Kitchen Confidential and Dewey (The Library Cat)

I recently finished two non-fiction titles back-to-back, which is rare for me. Usually I find that I alternate between genres as I read, albeit unconsciously. Although I suppose that these two titles were so vastly different that it isn't, in fact, so surprising. Does anyone else try to rotate genres?

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Changed the World is the story of just that—Dewey, the small-town library cat who touched the world. Written by Vicki Myron, the librarian of said small-town library, the book evolves into a three-part memoir: Myron's own life, the life of the library in Spencer, Iowa, and, obviously, the life of Dewey, who quite literally fell into the library's arms when it mosted needed him. Despite the fact that Myron is not the most talented of writers, her sentences often forced or somewhat stumbling, she manages to weave together quite cleverly these three distinct yet remarkably overlapping stories. In a matter of pages, she twists the story from one that evokes laughter to one that brings on tears.

Ultimately, the stories require a certain suspension of disbelief, for Myron is truly in awe of the "power" of Dewey and his lasting effects on the Spencer Library. Maybe I'm just overly doubtful, but I personally find it hard to believe that Dewey understood what a video camera was and knew how to behave in it. I do, however, believe in Myron's claims about the changes seen in the library after Dewey's arrival. I just think they came from the people of Spencer themselves, prompted by Dewey's adoption, not the magical powers of a cat. But read it and find out for yourself.

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Note that on the cover of Kitchen Confidential, author Anthony Bourdain appears to be holding two swords tucked into his whites. This is not a coincidence, or some cheeky photo. This is an accurate picture of Bourdain's depiction of the kitchen world of New York (and Cape Cod), what he deems the "underbelly" of every restaurant, bar and pub in the city. Like Myron's book, some of Bourdain's writing requires a suspension of disbelief (a grill man grabbing a cast iron pot from the station with bare hands? ESP between the chef and his sous?), but it is belief that I was more than willing to suspend in order to see the kitchen life of Les Halles, and various other restaurants in New York, through Bourdain's reverent and admiring eyes. For although he curses the life, detests some bosses and co-workers, and is quick to judge and dismiss certain characters (notably Emeril Lagasse, for which he apologizes in the introduction and conclusion, both added to the second edition), he also stresses the extent to which this truly is a life of magic.


Sure, it's easy to say that food is magic, that it has some kind of power that none of us can truly understand. But Bourdain's observations go beyond the "mere" food of the restaurant industry, and into the magic of the kitchens themselves. These are captivating, coordinated, magically chaotic spaces where a bustle of what looks like mayhem to any outside results in an impeccably plated dish of fill-in-the-blank, complete with a wipe and a flourish when set on the table. The title can be a bit lengthy in places, but Bourdain has structured it almost more like a series of essays and articles on various topics (with a few certain strings that carry through from beginning to end), and the added dashes of sex, drugs, alcohol and rock-and-roll give it the color it needs to keep you reading. Sound stereotypical? Trust me, Bourdain is anything but.


So I'm sending this one on to my brother, a student in culinary student who has just displayed a shocking new interest in actually reading books, rather than tearing out their pages to roll cigarettes, and hiking off to Les Halles for another memorable dinner.* And breakfast. And lunch. I'll also make it a point to visit some of the other restaurants in the book, and a point to avoid still some others. And everywhere I'll go, I'll be keeping a mind on what's going on behind that elusively swinging kitchen door.



*The first memorable meal at Les Halles was met with the worst service imaginable. So much so that my boyfriend wrote in to Time Out New York's "wish" issue and said his wish was to be treated like a king at Les Halles, where we had previously been treated like garbage. And he won the competition, resulting in a meal (courtesy of TONY) of epic proportions, capped off with a phone call to ANTHONY HIMSELF. Then I just had to read his book.

1 comment

  1. This looks cute. I think I might want to read this.

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