Friday, April 24, 2009

Reading, Writing, Drinking

Agh, would you look at that. Three book review blog entries in a row. That's pathetic.

I have half a dozen or so posts that are still in the Drafts folder. I even have an essay I've been kicking around in my head for over a month now called "Why I Can't Write." Needless to say, I haven't written it yet. And I don't really feel like writing it now, although I do want to talk about it in a related way.

Part of my problem with this blog is that I don't really know what to do with it. That's been the case from the beginning. Is this a journal for my innermost thoughts? No. Is it a place for me to share ideas with friends? That would be nice, but most often I just email them directly. Is it a tool for me to hone my writing? Ideally, but clearly I'm not using it that way. So what am I doing (or not doing) this for? I don't know. Until I figure it out, expect continued sporadic posting and random ramblings. Like this:

So, the other day several people from my office went to a new bar down the street for happy hour. It's called Anvil, and it specializes in mixed drinks. That doesn't sound very unusual, and really, it isn't. There are plenty of bars around. But what I enjoyed about this place was the amazing knowledge and care that all the bartenders had for their craft.

The bar opened just five weeks ago and is owned and operated by a group of local bartenders. They are all passionate about spirits, and it shows. Every drink was made with meticulous detail, and the bartenders are all happy to tell you the entire history of the drink they're making. And I don't just mean why it's called a Mint Julep or what have you. They'll tell you why it's made with bourbon, how bourbon made it to the South, and the effects of the Whiskey Rebellion. I even had a conversation about the density and consistency of the ice and how it affected the flavor and temperature of a cocktail. Did you know a "cocktail" is a specific drink?

As you can tell, I found it all fascinating. After the book I just read, the timing of discovering this place was incredible. I'm really not a drinker of liquor. I'm a beer snob for sure, and I do enjoy wine, but spirits have always seemed, I don't know, too fancy for me. At Anvil, I discovered that they may be fancy, but they also have an amazing amount of lore and history, which really captivated me.

The bartenders maintain a blog (hopefully more focused than my own) which includes several interesting entries such as the "Five American Whiskey Cocktails You Must Try in Your Lifetime." (Yes, I'm aware that is an excellent marketing tool, but it was also a great history lesson at the bar.)

I'm always impressed by people who follow their passions. These guys really know about spirits, so I will continue to support them and their new venture. Who knows, maybe I'll become a connoisseur myself someday.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

A History of the World in 6 Glasses A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A really fascinating look at how six different drinks have influenced the course of history.

The book is organized roughly chronologically based on when these beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca Cola) had the most influence. So as you read about the history of beer, you learn about early civilization and cultivation; wine teaches about ancient Greece and Rome and emerging trade; spirits, the exploration and expansion of the western world, etc.

Throughout the book there are wonderful little tidbits such as how grog (a mixture of rum, water, sugar, and lime juice) contributed to the strength of the British Navy due to the sailors' daily ration. Not only did the grog satisfy more men while taking up less space, the lime juice helped fight scurvy and made them stronger. This in turn led to the nickname "Limey."

The book is filled with anecdotes and theories and connections. In fact, I was often reminded of the BBC series "Connections" with James Burke, although the threads were not quite as far-reaching. However, I have to say that this was also a slight failing with the book. As much as I loved reading about all these interesting ways drinks were tied to movements in history, it was frustrating when the author didn't go into more depth. But this is hardly a flaw, it has just whet my appetite for more about this subject.

I was also a little disappointed by some of the omissions (vodka and tequila, for example), but it is understandable. The scope of this book is wide and shallow, which makes it light reading. This is the main reason I'm giving it 4 instead of 5 stars. It was really an excellent book, but it left me feeling unsatisfied and wanting more.

View all my reviews.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Making Comics

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
An interesting analysis of creating comics. It's a good starting point for discussing the theory behind comics, but in the end it was just sort of okay.

I am a big fan of McCloud's earlier work, Understanding Comics, and I would enthusiastically recommend that one to everyone, not just comic book readers. This new one, Making Comics, is more of a primer on the creative process behind comics. It doesn't delve as deep and is less thought-provoking. It is also riddled with references to that earlier work, so why not just stick with that one?

I do enjoy his informal writing style, which makes the book feel like an active discussion. I also like that it is written as a comic book, so that concepts are immediately and clearly illustrated as they are mentioned. But even the author admits that these are just his musings on comics, and they don't feel as deeply thought out as they did in the first book.

I'm glad I read it, and I don't mean to dismiss it entirely, but this book just didn't have the magic of his first one.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Your Money or Your Life

Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A pretty good book about changing the way you look at money, with the focus on being more conscious of where your money goes.

The book is a little dated (my edition was revised in the 90s), but the underlying principles still apply. Most of them are just common sense, really: avoid credit, don't buy what you can't afford, keep track of all your income and expenses, etc. However, reading the steps and accompanying anecdotes made it more accessible.

I did have a problem with the repetitive style used throughout the book, though. I realize it is a trope often used by self-help books to help get their points across, but it is still annoying. Consistently using five or six examples in a list when three would suffice just got old.

Overall, I'd still recommend it to anyone trying to take charge of their finances.

View all my reviews.

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