Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads The Menu by Dan Jurasky

The relationship between crackers, ice cream and “sound symbolism,” what constitutes the “grammar” of a meal, these are the many breezy offerings served up. Since linguistics is closely tied with history, we travel the world to see the commonality between fish and chips and sikbaj, and ketchup and fish sauce. While the topics selected seem to be a tad arbitrary and the tasty morsels leave us longing for more, this is a delicious romp. Eat it in all one big bite or even better, as one of the many fun old recipes included here would instruct, “lette it boyle” slowly.

The Secret Place by Tana French

St. Kilda’s, an all-girls boarding school in Dublin, is an ecosystem unto itself. The outside world almost never intrudes. All until Chris Harper, a student at a neighboring boys’ institution, is found murdered on Kilda’s grounds. Convinced she knows who did it, one of the girls leaves a note on the school’s anonymous board. I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM, the note says. Tana French’s brilliant and cerebral mystery is also a stellar exploration of complicated teen dynamics and friendships; the years when the focus is relentlessly on the now and tomorrow is forever held at bay no matter the costs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Family might be the nurturing building blocks of a home (and of society), but it can also play host to a whole range of hostile emotions. The Ghoshes celebrate with laughter and happiness but are also consumed by baser emotions such as envy and even hatred toward fellow family members. When young Supratik questions a lifestyle that is oblivious to the depravity of many, he realizes that even doing good is not easily accomplished. While Lives could have used more editing, it is weighty in all the right ways, especially in its unvarnished portrait of the underbelly of class politics.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Map Of Betrayal by Ha Jin

Looking for closure, American Lilian Shang travels to China to find the family her father Gary left behind as he rose to prominence, becoming a high-level mole embedded in the CIA -- a valuable officer in the Chinese espionage apparatus. Narrating a story that alternates between Lillian’s path to discovery and Gary Shang’s complicated map of betrayal, Ha Jin’s melancholic novel is a moving meditation on the fluid definition of allegiance and home. Seemingly based on the life of real-life Chinese spy, Larry Chin, Jin’s prose sometimes cuts too close to the bone. Yet its lessons are universal and heartbreaking.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

There’s all kinds of deception -- marital and otherwise -- going on behind the curtain in this bizarre and profoundly disquieting novel. Featuring a female narrator you just can’t wrap your head around, this gorgeously written debut raises large questions about the future of the environmentalism movement, about love and marriage all in less than 200 pages. Just like the wallcreeper in the book’s title, there’s brilliant catches of sheer dazzle wrapped in an otherwise homely package. Nell Zink upends many a traditional writing rule and the result is a story that is weird, frustrating but riveting just the same.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Birth Of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched A Revolution by Jonathan Eig

What combination of factors lead to the most popular form of birth control, so popular it came to be called, simply, The Pill? This brilliantly narrated and exhaustively researched nonfiction account lays bare the willpower, drive, brainpower and sheer persuasion that went into the tool that would change women’s lives forever. The reader is presented a heady mix of players each of whom brought something special whether it be research abilities, money, or marketing power to the table. In doing so, they changed the course of history. The key word in “birth control,” Eig reminds us, is “control.”