The end of September and beginning of October are our warmest days in San Francisco. This is when we finally enjoy real summer weather. Basking in these sunnier days, we present the last of our summer reading reviews.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson; On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome by Jen Lin-Liu
I guess I’m drawn to books that have to do with travel experiences, and summer is the time for traveling, even if only through a book.
Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is a hilarious description of his “hike” along the 2,100-mile-long Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine. Bryson’s observations of people, camping spots and the natural landscape are poignant and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. I’ve read this book three times already and will read it again.
One of my other passions besides travel is food, especially Chinese and Italian cuisine, so I was drawn to Jen Lin-Liu’s On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta. Lin-Liu travels from Beijing to Italy, taking the Silk Road to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, then continuing through Iran, Turkey and Greece before finally reaching Italy. Her path follows the noodle, a common food that connects all of these places along her journey. It’s not that surprising when you think about the similarities — ravioli vs. dumplings, sweet and sour vs. agrodolce, not to mention all the other pasta dishes.
Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories by Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie is a favorite writer of mine. Once I crack the cover on one of his books, I can’t put it down. Blasphemy is a collection of his short stories, both classic ones from his previous collections as well as new ones. Each story is a reflection of the contemporary Native American experience. He writes with humor and such heart about family, tradition, identity, stereotypes and spirituality. While the themes are framed through the Native American experience, Alexie’s stories speak more broadly. They’re really about the full range of human experience.
Redeeming Features: A Memoir by Nicholas Haslam
I recently watched a mediocre documentary on ‘70s fashion icon Halston. The best part came when British socialite Nicholas Haslam recounted this story about a fancy Brit who thought anybody with just one name had to be a butler, so he dismissively handed Halston his jacket at an event. That story prompted me to read Haslam’s memoir, Redeeming Features. While it was fun and often humorous to read about British aristocrats and celebrities zooming through the ‘60s and ‘70s, at the end of the day there just weren't many redeeming features to being a fashion magazine editor, interior decorator and social gadfly. What Haslam depicts is the last breath of Britain’s fading aristocracy.