From the non-fiction shelf...
A WRITER'S PEOPLE V.S. Naipaul
Words used to describe Naipaul's work in the jacket copy of this book: "Astonishing", "rich", "extraordinary", "compassionate", "rich", elegant", "gentleness", "humour".
Words Naipaul uses to describe the work of other writers in this book: "Unwieldy", "ponderous", "overstated", "over-written", "shallow", "minor", "vain and mad".
HEAT Bill Buford
With some books, you know you’re in good hands from the beginning, and so it is here with ex-Granta editor and current New Yorker staffer Bill Buford’s account of his two-year immersion in the kitchens of the chefs he admires – primarily Mario Batali, “the most recognized chef in the city with more chefs than any other city in the world”. We’re witness to Buford’s education and humiliation in the kitchen as he learns of the intricacies of pasta; and his later stints in Italy, dealing with the dissection of pigs and cows. Memorable episodes involve his discovery of short ribs, his time at the grill station and the pitfalls of making pizza. At times, though, the sheer weight of detail becomes exhausting, as well as the mini-biographies of almost everyone Buford encounters. Yet, it’s great fun and you don’t have to be a gourmet – or a gourmand – to savour this account of the masochists, screamers and dysfunctional geniuses of food preparation.
ON THE ROAD TO KANDAHAR Jason Burke
Towards the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Jason Burke and a friend arrived in Iraq to fight for the Kurds. They were all of 21 – ah, the headiness of youth. Surviving skirmishes and a kidnap attempt, Burke went on to become a respected foreign correspondent and in this book, he tells tales of his experiences and encounters in the Islamic world, from Kabul to Islamabad to Baghdad to Basra and more. This is leavened by Burke’s attempts to show that Islamic fundamentalism has complex causes and comes in more guises than can be explained by a simple demonizing of al-Qaeda’s leadership. His keen reportorial sensibility is mediated by analytic ability, such as when he scrutinises the many public images of Saddam Hussain and points out what they mean. Well-written, engaging and more than occasionally enlightening, though clearly falling between the two stools of memoir and polemic.