Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Gift Picks 2013: Viva Tequila

Okay, I am about to make your holiday season perfectly stress free. Not possible? Oh but it is. All you have to do is serve your family a few recipes from Viva Tequila: Cocktails, Cooking, and other Agave Adventures. You may have been thinking that you could only get shit faced from slamming a few shots of  tequila, turns can eat the stuff too.

So not only will you be able to maintain a nice holiday buzz, but you can mellow out the in-laws too! Viva Tequila offers recipes from appetizers to desserts, I mean  you can literally keep the kin liquored up for days on end for a mere $35!

Seriously, this is a truly interesting book that not only includes agave recipes, but the history of agave, and some fascinating stuff about tequila in general (like how to pick good brand, what the color means, and you know... sip it!).

Friday, December 6, 2013

Holiday Gift Picks 2013: One Summer

Here's why I like Bill Bryson: he can talk about anything and he's interesting, charming, rambling, funny. Anything. He's proved this point with his travel memoir-type books like A Walk in the Woods and his histories like A Short History of Nearly Everything and his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. He's an American with an English accent who isn't afraid to make fun of himself for being an American with an English accent. The guy, at least based upon his books, is the person you want to be seated beside at the dinner party full of strangers.

Lucky Lindy
Bryson's latest book is One Summer, an effervescent romp through the summer of 1927. You might think "Why should I care about 1927?" and the answer is that it was the height of the Jazz Age and a ton of cool stuff occurred. Let's start with Charles Lindbergh. Here was a guy who was just a kid pilot who showed up in New York when several teams of pilots raced to be the first to fly from New York to Paris. While they were the most famous pilots of the day and the media hounded them for constant updates, Lindbergh planned to fly solo (the other planes held several man crews), in a plane that was stripped down to the bare essentials of food and fuel. When Lindbergh landed in Paris, he instantly became the most famous man in the world. His accomplishment eased American/French tensions after World War I. His victory tour of America led to airports springing up across the country and pushed America to the forefront of global aviation. Lindy was a pregnant Princess Kate mixed with twerking Miley mixed with Edward Snowden mixed with Pope Francis. Nothing was bigger.
The Babe

...Except maybe for Babe Ruth. 1927 was also the year that Ruth and Gehrig kicked off the first home run race in baseball history and Ruth eventually hit 60 dingers. Some whole teams didn't hit 60 home runs that season. Only one player since 1927--Roger Maris--has matched this feat without steroids. And you can't overlook the popularity of baseball in 1927. Radio broadcast games around the country, and in places where there weren't teams, actors would recreate the games in real time for crowds.
Bill Bryson

And the summer of 1927 was Al Capone's time to shine as a gangster and liquor distributor, keeping booze flowing freely into Prohibition America. It was the summer that anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted. The Jazz Singer was filmed, forever changing movies by adding sound. Jack Dempsey popularized boxing, turning a tavern sport into one that could fill Madison Square Garden. Four bankers met and planned the financial strategies that would ultimately lead to the Great Depression.
On top of the events of 1927, Bryson is the master of the fascinating tangent, and One Summer is full of them. When writing about the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, Bryson takes the time to recount the story of the executioner who figured out the proper way to electrocute a human. If you read/watched The Green Mile, you will recall that barbecued convict is traumatizing for all and best avoided. The book is full of these fun moments that make cultural history interesting and relatable. It's pretty easy to see how a fad like a guy sitting on the top of a flagpole in 1927 morphs into David Blaine's stunts. I admit it: I watched Blaine almost drown to death on live TV. I would have gawked at Shipwreck Kelly perched on a flagpole.

One Summer is good stuff. It's a great gift choice for a wide variety of readers, from dads/uncles/brothers who only read nonfiction, to pop history readers who liked Eric Larson's books, to my friend Tracy's dad's special lady friend Maggie who likes smart but readable books, to people who miss their really interesting college lecturers. And for commuters, Bill Bryson is audiobook gold.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Holiday Gift Picks 2013: The System

See here's what happened. I was traveling and then caught a nasty cold when a four year-old painted my nails (he blew on them to help them dry and I'm pretty sure he had Ebola), and Gianna, well, she forgets we have a blog unless I'm naggy. So we ignored you for a month. Quit whining. You think you have it bad? Zorro is throwing fits every night. He bit my boob. Not kidding. On a related note, I'm writing a BDSM erotica book called Fifty Shades of Grey Cat. It's about a woman who is desperately lonely and the cat who abuses her every night. I swear it's fiction. (It's not fiction.)

Anyway, it's that time of year when one must set aside private book hoarding in favor of book buying for loved ones. This is why I try to keep my loved one list to the bare minimum. I hate sharing. Unrelatedly, I'm also watching Pitch Perfect for the fifth time in two weeks right now. I very well could start calling people "aca-bitches" at any moment. Moving on.

My first pick for holiday giving this year is The System by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. This is the book for every college football fan on your list. More than that, though, it's a book for any sports fan, period. I am not particularly a football fan (though I keep up with the Longhorns because one is obligated to do so when living in Austin), but I played sports and watch baseball and basketball. The language of athletic competition transcends the sport. But really, The System is an in-depth look at college football, from the coaches to the athletic directors to the donors to the players to the scandals to the games.

Coach Mike Leach
Authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian have done their homework, and this is one of the best sports books written in years and the best written book about football. What is it like to be coach Mike Leach, a law school grad who turned his back on a legal career to pursue his love of football? How did Leach take Texas Tech to the top of the AP Polls, and what happened with the Adam James scandal that cost him that job, and how has Leach turned around the struggling Washington State program? Fun fact: when Leach was hired at Washington State, the college had to upgrade their payroll software because it couldn't process a salary as large as Leach's.

Ziggy Ansah
How did Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah go from life as a teenager in Ghana to a walk-on at Brigham Young University who'd never played a day of football in his life to the top draft pick by the Detroit Lions in last
year's NFL draft? How did Alabama steal Coach Nick Saban from the Miami Dolphins? How corrupt is the recruiting game? (Very.) How did Oklahoma State convince T. Boone Pickens to give $165 million dollars to their athletic program, and how did that money rocket OSU to the top of the polls?

One of my favorite chapters in this book focuses on the College GameDay show that airs on ESPN every Saturday morning. I have a cousin who has worked in television sports journalism for a decade, and I knew that she worked crazy hours and had to negotiate the constant challenges of live sports broadcasting. Anything can happen, and that's why we love sports. Can you imagine working that Alabama/Auburn game on Saturday?? That was insane! So here are these guys on College GameDay, and every single week they up their game, creating a perfect sports show that covers everything that a football fan needs to know in preparation for the Saturday games. I know people who watch the show every week. I heard from three of them last week regarding Kirk Herbstreit's haircut. The System gives a great glimpse inside an iconic program.

Yes, there are scandals and hard topics covered in The System. Donors overstep boundaries, players commit terrible crimes, injuries end athletic careers, coaches are megalomaniacal assholes. Benedict and Keteyian don't hide the ugliness that plagues college football, but they are also fans of the sport. This desire for honest reporting mixed with an appreciation for the game makes The System completely engrossing reading from start to finish. I have no idea why this book isn't the bestselling book in the country right now.