For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!

Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


GIFT WRAP AN EXPERIENCE! Give a book this year at the holidays. Books inform, educate, entertain, encourage, and open doors to new ways of thinking, fresh ideas, and an expanded view of the world and its people. It is truly a gift that can continue to give long after the first reading of the last page. All year long, FEAST suggests books you might enjoy, share, pass along; books you might otherwise miss. This time of year we like to bring you the BEST of FEAST to consider for your gift list. Here, in our five categories, are some of this year’s favorite features!

Wishing you happy holidays and a new year filled with good reads! Watch for a new and exciting format in our next full issue—

Rosemary Carstens, Editor

# # #

IN THE PLACES OF THE SPIRITS, David Grant Noble with a foreword by N. Scott Momaday. SAR Press 2010. Noble has been a fine art photographer and writer for forty years. Beyond that he has been an explorer of history and a detective of the past. He has recorded and interpreted the finely honed messages portrayed by the land and the clues to be found there about the lives of its ancient peoples. The author has woven a magical tapestry of images and personal reflections interspersed with historical and anthropological detail. As he explains his fascination with this region: “The places we know can be infused with memory and spirit, and landscapes can have soul.” This beautiful book features 76 duotone plates and 5 additional photos focused on the Southwest’s most mysterious and compelling sites.

TEARS OF DARKNESS: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath, Michael Norman and Elizabeth Norman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2009; paperback March 2010. What a story! This book is a very readable, astounding accomplishment based on ten years of research, thousands and thousands of travel miles, hundreds of interviews, and the support of numerous scholars and ordinary people to bring it to fruition. Most of us have heard about the Bataan Death March, of course, but the details set out here, often using quotes from among the 76,000 US and Filipino captive soldiers that were on the march, tear at the soul.

Don’t think for a moment that this is a one-sided presentation dolled up to make the US look good and Japan look savage. The Normans spent countless hours digging among Japanese archives and interviewing Japanese military survivors so they could include accounts both sides perhaps comprehend the enemy’s mindset. This book grips like a novel, probably because the authors used the story of one young Montana cowboy, Ben Steele, who survived the march and is one of the few from those days still living, as a vehicle for telling the story of thousands of others. As readers, we connect with Ben—the story becomes so much more than just facts and figures, a bunch of history dates, or military battle reports. Weaving personal recollections of specific people on each side of the conflict helps us to see these historic events through the lenses of individuals. As in all wars there were botched plans and ill-conceived communications, chaos, and personal egos and agendas influencing outcomes. This is the kind of quality journalism we should see more of in the publishing world and this book should be required reading in Washington.

STRENGTH IN WHAT REMAINS: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness, Tracy Kidder. Random House 2009. Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, and many other literary prizes, is a thorough professional and an engaging writer of nonfiction. He picks the hard topics and struggles to portray his subjects without bias, to tell their story instead of his—an exceptional quality in times when personal spin has gained greater acceptance in society. This is an astounding story of one survivor of genocide in the small African country of Berundia—against all odds and through providential events—who manages to escape the violence and come to the United States. The story of Deogratias (Thanks to God) puts an individual human face on events so massive, so brutal, as to be nearly incomprehensible. It is, indeed, a story of a people’s terror and loss, but it is also a story of regeneration and of hope that such stories can one day end.

EAARTH, Bill McKibben. Times 2010. McKibben packs a powerful punch. He discusses with considerable clarity how we have fatally transformed our planet’s environment through unsustainable practices deeply rooted in our dependency on oil, through an emphasis on corporate farming aimed at profit-right-now at all costs, and, particularly in the developed world, through an unceasing focus on bigger, more acquisitive lifestyles. His view, simplified, is that we are living on a fundamentally altered planet and we had better get ready to hunker down to a different way of thinking about and using our resources in order to survive both now and in the future. The first part of the book focuses on what might seem to some a “doomsday” discussion, but McKibben fills the second half of the book with examples of successful, hope-filled, viable means for holding back the tide of environmental changes that can only lead to our planet’s demise. Essential reading for anyone who wants a realistic picture of the effects of climate change and some proposals for what we, as individuals, can do to make a difference in our own spheres of influence.

STILL LIFE WITH OYSTERS AND LEMON, Mark Doty. Beacon Press 2001. This small book (only 70 pages) is a literary gem I plan to read and reread often. Doty weaves his experience of falling in love with a still life painting throughout a book that reveals his life and human loves, and he does it with truly lovely, elegant use of language, description, and imagery. I highly recommend this as a read to savor, rather like a perfect meal accompanied by just the right wine and companion. Perfect for the art lovers on your list!

RESILIENCE, by Elizabeth Edwards. Broadway Books 2010. I usually avoid “celebrity” books like I do cow paddies in a pasture—for all the symbolic reasons that simile evokes. But this book is deeply sincere and human as Edwards places herself right there in the mess of life along with the rest of us. She speaks candidly for the most part about her son’s tragic death, her terminal diagnosis, and even about her husband’s shocking infidelity. Nevertheless, addressing those issues is just one small part of this book that is aptly subtitled: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities. I think there’s something here for anyone to consider and I came away with an even deeper respect for this woman whose challenges would overwhelm most of us and would, as of this month, take her on her final journey way too soon.

A PEARL IN THE STORM: How I found my heart in the middle of the ocean, Tori Murden McClure. Collins 2009. Sometimes life is more exciting, more compelling, than anything a fiction writer could imagine. McClure’s story about how she became the first woman to row alone across an ocean grips like super glue and doesn’t let go until the last page. Adventurous physical challenges are not new to this woman—she was also one of the two first women to ski to the south pole. She is fit, athletic, smart as a whip, and was as prepared as any human could be when she set out in her 23-foot plywood boat with no motor or sail to row from the US northeaster coast to France in the worst hurricane season on record in the North Atlantic. Within days she lost all communications. Reading about her physical and emotional challenges is harrowing, her survival miraculous—you are in the boat with her every step of the way, struggling to breathe. An astounding adventure!

TRAVELING WITH POMEGRANATES: A Mother-Daughter Story, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. Viking 2009. This book about the power of travel to birth spiritual connections and inspire creativity is jointly written by this mother-daughter team, giving us a generational perspective on a series of events they experienced during travel to France and Greece over a period of years. Sue’s journey begins as she approaches her fiftieth birthday and begins to realize she is ending an era as a younger woman and entering a period of transition that will move her toward her eldest years. She finds herself seeking spiritual guidance through feminine symbols and icons, hoping for new directions in her work, greater understanding and closeness to her daughter, and a graceful entry into the next stage of her life. Ann’s journey is also a period of transition, one from loss and rejection that culminates in a search for the work she is meant to do. It’s an inspiring book, thoughtfully written. It provides a framework for seeking transitions and destinations for any woman who wants to enhance the meaningfulness of her years.

KOOK: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, Peter Heller. Free Press 2010. I love a book that is part travel adventure, part learning about someone taking on physical challenges in unexpected ways. At an age when most people are settling for quieter sports, acclaimed author Peter Heller gets sucked up into the undertow of learning to surf, coming face-to-face with the ocean’s seductive beauty and endangered existence. Some men buy red sports cars and sport twenty-somethings on their arms when they enter their middle years, but Heller resolves to throw himself whole heartedly into a six-month effort to go from beginner—“kook”—to mastering a big-hollow wave as he and his girlfriend explore the surfer’s life from southern California and down along the coasts of Baja and mainland Mexico. Along the way he finds, often to his surprise, that not everything in his relationships with surf, sea, and girlfriend is controllable, that at times he must simply hope to survive until he can breathe freely again. A great adventure that made me wish I wasn’t far past the age to take up surfing!

THE BREAD OF ANGELS: A Journey to Love and Faith, Stephanie Saldaña. Doubleday 2010. Stephanie Saldaña, who now lives and teaches in Jerusalem, spent years traveling the world, partly to escape what she thought of as a “cursed” family history and partly because she was inevitably drawn to see new landscapes and immerse herself in alternative cultures, especially those of the Middle East. As a poet, Saldaña found herself attracted to the language and poetry of the Arab-speaking world. In 2004, a Fulbright fellowship took her to Damascus for a year to study the prophet Jesus. She arrived as the United States was solidly boots on the ground in Iraq and the streets of Damascus were filled with Iraqi refugees, while anti-American rhetoric abounded.

Saldaña truly seeks to understand how Islam and Christianity intersect and the source of faith; she questions the purpose of her own life and religious beliefs’ place in it. As her friend Frédéric expresses it, “I think that the thirst for something greater than us is human, not Christian . . . I searched for the meaning of my life for many years, but eventually I always hit a wall. But then I felt something on the other side of that wall . . . I guess I call that space God.”

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is its discussion about language. To some, Arabic is the language of romance and poetry, to others it evokes fear of violence. Although I’ve never heard English described as a romantic or poetic language, for some in the world it certainly does evoke fear of violence and domination. In this volume, Saldaña struggles to not only learn the words and grammar of Arabic, but also the nuance, the emotional content. I particularly enjoyed her description of translation: “. . . there is a certain tragedy in translation: the sense of diluting what was once a powerful drink, of tearing a small plant from its roots and trying to place it in a soil and climate where it does not belong.”

In many ways, The Bread of Angels is about words, about stories. As Saldaña says, “We each meet the text— and who we are and the text together create a unique event. We change for it and it changes for us, the act of reading becoming an essential way of transforming ourselves. We can only bring to the text what is inside ourselves—even if the story is a story of death, if we contain life, we will find life.”

Sunday, December 05, 2010


GIFT WRAP AN EXPERIENCE! Give a book this year at the holidays. Books inform, educate, entertain, encourage, and open doors to new ways of thinking, fresh ideas, and an expanded view of the world and its people. It is truly a gift that can continue to give long after the first reading of the last page. All year long, FEAST suggests books you might enjoy, share, pass along; books you might otherwise miss. This time of year we like to bring you the BEST of FEAST to consider for your gift list. Here are some of this year’s favorite features!

Wishing you happy holidays and a new year filled with good reads! Watch for a new and exciting format in our next full issue—

Rosemary Carstens, Editor

# # #

GIRL IN A BLUE DRESS, Gaynor Arnold. Crown Publishers 2008. Longlisted for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize, this engaging historical novel was inspired by the life and marriage of Charles Dickens and presents a very believable and thought-provoking view of the most celebrated author in the Victorian world. This is his wife’s side of the story, an examination of what it is like to be the mate of someone famous, beloved, and absolutely captivating in public—a man who is much more complicated in private and much more fallible.

THE WILLOW FIELD, William Kittredge. Knopf 2006. William Kittredge’s epic first novel spans the twentieth century and uses the personal story of one cowboy and his family to discuss everything from settlers’ experiences and the plight of Native Americans and cowboys to gamblers, whores, and ordinary men and women. It’s the story of the old West told with grit, in plain language. Kittredge knows this Montana land he writes about—its dust has settled deep into his own skin and soul and he brings it to life for his readers.

ITALIAN SHOES, Henning Mankell. Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson. The New Press, in English 2009. There is some fine writing coming out of Sweden, some fresh yet often universal perspectives. In this book, Frederik Welin, a man well past middle age, lives on a tiny Swedish island surrounded by ice three feet thick, alone except for his equally aged cat and dog. Each day, just to prove to himself that he is still alive, Frederik hacks through the ice to the sea and jumps naked into the frigid water. Haunted by memories of a terrible mistake in his past, one day a woman he abandoned forty years earlier appears suddenly on his island and the protection from the outside world he has so carefully assembled begins to crumble. Beautifully written and translated.

BENNY AND SHRIMP, Katarina Mazetti. Translated from Swedish by Sarah Death. Penguin 2009. A delightful small book with some big wisdom packed into it. Two lonely people meet in a cemetery and find themselves deeply attracted to one another. The author moves back and forth between the two points of view and deftly reveals the miscommunications and confusion of two good people from two different worlds, struggling to bridge them because of love and chemistry.

THE ELEVENTH MAN, Ivan Doig. Harcourt 2008. Doig, best known for This House of Sky and The Whistling Season, turns once again to his Montana homeground in this story about a group of boys who played football together at State University and became small-town heroes in an undefeated season. Then comes WWII and each joins up and is scattered across the globe to his own piece of the war, sees action, sees more death than anyone ought to, and struggles to make sense of it all. The backdrop of major battles in both Europe and the Pacific Basin makes for interesting reading about history, especially as contrasted with present-day fighting in the Middle East. It’s a powerful story about men, their women, their moral fiber, and their friendships with one another.

BAKING CAKES IN KIGALI, Gaile Parkin. Delacourt Press 2009. In Parkin’s debut novel she creates a unique voice in Angel Tungaraza—mother, cake baker, keeper of secrets, matchmaker. Readers are lured into the heart of modern-day Rwanda with the amazing sweets Angel bakes daily and they are soon hooked by the lives of a people who have endured unimaginable heartbreak in their history yet found ways to survive, to thrive, to love again. Angel moves through her days as a “professional somebody,” weaving together her customers’ stories in magical ways as she searches to heal her own broken heart. Parkin tell this story lightly and entertainingly, filled with details that bring Kigali to life—yet it floats like crème fraîche on the darker depth that lies below.

MATTERHORN, Karl Marlantes. El León Literary Arts and Atlantic Monthly Press 2010. Marlantes' 600-page literary tour de force about the Vietnam War absolutely blew me away. I think it’s the best book I’ve read this year. It took Marlantes, a Vietnam vet, thirty years to complete and it's sure to become a classic. It is being referred to as the Great American Vietnam War Novel, up there with Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. It has important pertinence today as we consider what is asked of our armed forces when our country goes to war, how war takes our beautiful young men and women into its maw and then spits them out, the course of their lives forever changed. This is a powerful, gripping tale that reveals so much of the boots-on-the-ground reality of the Vietnam War—its strange savage mixture of love and friendships formed under fire, the obscene waste of lives and potential, the heart-searing irresponsibility of politically motivated "leaders." This is tough stuff, but as someone of the generation whose men went to that war, it filled in blanks that support my view of war as a tool of ambitious, driven politicians and brass, who are either indifferent to or have insufficient understanding of the effects of their decisions. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

THE SPACE BETWEEN US, Thrity Umrigar. HarperCollins 2005. This finely written book is about the gap between reality and the preconceived ideas or unthinking reactions we all share about race and class. Focusing on two women who live dramatically different lives in modern-day India, Umrigar casts them in sharp, telling detail. The two are close friends in spite of their differences: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the quiet terror of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, her stoic illiterate maid hardened by a life of despair and loss. Bhima has worked in Sera’s household for more than 20 years. Each character reveals prejudices at various times based on nothing more than feelings. A beautiful, poignant, and compelling story brought to us by one of the finest writers of our time.

BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA, Roland Merullo. Algonquin 2007. What a gem of a book! Sort of an EAT, PRAY, LAUGH Till You Cry. A middle-aged man with a successful career in publishing, Otto Ringling’s parents have died suddenly in a car crash and now he must head from his urban, east coast life out to settle things at the remote North Dakota farmhouse where he grew up. He decides to drive so that his sister—who he thinks of as “flaky” and lives an alternative lifestyle—will travel with him since she won’t fly. When he arrives at his sister’s home, he finds she is not going to accompany him but convinces him to give a ride to her guru, a crimson-robed Skovorodinian monk to whom she plans to give her half of their inherited 2,000-acre farm. As the two very different men strive to find common ground as they wind their way in anything but a direct route across the country, there are snorts, giggles, and laugh-out-loud sections and some thoughtful insight into living our lives with meaning.

THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY, Heidi W. Durrow. Algonquin 2010. Winner of the 2008 Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice. One of the key things about this novel is the author’s striking mastery of what is called “voice.” Durrow writes from several points of view in this story of a girl of mixed ethnic heritage—“white” and “black”—whose mother steps off a high-rise roof holding her baby and taking the girl and her brother with her. The girl is the miraculous survivor. Her voice as she tries to leave her painful past behind and become what she calls “the new girl,” is unique and clear and the perfect vehicle for exploring how race plays out in American society. Having been raised the first ten years of her life in Europe where her heritage was not an issue, she goes to live with her grandmother in an impoverished, all-black area of Portland, OR, and is forced to absorb differences in language and culture that are at once painful and torturous. The story addresses very real issues of what it is to be perceived as nonwhite in the United States, of poverty, drugs, alcoholism, and the enduring ties of blood and love. A small book with a giant story to tell.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Champagne at the holidays—nostalgia, history, mythology

Nothing like war to make a fellow crave a good drink. Gervais Raoul Lufbery (1885–1918) was a French-American flying ace in WWI. He served in both French aviation and, later, the US Army Air Service, but all but one of his more than 17 combat victories came while flying for the French. He was famous for his pet lion cub named, appropriately for the topic of this post, Whiskey. Lufbery is often credited with having created a most delightful drink called the French 75, purportedly named after WWI’s powerful French 75mm howitzer artillery piece because the drink blew you away like you'd been shelled by one. 

Lufbery - 94th Aero Squadron
Other sources claim the drink was created earlier in 1915 by Harry MacElhone, owner of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. The original version contained a potent combo of champagne, gin, lemon juice and sugar. It was popularized in America at New York City’s famous Stork Club. For another note of nostalgia, in the classic movie Casablanca, Yvette is drinking French 75s at the bar.

Now I can’t drink gin—can’t even stand the smell of it—but a variation arose at some point in its evolving history that replaced the gin in a French 75 with cognac, and that’s the drink I remember drinking back in the days when holding a cocktail in one’s hand seemed the height of sophistication. Now it just seems like a good beginning to a celebration or a well-deserved ending to a tough day. I love a glass of very dry champagne at any time, but there is something very party-ish about making it a French 75 or a Kir Royale (adding crème de cassis)—sort of like adding red stilettos to that traditional little black dress!

Cheri Loughlin, who writes the Intoxicologist blog, wrote a nice piece about French 75s, including her personal favorite recipe for the drink, at http://intoxicologist.wordpress.com/2008/05/04/tweaking-the-french-75/. That could be a place to start if you want to try this holiday drink at home or instruct a young bartender on how you’d like one made.

What are your favorite holiday drinks—alcoholic or not—that you traditionally serve or imbibe this time of year? The holidays can be stressful and/or joyful—I say, whatever the character of yours, PARTY ON!
-- Rosemary Carstens