THE MAN WHO ATE TOO MUCH The Life of James Beard By John Birdsall
W.W. Norton, $35
When you’re weighed at birth on a kitchen scale, you’re destined for culinary greatness, but there was more to James Beard than the food he cooked. He was more than the face on the medals of his namesake awards. The “Dean of American Cookery” was also queer, and during a time when being gay was considered part of a toxic culture.
A two-time JB Award winner himself, author John Birdsall beautifully and thoroughly covers Beard’s life from Oregon to New York with stops along the gay undergrounds of London and Paris. In this most-dense biography of Beard, the first in 25 years, you’ll learn about all of the cookbooks he wrote (about cooking outdoors to French cuisine and everything in between), every dinner party he either attended or hosted, his love for cooking in the nude, and his organic rise to fame that garnered him a seat at the table of high society. Birdsall also explores the darker side of Beard, one of depression and loneliness, which regardless if that stems from his childhood or sexual lifestyle, it also comes from being ensconced in the lionized world of gastronomy.
— Jason Stahl
EDUCATED, A Memoir By Tara Westover
Penguin Random House, $11.99
Every year for Christmas when my boys were children, I would give them each a book as one of their presents. They would open it and look at me as if to say, “What’s this?” So, one year I bought the books but didn’t put them under the tree… they both had a melt down! “Where’s my book!!!” My eldest son, who is now 33, recommended this book to me, and when I first read what it was about, I was surprised, he had read it.
Tara Westover relates the arc of her extraordinary life, from the mountains of Idaho, with her father, a survivalist who didn’t believe in hospitals or education, her mother a midwife and healer and numerous brothers and sisters, to the hallowed halls of Harvard and Cambridge University. With no official record of her birth and living so far away from the mainstream, society did not intervene. She had no formal education. She taught herself enough to step into a classroom for the first time aged 17 when she was admitted to Brigham Young University. There she began studying history, starting her journey to see her life through new educated eyes. And how she changed!
GERSHON’S MONSTER: A Story for the Jewish New Year By Eric Kimmel, Illustrated by Jon Muth
Young readers of all faiths will not only be kept in suspense, but more importantly learn how to face their monsters and the proper way of starting fresh. Sure, people make mistakes, but one cannot simply sweep them away and walk through life being selfish while not being held accountable for their actions. (Talk about foreshadowing, this Hasidic legend published in 2000 sounds awfully similar to the current leadership in the United States.) The baker Gershon never regrets his actions and thinks he never has to ask for forgiveness, then his thoughtless behavior finally catches up to him, nearly costing him his children. The text is rich, and the story is so well-crafted and along with the stunning watercolors, you are mesmerized and enraptured on every page.
Five Questions with Gianni Skaragas
Gianni Skaragas is one of Greece’s best-known contemporary writers. A novelist, screenwriter, and playwright, his English work includes Prime Numbers (2009) and most recently The Lady of Ro and Other Stories. He is recipient of the 2018 Copper Nickel Editors’ Prize in Prose. -HM
What’s on your nightstand right now?
“The Blue of Her Body” by Sara Greenslit and “Animal Magnetism” by Kim Roberts.
A place in Greece you recommend?
Halkidiki, Northern Greece. It’s a peninsula branching out into three sub-peninsulas, a summer mecca of stunning beaches, protected coves, rich forests, and wild nightlife, as well as a place of enduring history.
Is there a book that changed your life?
If I only had to choose one, that would have to be the “History of the Peloponnesian War” by Thucydides—the speeches from the warring sides’ leaders are highly nuanced character studies.
What place inspires you to write?
Berlin, Germany. It’s a place of redrawn lines and balance more or less the way Greek islands are places of the big blue.
Your favorite city to visit?
I’ve lived in some of the most magnificent cities in the US and Europe, but I do have a soft spot for Zurich, Switzerland. It’s the place where loved ones are bound to each other and the lost are found.