer/songwriter Justin Vivian Bond remembers model Karen Graham’s vacant gaze in a decade’s worth of Estee Lauder advertisements. Yet these essays are not solely homages—they also explore the complicated consequences of putting a person on a pedestal. For example, writer and historian Hanne Blank’s obsession with food writer M.F.K. Fisher in college was wracked with jealousy when Blank realized that her favorite food writer had the sort of graceful physique that she herself lacked. These essays reveal the hidden side of adulation and serve as a reminder that even today’s literary lights once had icons of their own. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Boston Raphael

Belinda Rathbone. Godine, $29.95 (328p) ISBN 978-1-56792-522-7

In this fascinating book about a watershed moment in the culture of America’s art museums, Rathbone (Walker Evans) considers her father Perry Rathbone’s directorship at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). A connoisseur and showman who believed that “art is for everyone,” Rathbone’s influence as director was felt distinctly in the MFA from 1955 until 1972, when he was forced by the museum’s board of trustees to resign. That decision was triggered by the controversy surrounding a tiny oil painting of a small girl, believed to be an unknown Raphael. For the occasion of MFA’s centennial in 1970, Rathbone covertly purchased the painting for $600,000 from a shady dealer in Genoa. Eluding Italy’s artistic patrimony law, the painting was smuggled into the U.S. Set against the backdrop of this intrigue are Rathbone’s descriptions of life at MFA in the postwar years. She chronicles the celebration of its centennial, from the exhibitions that were installed to the infighting among staff and the attempts to woo collectors. Her father represents the old breed of museum directors, arbiters who behaved as “public servants” rather than “CEOs of a considerable corporate enterprise.” Her book sheds light on museology of the present as well as of the past. Agent: Ike Williams, Kneerim, Williams & Bloom. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Capturing Music: The Story of Notation[em] [/em]

Thomas Forrest Kelly. Norton, $45 (274p) ISBN 978-0-393-06496-4

Before the era of recording—before wax cylinders, vinyl, or digital media—songwriters, composers, and musicians relied on sheet music and musical notation to disseminate their works. In this marvelously witty and engaging chapter of music history, Kelly, a Harvard musicologist, thoughtfully reviews the long process through which musical notation developed. Accompanied by 100 color illustrations, as well as a CD that allows readers to hear how these early compositions might have sounded, Kelly’s chronicle traces the rise of notation from its earliest stages to its more developed manifestations in the late Middle Ages. Along the way, we meet the individuals actively trying to capture sound in verse or notation, from Notker, who used language as a means to capture sound, and Guido the Monk, who revolutionized the writing of music by introducing a very early system of notation that could guide musical performance, to Perotinus, whose notations captured rhythm, and Philippe de Vitry, who ingeniously built upon earlier work to develop scores for longer pieces of music. Kelly uses sidebars for more technical music theory, saving space for the larger story of the personalities who bequeathed musical notation to us and the times in which they lived. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

Glenn Kurtz. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-3742-7677-5

The rich life of a Jewish town emerges from elusive fragments in this moving Holocaust remembrance. Kurtz (Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music) unearthed his grandparents’ amateur movie, which documented their 1938 vacation trip from New York to Europe, including three minutes of footage from his grandfather’s birthplace in the Jewish district of Nasielsk, Poland. The bustling scenes of townsfolk, almost all of whom were murdered in the Holocaust, prompted Kurtz to comb historical and genealogical records and search out survivors to explain the identities and relationships of the people on film. Engrossing detective work and chance encounters—one casual online viewer recognized a 13-year-old boy in the film as her still-living grandfather—allowed Kurtz assemble a vibrant portrait of Jewish Nasielsk, its homely shops, proud synagogue, quarreling Hasidim and Zionists, impish kids, and, not least, of its harrowing war-time dissolution. He also explores the resurrection of the community’s history, as survivors find images of loved ones lost for generations and forge new bonds. Kurtz’s limpid prose avoids sentimentality but still conveys profound loss and the emotional impact of memories stirred by the film; the result is a haunting elegy to a vanished place and a hopeful evocation of its legacy. Photos. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys

Thomas Maier. Crown, $30 (784p) ISBN 978-0-307-95679-8

Torches pass from fathers to sons—and sometimes get dropped—in this sprawling saga of two political dynasties. Journalist Maier (Masters of Sex) surveys the tangled relationships between Winston Churchill, Joseph P. Kennedy, and their respective children. During the 1930s and the WWII era, Churchill, a combative foe of Hitler, and Kennedy, the isolationist and mildly pro-German (and anti-Semitic) American ambassador to Britain, clashed over policy towards the Nazis and the looming war. By the 1960s, however, Kennedy’s son John F. Kennedy revived Churchillian themes in his Cold War policies and rhetoric towards the Soviets. The wrangle between the shady, Machiavellian Kennedy père and the bluff, stentorian Churchill (with a manipulative Franklin Roosevelt stirring the pot) extends to their parental styles; Maier juxtaposes Kennedy’s stern molding of his sons into effective political operators with Churchill’s muddled relationship with his son Randolph, a promising youth who became a wastrel. Much of the book is a gossipy, entertaining, but unfocused panorama of the glittering social world of wealthy, powerful, aristocrats—it is full of wartime adventure, romance, and innumerable adulteries. Maier vivid profiles of these charismatic figures makes for a nuanced study. 16-page b&w photo insert. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters

Mallory Ortberg. Holt, $23 (240p) ISBN 978-1-62779-183-0

Humorist Ortberg offers a side-splitting take on famous literary characters from Gilgamesh to Hermione Granger by peeking into their imagined text messages, replete with emoticons, misspellings, and irregular punctuation. Some exchanges update well-known plot points—Goneril intercepts texts from Regan on Edmund’s phone and Gertrude offers to bring a tuna sandwich to Hamlet’s room. Others exaggerate character traits, like Scarlett O’Hara egging on Ashley to guess what corset she’s wearing, or Cathy and Heathcliff one-upping each other about the respective desperation of their love for each another. Ortberg keeps the joke fresh with jabs at various canonical authors, portraying Coleridge interrupted while composing Kubla Khan by “some asshole from Porlock” and Thoreau busily inviting friends and ordering supplies to his “self-sufficient” retreat to the woods. Ortberg gets the most mileage whenever she plays a quirky artist off a nonplussed straight man, whether it’s T.S. Eliot’s friend explaining “I can’t leave work to buy you a peach” or William Carlos Williams’s long-suffering wife reading his note that says, “i have eaten the little red wheelbarrow/ that was in the icebox.” Ortberg charmingly captures, in short, palatable bytes, what is most memorable about famous books and their indelible characters. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House

Chuck Todd. Little, Brown, $29 (528p) ISBN 978-0-316-07957-0

Todd, the newly minted Meet the Press host and former NBC chief White House correspondent, provides an even-handed, concise, and thorough account of President Obama’s first six years in the Oval Office. Todd frames his perspective with his choice of title—President Obama “came to Washington on the strength of being a stranger to the city and to the political elites, but it hasn’t always served him well.” He covers in great detail the die-hard obstructionism, exemplified in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s proclamation that his priority was to deny Obama a second term, that has characterized the Republican response to the president’s agenda. But Todd doesn’t believe that right-wing extremism lets the president off the hook, and offers example after example of times when his aloof approach to Congress hobbled his legislative initiatives. The book also compares the efficiency of Obama’s electoral campaigns to his subpar management in office. There isn’t a lot here that will be news to readers who follow politics closely—no Bob Woodward–type revelations—but the thoughtful organization of material make this as good a summation of Obama’s successes and failures, and the reasons for them, as anything else out there. Agent: Matthew Carnicelli, Carnicelli Literary Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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