"Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore" and "How I Learned To Cook"

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

This book is fun. It offers old books, secret codes, a clandestine society, and the perfect quaint, old bookseller. It's a bibliophile's dream come true. Or at least it started out that way.

I was hooked in the first few pages. The pace was good and the writing intelligent. I was fascinated with the puzzle that was unfolding and eagerly followed the main character, Clay Jannon, as he tried to figure out what was going on at his new workplace. He worked the night shift at the bookshop and began to notice that the only people coming in were a few regulars who always returned one book and took another from a particular section on the shelves. They never bought anything, just borrowed and returned.

Clay's new girlfriend, Kat, works at Google and is a tech expert. Between them they use their technical knowledge and some pretty cool equipment to put together the pieces of the puzzle and find out what the real purpose of the bookshop is. Their investigative work involves a trip to New York to the headquarters of a secret society, with long black robes, underground chambers  and the whole nine yards. It was a fun romp until near the end, when basically nothing happened. There was this huge build up that for me just fell flat at the end. I'd still recommend it, for the sheer fun of the ride, but I do so wish for a more satisfying conclusion.

How I Learned To Cook, edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Peter Meehan

This is a collection of 40 short writings on how various chefs got their start in the Restaurant business. The subjects include such culinary greats as Mario Batali, Heston Blumenthal, Rick Bayless, Mara Martin, Nancy Silverton and Masaharu Morimoto.

Some of the stories are hilarious, some of them inspiring and a couple are, well, let's just say disturbing. One chef in particular has a colourful vocabulary. Actually it's more gross than colourful, but let's move on.

It's an interesting book, but most of it reinforced my secret (not so secret now...) dislike of chefs in general. I admire their work; I hate the way they treat people. We've all heard the stories of temperamental chefs exploding in the kitchen when something isn't done right, but honestly I thought the stories must have been exaggerated. Apparently not. Most, if not all, of the writers of these stories have been at the unpleasant end of their superior's rage. There is yelling and screaming and throwing of equipment and food. Tantrums, in other words. Like two year olds. I really don't get it. (And yes, I know that not all chefs are like that. There sure are plenty who make my point though.) I know they are experts in their field and have worked hard to get where they are, but so what? There are experts in every field who have worked hard and they seem generally able to conduct themselves with a little dignity and consideration for others. What gives chefs their air of superiority and sense of entitlement? It's nauseating.

But...don't let my little rant keep you from the book. If you are interested in food and the cooking of it, you'll probably love these stories.


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