Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: The VB6 Cookbook by Mark Bittman

            Mark Bittman’s most recent book, The VB6Cookbook, is a follow-up to his 2013 VB6, a diet book.  “VB6” stands for “vegan before 6pm,” and that’s basically what Bittman’s diet plan is: eat no animal products before 6, and then after 6, eat as you like after 6pm.  The brilliance of Bittman’s diet plan is, in fact, its simplicity.  You don’t have to count calories or make special food, or only eat at certain times.  I have not tried the VB6 “plan” myself, but I can tell that I would have much less problem following it than any other diet plan I’ve heard of.  I happen to be a vegetarian, so going vegan for most of the day would be easier for me than for meat-eaters, but I do love dairy products.  Asking me to completely cut out anything just doesn’t work.  But asking me to hold off for a few hours a day in order to improve my health, lose weight, and help the environment?  I can do that.  VB6 has the potential to make a huge positive change in a person’s life with relatively minimal effort. 
            The cookbook offers many excellent tools for making the plan work, like simple charts (foods you can eat as much of as you want, how to cook different grains and beans, foods to eat in moderation, as “treats,” etc.), a short explanation of the diet plan, and a month-long eating plan that you follow (or not).  The book also includes many recipes for vegan, vegetarian, and meaty dishes, but not so many that it’s overwhelming.  The recipes are generally easy, tasty, and simple.  Some of the most useful recipes Bittman includes come at the end of the book.  He calls these “VB6 Building Blocks,” but they are basically Bittman’s favorite “magic” recipes.  They show up in many of his other books. 
            This brings me to something that I find a bit confusing about this book, and many of Bittman’s recent books—in particular the Food Matters books.  Food Matters and The Food Matters Cookbook both include many of the same “building block” recipes, cooking tips, and nutrition tips as the VB6 books.  As far as I can tell, the only real differences between VB6 and Food Matters is that the former sets a time at which one can stop being vegan, and the latter just says to eat more vegan than not vegan.  But the ideas are otherwise the same.  It seems like VB6 is basically just a repackaging of Food Matters with a punchier title and catchier gimmick.  That’s fine, but I wish Bittman were more up-front about it.

(I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ineke Floral Curiosities Scent Library

San Francisco-based perfumer Ineke created these lovely trompe l'oeil books that look like old library books, complete with check-out cards (that actually have information about the scents), and filled with perfume.  There are few different "volumes" with different scents.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

      I have only read Middlemarch once, many years ago, and while I have never felt the desire to read George Eliot’s most famous work again, I find, strangely, that I think about it quite a lot.  There is no other book I can think of to which I have such a relationship.  In particular, I think about Casaubon and Dorothea, two figures who have become archetypes of, respectively, single-minded obsession coupled with mediocrity, and idealism and romanticism coupled with an overly-developed sense of duty.  These two characters have always struck me as the most tragic literary figures, despite the fact that nothing dramatically awful happens to either of them.  Perhaps it’s because I’m an academic, but Casaubon and Dorothea depress me like no other characters in literary history.  The character studies that make up this book, in other words, are so carefully and sharply delineated, and the types Eliot chose so specific and yet so recognizable, that they entirely transcend their fussy, provincial, Victorian, English context.  These characters are all immediately recognizable today, in an entirely different context.

While I enjoyed Middlemarch and found it to be very smart and perceptive, I was surprised when a friend told me that he reread this book every single year.  It is a very long book, and not really what most people would call a page-turner.  With New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead’s new book, My Life in Middlemarch, I realize that my friend was not alone, and that there are many people as fervently attached to this novel and its wisdom as my friend.  Mead uses Eliot’s Victorian novel in a wonderfully incisive combination of memoir, biography, and literary criticism. My Life in Middlemarch is a deep dive into the characters and structure of the novel, and Mead relates Eliot's book to different aspects of Mead's own life and history.

My Life in Middlemarch, however, is not really about Middlemarch.  Or rather, it is only partially about Middlemarch.  Mead’s greater point, and the reason this book is worth reading, even by people who have never read Middlemarch, or read it and hated it, is that for lifelong readers, books are not just things to be loved and read: they love and read us, they shape our lives.  But this is not a book about the joys of books, and the comfort they provide.  What sets this book apart from other bookish memoirs is that Mead is very adamant that books don’t just make us feel cozy and happy; for real bibliophiles, it is more complicated, and thus much deeper, than that.  As Mead puts it, “Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it’s a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book.  But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself.  There are books that seem to comprehend us just as much as we understand them, or even more.  There are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree.”

(I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)

1canoe2 Letterpress Library Card Address Box Set

Not many people use non-digital address books these days, but this gorgeous set, made to look like library check-out cards, could change a few bookish minds.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kinder Aggugini Spring 2012 Book Headpieces

I adore these very literal takes on old-school beauty regimes that included balancing books on one's head to improve posture.  Any thoughts about a good way to turn books into rakish headpieces like these?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Penguin Books On the Road Suitcase

What????  A Penguin Books Jack Kerouac On the Road rolling suitcase??  I need one.  Sadly, I can't find any information about it, and it appears to be for purchase only in South Korea.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mr. Boddington's Jean Le Rond Encyclopedia-Print Wrapping Paper

I want to wallpaper my house in this hand-drawn wrapping paper by the brilliant stationery company, Mr. Boddington's.  Check out the delightful and funny pairings they've come up with for each of the volumes!

"The Fox with the Golden Fur": Chocolate Bars as Set Desing

This amazing chocolate bar packaging resembles a stage set: each bar of chocolate is wrapped in a different piece of "scenery," and they are all slotted into the box like the drop curtains that create the scenery for plays and ballets.  The chocolate even comes with a little storybook that tells a fairy tale.

Thursday, July 10, 2014