Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Look! New book recommendations!

Yes, folks, it's time, once again, for another J-TWO-O Book Nook post. (Click the link to see previous book recommendations.)

As per usual, I have listed books alphabetically by author. And I've included a few books I didn't love, because I realize not everyone is as picky as I am (and other people I know really liked these books).

Oh, and if you'd like to tell the class about some great books you've read this year, please share the title and author in a Comment. Thanks!

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Fiction. I love a good fairy tale. And this is a good fairy tale. Set in long-ago Russia, in a small village at the edge of a wood, The Bear and the Nightingale is a bewitching coming-of-age story (with some Beauty and the Beast undertones). The story centers on Vasillisa, or Vasya, the youngest child of a Russian nobleman, whose beloved wife dies while giving birth to the girl. Like her mother's mother, who some say was a witch, Vasya seems otherworldly, and, indeed, can see and speak with the spirits that protect their house, animals, and crops. But when her father remarries a religious (and superstitious) woman, and an ambitious young priest comes to preach in the village, the old ways are threatened and crops begin failing and animals begin disappearing, leaving the villagers angry and terrified. And it is up to Vasya to try to save them all.

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen. Historical fiction. I'm a big fan of Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness mystery series, set in England in the 1930s. So I expected to equally enjoy her latest novel, In Farleigh Field, a mystery set (mainly) in 1940s England and Paris, during World War II. And I did. If you are a fan of British mysteries set in the first half of the twentieth century on English estates, filled with charming characters and plot twists, you will enjoy In Farleigh Field.

The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret by Catherine Hewitt. Nonfiction. Maybe it's because growing up Gigi was one of my favorite movies, but I loved this book -- which, like Gigi, is about French courtesans (and the men who adored them). Mainly, it is about one particular French courtesan, the "Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne," nee Emilie-Louise Delabigne, who was the toast of late nineteenth-century Paris. A fascinating biography of a fascinating woman, as well as a history lesson, The Mistress of Paris reads like a work of fiction, but it's not.

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman. Nonfiction/Memoir. Loved the idea behind Eight Flavors -- exploring eight different seasonings, or flavors, such as pepper, vanilla, soy sauce, and MSG, that greatly shaped American cuisine (though she purposely leaves out chocolate and coffee); the writing, not so much. (God save me from Millennial food bloggers.) But, if you are not irked by young women (and men) who love to talk about themselves or interject their own personal experience with something, and consider yourself a "foodie," and like books about food, this book is for you. (My college-age daughter loved it. So maybe it's a generational thing. Though I found many parts of the book interesting.)

The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett. Fiction. As stated above, I love a good mystery, especially an English mystery -- as well as books about King Arthur and his knights and quests for mystical objects. So The Lost Book of the Grail was kind of the Holy Trinity of books for me. The story centers on introverted book lover and English professor Arthur Prescott, who harbors a secret obsession with the Holy Grail. Arthur, despite being an atheist, is enamored with the ancient cathedral in his (fictional) small English village, and spends most of his free time in the cathedral's library. However, when a pretty American shows up to digitize all the ancient books (to Arthur's horror), his world and life are turned upside down. A charming, fun book.

Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony – France’s Last Best Place by David McAninch. Memoir. The subtitle pretty much says it all. The gustatory adventures of David McAninch, a former editor at Saveur, in Southwestern France, where he and his wife and young child spent eight seemingly very happy, very delicious months a few years back. If you like tales of good food (especially French food), good drink, and consider yourself a Francophile, I recommend Duck Season. (Just make sure to have a good French restaurant nearby when you do.)

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller. Nonfiction. A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the manufacture and history of olive oil. However, be warned: After reading Extra Virginity, you will probably never look at olive oil, or extra virgin olive oil, the same way again -- and will probably wonder what it is you've actually been consuming. (I know I did. Indeed, after reading this book, I thought that instead of calling certain olive oil "extra virgin," they should call it "extra slutty," because it seemed like olives really get around.)

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore. Historical fiction. The history of electricity. (I just liked typing that.) A great read that examines the question, Who really invented the light bulb? and chronicles the fight over who had the right -- George Westinghouse or Thomas Edison -- to supply electricity to millions of homes and businesses across America. Told from the point of view of a young lawyer named Paul Cravath (the Cravath in what is now Cravath, Swain & Moore), who was hired by Westinghouse to defeat Edison's claims. Highly recommend.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Memoir. I really did not like this book. Or, rather, I really did not like the people in this book. Noah, whom I'd grown to really like on The Daily Show, came off as a punk. And I found myself constantly yelling (in my head) at his mother, a headstrong, self-centered, wrong-headed woman who repeatedly -- and needlessly -- endangered herself and Noah, starting with her decision to needle a white man to impregnate her (the crime of the title). That all said, Noah's recollections of growing up poor and biracial, or "colored," in South Africa, make for a fascinating read. And my niece and many other people I know loved this book.

Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman. Nonfiction/Memoir. I'm still reading this book, but I wanted to include it as I think it's a must read. In short, Grocery is the story of how grocery stores, or really supermarkets, evolved and came to dominate the American food landscape, shaped how and what we eat, and are now fighting for survival in today's on-demand world. It's also a loving memoir about Ruhlman's father -- and an in-depth look at a local, family-run grocery chain in Ohio called Heinen's, where the Ruhlman family often shopped. If you ever wondered why there are grocery stores and how and what food comes to be on their shelves, definitely check out Grocery.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. Nonfiction. Definitely one of my new favorite books. Even better than the movie, which I also loved (but was pretty much a work of fiction). The amazing story of a group of smart and talented African American women who worked as "computers" at what would become NASA in the 1940s through 1960s. Shetterly does a great job of fleshing out her subjects and making you feel like a fly on the wall. You don't have to be interested in the space race, or math or engineering, or a woman, to enjoy and appreciate this book, but if you are, you will appreciate Hidden Figures even more.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden

If you happen to be in New York City between now and October 29th, I highly recommend you go to the New York Botanical Garden (in the Bronx) to see the CHIHULY exhibit (as well as the beautiful flowers and plants).

The exhibit includes over 20 stunning glass sculptures, installed throughout the Garden, by renowned glass sculptor/artist Dale Chihuly, whose blown glass creations have been exhibited at museums around the world.

Here are some of the amazing glass works of art featured in the New York Botanical Garden exhibit. (Click on the photo to see a larger view. Then hit the "back" button/arrow to return to the post.)

NB: It is really hard to photograph glass when the sun is shining directly overheard -- and a dozen or so people keep walking into the frame.








Thursday, April 27, 2017

Barbie, keepin' it real

When last we left Barbie, back in December, she was recovering from her failed presidential run.

What has she been up to since then?

Well, as we learned from this just-released new video, Barbie's once again living in New York, commuting to/from work, doing yoga, and getting her Starbucks like the rest of us....



Will Barbie run again for President in 2020?

"I'm just taking things one day at a time," says Barbie. "Right now, I'm focusing on mindfulness, being in the here and now."

FUN ASIDE: Back in the day -- the day being 1959 -- Commuter Barbie went to/from work dressed like this:



















(Wonder where she fit her yoga mat...)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Stop referring to Trump as a billionaire

Dear New York Times and every other media outlet,

Please stop referring to Donald J. Trump as a billionaire or "billionaire Donald J. Trump." You, and we, the public, have no idea if Trump is a billionaire. And considering the amount of debt he has, and the hundreds of millions of dollars he has lost over the years, it is highly likely he is not a billionaire. 

Sure, Trump would like us to believe he is a billionaire.

And I would like people to believe I am really 5'6". 

But we have no way of knowing if Trump is a billionaire as he refuses to release his tax returns. 

So please, news organizations, cable channels, and bloggers, stop referring to Trump as a billionaire. Refer to him as just a businessman or a real estate developer (or President, if you must). And if he complains, say you'd be happy to re-apply the descriptor "billionaire" -- as soon as he provides the last 8 years worth of his Federal tax returns. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Remember when this was the most annoying ad on TV?

Come with me as we return to a time before ads for pharmaceuticals dominated (or were even on) the airwaves, when the most annoying, or overplayed, commercial on television began with strains of classical music and an elegant, mustachioed Englishman uttering these memorable words....

"I'm sure you recognize this lovely melody as 'Stranger in Paradise.' But did you know that the original theme is from the 'Polovetsian Dance No. 2' by Borodin? So many of the tunes of our well-known popular songs were actually written by the great masters—like these familiar themes..."



Although the ad stopped airing in 1984 (13 years after it began running, and a year after actor John Williams' death), I bet most (all?) of you remember it. (The spouse and I do -- and were quoting it while listening to classical music over breakfast this morning. Hence this post -- and the accompanying ear worm(s).)

For those of you who don't remember or have a fuzzy memory of the ad, it was for 120 Music Masterpieces, a four-record set of classical music excerpts from Columbia House (later Vista Marketing), which contained these timeless classical melodies, "performed by Europe's finest musicians." (And if you acted quickly, you could also get an additional 30 piano masterpieces!)

As annoying as the ad was, though, I would rather be bombarded with ads for classical music than with ads for Humira, Xerelto and/or Viagra. Unlike all of the pharmaceuticals advertised on TV, the only negative side effects of classical music are mild sleepiness and boredom.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Trump translator: What Trump really means

Supporters of Donald Trump say people cannot, or should not, take what he says literally. So how can people understand what Trump really means when he speaks?

To assist you, we here at J-TWO-O have carefully analyzed Trump's most frequently spoken words and deciphered, or translated, them for you in this handy chart.

Now when you listen to Trump, or read about something he said or tweeted, you can understand what he really meant.

THE TRUMP TRANSLATOR
When Trump says…
What it really means is…
Amazing
Not so amazing; ordinary; really bad
Bad people
People who call out Trump’s lies
Best
Worst
Big League (often misinterpreted as “Bigly”)
That whatever or whomever Trump is referring to is screwed, big time.
Crooked
That person is smarter than Trump (and less crooked, dishonest). 
Dishonest
Someone said or published the truth about Trump or one of his advisors or businesses and he doesn’t like it. So he’s trying to discredit the person or organization.
Failing
That person or business is succeeding (most likely in debunking something Trump says), or that person or organization said or did something Trump didn’t like, so he’s trying to discredit it.
Fake News
That news organization is printing the (uncomfortable, unflattering) truth about Trump and/or one of his businesses or associates.
Fantastic
Fantastic for Trump and millionaires like him. Bad for everyone else.
Huge
Small, like Trump’s hands
Loser
That person is more popular or smarter than Trump; a winner
Out of control
Out of my, Donald Trump’s, control
Overrated
That person or organization gets (or got) better ratings, won more awards, than Trump; that person or organization said something (probably true) about Trump that Trump didn’t like.
Really smart
Really dumb
Sad
Bad for Trump
Terrible
Terrible for Trump
They
Bad hombres, non-white males, esp. immigrants, and people who either sued Trump or said bad things about him; also news organizations
Tremendous
Small or tiny, soft (like his… hands); bad, poor
We
I, Donald J. Trump
Weak
I can bully that person.
Winning
Losing; a loss for most Americans

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Obama haters vs. Trump haters (chart)

Why do so many people (still) hate President Barack Obama?

Why do so many people hate President Donald Trump?

Instead of droning on about the various reasons, I have created a table, below, titled "Obama Haters vs. Trump Haters."

Obama Haters vs. Trump Haters
Why people hate(d) Obama
Why people hate Trump
He’s black±.
He’s abused (groped) women (against their will) and wants to take away/limit women’s rights.**
He’s a Muslim*.
He’s biased against African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims; wants to limit their rights.**
He’s not really American (wasn’t born here)*.
He wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States, except the ones he’s doing business or wants to do business with.**
He thinks he’s so smart (like he’s way smarter than me***).
He wants to deport millions of Hispanics. **
He wants to raise my taxes*.
He’s for dismantling environmental regulations, allowing companies to pollute more, threatening the health of millions of Americans.**
He wants to take away my guns*.
He’s for dismantling healthcare protections, making it more expensive/harder for millions of Americans to receive healthcare.**
He’s anti-family* (supports abortion and gay people marrying).
He’s incited anti-Semitism – and death threats against Jewish community centers and houses of worship.**

He doesn’t support education.**

He and his family are personally costing/will cost taxpayers millions (perhaps billions) of dollars, far more than any previous president.**

He and his family are personally profiting from his presidency.**

He refuses to share his tax returns, which could reveal ties with Russia and other foreign powers (most notably China).**

He is threatening America’s security by proposing to decrease funding for the TSA and the Coast Guard in order to pay for multibillion-dollar border wall with Mexico (which experts say won’t stop illegal immigration or make America safer)**

He and many of his advisors have disturbing ties to Russia – and it’s been proven that Russia influenced the election/favored Trump.**
 ±Though technically he’s 50% white.
*Not true, i.e., false.
**True.
***Probably.
He is irrational, unable to distinguish fact from fiction; constantly lies.**

As you will notice, most of the reasons people cite for hating Obama (e.g., his not being born in America or taking away people's guns) were/are false. Whereas the reasons people dislike or hate Trump are true. Also, many of the things people didn't like about Obama didn't directly affect their well being, as in their health or pocket books, whereas many of the reasons people dislike or hate Trump do or will.