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About Darryl Campbell

Every surface in Darryl Campbell's apartment is covered in books of all kinds, from cookbooks and architecture books to YA novels and travelogues. His bookshelf space, however, is reserved for a select few authors, who include George Orwell, J.D. Salinger, Madeleine L'Engle, Brian Jacques, Tony Judt, and J.K. Rowling.

Posts by Darryl

"Who Doesn't Love an Umlaut?": An Interview with Ben Schott


Anyone who has trouble with l’esprit de l’escalier—that feeling when you come up with the perfect comeback, about twenty minutes too late—should consider keeping one of Ben Schott’s inimitable books close to hand at all times. They’re catalogs of those aspects of the human condition that you’ve always wondered about but have never been able to find in a traditional reference work. See, for instance, his comprehensive list of all of the injuries Evil Knievel ever suffered in Schott’s Sporting, Gaming, and Idling Miscellany; his guide for giving after-dinner toasts in Food and Drink Miscellany; and a page of information on Buckingham Palace’s supplier of bagpipes.

In his latest, Schottenfreude, Ben Schott takes a more continental approach: looking at the unique ability of the German language to come up with (often multisyllabic) words for just about any facet of the human condition. We asked him about his new book.

First, I know that you typeset your own books, so design and layout are obviously things you think about very carefully. Schottenfreude is about 9 1/2" by 5", similar to comic strip collections or photography albums, and a big departure from your pocket journal-sized Miscellanies. What does that convey about this book?

The curious shape of Schottenfreude was dictated by the length of the new German words inside. In some cases, these are more than a little elaborate. The longest word in the book is the majestic "Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss" – a 47-letter monster that means "new car smell." Of course, not all of the words are so unwieldy. One of my favorites is one of the shortest: "Mahlneid" – a handy term for "Coveting thy neighbor’s restaurant order." I take real delight in designing my books to make them unique and curious object. None has given me more pleasure to create than Schottenfreude.

I was surprised to find references not only to literature and pop culture, but also to philosophers like Michael Oakeshott and mathematicians like Euclid—you even cite a dentistry journal in one entry. Do you have difficulty marshalling such a wide array of knowledge, especially in more specialized fields?

Researching Schottenfreude was like taking a footnote for a walk. An idea would unearth a footnote, which would lead to another idea, and another footnote … and so on. For example, I wanted to create a German word for “repeatedly catching and avoiding people’s gazes when approaching them down a long corridor.” This prompted a memory from a book by the sociologist Erving Goffman, which led to a quote by the writer Cornelia Otis Skinner, which reminded me of something I read in Alexander Solzhenitsyn. So, I skimmed through all of the Solzhenitsyn books I own, until I found it.

Continue reading ""Who Doesn't Love an Umlaut?": An Interview with Ben Schott" »

Best Books of the Year in Cookbooks, Food & Wine

51t4DB8UzTLMost "best of" lists begin with a little equivocating about how hard it was to choose a winner. Not so for this one. At six volumes, 52 pounds, and a rather sizable asking price, Modernist Cuisine was easily the biggest cookbook of the year in every respect. With recipes that involve lab-synthesized ingredients and days of sous-vide cooking time (e.g. an 80-hour hamburger), it's not for the faint of heart (or the impatient cook). But in addition to all the foams-and-gels flashiness, Modernist Cuisine also has the most thorough and vibrantly-illustrated scientific look at the process of cooking since Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. Its diagrams of how a charcoal grill or pot roast works are photographic wonders that also make pretty cool desktop backgrounds. So as a source of information, a collection of recipes, and sheer spectacle, Modernist Cuisine took the top spot.

This is no slight on the rest of our list, though. It contains Gabrielle Hamilton's superb memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, one of our Best Books of March, Jacques Pepin's Essential Pepin, a compendium of some of his favorite recpies (including a foolproof method of making French-style omelets), and Garrett Oliver's comprehensive Oxford Companion to Beer, the perfect gift for the beer nut in your life.

61IpDBWusmLMaybe the most surprising book on the list for me was Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, a book of 120 vegetarian recipes from a renowned chef with restaurants in Tel Aviv and London. Skeptical omnivores like myself will probably find themselves swayed by the gorgeous photography (just look at the eggplant with buttermilk sauce and pomegranate seeeds on the cover) and the fact that this is really wide-ranging, delicious food--not just boring old salads and grilled vegetables. I mean, it's got a dish called "tomato party"--what's not to like?

Check out the entire Top 10 Cookbooks, Food & Wine list, or see all the Best Books of 2011.

Hooray for Kate Beaton

What can we say about the cartoonist Kate Beaton that hasn't been said already? That she's written over 320 comics on topics as varied as Herodotus and Napoleon, hyper-polite Canadians and fat ponies, and just about everything in between? That her cartoons can be found not only on the web but also in the pages of The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Walrus? That she's been popping up not just on the comic magazine and blog circuit but also on Slate, NPR, Wired, and a dozen other places thanks to her new collection, Hark! A Vagrant!, which just came out late last month?

How about this: Kate has created a comic exclusively for Amazon to celebrate the publication of her book, and we're super excited to share it with you.


I believe this officially cements her status as The Coolest.

Click here to check out Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton.

Alton Brown on "Good Eats 3: The Later Years"

ABwatermelonDonChambersstudio250 If you've ever watched the Food Network after dinnertime, you probably know Alton Brown. He can be seen traveling around the country on bike and boat to explore "road food," officiating the action in Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef America, and exploring exactly how food and cooking works on Good Eats.  Each week, he tackles a different ingredient, cooking method, or topic, from constructing a DIY smoker with a terra cotta pot, a pie tin, and a grill grate to finding better uses for raw broccoli to discussing why it's important to brine your turkey. (I'll personally vouch for all three methods, by the way). 

In May, Alton announced that this will be the last season of Good Eats. But never fear: not only are there over 200 shows to catch up on, there's also his new book Good Eats 3: The Later Years, a combination cookbook and behind-the-scenes look at the production of the show (as well as a guide for how to make your own sock puppets, in case you're planning, say, a Good Eats valedictory tribute on YouTube). We asked Alton how he felt about his new book and the conclusion of his series.

(And, by the way: in case you want to know what else is going on in the cookbook world this year, check out Fall into Cooking on, where you can find the latest recipes, cookbooks, and yes, even a guide to making your own cheese at home).

Here's Alton on Good Eats 3: The Later Years:

Continue reading "Alton Brown on "Good Eats 3: The Later Years" " »

Amitav Ghosh Returns to the Opium Trade in "River of Smoke"

SmokeIt's been three years since Amitav Ghosh last visited the 19th-century opium trade--and what a visit it was. His novel Sea of Poppies followed the crew and passengers of the trade schooner Ibis as they found themselves increasingly in thrall to opium--whether they took, traded, or helped manufacture it. The book was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2008.
Now, Ghosh returns with the second book in the trilogy, River of Smoke. He talked with us about how the story develops, the challenges of writing a trilogy, and how his studies in anthropology informed the writing of his novels. 

Q: River of Smoke is the second book in a trilogy. What are the challenges to writing the middle book, and what are the rewards? Why write a trilogy?

A: Soon after I started writing Sea of Poppies I realised that the characters and their stories would take more  than one book. I felt then that this would take at least three books (but it may well take more). This is what makes the enterprise so peculiarly rewarding and also so very challenging: I know I will live with these characters for a long time - yet, at the end of each book I have no idea what will happen to them next. Each book is a new enterprise.

Continue reading "Amitav Ghosh Returns to the Opium Trade in "River of Smoke"" »

Amy Waldman on "The Submission"

In Amy Waldman's The Submission, a Muslim architect wins a blind contest to design a Ground Zero Memorial, which throws a city of eleven million people--politicians, businessmen, journalists, activists, and normal people -- into an uproar. Waldman, no doubt drawing on her experience as a former bureau chief for The New York Times, explores a multitude of viewpoints and themes, from the purpose of art, commerce, government, and journalism in society to people's response to grief and terror. We selected The Submission as one of our Best Books of August, and asked Waldman to discuss her reaction to the tenth anniversary of September 11 and how that shaped her novel.

41-kuhDh78L Amy Waldman: I was in New York on September 11, 2001, working as a reporter for The New York Times. In the days and weeks that followed, I wrote about children who had lost parents; families being notified of confirmed deaths; ashes poured into urns. Then I went overseas to cover the world's -- and our -- response to the attack, notably in Afghanistan. If I thought about the tenth anniversary then, which I doubt I did, it was probably to imagine revisiting, as a journalist, some of the people and places I had written about a decade before.

Instead, I am publishing a novel, my first -- one that never uses the words 9/11 or Ground Zero but that is clearly about the aftermath of the attack. It tells the story of a blind (and obviously fictional) competition to design a memorial for the victims of a terrorist attack, and the American Muslim -– Mohammad "Mo" Khan -- who wins it.  The suspicion of him only grows when questions arise about whether his design, a garden, is actually an Islamic paradise.

What made me turn to fiction? On the simplest level, it was having the idea for The Submission. I wanted to know how things turned out not just for Mo but also for the family members, journalists, and even fellow Muslims in conflict with him. But I also had come to feel that journalism didn’t offer the language to explore the uncomfortable questions and uneasy emotions that lingered in the years after the attack. The more we learned about Islam, the more confused we became. Who should we fear? Who should we trust? I had never thought so much about what it means to be American, what kind of country we should be, as I did in those years. And in South Asia and elsewhere, I was reporting on Muslims asking similar questions about their religion. These were parallel, if very different, identity crises, and they seemed ripe for fiction. Maybe I just wanted to be in a quieter space, where I could explore this recent, raw history without being assaulted by the din of the news, or where I could let my imaginary characters explore it for me.

It was those characters that sustained me through the nearly four years of writing the novel. Mo himself, arrogant, ambitious, and stubborn; Claire Burwell, the privileged, rational widow who battles her own doubts; Sean Gallagher, the hotheaded brother of a dead firefighter who seizes on the controversy as a chance to prove himself; and Asma Anwar, the Bangladeshi immigrant, also widowed in the attack, who experiences the controversy, like so much else, as an outsider.

I read somewhere a brief parable about a pilgrim and a gardener. The gardener asks the pilgrim what he saw on his travels; the pilgrim asks the gardener what happened in his garden while the pilgrim was away. A reporter is perhaps the ultimate pilgrim, the novelist a gardener. Each, in their own way, has news to report.


Colin Cotterill's "Killed at the Whim of a Hat"

Colin Cotterill is something of a polymath: he's worked for UNESCO, combatted child exploitation, produced a television series, drawn editorial cartoons, and written a successful mystery series. You may not know him, however, unless you keep close tabs on southeast Asia, where he's lived and worked for two decades, and where his previous mystery novels, the Dr. Siri Paboun series, have been set. His new book, Killed at the Whim of a Hat, finds him writing a bit closer to his adopted home, Thailand, with an all-new protagonist, the crime journalist Jimm Juree. It's a twist on the cozy mystery genre: Jimm Juree finds herself trapped in a small Thai resort town with nothing to do except care for her capricious mother, when someone suddenly drops dead and she is the most qualified person to take up the investigation. Colin Cotterill knows his stuff: he's got the deft touch of a veteran mystery writer, of course, but he also shows the reader a side of Thailand that gets glossed over in the travel brochures, and adds a dose of expatriate cynicism/wisdom -- look for the George W. Bush quotations that open every chapter, and that give the book its name. Over e-mail, we asked Colin a few questions about his new book:


Q: Tell us about Jimm Juree, the hero of Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

A: Jimm is a thirty-four-year old Thai woman who was one small kidney failure away from the chief crime reporter’s desk at the Chiang Mai Mail. But as she waited for her boss to croak, her demented mother sold the family home and announced she would be moving to a beaten up resort in the south of Thailand. While southerners fled north to avoid the ethnic violence and uncertainty, mother was headed south. Jimm really had no choice but to accompany her. With her went younger brother Arny the wimpy body builder and Granddad Jah who had spent forty years in the Royal Thai police force and not made it out of the traffic department.

The Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant is on an untidy little beach in Chumphon and Jimm hates everything about it. She hates the pace of life, the lack of facilities and the fact that there’s really nothing to do there after dark. She hates the close proximity to ‘nature and wildlife’ and, as a crime reporter, the fact that there’s apparently no crime. She hates the resort with its five, usually vacant cabins, the shop with so little stock the goods are spaced out like museum pieces, and the fact that she drew the short straw and has to do all the fish gutting and cooking. But perhaps most depressing is the fact that she’s in a place where the chances of finding a suitable mate are negligible.

All seems hopeless for Jimm until fate steps in and sends her the answer to her prayers: bodies. What joy. At last there is something to write about other than traffic accidents and monsoon flooding statistics. And through the investigation, Jimm enters a hidden world where big city skills don’t carry any weight at all.  

Continue reading "Colin Cotterill's "Killed at the Whim of a Hat"" »

2011 Bulwer-Lytton Winners Announced

Readers, prepare to cringe: the winners of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton contest, which challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels, have been announced. You might not know the book Paul Clifford, but you definitely know its immortal first line--"It was a dark and stormy night." And now, the grand prize winner, and the shortest winner in the contest's 29-year history, is:

"Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories."

Besides the overall winners, there are genre-specific categories. Here's the best worst crime opener:

"Wearily approaching the murder scene of Jeannie and Quentin Rose and needing to determine if this was the handiwork of the Scented Strangler--who had a twisted affinity for spraying his victims with his signature raspberry cologne--or that of a copycat, burnt-out insomniac detective Sonny Kirkland was sure of one thing: he’d have to stop and smell the Roses."

The sci-fi winner:

"Morgan ‘Bamboo’ Barnes, Star Pilot of the Galaxia (flagship of the Solar Brigade), accepted an hors d’oeuvre from the triangular-shaped platter offered to him from the Princess Qwillia—lavender-skinned she was and busty, with two of her four eyes what Barnes called ‘bedroom eyes’—and marveled at how on her planet, Chlamydia-5, these snacks were called ‘Hi-Dee-Hoes’ but on Earth they were simply called Ritz Crackers with Velveeta."

And a dizzying array of terrible--dare we say, unbearable--puns:

"Detective Kodiak plucked a single hair from the bearskin rug and at once understood the grisly nature of the crime: it had been a ferocious act, a real honey, the sort of thing that could polarize a community, so he padded quietly out the back to avoid a cub reporter waiting in the den."

See all the winners at the Bulwer-Lytton website.

Escoffier Returns: A New Edition of Le Guide Culinaire

41IBixSdWVL According to culinary lore, each fold in a chef's toque -- there are supposed to be 100 of them -- represents a different way to prepare an egg. And in case you're curious about what those preparations are, look no further than the newest edition of George Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire, a book was about as revolutionary for its time as Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking was in 1984. As chef Heston Blumenthal writes in the introduction, "As well as creating new dishes...he also revised and reinterpreted the entire canon of haute cuisine, getting rid of finicky garnishes, heavy sauces and over-elaborate presentation."

The book is equal parts culinary textbook, recipe overview, and historical curiosity. In many ways, this is the opposite of most modern cookbooks. The recipes are brief -- no step-by-step walkthroughs or list of ingredients, only terse instructions ("Prepare and shallow poach the sole in a buttered dish with 1/4 cup white wine and the same amount of fish stock"), and there are no glamour shots of, say, Escoffier indulging in a pot de creme a la Nigella Lawson. But there are lengthy discussions of method and preparation, and about the basics (sauces, garnishes, and so on). And in case you were wondering, according to Escoffier there are 256 ways to prepare eggs -- which would make for one wrinkly chef's hat.

It's no surprise, then, that this book has a foreword from two important names in professional chef-dom right now: Heston Blumenthal, chef of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck, and Dr. Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America. But for civilians like me who won't be working on a chef brigade (which Escoffier invented, by the way!), this book is still a gold mine of inspiration: 5012 individual entries, sections on everything from hors d'oeuvres to libations, and even a few sample menus in the back in case you just can't figure out what to serve at your next big gathering, from melon balls and tomato soup all the way to the six dessert courses (yes, please!). For a hundred-year-old book to still remain a definitive standard in its field -- as another well-known culinary personality would say, it's a good thing.

David McCullough and The Greater Journey

McCulloughDavid Like a lot of people, I first got to know David McCullough through his voice, as the narrator of the PBS series The Civil War and The American Experience. Of course, there's much more to David McCullough than that -- two Pulitzers, a National Book Award, a Presidential Medal of Freedom award, and a bibliography that stretches all the way back to 1978 (!).

His newest book is The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. Even though the subject seems a little unusual at first glance, the book itself is classic McCullough, which is to say quintessentially American: he traces the travels of future household names like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Samuel Morse, and Harriet Beecher Stowe to Paris, and uncovers the many ways that the City of Light helped shape their lives in particular, and the course of American history in general. It's a dazzling, kaleidoscopic look at a broad cross-section of writers, thinkiers, artists, and professionals, and it's amazing how much material he's sifted through to produce the book.

McCullough's histories have always managed to combine meticulous research with his sheer enthusiasm for his subjects, and it's hard not to come away with a sense that you've learned something new and important about whatever he's tackled. For instance, it's no small feat both to show that John Adams was both prickly, prideful, and downright unpleasant at times, and to argue that he significant contributions to the diplomatic, economic, and political foundations of the new republic in ways that aren't readily apparent in history textbooks. Or to show that a flood that most people outside of Pennsylvania have probably never heard of helped shape disaster relief in the United States, all the way down to the present day.

So here's to David McCullough's long and fruitful career, and to his newest foray into American history with The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris -- available one week from tomorrow, on May 24.

How to Get to Fairyland

Bibliophilic wyverns, enchanted woods, an evil Marquess, a magical talisman, dwarven customs agents, djinns, velocipedes--and that doesn't even take into account what's in the title of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne Valente. A fantastical tale that's somewhere between Lewis Carroll and Terry Pratchett, Cathrynne Valente's book follows twelve-year-old September, a girl from Omaha, Nebraska, who finds herself whisked away by a fast-talking gentleman called the Green Wind to the world of Fairyland where she has to retrieve a witch's spoon from the fickle Marquess. Still, Cathrynne Valente's imaginative cast of characters and spirited prose turn what could be a standard heroine-on-a-quest story into something on par with the best (and weirdest) classics. Here's author Cathrynne Valente on the genesis of Fairyland:

Fairyland2._V180501131_How to Get to Fairyland

I've written a lot about how The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland came to be--its birth as a book-within-a-book in Palimpsest, the wonderful explosion of its crowd-funded Web life. I've written so much on that, in fact, that you can find any number of versions of that story online, spreading like folklore.

But I haven't talked much about how Fairyland came to be. The place, the story, September and her adventures. The story of the story has always come first--but here, I'll tell you the other side of the tale.

The first paragraph of the novel is completely intact, appearing in Palimpsest as a fond memory of the protagonist's favorite childhood book. When I began to write Fairyland in earnest, I felt I had to stay true to that fragment, and could not alter it at all. I had those parameters to work with--this scrap of longing for a book I'd never read as a child, one I would have wanted to read, where the heroine never cried to go home, never rejected the magical world in which she found herself, and was also never rejected by it. That was always the core of Fairyland--saying yes. Yes to magic, yes to experience and adventure and journeys and strangeness. Portal fantasies are very often about growing up and coming of age, which the protagonist resists for as long as possible, wanting to go home, to be safe and cared for. I wanted to create a girl who would be more interested in marvels and magic than in safety. Someone more like I was as a child, like my friends were—because none of us would have demanded to go back to Kansas if we'd woken up in Technicolor.

Fairyland1._V180501125_ So I had a girl, a girl who would say yes. And I had the idea of Fairyland, which had begun as something of a throwaway, a pastiche of the more generic children's literature of the early 20th century. But ultimately, that very generality of Fairyland--not a very unique or interesting name, really!--allowed me extraordinary freedom. I could include beasties from any culture: Wyverns from Europe, Tsukumogami from Japan, Marids from the Arabic tradition. All of them could live in a place called Fairyland. I could create my own Winds and wildcats. I could even make Fairies themselves a hidden and marginalized people, on the run from a secret tragedy. I could combine the Old World folklore I love so much with Americana, with technology and economics--because in a place called Fairyland, anything goes.

In a way, the process was similar to writing The Orphan's Tales: Take everything I know and love about folklore, break it into pieces, and put it back together again. A brave girl, strange companions, a villain, a magical weapon, a crisis to solve. These are such basic pieces—parts of heroic stories since Homer. The fun of such stories is recombining the pieces, and filling them with deathly real and very specific characters. Whenever I took up something overused and typical, I tried to give it desires and motivations at odds with its traditional depiction, sometimes consciously rebelling against it, as with the witches and gnomes. Much of Fairyland deals with the norms of fantasy fiction in a critical and amused way--filling in reasons for those norms, giving them a life of their own, making them, in some sense, as much characters as September or the Green Wind.

Fairyland is a basket full of all the things I love, tied with a bow of subversive, wild, and intelligent trickster games. It is a book of my heart, from first word to last.

Ask the Editors: Some Parting Recommendations

Mother's Day is this Sunday, and for our last round of Ask the Editors recommendations, we'd like to suggest some books that we love (and/or have given our moms ourselves). They are, in no particular order:

  • No kitchen would be complete without the bible – Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which, while now 50 years old, is still as relevant and exciting as it was at first publication. If your mom doesn’t have it, she may very well want it.

  • Bakerella's Cake Pops, the fashionable-for-at-least-another-minute mini cakes on a stick that are popping up everywhere. Moms with young kids have undoubtedly seen them, and this book, from the cake pop master (her blog,, is cited with having started the mini cake revolution) makes them easy and fun.

  • Flowers are always a lovely gift for mom, and what better than bouquets that last for years and years (and I don't mean the plastic variety)?   Paper Blossoms: A Book of Beautiful Bouquets for the Table  is a beautiful pop-up book featuring five bouquets that range from the exotic, with birds of paradise and lotus flowers, to something more conventional, created with lilies or roses.  The paper artistry is remarkable and the book lays flat so you can open it to a given bouquet and--voila!--a beautiful tabletop centerpiece.

And with that, the Editors are signing off for now. Thanks to everyone who took part, and we hope you've found it helpful in your search for the perfect gift for mom. Check back in a few weeks, as we'll be recommending books for Father's Day -- which, by the way, is just over six weeks away.

Ask the Editors: Books for a New Grandma

With just five days to go, before Mother's Day, we're getting close to the wire. But there are still two days left before Ask the Editors is over -- so leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Christie asked: My mother loves to get books, but she rarely gets to them because she's always so busy. I want to give her a book she'll love *and* that she'll finish. Here are some things I can tell you about her:

  • She's a pretty religious person, and for a long time all she read were books on that topic, but I think she's finally exhausted it. That said she may enjoy books or fiction that have an inspirational feel, as long as they're not super-Christian. (She's Catholic.)
  • She's a new grandmother and takes this role very seriously. :)
  • The last books she asked for were The Autobiography of Mark Twain--a book she does enjoy dipping into but has said she'll probably never read all of it--and the new Barefoot Contessa.
  • She really loves the beach, she's planning on picking up golf again this summer, and she loves that NCIS show (though I'm not sure if crime fiction will hold as much interest for her).

Thanks for any ideas!

We recommend:


  • Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan or My Father's Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow. Both are great cookbooks: Dorie Greenspan's really makes French food -- known for its fussiness and technique -- accessible and straightforward, while Gwyneth Paltrow's book is full of great and easy recipes (written in conjunction with Mario Batali -- how can you go wrong?). In fact, you can find some samples on their Amazon pages -- just don't browse on an empty stomach.

  • A book she can pick up and put down at her leisure without missing anything is The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux. As someone who's spent most of his professional life traveling and writing, Paul Theroux is the perfect person to curate this selection of travel writing. It features some of the Literary Greats (Dickens, Woolf, Hemingway), writings about exotic foods and bizarre meals, epic adventures, and even the disappointment of finding out that your hotel isn't exactly what you thought it would be.

  • There's perennial favorite Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul by Frank Dikotter, a collection of stories about the ups, downs, risks, and rewards of becoming a grandmother...

  • Or, if she wants to get a head start on getting books for baby, there's Nancy Tillman's wonderful On the Night You Were Born, a collage of celebrations -- a smiling moon, chirping dolphins, singing birds, and dancing polar bears -- that are each illustrated with gorgeous artwork. It's a customer favorite at Amazon, and one that we think she'll enjoy reading to her new grandchild.

Ask the Editors: One Week to Go


Less than a week to go before Mother's Day, Ask the Editors recommendations find us leaving the shores of multi-generational epics and historical fiction for the weirder worlds of magical realism and non-fiction that's almost too incredible to believe. We've got a lot more recommendations to get through, and we'll continue answering until Friday, May 6th -- so leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Zoe asks: Favorite books and authors are Lord of the Rings, Three Musketeers, Henty adventures, the Bible, plus Harry Potter and the Mrs. Jeffries mystery stories. She likes Hope Was Here and A Long Way From Chicago and the Percy Jackson books. She likes travel and designing houses and architecture. She reads really fast and I can't think of a book she hasn't read except she doesn't like vampires and bloody blow-them-up movies. She likes old movies and quirky movies. She likes to think a lot and drink tea and write on the computer.

We recommend:

  • From me: Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. Frazier calls Siberia "the greatest horrible country in the world," which he means entirely as a compliment. To most people, Siberia just means gulags and prison camps, but Frazier also discovers medieval battlegrounds, crumbling industrial cities, and teenaged border guards with an inflated sense of authority. Probably the best part of the book is Frazier's sense of humor, which is most on display when dealing with his two half-trustworthy guides and their broken-down tour van.

  • From Kevin: If you want to explore as many locales as possible from your armchair, The Best American Travel Writing series is always a safe bet. My favorite edition is actually from 2006, with Tim Cahill as the guest editor, and a few great stories from big names: Alain de Botton, George Saunders, David Sedaris, and Gary Shteyngart.

  • From Mari: It sounds like she might enjoy one of our Best of the Month picks for May, Caleb's Crossing. In Martha's Vineyard in 1660, minister's daughter Bethia Mayfield befriends the son of a Wampanoag chief, teaching him to read from her prayer book, learning his language, and giving him the English name Caleb. Their secret friendship becomes a lifelong bond that follows them both to Cambridge, where Caleb becomes the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Pulitzer winner Geraldine Brooks is a master of bringing forgotten pieces of history to vivid life, creating characters that feel both true to their time and compellingly alive.

  • From Seira: If she enjoys travel and the Percy Jackson books, I recommend Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles series, the second book of which, The Throne of Fire, is out tomorrow. Egyptian mythology, world travel, and magic, packed into a high-speed adventure with witty banter and levity make for a fast and fun read.

  • Also from Seira: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is another one--a delightfully quirky mystery set in 1985 Great Britain, a 1985 Great Britain in which an arch criminal is stealing characters from England’s rich literary history, and holding them for ransom. An alternate history that appeals especially to bibliophiles, The Eyre Affair is the first book in the Thursday Next series, so there are plenty more to keep her going.

One week to go, but we'll be here, recommending away, until the end.

Nonfiction, Magical Realism, and More Roman Mysteries

Today's Ask the Editors recommendations find us leaving the shores of multi-generational epics and historical fiction for the weirder worlds of magical realism and non-fiction that's almost too incredible to believe. We've got a lot more recommendations to get through, and we'll continue answering until Friday, May 6th -- so leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Margaret J. asked: My mom reads a lot from a combo of mysteries and non-fiction books. She enjoys reading about Central Asia -- historic and modern, the Great Game, China, the Silk Road. Some of her favorite mysteries are the Mrs. Pollifax series, Ian Rutledge series, China Bayles series, Donna Leon books, Margaret Fraser's medieval mysteries, Steven Saylor's Roman mysteries. She loves discovering new authors so I'd appreciate your suggestions.

We recommend:


  • Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination by Paul Freedman, a great look at the spice trade in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It doesn't just trace the traders and merchants who bought and sold spices: it also tracks how the spice trade helped shape Europeans' perceptions of their food in particular, and south and east Asia in general. And the few recipes that Freedman has been able to reconstruct might surprise you: in 16th-century Italy, for example, you might find a wealthy merchant eating food that looks a lot more like something out of India than the Italian food we know and love today.

  • On the more modern side of things, there's Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe by Frank Dikotter. In 1958, Mao Zedong launched a program -- the Great Leap Forward -- to boost China's agricultural and economic production that was overambitious. It resulted in massive changes to Chinese farming communities, the introduction of forced labor, and ultimately, the deaths of as many as 45 million people. Frank Dikotter is the first historian to look into the Chinese Communist Party's secret archives, and through them, he looks at every aspect of the Great Leap Forward, from the politicians who lacked the courage to challenge Chairman Mao, to the farmers who suffered from his fatally flawed plan.

  • And to continue our ancient Roman mysteries recommendations from before: Nemesis by Lindsey Davis, the newest of her Marcus Didius Falco mysteries, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe, and SPQR XII: The Year of Confusion by John Maddox Roberts. Each of these is a customer favorite and part of a series, so hopefully that will give your mom plenty of Roman mystery to read for a while.

Judy wrote: My Mother loves to read - all kinds of things and different things. Likes Haruki Murakami. Reads all the way from Mao to Undress me in the Temple of Doom. Has read many Indian novels as she traveled to India. Loves traveling, gardening, collecting, sea otters, and photography. Reads Hemingway, Maya Angelou, If On a Winter's Night, Rohinton Minstry, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and on she goes! She likes unique books that have some depth to them. She buys most of her bookls through Amazon unless they are gifts. Thank you for your help!!


Keep those questions for us (and recommendations for your fellow Omni readers) coming!

Ask the Editors, Part 3

It's time for round three of our Ask the Editors recommendations. Remember, there's still plenty of time to leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Jamie asked: My mother's favorite authors are James Michener, John Jakes, Edward Rutherfourd, Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon. She loves thick multi-generational books or books that are in a series. She likes historical romance (not Regency period) and detests anything with vampires or werevolves like Anne Rice or the "Twilight" series.

We recommend:

  • Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano, which follows an Italian-American family's move to New York’s Lower East Side, and the unwelcome attention they received from the "Black Hand"--the precursor to the Mob. It's rich with historical detail, and many of the locations in the book can still be visited today.

  • For the James Michener fan, Ken Follett is a great choice. Team favorites include Eye of the Needle, Fall of Giants, and Pillars of the Earth are nice long reads, and very popular.

  • Finally, there's A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which follows the lives of four people -- a young widow, a student, and two exiled tailors -- in the 1970s India, all of whom are forced to share one cramped apartment. Between them, they deal not only with their personal losses but also the casual cruelty of corrupt local officials and the turmoil of a society in the middle of a great social upheaval. Though dark at times, it's also an uplifting mediation on how people can endure what seem like unendurable circumstances, and find friendship out of initial distrust. It's beem compared to Dickens and Solzhenitsyn in terms of its tone and its sheer scope -- and it was an Oprah's Book Club pick. What more could you ask for?

Karin K. asked: My brother-in-law passed away very recently, he was 42 and suffered from a rare degenerative autoimmune disease for ten years. He left behind a wife (high school sweetheart) and two daughters, 9 and 11. My sister-in-law is a remarkably strong person who shared the same positive take on humanity as her husband and had countless friends. I have never known my sister-in-law to be without a good book, and she asked me the other night to recommend some good ones to help get her through this. Evidently books on death and the after life are being sent her way. She needs and desires, engrossing, good reads right now. She has always been a fan of psychological thrillers and as Joyce Carol Oates Can you recommend books that will keep her occupied in her down time that are not down and depressing?


We recommend:

  • From our editor Seira: "The most recent novel that I couldn’t stop reading was our April spotlight pick, 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson. If she's never read it, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is also amazing."

  • For a nonfiction option, maybe she would enjoy the vicarious thrill of accompanying celebrated chef Gabrielle Hamilton on her culinary journey of discovery in Blood, Bones, and Butter -- our Spotlight pick for March. Anthony Bourdain called it "Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever."

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett is just out in paperback. It's a great story about two women who decide to compile the stories of black maids that work for white families and the dynamic between them and their employers. Even though it touches on some heavy issues, including the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the book isn't down, depressing, or heavy-handed -- in fact, Kathryn Stockett has a great sense of humor and a sense of sympathy and compassion for each of her characters, even the more unsavory ones. It's a perennial reading group favorite and was a New York Times bestseller.

  • And finally, even though you wanted to avoid something down, there are two memoirs about losing one's spouse that might help your sister-in-law find her way through her grief. There's Joyce Carol Oates's A Widow's Story, and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. From Mari, about The Year of Magical Thinking: "More than any book I’ve ever read, it captures the immense strangeness of the grieving a spouse. Didion’s memoir is intimate and universal."

Keep those questions for us (and recommendations for your fellow Omni readers) coming!

Ask the Editors: For Moms Who Love Historical Fiction

With less than two weeks to go before Mother's Day, time is running out to get in that last-minute shopping. Fortunately, we -- the books editors at Amazon -- are helping out as best we know how. If you tell us a bit about your mom's reading habits, we'll get back to you with some books we think she'll like, and a bit about why we think each one will fit. Leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Lorraine asked: OK, I'll take you up on that. My mom's favorite authors are Donna Leon and Diana Gabaldon. Can you suggest other similar authors who write that complex, history/mystery kind of thing?

We recommend:


  • C.W. Gortner's The Tudor Secret, which is about a nobleman’s servant/orphan who gets sent to the Tudor court to support Princess Elizabeth’s claim to the throne. Along the way, he gets caught up in plenty of royal conniving and backstabbery, and finds out that what he knows about his past is all wrong -- and he might have a personal stake in the whole royal business.

  • Charles Finch's A Stranger in Mayfair, which is set in 1860s London. Charles Lenox is now a Member of Parliament, and has to balance his duties as an MP with his new marriage to Lady Jane Grey, and his hobby: solving murders. In this case, it's the murder of a servant of one of his fellow MPs. And neither his Parliamentary colleage nor the London police are being all that helpful.

  • And if Ancient Rome piques your mother's interest, try Ruth Downie's Caveat Emptor, which follows the eternally reluctant Gaius Petreius Ruso -- he's a doctor who always seems to get caught up in murders rather than medical work -- as he investigates the death of a tax collector. Between navigating the politics of Roman society and getting caught up in a barbarian conspiracy involving the rebel queen, Boudicca, it's a great book for anyone who loves historical fiction and/or fiction set in the ancient world.

Lee asked: My mom loves historical fiction. She has enjoyed books by Jean Auel and Diana Gabaldon. She also loves to read Stephen King, Michael Connelly and David Baldacci, to name a few. I guess she will read just about anything! She has a Kindle and has downloaded every free e-book there is - LOL! Thanks for your help!

  • See above for historical fiction. Jean Auel, meanwhile, has a new book: The Land of Painted Caves, the last of the Earth's Children series. In it, Ayla of the Zelandoni is training to become a clan shaman, which compels her to journey across a dangerous prehistoric world. Along the way, she has to deal with bands of marauders, wild animals, disease, and natural disasters. Ayla has come a long way from the five-year-old from Clan of the Cave Bear, but Jean Auel is as entertaining a writer as ever.

  • I also can't resist pitching one of our Best Books of October 2010, Worth Dying For by Lee Child. Here's Daphne's blurb for it: "You'd think that after 14 novels featuring hardscrabble hero, Jack Reacher, Lee Child's pulse-pounding series would start showing signs of wear. It is nothing short of remarkable that Child is not only able to continually reinvent his ex-military cop, but that each installment is better than the last. Worth Dying For finds our battered hero hiding in plain sight in a tiny Nebraska town, trying to recover from the catastrophe he left behind in South Dakota (no spoilers here, but readers are still arguing over 61 Hours’s cliffhanger ending). Fans rarely see such a physically vulnerable Reacher (in the first part of the book he is barely able to lift his arms) but it just adds to the fist-pumping satisfaction of seeing our weary good guy take on the small-town baddies."

Keep those questions for us (and recommendations for your fellow Omni readers) coming!

Ask the Editors for Mother's Day

Mother's Day is exactly three weeks away -- May 8th this year -- and, of course, I'm sure you've done all of your shopping already. But in case there's still room for a book or two in the gift basket, we, the editors of Omnivoracious, are here to help.

That's right: if you tell us a bit about your mom's reading habits -- what kinds of books she likes to read, favorite authors, least favorite authors, hobbies... -- we'll get back to you with some books we think she'll like, and a bit about why we think each one will fit. Leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Over the last few years, we've found books for a vampire romance lover who wanted something different, a sports fan who's read 'em all, a nine-year-old connoisseur of everything ninja-related, and a law student who mostly just reads law textbooks.

As you can see, we've seen it all, and come up with a book recommendation to match. So ask us, stump us, amuse us! In return, we'll try to make your Mother's Day shopping a little easier. We'll post a response a day starting on Friday, April 22nd. And readers, feel free to join the fray in the comments section once the recommendations start rolling in.

(Wait, you mean you haven't even started shopping yet? Better get on that. And don't worry -- your secret is safe with us.)

2011 Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced

The 2011 Pulitzer Prizes were announced this afternoon (and the Pulitzer site immediately crashed for about 15 minutes after the press release, so you have an excuse if you missed the announcement). This year's winners in the fiction and arts categories were:


Click here to see more award winning books on

World's Most Adorable Letter to the Editor?

The students, staff, and parents of Birch Lane Elementary School in Davis, CA took issue with a New York Times article that declared the picture book "no longer a staple for children." They submitted what might be the most adorable (and respectful) letter to the editor ever submitted, a 15-foot scroll with handprints, signatures, and, a note declaring that in response, they'd celebrated "Love a Picture Book Month" in February.

Click the image to see the full thing!

Too bad Donald Trump doesn't write letters like this.

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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