Monday, April 21, 2008

I've Always Had The Western Avenue Bars...And Giordano's Pizza

So sometimes as part of my job, I get books from publishers. Today I got one called We've Always Had Paris...And Provence: A Scrapbook Of Our Life In France. Here were my reactions to this book, after seeing the cover (which features two rosy-cheeked, well-fed white people in what appears to be a lovely garden):

1. Wow. Screw you guys.

2. What would interviewing these people be like?
Interviewer: "So, 30 years in Paris and Provence. What's that been like?"
Authors: "Well, fabulous. Lovely. Just perfect, really."
Interviewer: "Any...conflict? Any hard moments you had? Any tough adjustments to life in France?"
Authors: "Well, not everyone speaks English. But our taste, fame, and most of all, knowledge of how life should be lived* helped us overcome that! And sometimes the lilacs and lavender in Provence just weren't fragrant enough. Also, it's sometimes a real challenge to choose which wine to have or which cheeses to eat. Or which adorable boulangerie to get our pastries and bread from."
Interviewer: "Huh. Well...great."

3. (upon reading the 'advance praise' blurbs for the book on the back cover) Jesus. The word 'charming' is used in every one of these blurbs.

4. Why the ellipse? Really. Why? "We've always had this amazing European city DOT DOT DOT WAIT FOR IT WAIT FOR IT WAIT FOR IT and the breathtaking French countryside!" Oh, you hateful ellipse. Way to add one more crappy little bruising pinch, one more little oooh I'm sorry, did you stub your toe on our fabulous life? How rude of us, let us move it. It does take up a lot of room!

5. Perhaps a better subtitle would be "313 pages detailing why our lives are superior to yours in nearly every way imaginable"**

OK. I'm sure these are both lovely (charming!) people. And perhaps I'm a little bitter that some people get to live lives like that, and then get paid to write a book about how awesome their lives are. I admit it. But still! I was having this conversation with my sister the other day about non-fiction that showcases the author's almost unbelievable good fortune and financial advantage. As a reader, why in the world would you care about someone who writes about constructing a perfect life with tools very few people have access to? What would any reader get out of these books? Someone somewhere must think these books are good ideas - they keep showing up on my desk. I'm just sort of mystified.

*This was pulled from one of the blurbs on the back of the book

**Seriously! 313 pages!


Glenn Fleishman said...

This is why I'm astonished that anyone would a) buy Jack and Susie Welch's book and b) why anyone would possibly publish a column by them. "Learn from the guy whose obscene retirement package from GE revolted even fellow executives, and the woman who subverted her own publication's editorial integrity by having an affair with a subject. Oh, yeah, they can tell you all about ethics and business and sense!"

McTodds said...

I also find this whole strange genre confusing. And I would add 'Eat, Pray, Love' in with this more obvious drivel. I keep having people tell me I need to read that book. I read almost one chapter and hated the author so much I couldn't imagine finishing it. Navel gazing to the extreme, and lifestyle-porn (al la Architectural Digest). While I say this I do recognize how ridiculously lucky I am.
Maybe an article on all these stupid books and how everyone could better spend their money on a financial budgeting class.

Glenn Fleishman said...

Oddly, my wife and mother-in-law, smart ladies both, adore Eat, Pray, Love. I haven't read it yet, but I think you have to get past the early part to the heart of the book.

john said...

Hate hate hate books like that. Offended by their existence. Same with Wendy Wasserstein plays and the petty crises of the very rich, plays constantly produced by regional theaters catering to the very rich. I understudied one at the Seattle Rep where an actress was directed to cry because she didn't have Manohlo Blahnik shoes. I chose not to set the building on fire. We all have to live with our choices.

john said...

But then again!
When I read Adam Gopnik's "Paris to the Moon" I was conflicted. Dude can straight up fucking WRITE, you know? But the book was so elitist that it almost enraged me. But dude can write.
A few years later, I interviewed him on KUOW and I almost refused the interview because of how elitist he was. But I remember it being a great interview because even though he was still a total elitist, he was a great talker and communicator of ideas. I mean, Oscar Wilde wasn't exactly a man of the people.

MintyFresh_doubleA said...

"eat, pray, love" annoyed the crap out of me as well. i kept thinking that i needed to be playing with my hair while i read it. just couldn't get past her tone and perspective. there are far far better books about struggle, god, faith and lord knows food. oooh...she had good pizza and food in italy. wow. tell me something i don't know...

Glenn Fleishman said...

Wait, what is so elitist about Paris to the Moon? Guy and family goes to Paris, lives there, eats good food. What the fudge? They didn't flipping pull a Peter Mayle (who can, in fact, write quite well, too).

Glenn Fleishman said...

Also, I believe all men are critiquing Eat, Pray, Love. Women must weigh in.

MintyJ said...

McTodds - Eat, Pray, Love was exactly the book my sister and I were talking about! We both found it *way* hard to get through for the exact reasons you and Aa cite. Although, Glenn, I can see why some people might get into that book. If you can get past the lifestyle stuff, then I think there are topics there that are relateable (sp? relatable?) (depression, ending relationships, feeling lost and untethered in general, etc).

I admit I have not read the book I bitched about in this post. But I've been given no reason to! I mean, I get the pleasure of escapism that a lot of that kind of writing can provide...but unless there's something that can make me see myself in the people who are traveling / living awesomely in the book, then there's no portal for me to escape into that book, you know?

Finally - John, I think ppl like Adam Gopnik and Oscar Wilde are super rare. (Not that they're the same.) Totally not authors of the people. In their way, elitist for sure. But! If the craft is there, and if they are able to reveal some unsavory / make-funnable facets of that elitist life (which Oscar Wilde was great at), then there's another portal for you to get into the story.

Yay Internet book club!

MintyJ said...

Glenn, McTodds is a woman. Our friend Diana.

Glenn Fleishman said...

Yo, MintyJ, that makes me want to chime in with a book I'm reading that I am enjoying 100 percent: Heat by Bill Buford (2006, I think). Awesome writing. He's nobody's chump, and he becomes a pretty good cook working at Mario Batali's Babbo, but it's fascinating to see someone at the height of one profession (decades editing at The New Yorker) decide that's not fulfilling and take on some of the most menial jobs available.

Just also finished Ira Glass's curated book, The New Kings of Non-Fiction, which has some of my all-time favorite articles from all over, and pieces I'd never seen before. Finished is the wrong word. I've taken a pass, and I need to read the stuff I skipped. Blackhawk Down author Mark Bowden wrote an incredible article about what it's like to be Saddam Hussein. Not sympathetic, but almost entirely dispassionate.

Glenn Fleishman said...

McTodds, full McPologies. I thought you might be M.C. Todds, you know, the famous rapper...okay, I can't sell that.

MintyJ said...

Glenn, I loooooved Heat. That was a huge hit at the Minty. I loved that he walked away from his nice, comfy , stable job to do grunt work in a kitchen. Although I do admit I felt a couple of pangs that he could clearly afford to do that. It wasn't too distracting.

God. Maybe I'm just really jealous of other people. Huh. Anyway.

As for your other recommendations, I will definitely check them out! I'm currently in a re-reading of favorite books / authors stage, so I need some new stuff.

MintyJ said...

Oh - and John? Totally w/ you about the Wasserstein. I remember in college the modern plays we studied were basically:

1. Wendy Wasserstein - rich women who live in NYC
2. Sam Shepard - men in rural settings who hate each other and women
3. David Mamet - men in urban settings who hate each other and women

In retrospect, it is probably not shocking I got a little soured on the idea of a career in theater.

john said...

Paris to the Moon is not entirely elitist. The kid stuff is great. I read it when Charlie was born and it made me want to move somewhere exotic. I had to settle for St Paul 7 1/2 years later.
The elitist part was all the restaurant stuff. Felt tacked on and snobby.

Glenn Fleishman said...

That's funny, I was thinking that the restaurant part (I'm probably dimly remembering this) was very interesting, because you can afford to be a professional waiter or staffer in France. You get paid well, get vacation, get a pension, get sick leave, etc. So while some waitstaff in the U.S. do well, most people in kitchens outside of the owners do not.

john said...

Well, it's possible that new dad delirium and 7 1/2 years might have colored my memory and judgment a bit. Nah, I'm a genius of literary criticism.

Glenn Fleishman said...


Anyway, I have heard that to criticize things literary, you apparently have to read the book. Thank you, but no.

john said...

Sorry. The new dad delirium was a reference to reading Gopnik when Charlie was born.
If only I was a published author capable of clearly expressing himself.

Glenn Fleishman said...

Oh, and just to ensure this is the Most Commented Post ever on Defcon House, I should note that the original book is question is co-authored by Patricia Wells. She's a celebrity, so her book is, "I am graciously letting you into my fabulous life of food and cooking," rather than, "O ye who don't know me, worship me." There are Patricia Wells maniacs out there, and this book will likely sell well.

McTodds said...

Wow, love this thread - you hit a note today MintyJ. Yep, woman here Glenn, but I understand, I now feel the desire to play "M.C. Todd" and attempt street cred talk, but I will spare you.

Really glad to hear "Heat" was enjoyed by all. I have been meaning to pick that up for a while, and I hoped that this was a book that could talk about a love of food without making me feel like I need to spend $100 a plate at a restaurant.

Glenn Fleishman said...

Heat actually inspired the opposite (despite having 7-month-delayed anniversary dinner at Canlis recently and enjoying every cents' worth). A few days after starting to read the book, I whipped up a baked/broiled wild salmon dinner with rice, baked asparagus, pesto (not homemade), and a salad, and it seemed to take virtually no effort. Perhaps by dint of the contrast between Mario's kitchen and me just feeding five people.

Alex said...

The thrust of Oscar Wilde's point of view was less the cultivation of super-rarefied and expensive tastes, but rather an appreciation of beauty.

This was at a time, the middle of the 19th Century, when there was a certain disintegration of absolutes. Darwin, Nietzsche, and John Stuart Mill, were terribly disruptive to traditional Western moral perspectives.

Oscar Wilde (and others in the Aesthetic movement)held that while right and wrong was a moveable feast, we can more readily agree on what is beautiful.

An interesting idea. Wilde was more than just some smart-mouthed aesthete.

Adam Gopnik, while being a decent writer is pretty hopelessly bourgeois though.