Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

I have been due to read a Sandor Katz book for awhile now. I am glad I was able to get the revised edition of this book.

Fermentation has become a hobby of mine for the last few years. I’ve made sourdough, kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir, jun kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and recently started facto-fermentation of pickles and garlic. On a regular basis, I make jun kombucha at least twice a week and sourdough almost weekly during the cooler months. I drink the kombucha almost daily and when I am not making sourdough regularly, I do buy it from my local bakery.

A few years ago, I noticed that after a morning of drinking kefir, eating sauerkraut, and sourdough bread, my stomach felt great. Not heavy and things felt easy to digest. While I have never been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, IBS, digestion issues, etc. I have always had some digestive problems since I was a kid. My father has similar ones and is even more restricted by lactose intolerance. It’s not chronic nor is it persistent on a weekly or monthly basis, but I am the kind of person who gets digestion issues while travelling. At least a couple times of year, I get painful indigestion or food poisoning from eating something that did not agree with me. I guess the microbiome that Dad gave me is not the best. However, I generally eat pretty well and I find that fermented drinks and foods digest well. They do not give me problems.

I liked Katz’s style and ethos about fermentation. He emphasizes that you should keep clean but not sterilized and unlike a lot of other food or beverage books, he does not give you a mandatory list of what you need to get started. I found the book really interesting. There were lots of things I wanted to try and it was very accessible. The book has recipes but there is an emphasis on process rather than strict guidelines. Even the process can be adjusted.

The book has a lot of references and tips from lots of sources. I also really like the reflection about how microbes and bacteria and yeast are all around us. That this biodiversity in our food is important for sustainability in the long run.

I would really like to do a proper full cookbook review where I evaluate some of the recipes, but I do not own this book in book form. I do have an ebook version and will experiment with some recipes.

Read August 27-28, 2019.

Marcus at Home by Marcus Wareing

Marcus Wareing is a Michelin starred London based chef. He is widely known on UK TV for judging “Masterchef: The Professionals”. I’ve been a fan of Wareing since watching him judge “Great British Menu”. Masterchef: The Pros is one of my absolute favourite TV programmes. Last year, I was lucky enough to dine at Marcus at the Berkeley. It was one of the best dining experiences. I hope to go back one day.

I was gifted a copy of this book and another of book by Wareing. Of the two books, this one is looked more informal which is why I read it first.

I started this as a bed time book last December and there many weeks (if not months) where I did not read it at all. I made a concerted effort to finish the last third which compromised of Entertaining (irrelevant for me) and Baking (more relevant but smaller section).

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The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

This is a fictional graphic novel of an underrated artist from Singapore. The work charts the political history of Singapore from the second world war, through independence, and finally, its development as a first world city-state.

I was privileged enough to spend a week in Singapore last month. I really enjoyed my time there for a plethora of reasons. I found it fascinating and enlivening. When I got back, I tried to find some books to learn more about the country.

Since it is a graphic novel and faux memoirs, Sonny Liew uses various styles of comic art to convey history and time. It’s a very meta work. It also incorporates real people in Singapore’s leadership. I learned a lot about Singapore’s history and I’m sure most people would. The achievements of Lee Kuan Yew and PAP to create modern Singapore were not done without bloodshed. They removed and manipulated political opponents and the press. The book makes the reader reflect that while Singapore has changed rapidly in the last fifty years, there is a cost.

I found the book a little sad. I enjoyed the historical aspect and the subversive themes in the book; however, there wasn’t any character that I felt truly invested in. I was not moved by the character of Charlie Chan Hock Chye for some reason.

It’s an ambitious work and will be a classic of Singaporean literature.

Read August 21-22, 2019.

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

I have been reading Kinsella’s novels off and on for at least 16 years. I did read one of her most recent novels targeted for young adults. It was OK. After I Owe You One, I think I’ll be more cautious about picking up Kinsella’s novels for a very long time. I think I’m growing too old for her style and probably chick lit in general. I was never into chick lit that much any way.

This book had too many unlikeable, superficial characters. Most of them were described as painfully selfish, spoilt, or misogynistic. One of the characters is a narcissistic sociopath and conman. Kinsella has had some weird characters in her other books, but at least they were somewhat interesting or amusing.

The protagonist is nice and a tiny bit relatable, but Fixie (what a stupid name) is very insecure and a doormat for almost the whole book. It was incredibly frustrating to read the first person narrative of a woman who is so blind to be stuck on man (aforementioned sociopath) since she was 11 years old.

I thought the book would get easier because Kinsella usually sticks the landing. However, the beginning set up took too long and actually made me angry about how bloody entitled some of the characters were. I use to find some Kinsella’s characters eccentric, charming, or harmless. Most of those in this book are boring, asinine, or contemptible.

The ending itself is unremarkable. It was hard for me to be invested in any of the characters. Characters do change by the end, but the developments felt undeserved. They were drawn out without much depth from the beginning. Even if they were not as bad as the narrator described, as the reader, I can only judge what the author presents. This is not literary fiction where I should be questioning the narrative accuracy nor should I when reading this type of book. It shouldn’t irk me so much either.

In the past, I’ve found the London setting in these novels make me nostalgic especially when set around Christmas. There was not enough of London. I really couldn’t care anymore about the holiday details because I wanted to be finished with the novel.

I gave this two stars on GoodReads which makes it equal to the last book. It’s probably closer to 1.5 stars. It was a waste of a couple of hours, but I did finish it.

Two low rated books in a row make me a bit sad. Ahh well. Onwards to the next one.

Read August 20, 2019.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I bought two Eckhart Tolle books ten years ago in London. If these were library books, I would have given up on them.

This book had too many repetitive messages and the tone is a tad condescending. I was able to finish this book for a couple of reasons.

First, I started to read them in bed before sleeping. As mentioned in an earlier review, I have never been in the habit of reading in bed, but I wanted to start to fit more reading in my day. I would read about 15-30 mins before falling asleep. This was great before bed because it is boring and repetitive!

I can see why they were popular and bestsellers. Tolle’s messages and lessons aren’t inherently bad for me personally. I have been meditating more again and I have been open to spiritual or “New Age” books and messages. There were some meditation tips buried in this book, but that could be gleaned from other works too.

I thought the execution of this book didn’t work. Not only did he repeat things about being in the now, he kept using random teachings from other religions to reinforce this message. These interpretations are sometimes of dubious quality. Interpretation is interpretation except I didn’t see how he was better than other spiritual teachers. The book makes you think he is more enlightened than many others except I find it hard to believe sometimes based on how patronizing he can be.

A lot of this book wouldn’t work for most people either so I am surprised these books sold so many couples. I think the messages in the book are explained better by other books or even by going to certain free meditation courses. The best would be to discuss some cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) with a trained counselor or therapist as Tolle’s methodology is similar. He is very vague though about the details.

I will read my copy of The New Earth after this and I do not anticipate it being any better.

Started in 2009, but picked up again August 4-18, 2019.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

It’s taken me years to read this novel and it’s actually high demand at my library. I have a habit of taking out books several times before actually reading them. I could never renew this one beyond the three weeks because it was always on hold for someone else. I’ve probably taken it out at least a dozen times before finally reading it this week.

This is a very nice novel. When I first started, I had read this would be one of Murakami’s “simpler” and less weird works. After Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was looking forward to reading more of him. That novel had very little plot and only a couple of characters of note. It was also very surreal yet memorable in its imagery.

This one is more of a typical novel but it’s full of nice writing:

“With my eyes closed, I would touch a familiar book a nd draw its fragrance deep inside me.”

Not flowery pose, but lovely stuff none the less.

There are a lot of characters and personalities. It’s very slice of life. At times, this book felt like a collection of short stories. However, that mirrors life as well.

Here are some more funny lines from the novel that I enjoyed:

“Whenever I put on hard work, hippies and run-away kids would gather outside to dance and sniff paint thinner or just sir on the ground doing nothing in particular, and when I put on Tony Bennett, they would disappear.”

“The coffee I had with it tasted like boiled printer’s ink.”

I really like you, Midori. A lot.”
“How much is a lot?”
“Like a spring bear,” I said.
“A spring bear?” Midori looked up again. “What’s that all about? A spring bear.”
“You’re walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, “Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?’ So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other’s arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh?”
“Yeah. Really nice.”
“That’s how much I like you.”

“How much do you love me?”
“Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,” I said.

There are some very funny and genuinely sweet things in this book.

Speaking of being in love with two people:

“Things like that happen all the time in the great big world of ours. It’s like taking a boat out on a beautiful lake on a beautiful day and thinking both the sky and the lake are beautiful.”

This book has a lot more characters and it’s a lot more slice of life and book about growing up. A bit similar to Maugham’s Of Human Bondage in that way.

When I compare to this to Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I’m sort of in awe of Murakami’s range as a writer. He does have a probing and sometimes odd style, but these books show he can do a lot. Not many fiction writers have a range as wide as this. It makes me want to read more from him.

A very good read. I’ll likely try Kafka on the Shore next but I am not sure when.

Read August 6-9, 2019.

Voracious by Cara Nicoletti

I am in a bit of a reading rut lately. I do find that reading about books and reading in general helps me ease back into reading more regularly. I have had this on my To Be Read list for awhile. It’s a lovely memoirs where each chapter is about a memory in the author’s life, a book, and a recipe to go along with it.

Since the author and I are almost exactly the same age, I have read most of the books in her childhood and adolescence chapters. I also liked the mix of recipes included which had lots of baking and savoury dishes too. As with all North American cookbooks, I wish there were actual metric weight ingredients.

This book in hardcover is lovely. Very think and bright paper. There are also some beautiful watercolour illustrations by a friend of Nicoletti’s. I really enjoyed reading it.

In an effort to read more and have good night time routine, I’ve taken to read more in the evenings. In the past and growing up, I have always read most of my fiction and lighter non fiction in less than 3 sittings. In recent years, I have struggled with this way of reading books because life has changed. As much as I prefer to read for days on end in the summer, I cannot. So I read this book in the evenings after dinner and before bed. I like incorporating reading in my pre-bed time routine, but it’s different. I am still trying to get use to it. I’ll see how it goes moving forward but I need to find ways to read more as my life changes.

Read July 28-Aug 1, 2019.

Slightly Foxed Issue 37: Dreaming of the Bosphorus

This is actually a literary magazine. It was a gift from a friend who said that I would enjoy it. I am not sure where she got it (maybe her own mother) since my friend is not as interested in literature like me.

This was definitely up my alley. The magazine is focused on books from the past, forgotten authors, or topics adjacent to book lover’s life. Most of the books covered in each quarterly is no longer being published or in active print. I really enjoyed the various articles. The magazine is easy to read as each article is about 4 pages.

This magazine and my recent trip has inspired me to go back to reading. I am very behind on my reading challenge this year and have not been reading as much. Other things have gotten in the way, but I am reminded that it is all about commitment.

Since I moved into to my current home over 1.5 year ago, I’ve found it difficult to carve time here for reading. This happened at my previous apartment as well, but I love my current home more to the point where I do other things but read. I will commit to booking time for reading for the rest of the summer.

A really good magazine. I am not in the position to subscribe, but I will check out their podcast and hope to find another opportunity to read the magazine again.

Started June 24, 2019. Finished July 21, 2019. I read it mostly in these two days.

For more information about Slightly Foxed, please visit their website here.

Umbrella Academy

Volume 1 and Volume 2

I did not like the first volume. It felt disjointed and chaotic. There did not seem to be a lot of character development. I felt indifferent to most of the characters. This often happens with comics and graphic novels which is why I favour graphic novels with strong character work. As a result, I did not really care if the characters survived and the plot was rather loose too. The first irked me to the point where I almost didn’t read the second one.

I did like the second volume much more as it seemed to work on character backstory more. There definitely more moments of character development and relationships. I looked forward to the third volume and the TV series by the end of it.

Read Volume 1 on May 21, 2019. Read Volume 2 on May 24, 2019 in comic book reader file.

Umbrella Academy Season 1

For the most part, I liked season one. The music was good and the casting worked for the most part, but I found issues with certain characterizations and the length. The series was too long. I actually think this is a common problem with a lot of Netflix shows. The show would have benefitted from cutting some storylines much shorter and making this first season about eight episodes rather than ten.

Having said that, the show really took the characters and gave them some character development. I think casting worked well for the most part. I do think Allison could have received more character focus especially compared to her brothers and even Vanya. I did not like the addition of Leonard/Harold or so much extra stuff with the Cha Cha and Hazel. A little goes a long way with these kind of villains.

I am glad the show is renewed and it was a fun watch.

Watched June 2019.

Calypso by David Sedaris

I’ve not been reading much the last couple of months and when I have, I haven’t been reviewing them. Even this book I waited a number of days before remembering that I should review it. I am hoping I get back into the flow of reading and reviewing as the weather warms up.

I really like Sedaris and I think his writing is getting more personal and better as he gets older. I think his humour and writing style is polarizing. I am not sure exactly why I enjoy his writing so much. In many ways, we are not similar at all. I am much more of an optimist and sometimes do find what he says and does to be rude. On the other hand, there is an honesty in his writing that feels real and human.

I laugh out loud at the weird situations him and his family are in. He writes in this book about getting a small tumor removed in the middle of the night by a fan. It’s so odd. It’s stranger than fiction really. There’s a lot of weirdness and absurdity to the stories, but there is also pain especially in regards to his departed sister Tiffany and his ageing father. It’s fascinating and painfully human.

I guess one of the reasons I like his personal essays are that while he does want to make you laugh and there is an aspect of him that wants to show off, I do get a sense of rawness with humor in his writing. There isn’t a lot of personal essay writers I feel that way about.

Read April 8-11, 2019.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Spoilers Alert: If you wish to know absolutely nothing about the plot of these books, please do not read the review. I usually do not reveal key plot details. I could not avoid it with this review as I critiqued a similar plot device used in this series.

Harry Potter meant a lot to me as an adolescent and I have read most of J. K. Rowling’s books and will continue to read her books. I think she has improved as a writer. I really enjoyed reading this novel for a lot of ways, but by the end, I couldn’t give it a 4/5 stars. I have become fairly generous with four stars, but somethings bothered me too much.

There are relationship issues in all of these novels with Strike, Robin, and their significant or ex significant others. This is focused more heavily in the first fifth of the novel, but then gives way to the actual mystery which I appreciated. I really can’t stand the dance between Strike/Robin. I do not really care for the angst that has been introduced and likely will be set up for the future. I much prefer to read them as partners in solving mysteries. While I understand all of their predicaments, I’ve had to slough through Robin’s life with the prick Matthew and Strike’s man pain and Charlotte issues. It has dragged on for four books and sadly, will likely drag on.

As someone who has lived in London, it is a character in these novels as settings usually can be in mysteries. I have appreciated the detail Rowling goes into with the setting and the characters. The novel had many pubs, restaurants, and homes in London. I really liked the details that you can only get from a long novel like this.

The novel had many characters for these settings. At first, I actually liked that there were so many suspects and secondary/tertiary character stories. Some of the suspicious characters were interesting and I didn’t mind the extra world building. The red herrings threw me off at first; however, after awhile, I began to see some of the foreshadowing clues. That in itself is not a big issue, but the longer the book was and the more details that were added, I wondered how the writer would resolve it. Disappointingly, the climax was a drawn out exposition between good and bad. By this time, I had predicted the mastermind but not the details so while I liked reading those details, it was contrived. More annoyingly, Robin was in peril again with the villain! That is two books in a row. She is pivotal to the plot and the villain does take an interest to her, but it is cheap it has to happen again. It makes her look stupid and naive.

I still like Robin, Strike, and most of the supporting characters in this series. I still love the setting and most of the writing, but I did feel a bit deflated at the end. I was having a bad weekend when I finished so it did factor in, but I can’t escape my ambivalence about the ending. I will still read the next book and hope that that there are changes to the lives of the characters and the climactic moments.

Read January 16-20, 2019.