Archive for the ‘Literature’ category

Book Review – Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential

November 20, 2009

If you’re heard the name Anthony Bourdain only ecently, chances are that you know him from his popular show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, where he travels the world seeking to sample local cuisine and culture. As a fan of No Reservations, I’ve come to see ‘Tony’ as one of the rare unpretentious, down-to-earth type of people that would be fun to kick around with. An excellent character as a travel show host and television personality… But would you believe it… I didn’t even know this man was a true-to-life chef and author.

As luck has it, I recently discovered that Tony Bourdain is quite the accomplished writer. And thus, I recently picked up and finished his first book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Bourdain’s personal memoir which was released in 2000 and continues to be on the New York Times Bestseller List.

In Kitchen Confidential, Tony Bourdain takes readers through a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant business from the perspective of someone on the inside – and subsequently sharing the entirety of his professional journey from bottom-of-the-totem-pole dishwasher to executive Chef along the way. As you would probably guess  from watching Tony on television, Kitchen Confidential  is as engaging, witty, and undeniably entertaining as you think it’s be.

While foodies may shudder at his description of restaurant life, it is admirable that Tony does not pull any punches in his portrayal of life in commercial kitchens and the “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths” who make their living serving up your fine dining.  From the intricacies of restaurant lingo to what it’s like for a line cook during a Friday night rush, Kitchen Confidential truly is a graphic account of the intricacies that make up the restaurant trade.

Having worked in the restaurant trade all the way through college,  I would highly recommend this book as a must-read  to everyone who has ever worked in the restaurant business or anyone else curious about what is behind that stuff you’re ordering.

And in case you still won’t pick up the book, here are some of Kitchen Confidential’s  tips for diners.

  • Never order fish on a Monday.
  • The best nights for dining out are Tuesday through Thursday.
  • Avoid ordering beef well-done.
  • Be wary of Sunday brunches.

Happy eating guys.

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Book Review: The Fountainhead

January 16, 2009
I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead after hearing references of altruism, capitalism, and objectivism from friends and former colleagues.

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Plot Commentary

I thought Fountainhead would be more so about capitalism than anything else but it really isn’t. It’s more about individualism vs. collectivism. The setting is such that even though this book was written 50 years ago, the theme still translates well in 2009 and I can definitely relate to the storyline in the book. Ayn Rand does an excellent job of introducing the characters and the twists in the storyline, which seemingly always come in the form of a decrepit old man walking into the room.As a matter of plot lines, Fountainhead tells us the story of a struggle between one man’s individual conviction and the forces of collective public opinion. He creates and lives to create yet is impeded at every step of the way. He is impeded because of love, hate, fear, contempt, and because he is different from everyone else. And in the end, the struggle between his egotistic nature and public opinion does not come to resolute finality, but rather a foreshadowing of a continued struggle of all men and also of each man.

The character development in this book is impressive. The major characters are outlined below:

The protagonist, Howard Roark, is an architect and egotist who lives for one sole purpose, his work. He does not design for his clients, the money, or any other altruistic need. Roark also does not collaborate, cooperate, or compromise in regards to his work. At first, I did not know what to think of the character of Roark. The first few chapters show him to be rather dry and a man of few words. He seems hopefully stubborn and does not listen to reason. Now I see that he has no have a desire to placate to people or their reasoning. In fact, he has no outward desires at all. In the end, it becomes clear that his character does not allow him to bend his truth. True integrity personified. Yet if you or I saw him in our offices or on our streets, we’d probably despise him as well. The book is right even 50 years later. It would never be easy to be Howard Roark. But he does give us a wake up call on how to manage our own self image. It shouldn’t how others objectify you. What you create is the statement in and of itself.

Another character, Peter Keating, is an architect that starts out at the same time as Roark but is his anthisesis. Peter Keating is at the top of his class as a schoolmate of Roark. Yet he does not have the same idealistic passion about his craft as he does for the recognition that comes from his successes. The different in path between the two characters is that while Roark makes no attempt to appease the public or gain from it, Keating is immediately shown to be a man who lives and dies by the opinions and distinctions of others. Peter Keating takes what he can to benefit as much as can, so others will honor him with prestige. In this, Keating is the character that I and most others could identify with most in the beginning. Always wanting to prove himself, a little unsure, but motivated to achieve as much as possible whatever the means. Despite all this, Keating ends up the most broken of them all, a man without a sense of self.

Gail Wynand, captain of industry, a man who entered the world with nothing only to rise out of the streets of Hell’s Kitchen to become a media tycoon – easily the most interesting character in the book for me. He is the one whom I could never tell what was going to happen next. He enters the story as the arch nemesis of Roark and everything that is good. He controls public opinion and does so by providing the masses with scandal and superfluous BS designed to move them along in their collective insignificant lives. Everywhere he goes, he controls everything. His the epitome of capitalism and opulence, never second-guessed and feared by all… until he meets Roark’s idealism and saw the face of what he should have become. From then on, Wynand truly lives. It is interesting that before Roark and Dominique, and despite having the world at his fingertips, Wynand contemplates the thought of suicide no less than 3 times, views the end of life as fairly insignificant, yet cannot pull the trigger. It is only after he has truly lived in a soulful sense that he seems ready to go, in the last pages of the book.

Dominique Francon, the woman of the storyline is a unique study. After hearing all the comments from my former roommate on the author being a sexual deviant, I see now that Dominique is the embodiment of the sexual frustrations of Ayn Rand. This character, depicted as the most beautiful woman on earth, awes everyone around her. And even though she does, you can see that she is not affected by it. In fact, she may even hate society. She has no sexual urges until she gets raped by the man she wants most and feels more alive than ever. She lives for suffering. She lives to make those she cares about most suffer. Very crazy power/domination issues here.Dominique lives through her suffering. Did Ayn Rand live through her suffering as well?

The spinster of the storyline, Ellsworth Toohey, plays the role of master manipulator. Loved by the public and seemingly harmless, Toohey preaches the virtues of altruism and sacrifice. The public responds with adoration and view him as a man of virtue. He is the anthisesis of Howard Roark. He asks for nothing for himself and wins the approval of the masses with his subtle rhetoric. I almost thought Toohey to be a saint, much like the masses in the book. But Toohey turns out to be the most devious character of them all. A man who praises mediocrity simply to take away from true achievement in man. Why? Because individual achievers cannot be controlled. The average en mas can. His speech to a broken Keating tells all. The devil does not attack head on. “Never let them see you coming.” – Pacino in Devil’s Advocate

Other noteworthy characters: Alvah Scarlett, Guy Francon, Steven Mallory, Austin Heller, Peter’s mom, and all of the mediocrity which make up the voice of the masses.

Final commentary / review:

I like this book. It made me think of the dangers of agreeing with everyone else instead of making up my own mind. I can now think of the origins of housing projects and the dawn of the skyscrapers in NY (fiction or not). And I now know why Reinig said Ayn Rand was a sexual deviant. After reading this, she must be even worse than I imagine, like an “I take pleasure out of getting beat up and used sado-masochistic” type of way.

Spoilers – My personal favorite moments of Fountainhead:

  1. Dominique’s first interaction with Roark in the quarry. She notices him and he notices her. She is the first one to give in, half disgusted and driven absolutely wild.
  2. Roark taking Dominique for the first time and walks out without a word said. The beginning of a silence that delivers complete understanding between the two.
  3. Landry explaining Roark’s integrity to him as the reason to why he likes his work.
  4. Toohey’s use of the words antipodes, hypotenuse, opprobrium, – for no other reason than I don’t here those words commonly nowadays.
  5. Dominique tells Peter she had been with Roark and he basically says, “yeah right.” Keating runs from conflict often.
  6. Toohey explains his motives to a soulless Peter Keating and yells at his mom to get out.
  7. Gail’s reaction not being seen except for the ridges on his forehead. I do the same thing.
  8. Roark explaining the meaning of life – your work. That’s it.
  9. Gail & Roark’s conversation on the yacht on the nameless monster attacking the world.
  10. Wyland giving Roark the contract for the Wynand Building.

Did you know:

In the 1949 movie adaptation of Fountainhead, Ayn Rand would not allow a single word of her screenplay changed. Maybe she’s got some in common with Roark after all.

GW

Quintessential Reading List for Modern Men

August 8, 2008

Our friends over at the Art of Manliness have created the most quintessential reading list for the modern man. Surely it took an inordinate amount of time to narrow it down to 100 books but what they have come up with as a finished product is nothing short of masterful.

“There are the books you read, and then there are the books that change your life. We can all look back on the books that have shaped our perspective on politics, religion, money, and love. Some will even become a source of inspiration for the rest of your life. From a seemingly infinite list of books of anecdotal or literal merit, we have narrowed down the top 100 books that have shaped the lives of individual men while also helping define broader cultural ideas of what it means to be a man.”
Written by: Jason Lankow, Ross Crooks, Joshua Ritchie, and Brett McKay

Some of my personal favorites from their list are below:

  1. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
  2. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  4. How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  5. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Read Art of Manliness’ 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library