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!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010—Balancing Body, Brain, and Spirit

This is my last post of 2009. I’ve been lucky in that my work has gone well this year. With this economy and the seemingly chaotic state of the world today, I feel grateful that I still have a home, creative work that I love, and that those who matter most to me are doing well. It’s also been a year of personal challenges, with family members fighting illnesses, dealing with my own not-as-reliable body, trying not to be overwhelmed with anxiety about the future. It’s time to reflect on the past 12 months and plan for the months to come. I hope when you’ve read this, you’ll take a moment to comment and let me know at least one thing you plan to strive for this coming year. Put it out there and make it happen!

Many people tell me they don’t like to make New Year’s resolutions because they just feel they’ve failed when they don’t carry through. I’ve always made resolutions, but see them more as an attempt to shape my life’s direction, not as an imperative. And I’m flexible about them—if I start ambitiously down a path and see it’s not for me, I turn back and take another route. Agility not rigidity is the way to go.

The key word for me in 2010 is “BALANCE.” Some years I have burned out completely from too many hours at the computer, too many projects with pressured deadlines, too much “monkey brain” thinking about things I cannot control. In those times, I let my physical fitness slide, don’t paint or draw, scan books instead of absorbing them thoughtfully, drink and eat too much, and leave my spiritual life sitting on the roadside waiting for a long-overdue ride.

It’s said that speaking or writing about your goals helps to solidify them, so here are mine in the three areas I want to balance:

1. BODY: I used to work out five days a week. Now I can’t or the body protests and I end up with injuries. But I’ve worked out a pretty good, doable plan that I’ll try to hold to in 2010. Beginning the week with an active-style yoga, which keeps me pretty much pain free, rest a day, work out in my home gym for an hour, including 30 minutes of aerobics, free weights, abs and pushups, plus stretches at the end. Rest a day, then wind up the work week with either a long walk, a Latin Aerobics class, or some other keepin’-a-move-on activity. And, oh yes, I want to do more motorcycle riding in 2010. Right alongside this admittedly moderate program is its important twin, diet. More fruits and vegetables, less red meat, avoidance of processed foods.

2. BRAIN: Even though I’m blonde, I still want a high level of brain action to go with a functioning body! I get a pretty strong mental workout with my writing and editing and all the books I read to review in FEAST. I edit a lot of scholarly topics, so I’m always learning from experts about topics I’d otherwise know nothing about. But I’d like to take another class, maybe something like Photoshop that requires both brain and hand and eye coordination, something fun but challenging!

3. SPIRIT: This is the one that always seems to slip to the side when I’m busy—and yet it’s probably the most important one. For me, this is not about religion, but it IS about finding ways to find beauty in ordinary things, being inspired to be more content with living more simply, taking in the wonder of the outdoors, listening better, supporting those I love, coming closer to the bar when it comes to living up to my beliefs. I try to feed this part of my life through reading inspirational books, hanging out with people I admire and can learn from, avoiding negative people and activities, looking beyond myself to see if I can make a difference in small ways.

Oh, I know, this looks like a ton of stuff to try to do, but it’s pretty much the same things I put on the list every year. I never get it all just right, but just like with motorcycling, the journey’s the thing, not the destination. I love this journey and hope it continues to shape me, show me the ropes, excite me, and carry me forward for all the years to come!

Now, tell me your dreams for 2010!

Happy New Year!
Rosemary Carstens

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Movie Time: 2009's Best DVDs featured in FEAST

Winter and the quieter time following the holidays--what better time to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and your favorite person and spend an afternoon or evening watching movies. Here are six of my favorite DVDs, featured in FEAST this year, to give you ideas. These are not meant to be "movie of the year" selections, but films that might have had a smaller distribution, been relatively unknown, or perhaps you missed them because they were not surrounded by Hollywood hype. I hope you find something to entertain you--

Iron-Jawed Angels (2004). For 8 years in the early 1920s, a group of determined suffragettes led by Alice Paul (played beautifully by Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O’Connor) organized to pressure the US government to adopt a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. The abuse and mental and physical challenges they faced are heartbreaking and an important part of our history that should not be overlooked or forgotten. Entering WWI under the guise of bringing democracy to other countries when so many in the US were still disenfranchised is hypocrisy that continues today. The brutality against these women who only wanted some say in their own destiny and that of their children is shocking. But this is no boring, dry documentary, as some are, but instead a beautifully crafted and dramatic film with strong acting that makes the story real for a greater number of people. Not to be missed! An HBO original drama directed by Katja von Garnier. Available on DVD.

Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005). Frank Gehry’s friend and director Sydney Pollack made what could have been a dull tale of history and buildings into a more intimate portrait of a man and his creations. I found it fascinating! Gehry’s story about his life and how he came to create imaginative, magnificent buildings that gleam against their landscape is one of hardship, anti-Semitism, and determination to follow his own dream. Since Pollack was neither knowledgeable about architecture nor a documentarian at the time, he brings a very personal sensibility to the film that I, as a layperson, found totally appealing. Pollack’s recent passing makes this ode to his friend even more poignant.

The Painted Veil (2006). Based on the classic novel by Somerset Maugham, the title of this film is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet that begins “Lift not the painted veil which those who live/call life.” The Painted Veil is a love story set in the 1920s that tells the story of a young English couple, Walter (Edward Norton), a middle class doctor, and Kitty (Naomi Watts), an upper-class woman, who get married for the wrong reasons and relocate to Shanghai, where she falls in love with someone else. When he uncovers her infidelity, in an act of vengeance, he accepts a job in a remote village in China ravaged by a deadly epidemic, and forces her to come along. Their journey brings meaning to their relationship and gives them purpose in a remote and wildly beautiful region. This film is not only visually breathtaking, it is a touching story well acted.

Herb & Dorothy (2009). Directed by first-time filmmaker Megumi Sasaki. To see Herb and Dorothy Vogel today, you’d never guess they have built one of the most important contemporary art collections in the United States. Oh, you say, well, those who have it can do it. But that’s not the case here, which is part of what makes their collection and the two of them so very unique. This is a love story. Herb spent his working years as a postal clerk and Dorothy as a librarian. By living on her paycheck alone, they were able to indulge their interest in Minimalist and Conceptual art by spending his salary on works of unknown artists that they liked. They had two rules: the piece had to be affordable and it had to be small enough to fit into their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. As time went on, the second of the rules became a challenge as by the time this film was made there was little furniture and only “paths” winding among the more than 2,000 pieces they had accumulated—and they shared the space with 19 turtles, a school of fish, and at least one cat. What they “liked” proved to be prophetic as the chosen artists became better and better known, now sought after at significantly higher prices by other collectors. Today their collection’s value runs into the millions. It’s an uplifting, amazing story and the film has won award after award at the festivals!

Trailer: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2910339/herb_and_dorothy_movie_trailer/

Swimmers (2005). An indie film set in coastal Maryland. Eleven-year-old Emma needs an expensive operation, which puts mounting pressure on a family barely making ends meet. When underlying tensions start pulling her parents and brothers apart, Emma turns to an emotionally haunted young woman for friendship. This is a fine story about good people who make some bad decisions, and the healing that irreversible family feeling can bring about.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD-qhHDGuCs

The Secret Life of Words (2005). Directed by Isabel Coixet, starring Sarah Polley and Tim Robbins, with a small part by Julie Christie. A hearing-impaired factory worker, a refugee from former Yogoslavia, gives up her first holiday in years when she volunteers to nurse an accident victim on an oil rig off the coast. Josef (Robbins), who was temporarily blinded during a fire on board, tries to get to know his taciturn nurse. Slowly a strange sort of intimacy develops and they share secrets, lies, truths, humor, and pain, from which neither will emerge unscathed.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dAJUEngedA

Detailed introduction by director Isabel Coixet: http://www.irct.org/news---media/latest-irct-news/the-irct-in-the-media/the-secret-life-of-words/video-isabel-coixet-introducing-the-film.aspx

-- Rosemary Carstens
Editor, FEAST

Sunday, December 13, 2009

NONFICTION for the holidays . . .

Here are six nonfiction books that are among the best featured in FEAST in 2009. Any one of them would make a welcome gift for those that love this genre!

Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife, Marie Winn. Picador 2009. Remember the story of the Pale Male, the Red-Tailed Hawk in New York City that drew the attention of so many? Marie Winn wrote the book Red-Tails in Love. Now she explores further details of a natural world that flourishes in the midst of a massive city, a world of nocturnal beasts, insects, and slugs, a dark teeming ecosphere hidden twixt and tween the bright lights and traffic of Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. As Elizabeth Royte of the New York Times, says, “I’d follow Winn into the park at any hour.”

Power in the Blood: A Family Narrative, Linda Tate (Ohio University Press 2009). This fascinating new book traces the author’s journey to rediscover the Cherokee-Appalachian branch of her family and provides an unflinching examination of the poverty, discrimination, and family violence that marked their lives. Although it is a memoir, Tate had to “imagine” some of the details of her search for her family’s story. She did it beautifully. With all the facts and memories woven in, her research over many years in Appalachia made the imagined parts more informed than not. She also used pseudonyms for some family members who may not have wanted their stories shared. But, in essence, this is Linda’s story, her life, and her family through generations. The writing is lively and compelling and at times she is painfully honest about childhood events. But it is the spare beauty of that honesty that makes this book extraordinary.

Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams. Pantheon 2008. Terry Tempest Williams has written an artful book, fashioned like the mosaics she uses throughout as analogies. At first it may seem that she is writing of disparate topics, yet as the volume continues, the reader begins to see they are all related, all are essential pieces of the whole. She writes openly and honestly about some very difficult personal and global issues—from environmental challenges and prairie dogs at risk of extinction in the United States to repeated genocides in Rwanda, from life-risking efforts to save lives to global indifference at human suffering—and she frames it in terms of the healing that can come from art, love, and compassion. A truly lovely book that provides insight and much to contemplate. For more information on this author: http://www.coyoteclan.com/

The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery, Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin. HarperCollins 2008. This is an absolutely fascinating story about how French Architect Jean-Pierre Houdin and his wife became obsessed by the mystery of how the Great Pyramid was built. Using advanced 3-D modeling, Houdin worked ten hours a day for five years to finally discover evidence that the pyramid, contrary to all previous theories, had been built from the inside via a mile-long, corkscrewing ramp, unseen for 4,500 years! I could not set this story down. Through forensic architecture, Houdin and a team of others (who joined the journey as his ideas became known) made discoveries that supported the mounting evidence. The technology alone that is used is amazing and what it will continue to reveal next makes the imagination fly. Easily readable, not at all dry, if you get into this book, don’t skip the appendices OR the end notes—both just add to the experience. A case of truth being stranger (and more absorbing) than fiction.

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 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. Kidder writes a deep exploration of what horror can do to the human psyche, the fight to remain human and to achieve a measure of success in spite of one’s past. 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.

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 a 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 from 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. The icons and symbols that guide her are different from her mother’s but in their mutual search they discover each other anew as adult women. It’s an inspiring book, thoughtfully written, and one I very much enjoyed. It provides a framework for seeking transitions and destinations for any woman who wants to enhance the meaningfulness of her years.

Happy Holidays to all and happy reading in 2010!

-- Rosemary Carstens
Editor, FEAST

Friday, December 04, 2009

Come Bearing Books at the holidays . . . FICTION

Low-tech gifts may not be in fashion, but the gift of a book opens the gate to another world and allows the most amazing interactive computer of all history—our brains—to enter other worlds, live other lives, and enrich our knowledge of the universe. Through books we can fly far beyond our daily concerns, solve crimes, fall in love, be an adventurer, gain greater understanding of ourselves and others. Books are gifts that require no batteries, have no plastic parts to break off or malfunction, and they remain ever-ready to tell us stories again and again.

Throughout each year, FEAST online magazine suggests books for your enjoyment and we strive to remind you of gems that have fallen from the headlines in a rapidly moving publishing world. We hope you’ll buy books for family, friends, AND yourself this holiday season.

Here ar
e a few of our favorites in FICTION for 2009. Check back next week for our recommendations in nonfiction. If you have others to recommend, please leave us a comment!

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski. HarperCollins 2008. A unique book by an incredible writer, it’s monumental in length at 561 pages and is not a book you race through for story only—it’s stories within stories, each to be savored, if for no other reason than the writing, the descriptive prose, the deft handling of words. Edgar Sawtelle is mute from birth and grows up on a remote farm, an only child, using a personal sign language to communicate with his parents. The Sawtelle’s raise dogs and over generations have created a breed of superior intelligence, temperament, and training. What happens when Edgar’s father dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances and a domino fall of events, including a disliked uncle offering his mother comfort as she grieves, leads Edgar to run away from home with three of his pups trailing behind. The depth of discussion about the dogs, their training, the North Country landscape, and the exploration of love, grief, and loneliness will stay with you long after the last page.

Goldengrove, Francine Prose. HarperCollins 2008. Goldengrove is a finely written literary tale about a young girl who loses her closest and dearest friend—her sister—and what the unthinkable does to her and her family. It’s a story of becoming unmoored, of drifting rudderless through unfamiliar and unimaginable events, of learning to go on when there is a hole in your heart, in your family, that can never be entirely stitched back together again. Told from the viewpoint of Niko, a thirteen-year-old girl, Prose writes brilliantly and deeply about loss, love, and the mysteries of death.

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese. Knopf 2009. An engaging family saga. Even at more than 500 pages from its opening prologue to the very last word of his attributions, this author will capture your attention. He framed his story of this family in two unique ways: through the history and culture of Ethiopia and through the history and development of certain aspects of medicine. Not only is this the story of two boys born to a nun, fathered by a surgeon, and left behind to grow up in a warm adoptive family as part of a medical community in a country at war with itself, but it is the story of becoming a stranger in your own land. These are well-developed characters you care deeply about, yet at times despise their weaknesses. It is a story of compassion, betrayal, family love, and, above all, the flawed but magnificent qualities of being human. Author’s website: http://www.abrahamverghese.com

Home, Marilynne Robinson. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2008. If you love to linger over excellent writing and character development, I promise you a thought-provoking book you’ll long remember. This is a story about the conflicts of love when children are not who we think they should be, when a child feels alien in a family even though it’s a loving one. Robinson explores the struggles of a minister to love all of his children equally, even his prodigal son. And her key character, the man’s youngest daughter, finds herself a bridge between father and son even as she fears she may have to let go of her own long-held dreams to give them hope.

The Madonnas of Leningrad, Debra Dean. William Morrow 2006. A delightful discovery! While this is ostensibly a story about one young woman’s dire circumstances during the Siege of Leningrad, it is more deeply a story about the power of the mind, the richness that can still be present when all else fades away. Carefully researched, it provides remarkable detail about the lives of a small group of workers who stayed on throughout the siege at the Hermitage Museum, the deprivations they suffered, the efforts of some to retain “memory palaces” of all the magnificent art that once hung on its walls, and the effects on all of a once vibrant city brought to its knees by the Germans during the harshest winter on record.

Little Bee, Chris Cleave. Simon & Schuster 2008. An unusual story of life and payback, sacrifice and self-interest, woven around a violent chance meeting between two women on a beach in Nigeria. Chance can test your mettle, polish it or tarnish it—the tale of how these two women’s lives intermingled and the complexities of survival will give you plenty to think about long after the outcome is known. Cleave leads readers to reach a specific conclusion about events and then, drop by drop, bit by bit, provides detail that forces a reevaluation. Deep and provocative, a complete page turner. Author’s website: http://www.chriscleave.com

The Spare Room, Helen Garner. Henry Holt 2008. This small book is a rare jewel. Although fiction, it is written so directly, and so honestly that it rings with truth. Naming the main character “Helen,” the author makes us believe this is her story, and maybe it is. Maybe it is potentially the story of all of us. Helen’s friend Nicole comes to Melbourne to stay for two weeks and seek alternative therapy for serious illness. Becoming nurse, advisor, perhaps protector of Nicole are not roles Helen relishes and she finds her emotional and physical energy depleted as her reactions swing from outright rage to unbearable grief. Here a caretaker speaks openly about feelings we seldom hear discussed, using fiction as a vehicle for discussing our universal difficulties in dealing with death. Very moving, very compelling—a story beautifully told.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford. Ballentine 2009. Story, story, story—combined with skillful writing, it is story that draws people in and makes them care about a book’s characters. Beyond that, a new spin on a topic long discussed can make us think freshly about historical events and their impacts. Jamie Ford does all of this in his debut novel about a young Chinese boy, whose father is vehemently against all things Japanese because of brutal Japanese attacks on his homeland, and a young Japanese girl whose family becomes caught up in WWII internment raids in Seattle. In the opening scene, Henry (the boy, now in his fifties and a widower) is sharply reminded of an earlier era when a basement full of Japanese belongings is discovered during a construction project at the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. Following Henry’s story as Ford moves agilely back and forth between present and forty years earlier, we gather insight into the difficulties for all families of Asian descent in a country at war and the extreme tactics employed to “defend the US against attack.” A marvelous story—warm, insightful, and filled with hope that love can survive against all odds. Author’s website: http://www.jamieford.com

Secret Son, Laila Lalami. Algonquin 2009. Raised in the slums of Casablanca, Youssef El Mekki has been told all his life his father died when he was very young. Youssef longs for a father’s love and influence in his life and dreams of a future when, with an education, he can escape the stench and poverty of his neighborhood. One day, by chance, he discovers that his father is not dead, but instead a wealthy, married businessman who abandoned his mother when she became pregnant. Youssef, too, abandons her as he moves toward what he thinks will be a brighter future under the guidance of a suave and sophisticated father. But events and vested interests beyond his control or knowledge reverse his circumstances and he is once more back hanging around on the street corner with his unemployed childhood friends. What happens to a young man who has seen the careless extravagance of wealth and privilege in a society with deep class divisions, where the poor bear the burdens of indifference? Lalami explores this highly pertinent issue in a story that will answer questions about the seemingly siren call of extremism at the same time that it breaks your heart. Author’s website: http://www.lailalalami.com


-- Rosemary Carstens
Editor, FEAST