A Book About Food

Kitchen ConfidentialKitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain, was originally published in 2000.

In the preface, Anthony Bourdain makes no apologies for his rough manner, or for his “blustery” words, or for the fact the pages of this book are “laced with testosterone”. That’s the way chefs act, he claims. Chefs are people who work behind closed doors, who became chefs because they don’t know how to behave in public.

For those reasons, he finds the concept of celebrity chefs annoying. Anthony Bourdain is a celebrity chef. “I suck,” he writes.

But, he insists, he loves the restaurant business. He loves the black and white of it. There are things you must do, and things you absolutely must not do.

The 310-page book begins with his introduction to the love of fine food (it was an act of rebellion against his parents during a family vacation in France) and his entrance into the restaurant life (it was a dishwashing job when he needed money that turned into a line cook position).

Anthony Bourdain writes of his experiences as a student at the Culinary Institute of America, where one instructor was so tough that he caused a veteran of the Vietnam War to run away in terror.

The book offers advice for ordering in a restaurant. Never order fish on Monday. Never order mussels unless you know the chef. Never, ever order Hollandaise sauce. Yes, the bread on your table is probably from the bread other tables didn’t eat, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

He argues that a great chef is a craftsman, not an artist.

He offers tips for cooking like a professional chef. (One tip is: Lots of butter.)

He tells stories of the ups and downs of his career – lots and lots and lots of stories about dictatorial head chefs, of cooks (including himself) high on drugs, of failing restaurants run by “knuckleheads”, and, in a chapter named Apocalypse Now, of machine guns assembled for sale in the back a certain waterfront restaurant. One of the reviews on the back cover compares Chef Bourdain’s style to the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson, and I think that’s a perfect comparison. Anthony Bourdain makes a professional kitchen sound like an outlaw motorcycle gang.

He devotes an entire chapter to A Day in the Life of his job as the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles. The food is French, the employees speak English and Spanish, and the pace is hectic.

There’s a chapter on how to curse in Spanish, and how to properly insult your coworkers. (This was, by far, my least favorite chapter. I’m not convinced that creating a hostile work environment is necessary to build strength, no matter how stressful a job may be.)

He tells you that all of this is absolutely true. Then he shows that it’s not.

There is a lot going on in this book – maybe too much. I’m not sure who the intended audience is supposed to be. There is advice for people who eat at restaurants, and for people who want work in a restaurant. There are stories for people who want to start a career, for people presently in the career, and for people who want to remember the good old days. Kitchen Confidential is part memoir, part travelogue, part cookbook, and part exposé.

I loved Anthony Bourdain’s TV show No Reservations, back when I watched TV. So, when I was choosing a book for this Category, I immediately thought of Anthony Bourdain. I really do enjoy his writing. Unfortunately, for me, what worked in a one-hour TV show was too much in a 301-page book.

  • A book about food

A Wild Hare

Year of the HareJäniksen vuosi, by Arto Paasilinna, was published in Finland in 1975. It was translated into English by Herbert Lomas in 1995 as The Year of the Hare.

A photographer and a journalist are out on assignment. They’d been arguing. They’re both angry. The photographer is driving. The sun is in their eyes.

A young hare is practicing hopping. It leaps in front of a car. The photographer tries to stop in time, but the hare is hit. It staggers off into the woods.

The jouralist, whose name is Kaarlo Vatanen, gets out of the car and walks into the woods. He finds the hare. Its leg is broken. He makes a splint for the leg, holds the scared animal in his arms, sits down on the ground, and ignores the photographer’s calls to return to the car.

The photographer, still angry, drives off and leaves Vatanen in the woods. He checks into the hotel, gets drunk, and waits for Vatanen to catch up. He starts to worry, so he hires a taxi to take him back to the scene of the accident. Vatanen is nowhere to be found.

The photographer calls Vatanen’s wife and their magazine editor, but neither is terribly concerned. Vatanen will show up, eventually.

Vatanen has decided to drop out of society, and live in the Finnish wilderness, with the hare by his side. Suddenly, his wife and his editor are terribly concerned.

The foreword, by Pico Iyer, compares Vatanen to Gauguin and Thoreau.

The Year of the Hare is a comedy.

Vatanen finds a veterinarian who treats the hare’s injuries, and gives Vatanen a special permit to allow him to keep a wild hare, which isn’t strictly allowed. All through his journey, Vatanen meets people like the vet, who care more about doing what’s right than about following the rules.

As Vatanen travels northward through the wilderness, stopping into towns and villages, he encounters many friendly, eccentric people, like the District Superintendent who takes him fishing and shares his conspiracy theory that President Kekkonen has been replaced by a look-alike.  He encounters a clergyman, who, thinking a wild animal is loose in the church, ends up shooting Jesus in the kneecap and himself in the foot, and then performs a wedding before being taken to the hospital. Not everyone he meets is friendly, however. Vatanen has many adventures and misadventures, all with the faithful hare by his side.

Vatanen lives off the money he made from selling his beloved boat. He also works manual labor jobs here and there, fighting fires, repairing lodge houses, or cutting trees. As he moves farther north, toward the Arctic Circle, he moves farther away from his former office job in Helsinki, both physically and mentally.

The Year of the Hare is a fun, anti-establishment romp. I enjoyed it a lot. As I read it, I wondered if there was a message in all this, or is it merely an episodic tale of adventure? Then, in the final pages, it all comes together.

  • A book set in the wilderness

Stories Of Sleep, Love, And Ghosts

I decided that Banana Yoshimoto would be a good choice for this Category in the Reading Challenge. She’s one of my favorite authors, she’s Japanese, and the Seattle Public Library has a good selection of her books in its catalog.

I picked Asleep because it was one I hadn’t read, there were no holds on it, and none of my current holds were moving fast enough.

Right after I placed the hold, I discovered that I’d been misremembering the Category. It’s the main character, not the author, who should be a different ethnicity than me. I decided to go with it anyway, since all of Banana Yoshimoto’s books are set in Japan.

If I’d realized I’d been misremembering the Category earlier, I might have picked out a different book, since Asleep is a collection of three novellas, with three main characters. If I’d realized the book was on the shelf at the Central Library, I might have picked it up during a lunch break, instead of placing a hold. Oh, well.

AsleepShirakawa Yofune, by Banana Yoshimoto, was published in 1989. It was translated into English, by Michael Emmerich, as Asleep, in 2000.

The first story is named Night and Nights Travelers.

Shibami, the main character and narrator, finds the draft of a letter she’d written to a girl named Sarah. It brings on a flood of memories. The story jumps back and forth in time.

In high school, Shibami and her brother, Yoshihiro, were close friends with their cousin Mari. Yoshihiro met an American student named Sarah, who was studying in Japan. Yoshihiro and Sarah began dating. When Sarah returned to Boston, Yoshihiro went with her.

While Yoshihiro was away, Mari realized that she’d always been in love with him. Things turned sour between Sarah and Yoshihiro, and he returned home to Japan. It soon became obvious to Shibami that her brother had fallen in love with Mari.

Mari and Yoshihiro began secretly dating, against their parents’ wishes. Then Yoshihiro died suddenly.

Mari is now 25. She moves around in a trance, “like a sleepwalker”. That’s only the beginning of the story. It’s about the friendship between Shibami and Mari, haunted by their mutual loss. It’s also about a lot more than that.

The second story is named Love Songs.

Every night, Fumi, the main character and narrator, drinks herself into a drunken stupor. Right before she falls asleep, Fumi hears strange music – almost like someone singing. She’s not sure if she’s dreaming or hallucinating.

Earlier in her life, Fumi was in a romantic relationship with a man. At the same time, the man was also in a romantic relationship with a woman named Haru. Fumi and Haru hated each other. Then the man left Japan. Haru went to Paris.

Fumi’s current boyfriend, Mizuo, had known both the man and Haru. Mizuo tells Fumi that the dead often communicate with the living through singing. He says that when a person is falling asleep and when they’re drunk are the best times for ghosts to synchronize with that living person. Mizuo thinks Haru is dead. He thinks Haru is singing to Fumi.

Fumi asks a mutual friend and learns that, yes, Haru has died.

Mizuo thinks that Fumi and Haru liked each other more than they were willing to admit. He thinks there may have been some mutually romantic feelings. At Mizuo’s insistence, he and Fumi go see a man who can put Fumi in touch with Haru in the afterlife. Fumi goes willingly. She realizes that Mizuo is right: She had been in love with Haru.

What does Haru want? What is the message in her song?

The third story is named Asleep.

Terako is the main character and the narrator. She’s been sleeping a lot recently, and she doesn’t know why. She can sleep through anything except a phone call from her boyfriend. Somehow, she always knows when it’s her boyfriend calling. She’s wide awake when she’s with her boyfriend. When she’s alone, she sleeps for long stretches of time.

Terako and her boyfriend have been seeing each other for a year and a half. She hasn’t been able to tell him that her good friend, Shiori, committed suicide two months ago.

Shiori had an unusual job, and when people ask what sort of work it was, Terako evades the question. Shiori was a sort of prostitute, only she didn’t have sex with her clients. People paid to sleep beside her – just sleep. Shiori wasn’t allowed to fall asleep herself, but she sometimes did.

Terako’s boyfriend is married. Terako knows this. Her boyfriend’s wife is in a coma. He was Terako’s boss when they started dating, and she still calls him Mr. Iwanaga.

As time passes, Terako finds it more difficult to stay awake, even when she’s with her boyfriend. She sleeps through entire days. She falls asleep on a park bench and is visited by a ghost who gives her specific career advice: Pick up a job-hunter’s newspaper at the train station, and find a job that requires you to be on your feet all the time. Terako ignores the advice. A few days later, a friend calls and offers Terako a temporary job as a hostess at a trade show – a job where she’s required to be on her feet all the time.

Has her boyfriend’s wife cursed Terako to sleep, or is she helping to keep Terako awake?

I absolutely loved this book. Its three stories drew me in. I didn’t want to put the book down. I wished my commute were longer, so I could continue reading when it was time to go to work.

I wished the stories were longer, especially the first one. I wanted to know more about where Shibami and Mari were heading.

There’s a magic quality to Asleep (the book). The writing is poetic and beautiful, even when the story is sad. (I’m sure it’s even better in the original Japanese.) They’re subtle and enigmatic. All three stories are character-driven. (That’s my favorite kind of story.) People handle unusual lives in normal, everyday ways. The physical world interacts with the spiritual world comfortably and easily.

  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you

Delta Fever

OrleansOrleans, by Sherri L. Smith, was published in 2013.

Between 2005 and 2017, the Gulf Coast of the United States is hit by six hurricanes, ranging from 3 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Each hurricane kills thousands, and leaves fewer and fewer survivors. In 2019, Hurricane Jesus, a category 6 on the new Saffir-Simpson scale, kills 8,000 people and leaves less than 10,000 survivors.

More casualties follow, due to disease, suicide, and murder. Then comes a new disease: Delta Fever. In 2020, FEMA quarantines all of the storm-affected Gulf Coast regions.

In 2025, the United States Senate, in a Declaration of Separation, formally withdraws its governance of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

The Outer States assume that life inside the quarantined area would die out. The Outer States are wrong.

It’s 2056. Fen de la Guerre, the book’s main narrator, is living with the O-Positive blood tribe. O types are more resistant to The Fever than other types are, so they are prime targets for the Hunters, who kidnap them and drain their valuable blood. The Fever is a blood disease, but the Rules of Blood keeps the tribes separated and healthy. But outsiders come from over the Wall to trade or scavenge, plus there are tribe-less freesteaders, and the disease still spreads and kills.

In Orleans, you either a tribe, a religion, a hunter, or a freesteader.

ABs live in and around the old French Quarter, where the markets and hospitals are. O-Positives and O-Negs live a nomadic life, hidden in the wilderness. Markets, places of the dead (like the Dome), and churches are sacred, neutral territories, according to the Rules of Blood.

Cinnamon Jones, the O-Positive tribe’s storyteller, tells the legend of a beautiful city named New Orleans, caught in the middle of a custody fight between the sky and the sea.

Cinnamon’s story be reaching the point where the sky and the sea can’t live without New Orleans being they own, so they start to fight over her, sending they daughters and they sons to wreak havoc. I be too far away to hear him naming the storms that tore the city down, but I know the names: Rita, Katrina, Isaiah, Lorenzo, all the way up to Jesus, or Hayseus, like Cinnamon say. And that be the end of New Orleans. She love that last storm so much, she run off with him and leave only Orleans behind.

Lydia Moray is the OP tribe’s chieftain, and Fen’s best friend. Fen hopes to someday convince Lydia that the tribe has grown too large, that it should be split in two, and that Fen should lead the second tribe.

Then Lydia dies during childbirth, and Fen promises to give Baby Girl a better life, a life beyond the Wall, in the Outer States.

Daniel is a scientist in the Outer States. He is working to find a cure for the Delta Fever virus. The key to success, he believes, is to smuggle himself into the quarantined area and make his way to the abandoned city of Orleans. Parts of the book are told from his point of view, in the third-person.

Orleans is a Young Adult novel. Fen is a strong teenage girl, using her strength, wits, and knowledge to get through some horrific situations.

Orleans is a great novel. It creates a believable, well-crafted post-apocalyptic world, complete with its own rules, languages, cultures, and characters. It is a book full of surprises, right up to the end.

I loved Orleans. I want to read more of Sherri L. Smith’s works.

  • A book by a person of color

A Book About Cats

Cat StoriesWell, I figured, what better way is there to find a book with a cat on the cover than to find a book about cats? I went with the obvious solution for this Category.

James Herriot’s Cat Stories, by James Herriot, was published in 1994. It’s a collection of ten stories about cats. The copy I borrowed from the library has a cat on the cover.

When he entered Veterinary College, James Herriot writes in the introduction, there was nothing being taught, in either the textbooks or in classrooms, about the veterinary care of cats. This was only beginning to change when he graduated. He chose to be a large-animal veterinarian, but on his rounds through the English countryside, he found cats on every farm, either for practical or emotional use.

The stories in this book are semi-autobiographical. Names, places, and time frames have been altered, but are based on real cases. Even “James Herriot” is a pseudonym. (Patients, even non-human ones, deserve their privacy.)

Three of the stories are about the same two cats, Olly and Ginny. They remained wild, but stayed close to the Herriot house, where they were fed. They loved Helen (Mrs. Herriot) but kept their distance from James. (They probably always remembered being stuffed into a cat box and given veterinary treatment.)

It’s a book about medical mysteries. There’s Alfred, who is losing weight but showing no other symptoms. There’s Frisk, who is near death one day and frisky the next day.

There are stories about fascinating cats and their fascinating owners. There’s Mr. and Mrs. Bond, who run a cat establishment.

James Herriot’s Cat Stories is a cute book. It’s a short book (161 pages), full of warmth, heartbreak, and humor. I enjoyed it.

  • A book with a cat on the cover

A Wolf-Dog’s Story

white-fangWhite Fang is another book I bought from the charity book sale shelf in Phillip’s office. I’d never read anything by Jack London, but I’ve been meaning to for a long time.

White Fang, by Jack London, was originally published in 1906.

It’s the 1890s, and two men, named Bill and Henry, are transporting a dead man, in a coffin, on a dog sled across the wilderness of Canada’s Yukon Territory, to Fort McGurry. Every night, the dogs huddle by the campfire, in fear. At first, Henry and Bill aren’t sure why their dogs are behaving so strangely. Then they realize that a pack of hungry wolves are eating the dogs, one by one.

Henry and Bill accidentally overturn the sled on a bad stretch of trail. The coffin ends up in a tree.

The wolves eat Bill.

Henry is afraid to fall asleep, knowing that once he does, the wolves will attack and eat him. Finally, he can stay awake no longer, and he gives up. At that moment of surrender, men from Fort McGurry arrive to find out where Lord Alfred is. He’s in a tree, Henry tells them, in a coffin.

Then the book switches to the point of view of the pack of starving wolves. They are fighting amongst themselves. They split up into smaller packs.

The point of view then switches to an unnamed she-wolf and a male wolf named One Eye. They produce a litter of cubs. The lack of food kills all but one of the cubs. The hunt for food kills One Eye.

The point of view then switches to the one surviving cub as he grows up and learns his way in the world. The book stays with the cub’s point of view for the rest of the story.

The cub and his mother encounter four Indians. The cub tries to fight back and bites one of the Indians on the hand. The Indians laugh at him and name him White Fang. The cub, meanwhile, is puzzled by his mother’s cowering attitude toward these humans.

The Indians recognize the she-wolf (White Fang’s mother) as a domesticated wolf-dog hybrid named Kiche, who ran away from the Indian tribe a year earlier to join a pack of wolves.

(Bill and Henry had thought that one of the wolves was acting more like a pet dog than a wild wolf.)

White Fang isn’t a book about a coffin in a tree, and it’s not about Fort McGurry. It’s about White Fang’s adventures.

White Fang is brought into the Indian village. He is beaten by his human master, Gray Beaver. He is bullied by a dog named Lip-lip. His mother is sold to another village to pay a debt.

White Fang grows up vicious, feared and unloved. He becomes solitary. And yet, he earns respect (and maybe just a little love) from Gray Beaver and his family.

In a moment of exploited weakness, Gray Beaver is tricked into selling White Fang to a cruel white man named Beauty Smith. White Fang had learned that humans are gods, to be obeyed always, and he learned, through observation, that white gods are superior gods to the Indian gods. Yet this white god, his new master, Beauty Smith, beats him more savagely than Gray Beaver ever did.

Beauty Smith turns White Fang into a professional fighting animal, and White Fang takes to his new role easily. He becomes an undefeated killer. The men who watch the dog fights laugh at White Fang, and poke him with sticks.

The back of this paperback asks the question: “Will White Fang ever know the kindness of a gentle master or will he die a fierce deadly killer?” It’s a good question. How can there be such a thing as a gentle master in the harsh and brutal northern wilderness? And, if White Fang were to find such a master, how could he ever overcome a lifetime of cruelty?

I have another question: What’s the deal with the coffin in the tree? What did it have to do with anything? Was it just a sub-plot that went nowhere? Or was it the continuation of some earlier book I’m unaware of?

White Fang is a fine adventure story of the rugged frontier. It’s a macho story, full of tough manly men. There are few female characters, and when they do appear, they’re background characters. I can imagine young boys in the 1900s eating up this tale of wild Indians and wilder dogs.

The book was, to me, slow at times. It took me a very long time to get through it, and it’s only about 250 pages long. But I did enjoy it, overall. The final chapter, especially, gripped me with a sense that the story could easily end any of several ways.

  • A book with a title that’s a character’s name

Lives During Wartime

When the Emperor Was DevineWhen the Emperor Was Divine, a novel by Julie Otsuka, was published in 2002.

It’s 1942, in Berkley, California. A woman, on her way to return an overdue library book, finds that, overnight, signs had been posted everywhere throughout the town. She walks to the hardware store and buys some packing material. She refuses the store owner’s offer of credit. She leaves the money on the counter and walks home.

She calmly gathers the types of things that the signs said her family will be able to bring with them. She packs up the rest of the household belongings and locks them in a back room. They’re not able to bring pets with them, so she kills their chicken and cooks it. She gives the family cat to neighbors. She kills their elderly dog with a shovel and buries it in the yard. Then she sits and waits for her two children to get home from school.

The daughter is ten years old. The son is seven.

The woman and her children will be leaving tomorrow. She doesn’t know where they will be taken, or how long they will be gone. They can bring only what they can carry.

It’s April. Her husband had been arrested last December. She hasn’t seen him since. He’s been able to write letters to her, but they arrive heavily censored by the War Department.

When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of historical fiction, about a time when a specific group of American citizens were imprisoned by their own government for no specific crimes. They just happened to be born into the wrong ancestry. The book is divided into five sections, following the nameless family into an internment camp in a bleak Utah desert, their years spent there, and their return to what’s left of their home. The story is told from the perspective of each family member.

It is a book of intense sadness and injustices. The FBI cuts phone lines and freezes bank accounts. Fathers are taken away from their families without any warning whatsoever. (The father was taken out of the house in his bathrobe and slippers.) Mothers try their best to make their children believe it’s all going to be OK. Children try their best to make their mothers believe it’s all going to be OK.

And yet, the story is told in amazing detail, and with beauty. It’s like poetry at times. The book sits back, tells the story, and lets the horrors speak for themselves.

I especially love this passage:

One evening, before he went to bed, he wrote his name in the dust across the top of the table. All through the night, while he slept, more dust blew through the walls.

By morning his name was gone.

Even though the subject matter is tough to take, I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It is beautifully written.

When the Emperor Was Divine deals with some horrific subject matter, but it is rarely graphic in its details. Large parts of the book are told through children’s eyes.

  • A novel set during wartime

A Librarian Says So

I subscribe to two email newsletters from The Seattle Public Library. I follow Shelf Talk, our library’s official blog. I know two retired Seattle Public Library employees. So, finding “a book recommended by a librarian” was a cinch for me.

Late last December, I read a post on Shelf Talk entitled Bus Reads: December. In it, the author of the post, Kara, recommended a book named The Library of Unrequited Love. It’s a book about a librarian, in a library, recommended by a librarian. It seemed so perfect that I put the book on my “For Later” shelf, and stopped searching for any more books to fit this Category.

The Library of Unrequited LoveLa cote 400, by Sophie Divry, was published in France in 2010. It was published in the USA in 2015, translated by Siân Reynolds as The Library of Unrequited Love.

Two hours before a small, municipal library is scheduled to open, a librarian discovers that a man had been locked inside the library overnight. Since  opening the doors early would involve contacting Security, the librarian offers the man coffee, requests his help in finding a misplaced book, and talks to him until the library opens.

The librarian talks about her job (comparing working in a library to working in a factory), about the Dewey Decimal System, and about her honest feelings about the library patrons. She talks about the hierarchy of library employees: French Literature staff are the blue-blood aristocracy, Philosophy and Religion are high society, CDs and DVDs are the nouveaux riche, and so on. The librarian works in Geography (the proletariat) and is hoping to work her way up to History. She talks a lot about history.

The librarian comes across as a misanthrope and a pessimist.

She also talks about a secret crush she has on a young researcher named Martin. The librarian considers herself an invisible woman, however.

The Library of Unrequited Love is a tiny book. It’s 93 pages long, with pages only as tall as my hand. The book is one continuous paragraph. There’s no plot. It’s one, two-hour monologue (which is how long it took me to read it). It shows the responses the librarian gives to the man’s comments, but not the man’s comments. I never learned anything about the man at all.

I imagine that librarians could relate to this book. For me, it was amusing and offered some insight into this profession. It enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t quite love it. I wanted more from it – more story, more variety.

  • A book recommended by a librarian

Subtitles: What Are They Good For?

I was surprised by how difficult it was to find a subtitled book. Internet searches I had done for other Categories in the Reading Challenge yielded scores of results. But my search for “a book with a subtitle” gave me one list of ten books, plus a lot of guides on how to write a good subtitle. Maybe I was wording my search incorrectly.

(I could have used Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood – the second book I read for the Challenge – if I’d know this earlier.)

I was ready to start wandering bookstores and libraries, trying to stumble upon a subtitled book by happenstance, when a search for a book by someone I admire showed me this autobiography by Jimmy Carter – it’s a book with a subtitle.

(Actually, I’ve discovered that several of Carter’s books have subtitles.)

A Full LifeA Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, by Jimmy Carter, was published in 2015.

The book begins with Jimmy Carter’s childhood in Archery, Georgia – a self-reliant, hardworking farming community of 200 people. His was the only white family in Archery. His childhood friends were all African-American. He worked alongside black farmworkers in the cotton and peanut fields.

He writes that during his childhood, he was unaware of the politics of racial discrimination. He thought that segregated schools and churches were merely “a matter of custom”. He didn’t know that only white people could vote or serve on juries.

The turning point in his world view, he writes, came at the pasture gate, when his playmates insisted that he go through first. He thought, at the time, that they were playing a prank on him. He learned, later, that his friends’ parents had taught them that white kids should always go through doors and gates first. It was his first encounter with racial inequality and privilege.

Jimmy Carter refers to these early years often in this book, and about how they shaped his college years at the Naval Academy at Annapolis,  his service as an officer aboard the battleships USS Wyoming and USS Mississippi, and the submarines USS Pomfret and USS K-1, his politics, his social activism, and his religious commitment.

While on leave, soon after graduation from Annapolis, he went on a blind date with Rosalynn Smith, a friend of his sister. Jimmy and Rosalynn eventually married. They had three sons and one daughter.

After leaving a long career in the Navy, Jimmy returned to Plains, Georgia, his birthplace, where he and Rosalynn ran a farm. His father had been active in local politics, as a registered Democrat, but was “a libertarian at heart”. Jimmy had been uninterested in a political career, however, until witnessing the disastrous “separate but equal” policies (which were separate but far from equal) persuaded him to run for a position in the Georgia State Senate.

(Rosalynn, writes Jimmy Carter, would barely speak to him for days after he told her that he was resigning from the Navy, but fully supported his decision to enter a political career. He also writes that Rosalynn may have enjoyed politics more than he did.)

Jimmy Carter lost the primary election, with one county recording 136 votes for Carter and 360 for his opponent – with only 333 people voting. There had been witness accounts of ballot tampering and voter intimidation. Carter took the matter to the courts, and eventually all votes from that one county were discounted. Carter ran in the general election unopposed, and became a US Senator. That was Jimmy Carter’s introduction to US politics.

Carter served two terms as a senator, and served one term as Governor of Georgia.

The book includes many pages about Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, running as a largely unknown candidate, with little funding. His opponent, Gerald Ford, became one of his closest friends.

James Earl Carter Jr. became the 39th President of the United States in 1977, winning the election by a narrow margin, and maintaining a low approval rate through most of his four-year term.

There is a lot in the book about life in the White House, both personal and political. Carter writes about his triumphs as well as his failures.

After losing his run for a second presidential term, Jimmy Carter became a professor at Emory University.

Jimmy and Rosalynn co-founded The Carter Center, a nonpartisan organization providing conflict resolution, election monitoring, and health programs worldwide.

They both have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, building houses for poor families, for over thirty years.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter remain active members of the Baptist Church. Jimmy teaches Sunday School on a regular basis.

Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety is the twenty-ninth book written by Jimmy Carter.

I enjoyed reading this book. It’s written in a plain, straightforward language. (I imagine that Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School lessons sound like this book.) The story of his life is told with a series of anecdotes, in more or less chronological order. The book is illustrated with photographs, as well as paintings and poems by Jimmy Carter.

  • A book with a subtitle

Clay And Fire

the-golem-and-the-jinniThe Golem and The Jinni, by Helene Wecker, was published in 2013. An internet search lead me to this novel.

The year is 1899. Otto Rotfeld is a Prussian Jew from Konin. He’s a failure both in business and in love.

Rotfeld approaches a mysterious man named Schaalman. He wants Schaalman to make a golem for him – not the typical lumbering, unthinking beast of burden, but a golem, made of clay, that can pass for human. Rotfeld wants his golem to have curiosity and intelligence – and be female.

Schaalman thinks that Rotfeld doesn’t understand what he’s asking for, but agrees to the task. He takes most of the money Rotfeld has.

The golem is finished the night before Rotfeld leaves for America. Schaalman gives him a piece of paper with two commands on it: the command that will bring the golem to life, and the command that will destroy her.

Rotfeld had been advised to wait until he lands in America to wake his golem, to lessen the disorientation the golem will experience, but Rotfeld begins to wonder if he’d been cheated. What proof did he have that his golem will come to life? He speaks the command before reaching America.

The Golem comes to life in the hold of a steamship, midway between Poland and America. She is already knowledgeable and aware. She can understand any human language. She already knows that the man in front of her is her master, Otto Rotfeld.

Moments later, Rotfeld dies, without ever having a chance to give her a name. Without the bond between golem and master, her mind connects to the thoughts and desires of every human in her vicinity, all at the same time.

When the ship arrives at Ellis Island, the Golem, who, of course, has no immigration papers, jumps ship (literally) and walks along the river bottom to Manhattan.

In the Manhattan neighborhood called Little Syria, a Maronite Catholic tinsmith named Boutros Arbeely is hired to repair a battered old copper flask. As he works at the task, Arbeely accidentally frees a jinni, who had long ago been trapped, in human form (by an iron cuff), inside the flask, by a wizard.

The Jinni is a member of the most intelligent and powerful race of jinn. His race are formless creatures of fire, able to imitate the form of any animal or human. The Jinni had been born in the Syrian Desert, in what is now known as the seventh century.

Water is deadly to the fire jinn, and Manhattan is surrounded by more water than the Jinni had ever seen in his long life. The Jinni is given shelter by the tinsmith.

The Jinni takes the name Ahmad, and becomes the tinsmith’s apprentice. He is given a false backstory to explain his sudden appearance in the neighborhood.

The Golem, although aware and knowledgeable, is only two days old. She is naïve. She is found, wandering and confused, by Rabbi Avram Meyer, who immediately recognizes her as a golem. The Golem is given shelter by the Rabbi.

The Rabbi names the Golem Chava. She takes a job at a neighborhood bakery. Chava is given a backstory close enough to the truth that the Rabbi can, at least, forgive himself for concocting a lie.

Ahmad, the thousand-year-old jinni from the Syrian Desert, and Chava, the newborn golem from the Atlantic Ocean, meet by chance in New York City. He sees her as a creature of clay. She sees him as a creature of fire. Neither one understands what they are seeing.

This is only the beginning of the story.

The Golem and The Jinni is 484 pages long. Its many plots and subplots flowed nicely and never felt like filler. I felt like I was reading a fable.

It’s a book filled with ideas.

It’s a book about two beings who are different, in a city of differences. Chava longs for a master. Ahmad longs for freedom. Their differences are what they have in common, and how they form a friendship.

It’s a book about immigrants, in a city made up of immigrants. It’s about holding on to what you’ve brought from the old world while adapting to life in a new world, and eventually finding a way to blend in. It’s about different cultures existing mere city blocks apart.

It’s a book about religion – about Christianity, and Judaism, and Islam. It’s not a religious book – it’s a book about religious people.

The Golem and The Jinni is amazing, wonderful, tragic, and mind-blowing. It’s the best book I’ve read for the Reading Challenge, so far. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time.

  • A book involving a mythical creature

(A book involving two mythical creatures, actually)