Tag: Padma Lakshmi

Summer Reading Suggestions 2018

Each summer my book club goes on break, as members scatter to the four winds for visits and vacations. But being too busy to meet isn’t the same thing as too busy to read. So here’s this year’s list of suggestions for my book club members looking for something to read over the hiatus. September will be here before you know it! Click the headlines for links to full length reviews where applicable.

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Cover image for Cork Dork by Bianca BoskerBianca Bosker had a successful career as a technology journalist when she became fascinated with the world of wine, and blind taste testing in particular. How could expert tasters identify the grape, vintage, and even the vineyard of what they were drinking, without ever seeing the bottle? Cork Dork is the story of the eighteen months she spent following this obsession, quitting her job as a journalist in order to study to become a certified sommelier, while also interviewing vintners, sommeliers, chemists, and collectors. But the rubber really hits the road in Cork Dork when Bosker tries to make her way into the restaurant industry armed with her freshly polished but highly theoretical knowledge of wine and wine service, with often humourous results.

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Cover image for The Other Alcott by Elise HooperFans of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will already be aware that the much beloved children’s story was loosely based on the Alcott sisters’ childhood. The Other Alcott follows Louisa’s youngest sister, May, who lives under the shadow of her fame as the inspiration for the much-hated Amy March. May aspired to be an artist, and illustrated the first edition of Little Women. But while her sister’s novel was a critical success, May’s illustrations were panned. If Jo is the rough but shining favourite of Little Women, then The Other Alcott tries to imagine what it would be like to be the youngest sister of the person who penned this fictionalized version of herself. The Other Alcott follows May into Europe’s art scene at a fascinating period when the Impressionists were beginning to rock the French art establishment with their radical ideas, and more women were finding ways to formally study art.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

Cover image for One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi KoulIn this humourous collection of essays, Scaachi Koul vividly sketches a portrait of her Kashmiri immigrant family, including her parents, much older brother, and young niece. Her father in particular is a vivid character, the kind of person who will decide a year later that he isn’t done being mad at you about something you did that he didn’t approve of, and abruptly stop talking to you for months at time. The inter-generational conflict is at once unique to her situation, and recognizable to parents and children everywhere. With a deft hand, Koul combines funny family stories with insightful cultural commentary about growing up as first generation Canadian in an immigrant family.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

Cover image for The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. FlynnWhen Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane arrive in England in 1815, it is by unusual means, and with an even more unusual mission. Sent back in time from a somewhat dystopian near-future, they are charged with identifying the cause of Jane Austen’s untimely demise in 1817 at the young age of 41, and with recovering and bringing back her lost manuscript of The Watsons. This top-secret mission is known as The Jane Austen Project, and it has one very important rule; they must change the future as little as possible while achieving their objectives, or risk being stranded in Regency England forever. With this highly unusual premise, copy editor and ardent Austenite Kathleen A. Flynn has captured something of Austen’s tone and pacing, without trying to entirely mimic her style. Highly recommended for fans of time travel fiction that is more about the destination than the science of such an endeavour.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

Cover image for Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma LakshmiPadma Lakshmi has had a varied career. In her twenties she was a model, and then a television host and actress. She published a cookbook about what she ate to lose weight after a movie role required her to put on twenty pounds, and as a result made the improbable transition from model to foodie, co-hosting the popular cooking competition Top ChefLove, Loss, and What We Ate is a chronicle of the role food has played in her life, through times of love, and times of loss, and how she navigated the jump from a career that was based on her looks to one that engaged her heart and her mind. From a childhood in India, to an early adulthood spent traveling Europe, to a second career in America, she shows how food can be a source of comfort, a connection to identity, and an occasion to examine our biases about beauty.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

Cover image for Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie FordLocal author Jamie Ford’s third historical novel is set in Seattle during the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. Ford opens on the better remembered 1962 fair, and uses it to echo and reflect the main action of 1909. The plot was inspired by a fascinating newspaper clipping from the AYP Expo, advertising the fact that an orphan boy was one of the raffle prizes at the fair. The fate of the real boy is unknown, but in his novel, Ford imagines what might have become of a young half-Chinese boy named Ernest, whose winning ticket is sold to the madam of an infamous brothel. Raised in a Catholic orphanage, Ernest comes to the red light district as the temperance movement is surging in the city, and finds himself caught between the Japanese house girl, Fahn, and Madam Flora’s stubborn daughter, Maisie. Through fiction, Ford explores the history of the city.

The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu

Cover image for The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu So much of the web is free, at least in terms of money paid by the users who access its vast array of content. From eyeballs on ads, to time on site, these are the metrics that the tech industry thrives on, as free-of-charge enterprises find ways to monetize. Wu explores the attention economy, and how we pay for all this free content with our time, and our personal information. Through the history of advertising, this book explores how we got to the present state of the advertising industry, and how it is morphing to adapt to our new technologies.

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

Cover image for Bloodletting and Miraculous CuresFour young medical school students start out on the road to becoming doctors, sure of their nobility of purpose and their calling, the real and trying rigours of the medical profession still ahead of them. Ming, Fitz, Sri, and Chen come from different backgrounds and have different career paths awaiting them. In a series of twelve interlinked short stories, Dr. Vincent Lam takes the reader behind the scenes of the medical world, from medical school to residency to the emergency room and the operating room. Lam’s characters are complicated and flawed, fallible humans who have been trusted with unthinkable responsibility, and faced with terrible dilemmas. This adds depth to the rich detail of the author’s own medical experience, making for an intriguing collection.

Reset by Ellen Pao

Cover image for Reset by Ellen K. PaoGet a glimpse into the boy’s club that powers the venture capital world funding today’s hottest tech start ups, and your favourite websites. Ellen Pao speaks up about her experience as an Asian American woman in this cliquey world, and offers her insights into why Silicon Valley’s diversity initiatives have failed. Going beyond the “pipeline problem,” Pao examines why women who made it through school and into lucrative careers later drop out of tech jobs in astonishing numbers, and what it would take to reset the industry culture so that everyone can thrive.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate

Cover image for Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmiby Padma Lakshmi

ISBN 978-0-06-220261-1

“I didn’t know then, of course, that the crossing from New Delhi to New York was more than a crossing of oceans and continents; it was a crossing of cultures, of lifestyles, of ways of being and knowing. I would be debarking in a New World. I would never be fully at home in India again or ever fully at home in America. I couldn’t have looked back, even if I had thought to.”

Padma Lakshmi has had a varied career. In her twenties she was a model, and then a television host and actress. She published a cookbook about what she ate to lose weight after a movie role required her to put on twenty pounds, and as a result made the improbable transition from model to foodie, co-hosting the popular cooking competition Top Chef. Love, Loss, and What We Ate is a chronicle of the role food has played in her life, through times of love, and times of loss, and how she navigated the jump from a career that was based on her looks to one that engaged her heart and her mind. From a childhood in India, to an early adulthood spent traveling Europe, to a second career in America, she shows how food can be a source of comfort, a connection to identity, and an occasion to examine our biases about beauty.

Lakshmi begins at an ending, with her divorce from the famous Indian author Salman Rushdie after eight years together. Rushdie was twenty years her senior, and she was his fourth wife. Stepping back in time to their meeting and courtship, she shows how his intellect and smart circle of friends appealed to her at a time when she was looking for something more substantial than modeling in her life. Rushdie gave his much more critical account of this time in his own memoir, Joseph Anton, characterizing Lakshmi as ambitious and moody. Here Lakshmi provides her own side of the story, recounting her deep insecurities about trying to launch a new career after leaving modeling, and sharing her crushing diagnosis with advanced endometriosis. Taken together, the two books provide an account of how a marriage can fall apart, and as Lakshmi puts it, “at the end of a marriage, no one wins. There is only anger, sorrow, guilt, emptiness and defeat.”

It is easy to see how a career in modeling could make a person at once vain and insecure, hungry for approval and yet longing to live up to a higher standard. In her role as a host of Top Chef, Lakshmi faced pressures the other, male, hosts did not. Where they wore boxy suits, she had to don fashionable dresses. Eating all of the food they were judging would cause her to gain several sizes over the course of a season, something a suit could hide, but a dress did not. Whereas she felt the larger size fit an Indian standard of beauty, filling out a sari nicely, her television career was in North America, where she struggled to both do her job and “still look good by Western standards of beauty.” She describes how the two conflicting idea of beauty mingled “to create mutant, unachievable standards.” And this was the second time she had to confront such a contradiction; during her modeling career the source of her insecurity was the jagged scar on her right arm, the result of a surgery that saved the limb after a serious car accident.

Self-doubt was her emotional burden, but physically she was also carrying another cross. Anyone who has coped with chronic pain should be able to relate to Lakshmi’s very painful account of her diagnosis with endometriosis. Because her mother and grandmother had both suffered deeply with their periods, she was raised believing this was simply part of womanhood, and that she had to live with it. Although she had check-ups regularly, a diagnosis did not come until after one of the growths choked off an intestine, leading to hospitalization and surgery. Her account highlights just how difficult it can be for even a well-off person to get proper care for women’s issues that are considered distasteful. By that time, she had also lost part of an ovary, and a fallopian tube, imperiling her fertility.

Much of the book takes place in India, as Lakshmi travels back and forth for various occasions and family visits, though she last lived there when she was four. As a result, she “didn’t identify with the collective experience of children in either place” when she was growing up, and instead had “one foot in each culture, but no firm footing in either of them.” Yet India is obviously deeply important to her, influencing her cooking and her traditions. Though she no longer keeps vegetarian, and repeatedly describes herself as largely secular, as the book goes on it is clear that she is still holding on to Indian religious traditions emotionally if not always practically. On her way to India for a ceremony where her daughter would eat solid food for the first time, the baby accidentally drank some beef broth. Not only was her first non-milk food not vegetarian, it was from the flesh of a sacred animal no less. Lakshmi describes this as “karmic retribution for all the bodies of animals I had consumed in my life and career in food.” Underneath her pragmatism and ambition there is a deeply superstitious person. This is evident once again in her account of the birth of her daughter, after which Lakshmi decided to consume her placenta.

Lakshmi has published two recipe books since embarking on her culinary career, but Love, Loss, and What We Ate isn’t really one. She includes the occasional recipe, but this book is far more about our relationship to food than the food itself. Lakshmi admits that the few recipes that are included, “especially for an Indian market, they are kind of basic.” But they are obviously her comfort foods, that ones that have deep emotional connections to significant moments in her life. They include the applesauce she made for a sick loved one as he underwent chemotherapy, and the kumquat chutney that was the first thing that she cooked, alone in her new apartment, after her divorce.

Structurally speaking, Love, Loss, and What We Ate  follows the common hook of starting at a critical moment and then circling back in time, but the progression from that point is not plodding or strictly chronological. Lakshmi freely connects related ideas and memories across time. When she takes her first flight in a private jet, this leads her to reminisce about the crossing she made from New Delhi to New York when she was four years old, to join her mother in America. Lakshmi not only recounts events, she gives a deep impression of their emotional significance, and their broader place in a culture that values thin, light-skinned, female bodies, and pretends they never bleed.

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