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!!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Great Reads for the Holidays! FEAST's Fabulous Finds

2007 has been a year of wonderful stories, new ideas, food for thought and palate. FEAST selects books that might not have made the best sellers’ lists because they didn’t have that high profile promotional budget, but each is a gem, a discovery, and should not be allowed to fade away. If you are looking for a special gift for yourself or someone else, here’s the best of the year’s offerings:


A THREAD OF GRACE, Mary Doria Russell. Random House 2005. A superbly written story about a young Jewish girl who, with her father and thousands of other Jewish refugees, attempts to escape the Germans by climbing over the Alps into Italy in 1943. There have been many books through the years about the Jewish refugee experience, but we seldom read about those who hid in Italy, the Italians who sheltered them at risk of their own lives, and what it was like for those who fought there in the resistance movement. The result of five years of meticulous research, Russell brings us in intimate detail the almost unimaginable hardship of those years before the Allies came in and WWII ended. If you love to learn your history through fictional characters who “live” it, this book about the Italian front will not disappoint.

DIGGING TO AMERICA, Anne Tyler. Knopf 2006. Tyler excels at stories about families. This one touches on some important contemporary issues: marriage between people from very different cultures, immigration, adoption by a multicultural family of children of yet other cultures, issues of adoption in general, death, loss, love, and relationships. In other words, just the stuff of ordinary, everyday lives told with deceiving simplicity. In Digging to America, two couples each adopt a little girl from Korea—both the people in one couple were born and raised in the United States, the other is a marriage between an American and an Iranian immigrant. Tyler thoroughly researched Iranian culture and delved deeply to discover immigrants’ feelings when confronted with certain US attitudes, their sense of loss of their own culture as it is watered down through the years, and their inability to reconnect with a childhood era that no longer exists. This is a tender, revealing story of changing times and mores—a window onto other ways of living and thinking skillfully portrayed by a fine writer.

A SPOT OF BOTHER, Mark Haddon. Doubleday 2006. The latest from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a remarkable read). Haddon has an exceptional ability to access the absurdity of being human. That we are all flawed is nowhere clearer than in this story of a family’s dysfunction. It is strongly written, and hilarious, with the action and fun building like a snowball rolling down hill. As it picked up speed and I connected with each character’s nutty self-involvement and self-doubt, I chuckled and snorted aloud as they headed for certain collision, embarrassment, and disaster. Haddon proves once again that there is nothing funnier or more pathetic than family relationships—they are irreplaceable and essential, filled with conflict, all about them and never, often enough, about us. And family communications are often the most difficult of all—these people who know us the best and yet the least, who can always be counted on to misinterpret our grunts, hints, and unique qualities. Highly entertaining!

CONSUMPTION, Kevin Patterson. Doubleday 2007. Enter the lost world of the Inuit (Eskimo) in the far north near the Arctic Ocean as recreated by this talented literary writer. Victoria’s people have been brought in off the land where they have survived under the harshest conditions on earth for untold years. They now live in stark, prefab houses, shacks, and trailers and try to learn to live in one spot year-round, no longer existing on their traditional foods, but adding beer, cheez whiz, and the less nutritious diet of the “south.” With these changes comes civilization’s diseases: tuberculosis, diabetes, and others. This is the story of a young doctor who decides to practice in this difficult climate and the people he comes to know well over a period of twenty years. It’s fascinating—

THE SAFFRON KITCHEN, Yasmin Crowther. Viking 2006. I so often find that debut novels burst forth like a piñata, filled with color and delight. This one is no exception. Saffron Kitchen is set in England and is the story of a mixed marriage between an Englishman and an Iranian woman, and their daughter Sara. The story moves back and forth between past and present, London and a small remote village in Iran. The writing is beautiful and elegant, filled with captivating description so real that all your sense are ignited—underlying all is a discussion of what it is to be in exile from a place or person you love. To be rootless and unable to return, then, when finally you DO return, is the past waiting to exhale? Or has it moved on so that what you remember can no longer be visited? This is a story without a villain, only human beings whose actions have been so rash that the direction and tenor of their lives have been altered forever. It is about love, forgiveness, anger—and a lifetime of haunting memory.

JASMINE, Bharati Mukherjee. Grove 1999. A beautifully written story of a Hindu illegal immigrant from India: her flight to Florida, New York, and Iowa, and her journey to becoming a US citizen. This book is especially revealing of the barrier between Americans and illegals—the border that cannot be crossed. This author is known for her lyrical poetry—and her prose echoes that strength.

RETURNING TO EARTH, Jim Harrison. Grove Press 2007. Donald is a middle-aged Chippewa-Finnish man dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. In his days of fading verbal ability, he struggles to pass along his family history before he goes. As his family and friends wrestle with their upcoming loss and how to deal with his wish to die on his own terms and be laid to rest in accordance with his own deeply held beliefs that are in conflict with contemporary laws, Donald dictates stories of three generations of his ancestors and his relationship with his personal spiritual heritage. Harrison frames the question of how we return “to earth” upon our passing, how we retain dignity and choice, through chapters by each of the characters. Through their personal journeys as they deal with their loss, a finely written discussion of life, death, and redemption is revealed.


CLAPTON'S GUITAR: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument, Allen St. John. Free Press 2006. I could not put this down! I’ve often thought certain, well-used inanimate objects, like musical instruments, could tell us some amazing stories if they only had a voice: Van Cliburn’s or Ray Charles’s piano, Miles Davis’s trumpet, Eric Clapton’s guitar. Imagine the tales! Musicians form intimate relationships with their instruments; they pour their souls into them and, with the best, their souls are reincarnated and rise into the air as music that makes our hearts soar. Bestselling author Allen St. John takes us on a personal journey to watch retired rural mail carrier Wayne Henderson, one of the world’s greatest guitar builders, make such an instrument. Henderson employs experience, creativity, and more than a little down-home ingenuity—and there’s a 10-year waiting list for his heirloom acoustic guitars. St. John writes with poetry and passion, but also with a clear eye about the process—part magic, part music, and a huge helping of craftsmanship in a world where friendship, laughter, old-time music, and homemade lemon pies and barbeque count for more than who has the big bucks. This book is special if you care about music and craftsmanship.

SHADOW OF THE BEAR, Brian Payton. Bloomsbury 2006. Over a five-year period, journalist Brian Payton travels the world to see the eight remaining bear species. It’s an astounding adventure as he goes from the jungles of Cambodia, to China, to Canada, to Peru, India, Italy, and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. This is a phenomenal story, but, unfortunately, it is also a tragedy as we learn the state of these rapidly vanishing species and the lives they are forced to live. Everyone who loves wildlife and/or is concerned about our changing environment should, as they say at the card table, “read ‘em and weep.”

TRUCK: A LOVE STORY, Michael Perry. HarperCollins 2006. If “Truck” were a candy bar, you could say it contains humor and homespun wisdom in every bite. Perry’s latest memoir weaves three stories together—restoring a 1950s International Harvester truck, attempting to cultivate his own garden, and discovering romance after a lifetime of failed relationships. Truck is a book that both men and women will love, but perhaps it will be most enjoyed by the man who understands the attraction of working on something mechanical, the nature of relationships between men, and the desire to be self-sustaining through growing food and hunting. It gets a bit literary in its references at times, but otherwise is the clear-eyed view of someone who grew up in farming country in northern Wisconsin.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE LEADERS GONE? Lee Iacocca. Scribner 2007. Legendary auto executive Lee Iacocca poses this pertinent question as the 2008 presidential election campaign hits its stride. Every point he makes hits the bull’s eye of where the United States is today and what we’d better know about the capabilities of our next president. It’s a no-nonsense look at how “Rome” is burning while the present administration, including Congress, fiddles around with non-priority projects, rhetoric instead of analysis, and, in some notable cases, filling their own pockets with OUR money. This is an easily read, fact-based view by a man who knows first hand about organization and leadership and who speaks plainly. You’ll smile wryly if it doesn’t move you to tears. We need to get cracking!

ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins 2007. Kingsolver shares her family’s experiences upon moving to southern Appalachia to live on a farm. They pledge to “eat local” for one whole year, raising as much as possible of their own food. Kingsolver mixes personal details and challenges of their lives with deeply researched material about what is happening to the US food supply due to corporate farming and global trade. It’s pretty scary stuff and makes you want to do more to support your local farmers and farmers’ markets, to encourage your supermarket chains to carry local meat and produce. Well done on an important topic for us all.

THE RIVER OF LOST FOOTSTEPS: Histories of Burma, Thant Myint-U. Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2006. Pure history about the past, present, and future possibilities for Burma/Myanmar. Most of us know little about this country except for a few exotic literary or musical mentions of the road to Mandalay or Rangoon. Born in 1966, educated at Harvard and Cambridge, in 1988 the author was living in a Burmese rebel base camp, “a sometimes dusty and sometimes muddy sprawl of bamboo and thatch huts, the misty malarial rain forests of the Tennasserim hills in the near distance and young, determined-looking men and women in emerald-green uniforms milling all around.” With the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991, more of us had an inkling that there was a country out there—next to the old kingdom of “Siam”—that was poor and embroiled in a bitter struggle for democracy against a repressive military regime. If you’ve ever been curious to know more, this is an excellent presentation of the history with some small amount of analysis and a proposal for the country’s future prospects in a global environment.

KEEP ON COOKIN’ – my favorite cookbook for the year!

ARABESQUE: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon, Claudia Roden. Knopf 2006. Not only is this cookbook beautiful to look at or display in your kitchen, with its turquoise and gold, middle eastern design cover and the stunning photo layouts of foods and dishes inside, but it is filled with stories and bits of history from each of these three countries, plus recipes that are not “Greek” for the average cook to create. They are manageable, use ingredients that most can find (some have been reworked with contemporary ingredients), yet have retained the alluring touches of spices and complex flavor combinations that are new to many US palates. This is food for real people, not gourmands or food elitists. It gets my vote for the best of its kind!

IF YOU HAVE ENJOYED THESE SELECTIONS and are not on the subscription list for FEAST, the award-winning quarterly eZine about books, art, food, film, and travel, go to http://www.carstenscommunications.com/feast.html and check out a recent issue.

Happy holidays to all – and may 2008 be filled with great reads!

-- Rosemary Carstens, Editor


Anonymous said...

WOW A great list. Happy Season. Great New Year. Keep Reading.

Anonymous said...

Once again, Rosemary, thanks for winnowing out some of the best. I'll definitely check some of these out.

Unknown said...

that anonymous comment was mine - i'm still learning the ropes.


Robin Pedrero said...

Hey I tagged Cynthia who tagged you and led me to your blog. What a fantastic list!