Book Review: 100 years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of your Life by Joshua Prager

100 years by Joshua Prager100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of your Life by Joshua Prager

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine if you could ask the most famous authors in the world their views on your age today. What would they say? Better yet, what advice could they give you as you enter your next decade, and the next after that?

This is the delight that the book 100 YEARS by Joshua Prager provides. In collecting these quotes, he had very specific criteria that made the challenge all the more difficult: an author could be used only once, and the specific year must be included in the quote. What fun!

It was a slow slog: he went through 2700 pages of Thomas Mann and Leo Tolstoy to find only two quotes. Agatha Christie wrote over 80 books and didn’t make the cut. He had to keep in mind the progression of history as well. Two authors used the phrase “yellow leaf” to describe their then current old age: Christopher Isherwood at 53 and Lord Byron at 36!

Often he will give a summary quote at the beginning of a decade. For example, for the Fortieth Decade he includes, “Men at forty learn to close softly the doors to rooms they will not be coming back to,” by Donald Justice.

As I look ahead to an older age, I was curious about what might be said of seventy, or even the ninetieth decade. Prager doesn’t disappoint. J.D. James says, “Will I be here at the end of the year? At seventy-seven, that is not an irrational question.”

And May Sarton, that wonderful journalist laments, “Every person seventy-eight years old lives in a somewhat depeopled world. The trouble for me is that I often loved people older and wiser than I. So I’m left now in the lurch, being, trying to be, the old wise one and feeling like a great goose.”

Whatever age you’ve been, are now, or hope to aspire to, you’ll find it here.

An additional delight is that each page of the book is a different color, each specific number is set in a different type font by one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the world, Milton Glaser. The book becomes a feast for the eyes as well as for the mind.

Highly recommended

Book Review: The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer

The Art of French Pastry


The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love to read cookbooks. The good ones have yummy photographs, I get to “sample” meals that take days to fix, and best of all, there are no calories involved. So when I picked up The Art of French Pastry I was set for a treat–and I wasn’t disappointed.

The author’s father was a baker in Alsace, France, and the young man apprenticed to a professional pastry chef, and then emigrated to America where he established a famous bakery school. The cookbook is part memoir, part a precise methodology of the BEST way to do things. And what things!

Napoleons, macarons, raspberry sachertortes, pate a choux, and of course, chocolate eclairs.

He tells you why to use sea salt (table salt is too salty for pastry), why you should weigh your ingredients rather than use measuring cups (more exact), and why you put your custard in an ice bath before refrigerating (the eggs won’t spoil).

He cautions you to read every recipe twice before starting, and often to allow several days to complete a masterpiece so that the flavors have a chance to meld.

In between recipes he shares tales of ruining a cake he was delivering because he was paying too much attention to a pretty girl instead of the truck that pulled out in front of his bicycle; making 4000 eclairs; and dealing with an alcoholic master chef that never let up.

If you like to cook, or even if you like to dream about cooking, this book is for you!

Book Review: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton & James Patterson

The President is MissingTHE PRESIDENT IS MISSING. Okay, I’ll admit it. I don’t like James Patterson. Oh, he started out pretty good–I enjoyed some of his earlier works when he was writing his own stuff. Then he became the Master Money Machine and well, you know the rest of the story. Ghosting, partnerships, series that he had the idea for and others implemented. Not that I’m jealous, mind. Hey, someday I, too, will be a multi-millionaire with zillions of best sellers to my credit.

I don’t like Bill Clinton, either. And that’s because of his questionable White House ethics, not because he isn’t brilliant, which I happen to think he is.

So I was really prepared to trash this book when to my surprise, I found I did like it after all! I think these two had fun collaborating to create this instant best-seller, similar to the Rat Pack making the first OCEANS ELEVEN movie in Las Vegas. And that esprit de corps shows.

There are the skills of Patterson, with his masterful sense of pacing and his one-page chapters. The book is tailor-made for Hollywood and I’ll not be surprised if it appears in the theaters one of these fine days. The book has all sorts of action-packed adventures and is full of car crashes, helicopters, and mysterious passages. Oh, yeah.

But the real highlights of this book are the pieces of authenticity that only Clinton as a past president (the real kind) could add. The in-fighting in a Senate hearing. The true anguish when a president must give an order that gets someone killed.

If you read nothing else in the book, don’t skip Chapter 128. (Which comes after the one-page Chapter 127 and the half-page Chapter 126.) This is the President’s (Clinton’s?) address to the nation explaining the real cyber-danger the country finds itself in. It runs nine dense pages (proving Clinton wrote it, not Patterson!) and outlines what our country is capable of being.

“The American dream works when our common humanity matters more than our interesting differences and when together they create endless possibilities. That’s an America worth fighting–even dying–for. And, more important, it’s an America worth living and working for.”

To which I say, Amen.

I hope that these two write another book or two together. Clinton brings out the best in Patterson’s writing, and Patterson creates a venue where Clinton’s intelligence can still be heard.

I gave it four stars instead of five because of uneven editing. The two voices could blend together better.

Book review: UPSTREAM–Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

upstream by Mary Oliver
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although wildly famous for her lyrical poetry, Mary Oliver has become my new favorite essayist after Ursula le Guin. Both women in their 80s (Le Guin recently passed away), both astute wise women.

Mary Oliver’s poetry came from early roamings and ramblings in nature. The eponymous essay in the book describes how she waded upstream while her parents waded downstream. She got lost, but loved it, and has been wading upstream ever since.

Until she moved to Florida in 2005 at the death of her partner, she had spent 50 years in Provincetown near the ocean, and her essays pay tribute to this beautiful place.

She includes essays on favorite authors: Whitman, Wordsworth, Emerson and a surprise to me, Edgar Allen Poe.

She describes how she made a one-room studio out of salvaged wood and other materials. She strung a wire to it because she wanted to light a lamp like a beacon that she could see from her main house.

What I like about these essays is that they have a sharp-edged attention to detail and a lyrical swing to the words that makes them almost poetry in their own right. For example, her first essay ends, “Teach the children. We don’t matter so much but they do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen…And the frisky ones: inkberry and lamb’s-quarters, blueberries…Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school.”

I respect the poet’s skillful use of language, and I love her philosophy of life.

Book review: Dale Chihuly: 365 Days


chihuly 365Chihuly: 365 Days
by Dale Chihuly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dale Chihuly’s career as a master glass artist, now spanning four decades, is illustrated in this amazing book of 365 full color photographs featuring some of his most famous pieces. Included, also, is a running commentary of his views on creativity, productivity (he believes in eight-hour days with no lunch breaks) and the joy of being alive.

When Chihuly lost an eye in a serious auto accident and dislocated his shoulder soon after in a body surfing accident, he turned to a team approach to working with glass. He then was able to turn out immense works of art, some over fifty feet in length, constructed of blown and fabricated glass elements.

Color is primary to his creations. He says he never met a color he didn’t like, and his works explore a wide palette: bright green heron pieces in a river, a crystal chandelier of aquamarine and white, a boat filled with yellow, blue and red glass objects. Lighting of these glass art works is essential. Within a museum, the pieces seem to glow in a dark room. At a conservatory or a lake amidst plants, they peek out from the leaves adding explosions of yellow or red or magenta.

Chihuly explores other elements as well. In an exhibit at a Citadel in Jerusalem he exported 64 tons of ice blocks from Alaska to create an immense melting wall that both blended with the current architecture and symbolized a wall that no longer needed to exist.

Viewing the book is visceral pleasure and reading his philosophy is nourishment to the artistic soul.

Highly recommended.

Book review: A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly


Book cover: A Free Man of ColorA Free Man of Color
by Barbara Hambly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a mystery fan, but typically don’t read historical mysteries.

I’m glad I gave this one a try.

The author, Barbara Hambly, has a master’s degree in medieval history, but takes her research skills in another direction with this first-in-a-series of about sixteen Benjamin January mysteries set in pre-Civil War New Orleans.

One of the things that makes this novel so strong is the richness of the writing. This is not a book that you can zip through, but if you take the time to savor the details, the author can transport you to this time and place.

For example, take her description of one of the run down sections of historical New Orleans called The Swamp:

“Most of the grog shops were open, barkeeps dispensing Injun whisky from barrels to long-haired flatboat men across planks laid over barrels, white men grouped around makeshift tables playing cards, and small groups of black men visible in alleyways, on their knees in the mud and weeds, shooting dice. In several cottages the long jalousies already stood open, revealing seedy rooms barely wider than the beds they contained, the women sitting on the door sills with their petticoats up to their knees, smoking cigars or eating oranges, calling out to the men as they passed.”

Ms. Hambly is particularly adroit at describing the class system that ruled New Orleans at the time: the French-Creole at the top, followed the “colored,” mixed-race individuals, and on the bottom rungs, the Black slaves and American flatboat men.

Benjamin January is a classically trained musician, a skilled surgeon who studied in Paris, and a former slave. When he is accused of murder he must discover the real killer before he is tried without a jury or worse, sold back into slavery.

A riveting tale! I am delighted that there are so many more January mysteries ahead of me.

I love it when I discover a new author!