Monday, November 24, 2014

"My Drunk Kitchen: a Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going With Your Gut" by Hannah Hart


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      In March of 2011, a college student named Hannah Hart uploaded a video to her YouTube channel in which she attempts to cook grilled cheese while drinking wine and providing witty commentary--and without any cheese. By 2014, My Drunk Kitchen had reached over a million subscribers, while Hannah herself has become one of the most prominent YouTube personalities, and has collaborated with countless other YouTubers on video and charity projects, brought several celebrities onto her own channel (including chef Jamie Oliver, actress/writer Felicia Day, and novelist John Green), and even co-wrote/produced and starred in an independent film. So naturally the next logical step is to publish a book.
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      My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going With Your Gut is an insightful and humorous cross between a cookbook and a self-help book in which Hannah offers both recipes and life advice in a comic, sarcastic, and only slightly self-depreciative writing style--with plenty of drink pairings to go along. The recipes included range from three step PB&J instructions (the third step being to add potato chips), to the detailed and complex instructions of assembling "The Hartwich" (a gourmet-level sandwich with ground turkey instead of bread), to the necessary ingredients for pulling yourself out of a downward depression spiral. ...It really covers all the basics. 
      Among the recipes and the awesome photography, you will find anecdotes offering advice on how to get over failed relationships (and how to get yourself out of a bad one), detailed explanations about alcohol’s effect on the human body (and why you should always have potatoes on hand), and even advice to those debating on coming out to friends and family (and how to make the decision that is best for their own well-being). There’s even a section on dealing with holiday stress, family gatherings, and how to cope with being asked to cook when faced with serving family members whose cooking is better than yours--a section that I find very comforting during this week leading up to Thanksgiving.
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      I read this book during a very stressful time in my life and was able to connect to a lot of its subject matter on a very personal level--both because I find myself still relying on the “broke college student shopping list” (instant ramen, peanut butter, and whatever produce is on sale), and because of the anecdotes involving personal realisations during the “quarter-life crisis” time of life. Being no stranger to the YouTube scene, and to Hannah’s channel in particular, I had been eagerly awaiting the publication of this book since she first announced she was writing it. And I was not disappointed, as it has quickly become one of my favourite books to turn to when in an emotional crash--or when I just want to know how to make nachos out of saltine crackers and martini olives. 
      By no means is it a step-by-step instructional cookbook with one specific outcome in mind; but rather it's more like a series of suggestions to get you started towards many possible outcomes, depending on the choices you make. It’s a cookbook that’s not so much about cooking as it is about life choices and the effectiveness of just going with your gut, as interpreted and presented through the eyes of someone who one evening turned on a webcam and said: “Hello! And welcome to my drunk kitchen.”
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      My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going With Your Gut was published in August 2014, and will be added to the library collection soon. You can put yourself on the waiting list here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell


 
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The Bone Clocks is the latest novel from David Mitchell, the author who brought the world Cloud Atlas. Set up as a series of six 100 page novella sections, The Bone Clocks follows the life of a teenage runaway named Holly Sykes from her adolescence to her old age; while at the same time following the story of an ancient secret organisation twisting the laws of nature, science, and morality in order to perpetuate the ideals and hunger for eternal youth.
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A foray into the realm of realistic fantasy, this latest novel by Mitchell explores the idea of conscious reincarnation and randomly chosen rebirth--what happens when a select portion of the  population is born with a genetic predisposition to be able to transfer their consciousness from the body they currently occupy to either the body of a currently alive individual (temporary, and usually with the consent of the person) or an individual who has just died (permanent, and with the understanding that they will continue to live that individual’s life from that point on).  While  Holly Sykes, the main protagonist of the story, does not possess this capability, her little brother does. This, along with the occasional capacity for psychic premonition, draws Holly straight into the center of a long standing battle between two factions of these reincarnation travelers--one faction who wishes to protect the human race and the knowledge learned from centuries of rebirth, and one who wishes to prey upon the human race in order to further their practice of  immortality.
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I stumbled on this book by accident--admittingly drawn in by the cover art of the book jacket, and not having previously read Cloud Atlas--and found myself engaged in a “I only meant to read a few chapters but somehow I’m reading the whole book in one sitting” situation (a situation I’ve found myself in several times before, but usually only when Harry Potter was involved). It was the first thing that I’ve read by David Mitchell, and now I want to go read all his other novels. See if it is something you want to read, or check out David Mitchell’s other novels, at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary" by J.R.R. Tolkien

 

      In the years following the death of J.R.R. Tolkien, his son Christopher (being named as literary executor to his father’s unfinished works) has been completing and publishing many of his fathers as-yet unpublished works. This includes The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales of Middle Earth (which Middle Earth fans would recognise as source material for some of the plot lines in the newer Hobbit movies) as well as The Tale of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, and most recently Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary.
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      In addition to writing The Lord of the Rings series (which has undoubtedly become one of the most well recognised staples of geek culture, having spawned movies, comics, cartoons, video games, and table games from just one trilogy and its prequel), John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a renowned professor of English language and literature, holding multiple positions at Oxford. It is here that he worked on translations of poetry from Old English, to later be published by his son. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary was one of these. It has been known for quite some time that Tolkien had worked on a newer translation of Beowulf, but his son held off on publishing it until May of 2014--much to the frustration of English Literature professors  professors everywhere.

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      Anyone familiar with Beowulf will know that there are many translations of the poem available, some of higher quality than others. Tolkien’s translation focuses on the precision of the language and the imagery brought forth by the language. This, coupled with the detailed footnotes provided by his son regarding the methods by which the translation was accomplished make this translation of the poem one of the high quality ones. In addition to the translation of the poem (and perhaps what makes the book better than other translation) is the inclusion of Tolkien’s commentary and original writings following the poem. The initial commentary that follows the poem is the source material that eventually became Tolkien’s renowned 1936 lecture Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. In this commentary is found some of the most detailed writing regarding the nature of the translation of language and the impact on a story that mistranslation or bad translation can have.
      After the commentary, there are two original writings by Tolkien; “Sellic Spell” and “The Lay of Beowulf.” The former is a fantasy piece written by Tolkien regarding the origins of Beowulf and speculates the biographical history of the hero that is only briefly alluded to in the original poem. The latter is two poems written in the style of a song in the Beowulf theme.
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      As a former English lit. student I was fascinated by the method which Tolkien used to translate and present the poem. Though Tolkien himself was not as satisfied with his own translation of the work, still to be able to see how he chose to focus more on the rhythm and details of the original poem, rather than on focusing on the rhyme and alliteration as many previous translations of the poem have done (which can lead to losing many details or important facets of the original story). Because Tolkien chose to focus on the rhythm and details of the original source material, there are elements in his translation that won’t be found in other translations.
      As a fan of Tolkien’s Middle Earth material, it was gratifying to see glimpses the language that Tolkien would use later in his Lord of the Rings--Tolkien himself having stated that Beowulf was a significant source of inspiration for The Hobbit. Reading it felt somewhat like a treasure hunt where the treasure was the hints of foreshadowing of what Tolkien would later publish. (Remember--his lecture Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics was in 1936, while The Hobbit was published in 1937, and The Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949).
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      I was excited to read this new translation of Beowulf, as the old poem has been one of my favourite staples of English Literature. It also helps that, being exposed to the writing of Tolkien at the earliest age possible, I’m a vehement Tolkien fan. I was not disappointed. All in all, it was an interesting read, both from an educational standpoint, and from a Tolkien fan standpoint--no matter which way I approached it...

      ...See if you agree! Beowulf: a Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library.