Reading for July

July was a busy month for me. I had three deadlines for articles which meant I had to read a lot of supporting material. I had to finish articles on Tim Burton, Diane Keaton, and Elaine May. I got them finished – all ahead of their deadlines so, that’s a good feeling. I thought July would be an easier month so I could get through some summer reading, but it hasn’t been going that well, and to be honest, I think this July has been the leanest of my reading months.

Books bought:

The Women by Hilton Als
Washington by Meg Greenfield
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
The Rolling Stone Film Reader: The Best Film Writing from Rolling Stone by Pete Travers, ed.
Justin Wilson’s Homegrown Louisiana Cookin’ by Justin Wilson
Merchants of Truth: Inside the News Revolutions by Jill Abramson
Food of France by Waverley Root
The Chinese Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee
The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day by Claudia Roden
Elizabeth David’s Christmas by Elizabeth David
Craig Claiborne’s A Feast Made for Laughter: A Memoir with Recipes by Craig Claiborne

Books read:

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
The Rolling Stone Film Reader: The Best Film Writing from Rolling Stone by Pete Travers, ed.
Craig Claiborne’s A Feast Made for Laughter: A Memoir with Recipes by Craig Claiborne
The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale by Tim Hanley
Pfeiffer: Beyond the Age of Innocence by Douglas Thompson
Tim Burton: A Child’s Garden of Nighmares by Paul A. Woods, ed.
Tim Burton: The Iconic Filmmaker and His Work by Ian Nathan
Tim Burton: Essays on the Films by Johnson Cheu, ed.
Then Again by Diane Keaton
Diane Keaton: Artist and Icon by Deborah Mitchell

As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, I was doing quite a bit of writing and I had three papers to write: one on Diane Keaton, one on Tim Burton, and one on Elaine May. So I was doing a lot of research on Burton and Keaton, and therefore re-read some books on those two. 

Outside of that reading “for work” I did get some of my own personal reading done, as well. I read Invisible Women, which I reviewed on this blog earlier this month. I read the book for a book club that I did not attend because it was too hot in London that evening, and I didn’t want to try and brave the Underground for over an hour – so instead, I went to dinner with my friend and my partner (we ended up in Soho, melting away in a Vietnamese restaurant without A/C, though I did have ice cream afterwards)

Invisible Women is an excellent book, one that challenge’s peoples preconceived ideas of fairness and equality, particularly when it comes to the design of the world. Things we thought were “safe” from gender bias like urban planning or public transportation are examined for gender bias. I thought the book had some really good points – I wished she explored race, sexuality, and gender identity more – trans women are pretty much invisible in Invisible Women and queer women get glancing mentions. I’m glad I read the book. 

The other “non-work” book I read was Craig Claiborne’s memoir. I enjoyed this book – I’m surprised at how involved and engrossing it was. I’ll be doing a review for it on its own, so I won’t go too much into the book here. Claiborne is a great foodwriter, and his book, The Chinese Cookbook with Virginia Lee is akin to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in terms of introducing middle America to a foreign kind of cuisine. I had a few of his books, but none made the move to the UK.

So, there’s a great bookstore in Notting Hill, Books for Cooks, which is a cookbook shop. I visited it one of my first visits to London, and fell in love with the store. A funny thing was I remember that a group of American tourists asked the proprietor for the “health food books” and he responded with a disdainful sniff, “All food is healthy in moderation” (I feel like I’ve shared this anecdote on my blog before)

The issue with Books for Cooks is that the hours are a bit strange: I mean, trying to get to the store, I’ve repeatedly missed the opening times. It was so disappointing to see the door locked each time I made my way to the door and see the lock. So, one warm day, I had a half-day from work, and made my way to Notting Hill and was pleased to see that it was open. I’m popped in and browsed for a little bit – almost an hour, but I could’ve easily been there for three, four hours and blown my whole paycheck on the books I see there. I got The Book of Jewish Food because I figured I’m not going to find the Jewish deli-style food of my youth in London anytime soon, so I’ll just have to make it myself. I also found a copy of Elizabeth David’s Christmas book and it was bound in beautiful red cloth. It’s weird to buy Christmas books in the summer (Though confession time: I listen to Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts Christmas music all the time), but I love David’s writing and am looking forward to her writing about Christmas. I also found a used copy of Craig Claiborne’s memoir, which I wrote about earlier in the blog. I’m not sure, but I think it’s signed? The book’s dust jacket is a hot mess (it ended up sloughing off), so I was using it as a bookmark. There were loads of other books I wanted to buy but I practices restraint. I’m on the lookout for an original Marcella Hazan cookbook, as I’ve been reading about her work and I’ve only seen good things. 

I ordered Justin Wilson’s Cajun cookbook online because I had a bit of a Justin Wilson nostalgia kick after trying a Cajun-adjacent recipe . Wilson was a popular figure on PBS, and had a great cooking show that I loved to watch. He was very engaging and funny (he was a popular humorist as well as cookbook writer) and I was sad when I realised that none of his books that I owned back in Chicago made it in the move. When I lived in Chicago, I used to live near a great library, the Newberry, that had a wonderful used book sale at the end of every summer. The selection was amazing – the whole ground floor of the library – all of the rooms – were dedicated to this sale, and the books were cheap as chips. I used to love to peruse the cookbooks, and I got quite a few Jeff Smiths, Justin Wilsons when I shopped there. My thing is I love cookbooks that are either from the mid-century or from the 1980s and early 1990s. I also have this weird thing of getting celebrity cookbooks – I ordered a Miss Piggy cookbook not too long ago. So because I missed my Justin Wilson books, I found one online that was pretty cheap and ordered. I’m going to try one of his recipes – I remember liking his smothered chicken recipe. 

I got a used copy of Meg Greenfield’s Washington online, as well. I just recently watched Steven Spielberg’s film The Post and was fascinated by the characters in the film. Meryl Streep played Katherine Graham, and I, like every American who reads, picked up her superb memoir and loved every page of it. Meg Greenfield (played by Carrie Coon) was part of the group of journalists who worked on publishing the Pentagon Papers whilst working under Bed Bradlee (Tom Hanks in the film). Greenfield also won a Pulitzer in her career, so I thought she’d be an interesting pic. Her book is out-of-print, so I got a hardback from a used bookseller.

Hilton Als is a writer I adore – I referenced and just consumed his book White Girls – and recently, I read some of his criticism and thought to see if there was anything by him that I missed. He recently wrote a mixed – though very respectful – review of Hannah Gadsby’s new show Douglas, and it sparked off a minor Twitter ripple, which got me to looking at more of his work. So, I picked up his first book, The Women, and I’m looking forward to reading that as well – sometime this month when I steal a mo’ or two.

So Merchants of Truth. This book is problematic to say the least. Jill Abramson was caught out for plagiarising, seemingly copying/pasting sections for her book. The book is about the degradation of the press and its increasingly precarious place in the world, especially in light of “president” 45’s assault on the media. I am generally an admirer of Abramson and I think she’s a genuinely gifted writer, so I’m a bit perplexed that this person could make such a boneheaded error. One of the things that emerged from this controversy which I found interesting was a general feeling of regret because outside of the controversy, many pundits and commentators have said that Merchants of Truth is a very good book. I was watching WGBH’s Beat the Press and there was a panel with Emily Rooney, the host. The panel, which included Dan Kennedy, a professor at Northeastern University, was discussing Abramson’s book and the egregious slips she made when publishing the book. What struck me – outside of bracing and candid the panel was in looking at the work was that both Rooney and Kennedy praised the book, lamenting that despite the controversy, it’s a solid, well-written book. Rooney says, “The book is very good. It’s engaging. I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would, and here we are talking about mistakes instead of the substance of the book ,” to which Kennedy chimed in, “Well, I reviewed it for the Globe and it is pretty good, but there’s so many problems with the book, I don’t really know what to do with it” 

I started reading Merchants of Truth to see for myself and I have to agree with Kennedy and Rooney. I’ve only gotten through part of the first part of the book, and it is well-written. I like media criticism and Abramson’s done her homework (or maybe it’s more accurate to say that other people have done her homework, I don’t know) And I do like the book quite a bit, so far. She takes on four major news sources in the media today: Vice, Buzz Feed, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and writes about their histories and how they evolved (if they did at all and to what extend) in this new age of journalism that competes with social media. The part I’m reading right now traces back the concept of viralism and memes and she presents a really compelling story (one that includes comedienne Chelsea Peretti, which I never would’ve expected) I’ve put aside books I planned to read to get through Abramson’s so that I have a more fully-formed opinion of her literary sins. I’ll be writing a more-detailed response to the book as well as my impressions later on. 

I’m going to Amsterdam next week for a brief mini-break, so I probably won’t have too much time to read when I’m out there, so I’ll hopefully do some catching up later on. I never got summer reading lists, to be honest, as I’ve worked everyone of my summers since I was 15 and I never really had time to go to the beach with a Judith Krantz or a Michael Korda. Summer has just been like every other part of the year, only warmer. 

I’m excited though to read Abramason and Greenfield’s book and blog about my thoughts. 

Author: Peter Majda

I'm a MA graduate in English literature from DePaul University. I earned my BA in English literature from the University of Illinois. I completed my MA thesis on post-WWII black British literature, and am currently working on my MFA in creative writing. My favorite authors include Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Julia Child, David Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Amy Tan, Harper Lee. I read about two-three books a week. I read mainly essay collections, nonfiction, humor. I am Chicago-raised, but based in the UK.

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