On the Noodle Road: from Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu
Chinese American food writer Jen Lin-Liu, founder of a cooking school in Beijing, is looking for her next project. She decides to travel the Silk Road from China to Europe, eating noodles, meeting chefs, and researching the origins of pasta. No, Marco Polo didn’t bring pasta to Italy from China, but both countries have similar noodle dishes. Jen has recently married American writer Craig, and isn’t sure how her desire to travel will affect their marriage, and where they will settle down to live as a couple. Traveling to western China, she asks two chefs from the cooking school to accompany her, and they eat and cook their way west. On the rest of her journey, sometimes her husband accompanies her, and for a while his parents, but the rest of the time she travels alone. Her journey includes Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. She meets hospitable people almost everywhere, and enjoys many home-cooked meals and access to restaurant chefs and kitchens. A variety of regional foods are vividly described, and a number of recipes are included. While the spices and meats change, many of the dishes are quite similar. Unexpectedly, rice and flat breads replace noodles for a good part of the trip.
As much a memoir as culinary travel narrative, Jen is curious about the role of women in the different countries she visits, and how they mix work, marriage, and raising a family. She learns that even seemingly modern men expect their wives to be very traditional, and that mother-in-laws rule in Central Asia. There is a funny scene when Jen doesn’t take her Western mother-in-law’s good advice, and is sorry the next day. In Iran, Jen and Craig feel uneasy, partly because they are required to have a government sponsored tour guide. After reaching Istanbul, they fly home to Beijing for the winter. Jen returns in the spring to visit Turkey, Greece, and Italy, where Craig joins her for the end of the journey. No questions about the origins of pasta are resolved, but many excellent meals are enjoyed along the way.
Most of the books on this list are favorites from discussions held at the library between 2007 and 2013. A few of the titles are books we haven’t discussed yet, but will soon and are potential favorites. Not every title will appeal to all readers, but all will promote lively discussions. Brenda
Chevalier, Tracy. The Last Runaway
Coomer, Joe. Pocketful of Names
deWitt, Patrick. The Sisters Brothers
Doig, Ivan. The Whistling Season
Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light
Dunant, Sarah. Sacred Hearts
Erdrich, Louise. The Round House
Follett, Ken. Pillars of the Earth
Ford, Jamie. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Gloss, Molly. The Hearts of Horses
Hill, Lawrence. Someone Knows My Name
James, P.D. Death Comes to Pemberley
Joyce, Rachel. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
King, Laurie. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
Kingsolver, Barbara. Prodigal Summer
Larsson, Stieg. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
McLain, Paula. The Paris Wife
Moon, Elizabeth. The Speed of Dark
O’Nan, Stewart. Last Night at the Lobster
Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali
See, Lisa. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Simonson, Helen. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help
Trigiani, Adriana. The Shoemaker’s Wife
Vreeland, Susan. Clara and Mr. Tiffany; Luncheon of the Boating Party
Walls, Jeannette. Half Broke Horses
Algeo, Matthew. Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure
Beavan, Colin. No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries he makes about himself and our way of life in the process
Caputo, Philip. The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean
Child, Julia. My Life in France
Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun
Goodman, Matthew. Eighty days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World
Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Krist, Gary. City of Scoundrels: The Twelve Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago
Kurson, Robert. Shadow Divers : The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II
Millard, Candice. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President
Peacock, Nancy. A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life
Salisbury, Laney & Aly Sujo. Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
Approaching 70, author/journalist Philip Caputo decides it’s time to realize a dream; to drive from Key West, Florida to the Arctic Ocean in Alaska. He reads up on the history and literature of the places he might visit, rents a vintage Airstream trailer, and finally asks his wife Leslie if she can join him on the trip and help take care of their two dogs. Leslie, a magazine editor, had already figured out a plan to work part-time while on the road.
They try to avoid expressways, but sometimes use them. Traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway, they are amazed by its beauty and lack of commercial development. A highlight is traveling the Lewis and Clark trail. Along the way, Caputo interviews 80 Americans, asking them what unites or divides us as a country. Their answers are varied, and thought-provoking. They visit small towns, national parks, reservations, historical monuments, and sample lots of regional food specialties. Traveling and camping with a small trailer and two dogs isn’t always easy, but it’s often funny, such as when Leslie meets “Mothra”, a huge moth, in a campground shower.
While I enjoyed reading about the road trip, it was the historical background Caputo shares with the reader that made the biggest impression on me, from learning about the Lewis & Clark expedition, the Nebraska setting for Willa Cather’s books, researching a soldier at the Battle of Little Bighorn, information about the national parks, and more. The small towns in decline were quite a contrast to communities like Grand Island, Nebraska, a multicultural melting pot with immigrants from many parts of the world recruited for factory jobs. References to other travel writers and memories of growing up in Chicago and Westchester round out the book. I think both history buffs and armchair travelers would find The Longest Road well worth reading, as well as anyone interested in reading about what other Americans think about our country today. Read more about the book and watch a book trailer on the author’s website.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
This is flat-out a great book. It took the author ten years to write in his spare time. When the manuscript was put up for auction the price was bid up to $650,000 dollars. There even was a book published about the making and marketing of this book, entitled: Vanity Fair’s How a Book is Born: The Making of the Art of Fielding.
The plot centers around the struggles of the main characters on a baseball team at Westish College called the Harpooners. Henry Skrimshander is a preternaturally gifted shortstop who is recruited out of High School by Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ catcher. Although Henry is brilliant on the baseball field, he is shy and introverted and has a hard time adjusting to college life. Also in the mix is Guert Affenlight, the College President, whose staid life is upended by an unexpected romance with one the students. The student in question happens to be Owen Dunne, a gay intellectual, who also happens to play on the team. Pella Affenlight is Guert’s daughter from a previous relationship who shows up on Daddy’s doorstep after a marriage that goes sour.
According to Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times: Mr. Harbach has the rare abilities to write with earnest, deeply felt emotion without veering into sentimentality, and to create quirky, vulnerable, and fully realized characters who instantly take up residence in our hearts and minds. He also manages to rework the well-worn, much allegorized subject of baseball and make us see it afresh, taking tired tropes about the game (as a metaphor for life’s dreams, disappointments, and hopes of redemption) and interjecting them with new energy.
I enjoyed this book for its small college setting, and for the baseball stuff, but mainly for the affecting characters. I did not want this novel to end.
The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Natural history fans that are willing to suspend their beliefs and delve into the supernatural world, mixed with some horror, may really enjoy this fast paced and entertaining thriller. FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast, a rather dark, yet nonthreatening and serene character, persuades archaeologist Dr. Nora Kelly to suspend her work at the American Museum of Natural History in order to help him investigate the mysterious serial killings from 130 years ago that have just come to light. Pendergast, Kelly, and William Smithback (Kelly’s boyfriend, a journalist for the New York Times) become obsessed with solving this historical case once they become certain that recent, similarly gruesome serial killings are related. As the plot thickens and the investigation goes beyond their wildest expectations, their own lives are threatened by what appears to be a mad scientist who is hell-bent on concocting an elixir for the greater good of mankind even if it means torturing innocent, human beings. At the beginning of the book, I skeptically focused on the stereotypical attributes that the characters were assigned—yet the fast pace and natural history theme kept me engaged. Almost seamlessly, the characters were later developed into complex beings that I didn’t want to leave behind when I set my book down for the day. Although the story involves the supernatural, the twists and turns that take place as new evidence is introduced during the investigation make perfect sense and chances are you will not be disappointed in the story’s end. Terms that best describe this book are: page-turner; character driven; and conclusive. Readers of this fantasy, investigative series may also enjoy the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, or if the fictional interplay between different centuries and the archaeological aspect intrigues you, give Timeline by Michael Crichton a try.
Discover more on the authors’ website.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
This is a book that has been well researched and cited by the author to argue his point that “Jesus of Nazareth” was the “real, historical” Jesus, versus “Jesus the Christ” which was an “interpretation” of Jesus’s ministry that would sell well to its prime audience which was the Romans, in Rome, and not the Jews of Palestine. “Jesus of Nazareth”, a fire breathing nationalist, was transposed into “Jesus the Christ”, a pacifist, who preached loving thy neighbor and doing good works to enter the “Kingdom of Heaven.”
The chief architect of this interpretation is made out to be Paul of Tarsus, who was called Saul before he converted to Christianity, writing many years after Jesus’s death. As Aslan states: “Two thousand years later, the Christ of Paul’s creation has utterly subsumed the Jesus of history. The memory of the revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering an army of disciples with the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, the magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history. That is a shame. Because the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should hopefully reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth – Jesus the man—is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in.”
Regardless of where you stand on the Divinity of Jesus this is a worthwhile book to understand both Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus the Christ.
The Tuesday morning book group will be discussing The Round House by Louise Erdrich on Tuesday, September 17 at 10:00 am in Group Study Room 2. This book recently won the National Book Award for Fiction. Here is Brenda’s earlier review.
The Tuesday evening book group will be discussing The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier on Tuesday, September 24 at 7:00pm. For this date only, we will be meeting in the Administrator’s Office, next to the lobby. Tracy Chevalier’s books are well known by book groups, and by readers of historical fiction. Here is Brenda’s review.
The Crime Readers will also begin their discussion schedule in September, meeting every third Thursday at 7:00pm at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien. This book group is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library, which will also be featuring film discussions related to this fall’s books. On September 19, they will be discussing The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain.