Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Larousse Gastronomique" by Prosper Montagne

When fellow blogger C.B. James (who has an amazing book blog that features his book-eating dog Dakota) asked me to review Larousse Gastronomique as one of his Wednesday Wonders, I instantly got sweaty palms. You see, reviewing my favorite culinary tome of all times could be likened to reviewing the Bible, or War and Peace. How to do it justice? But with a glass of Bordeaux in hand, I pledge to try.

In the spirit of the holidays and gift-giving, this is perfect timing. If you know someone that has a passion for cooking, and equally a passion for literature, look no further for the ultimate gift. Originally written in 1938 in the French language, with 8,500 recipes and over a thousand pages, Larousse is THE world authority on anything remotely related to the culinary arts. It is almost beyond comprehension that this much information could be contained in one book. In 1961, it was translated to English for the first time, which is the edition that I own, and is the picture shown at the left. I found this edition on EBay for less than $20, but trust me that it would be one of the first things I grabbed if my house caught on fire. I received the book with yellowed pages and large splatters on it (wine? sauce? blood?) which even made it more precious to me. Today, Larousse can be found in any superior restaurant and owned by any culinary expert worth his salt.

Larousse would officially be named an encyclopedia/cookbook. To describe it this way, however, is sacriledge. What subject of cooking do you dream of knowing more about? How about agaric fungi, its number of species, where to find them, which are edible, and how to prepare and with which sauce best complements its flavor? Maybe you need to know about alcoholism and all its forms, just to make sure you're OK. A bit of poetry, perhaps, by the French poet Berchoux who prefers to write about gastronomy. And what kind of French reference guide would it be without all things vino? You can take a trip through any of France's divisions and regions, Guyenne, Champagne, Provence, Marche, etc., learn about the culinary specialties of each, as well its wine production. Like eggs? Larousse has over 400 ways to prepare them. You want to butcher your own cow, pig or lamb, or at the very least understand all the cuts? Look no further. If you have any leftover parts, like a pig leg, you will have wonderful advice on how to make good use. Maybe you are a history buff, and would like to better appreciate the evolution of cooking over the ages, from prehistoric times through the present day. Nothing is missed in this little treasure.

One downside of Larousse, if I were pushed to come up with one, would be that it assumes the reader knows something about cooking. Recipes are not laid out in step-by-step detail like you might find in a common cookbook. I also feel that later editions (which you can find anywhere from Barnes and Noble to Williams Sonoma), each one just a little more modern and pristine, loses a little of that shameless passion that you see in the 1961 edition. And to me, that is what cooking is all about.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Julie and Julia" by Julie Powell

First of all, sorry about the formatting on that previous post. You can tell I just push buttons and hope it all works out! Now, I found this book on the $4.99 shelf at Borders and almost squealed out loud. I had been trying to request it from my library for ages, and either it was a user problem or they indeed did not carry it. Let me just start out by saying that I just love Julia Child, in every way. I've read books about her (I loved "My Life in France") and it will forever boggle my mind that until she moved to France at the age of 37, she didn't even know what a shallot was. And, at the stage in life when some people write off dreams and passions because it is too much trouble, Julia found hers and grabbed it with both hands. AND became the best in the business. Wow. Julia Child rocks.

I had heard about Julie Powell and her project to cook all of Julia's recipes in the "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" cookbook. But when I started reading the book, my first thought was "Huh! This could have been me! Why didn't I think of it? Why can't I have a book and a movie?" Indeed, a handful of years back, my husband complained about the lack of variety in my cooking. At first I got real pissed, then I decided to show him. For about a year, I never cooked the same dish twice (unless he asked nicely for a repeat). And while my goals were not as lofty has hers, I could really empathize with the turmoil that Julie experienced in completing her project...failed sauces, flour everywhere, dismembering bodies of animals that you would eventually eat, cussing, drinking, searching all over town for some elusive ingredient, you name it. This is a reality show on paper, and I had a ball reading it. I loved the vulgar language, the fits she threw, her eccentric friends, and her drive to see her project through to the last recipe. It seemed pretty real to me. At the end of the book, however, upon J.C.'s death, the tone of the books loses it manic humor and becomes reflective on why Julie took on such a wacky project and the impact that Julia Child had on her life. It was a nice way to wrap up the story.
The reviews on this book were extreme. Some loved the book and some thought it was full of narcissism and disrespect to one of the world's greatest chefs. I belong to former contingent. I am glad I was able to read the book before the movie comes out. (I have a hangup about seeing the movie first. It usually ruins it for me.) But with Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl Streep as Julia, it has promise.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Until next year!

Normally, on a vacation, the first few days creep by, then about mid-way through, time goes into warp speed. Not on this trip, darnit. It may have been a bit chillier than last year, but stayed in the 60's during the day, and on Thanksgiving it was over 70. Warm enough to stumble out onto the beach after eating way too much, and passing out like waylaid whales. I didn't get to read near as much as I had hoped, but I should have seen that coming. Some highlights from this year were:

1. Lighthouse hunting. There are four of them within a twenty mile drive from us (one is right next door!). This is a relative new hobby for us, but we are into it.

2. The day after Thanksgiving celebration in Apalachicola. This is an annual event for us, but it is always a favorite. We see Santa arrive in a shrimp boat to crazed, wild-eyed, screaming little kids, all the stores decorate and stay open late and serve wine and cider.

3. Feeding the kittens that live behind the St. George Inn. We couldn't help it. They seemed a little skinny, and they were very friendly. We wished we could take them all home.

4. The island bookstore (a highlight for me at least). The owner is retiring, so all new books were half off, and the used ones were a quarter. Bibliophiles, you can imagine how cool this was for me. The inventory was pretty picked over, but I came out with Wuthering Heights, Cold Mountain, and a Barbara Kingsolver novel.

5. Sometimes It's Hotter. This was a new find for us on the island. It is a little shop that sells their own spice blends, hot sauces, exotic cheeses and wine. Oh, and the best part...they make homemade french bread every day, but you have to get there early and buy enough, because they will sell out. We were invited to their day-after-Thanksgiving party, and they didn't have to ask us twice! Check them out here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Eclipse" by Stephenie Meyer

Yes, I know its Thanksgiving and I should be slaving over the stove (never fear, the bird is in the oven). However, I just finished Eclipse this morning and wanted to share my thoughts.
I can sum up the third book in the Twilight series in a nice short paragraph. I hope I don't give away too much, but I do like to give a head's up to the parents out there that have pre-pubescents wanting to read the book. Edward and Bella still sustain their pledge of undying love for each other. Edward wants to marry Bella, but Bella has baggage from her parents' broken marriage. Bella wants desperately to become one of the undead, but wants to lose her virginity prior to the transition. There's lot of negotiation back and forth regarding these three points. Virtues are ultimately intact at the end of the book, but it's a close call with partial disrobing and entwined limbs. Rogue vampires still want to kill Bella, and a significant portion of the book is dedicated to fearing, avoiding, luring, trapping and killing them. Things heat up a bit with the love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob, just to make things a little interesting.
I am committed to finishing the series at this is the obsessive/compulsive in me. I have to finish what I start. However, it all is starting to get on my nerves a bit. My expectations are really not all that high, but the plot development is really ridiculous. (I know...what do I want from a teenage book about vampires and werewolves?) On a positive note, Edward is still quite the dude. I'm not tired of him yet. Now, I need to take a break from Ms. Meyer for a book or two. A nice little book about Julia Childs perhaps...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends! I wanted to take this opportunity to give thanks to everyone that has supported me in my new venture in the last month and a half. I have had alot of fun sharing my passion for reading with you, and have many many more on the way! May God bless you, your families and friends on this day!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Saturday" by Ian McEwan

I have been slogging through this book now for about a week, which is an eternity for me, especially for only a 290 page book. It was the many rave reviews and recommendations of this book that kept me going, honestly. I finally finished it on our five hour drive up to St. George Island, where I will be for the next week. I have visions of getting alot of reading done here, but we shall see!
Ian McEwan is probably best known for his novel "Atonement", is recognized as one of today's great masters of literature, setting the standards against which all others are compared. In "Saturday", we follow a middle-aged neurosurgeon, Harry Perowne, for one day in his life. Harry wakes up prematurely on this day, with a feeling of contentment and euphoria. If you are familiar with McEwan's work, you know this isn't going to last. Harry proceeds to move through his day, some of it routine and some not (won't give anything away). About two-thirds through the book, around Harry's dinnertime, an earlier situation comes back to haunt him, and blows his life wide open. Instead of letting it defeat him, Harry embraces the opportunity to make things right, and ends his day in a way very similar to the way he started it, coming full circle. Through the book, Harry struggles with or is confronted with issues that are all on our top ten...our aging aching bones, fear of terrorism, the war in Iraq, our children growing up and having their own lives, our aging and infirm parents, keeping peace and harmony in our family. He covers it all over a span of a day.
Like I said, I REALLY had a hard time getting into this book...most of Harry's life is quite the same as ours (playing squash, visiting his mother, shopping at the fishmonger) and lacked action. I had to self-reflect. Am I so superficial that I need constant action in a book? I am reading too much murder and crime novels and need pillaging and mayhem to be entertained? Jeez I hope not. I need to work on this. At the same time, it is wondrous to read McEwan's prose. It is rich, complex and really brings a character's inner soul to life. About two-thirds through the book, it really picked up and I was able to finish it easily. And in hindsight, I did enjoy it. I'm not sure I would recommend it as an easy read, but it definitely is worth the effort.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Escape from the Deep" by Alex Kershaw (audio)

I have to admit, I am not a big fan of war novels. I get lost in the technical details, the strategy...I have to drag my way through them and often are abandoned midway. This book had some interesting reviews, though, and thought it had some potential. The USS Tang was said to be the deadliest submarine in WWII history, led by its bold, renegade captain Richard O'Kane. On its last mission alone, it sank 13 Japanese ships. But the last torpedo fired from the sub malfunctioned, killing half its crew, and the Tang sank to the depths of 180 feet. A few crew members were thrown from the craft, including O'Kane, but most of them were trapped below. A handful were able to manage their way out, risking sharks, drowning or death from the change in pressure. In total, nine men made it to the surface...the first time anyone ever survived a sinking of a submarine. They went on to be captured by the Japanese, thrown in POW camps, starved and tortured for nearly a year. All accounts of this amazing piece of history were retrieved through interviews with the survivors or their family members.
This is not a long novel, but did seem to drag at first, with the background of all the men on board, and the battle history of the submarine. Once the craft sinks, however, I was really drawn into this almost unbelievable tale of bravery, tenacity and odds against the survival of these men. I feel that the prose was pretty dry and factual, but despite this, it is still a gripping read...just as good as anything fiction out there. I always feel that if I learn something while I am being entertained, and I certainly did with this book, that is an added bonus.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Crime Series Novel...why I can't get through my "to read" lists

My list of "books to read before I die" is quite long, and grows daily. There is a reason why. It is because I am stalked, haunted, HOUNDED by a massive number of authors that write crime series novels, often at a clip of at least one or more a year. How can I get anything done? I am compelled to read them all, no matter their quality. Here is a list of those that immediately come to mind, if you are looking for that sort of lifelong commitment. Please let me know if I have missed anything obvious! Best ones first:

Lee Child - Jack Reacher series: This is one of my favorites, even though it packs alot of testosterone. Ex-military dude, hard-bodied, attracts women like flies but is a commitment-phobe, only carries a toothbrush with him and has no address. Wanders all over the country sleeping with women and kicking the ass of anybody making bad choices. Love it, love it, love it. Stephen King calls this "manfiction".

Janet Evanovich - Stephanie Plum series: OK, so sue me. It's bubblegum and cotton candy reading, very little substance, but reading it is like catching up with an old college friend in your old sweats with a glass of wine. Perky, goofy, clumsy girl is a bond enforcer who is in love with both an Italian cop and a mysterious half-Cuban hard-bodied fellow bond enforcer named Ranger (yeah baby). She frequently chases trouble with her sidekick, ex-ho Lula. Good for a belly laugh when you are feeling down.

Sue Grafton - Kinsey Millhone (alphabet) series: I am afraid Ms. Grafton is going to die before she gets to Z (I think she is on T right now). About a single, middle-aged private investigator, a commitment-phobe, best friend is her landlord that is in his 80's. Half humorous, half serious, always a good read.

Lawrence Block - Matthew Scudder series and Bernie Rhodenbarr series: I haven't even scratched the surface of these series. I started with Matthew Scudder, who is damaged ex-cop, and the books are dark. Loved the few I read. Ambled into the Bernie "Burglar" series, and love it even more. These are very light (ala Stephanie Plum) about a bookstore owner by day, burglar by night. Oh by the way, he only burgles people who deserve it.

Kathy Reichs - Tempe Brennan series: Ms. Reichs also writes for the TV show Bones, which is loosely based on the Tempe Brennan novels. Tempe is a forensic anthropologist (bone chic), is a recovering alcoholic, and has an on again, off again relationship with a homicide detective Andrew Ryan. You learn something in each of these novels. I like that.

Barry Eisler - John Rain series: Badass assassin that wants out of the business to nurture his relationship with fellow female assassin, but keeps getting pulled back in. Lots of butt kicking if you're in the mood. More manfiction.

James Lee Burke - Dave Robicheaux series: New Orleans cop and his friend Cletus chase down bad guys. Both men are quite damaged but have good hearts. Very gritty novels.

John Sandford - Lucas Davenport (prey) series: Independantly wealthy due to starting his own online gaming company, he is a homicide cop that breaks a few rules, has a temper and kicks butt. Was a habitual lady-killer, but finally settled down with his doctor wife and had kids. Didn't settle him down too much, which is good. I think Lucas and Jack Reacher would find alot in common, or maybe they would beat each other to a pulp.

Stuart Woods - Stone Barrington series: Stone is a lawyer in private practice that hands the cases his buddies don't want. This man is the king of all sleezebags when it comes to women. A number of these novels will give you your dose of steamy sex.

Perri O'Shaunessy - Nina Reilly series: Author is actually two sisters collaberating. About a single mom attorney in private practice that always ends up in the thick of things. She has an ex-husband, a fiance that was killed by a bad guy in one of the books, and an on again, off again relationship with her investigator. Lately I've had a hard time getting into these novels...don't know what is happening.

Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch series: A private investigator that has personal demons. Usually very excited and gritty. Never lets me down.

Robert Crais - Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series: Elvis and Joe are investigators, and the series focuses on one or the other, but they are both in each other's adventures. Elvis is a nice guy, Joe is a stone-faced badass that doesn't say much. I like him best.

Jonathan Kellerman - Alex Delaware series: Alex is a child psychiatrist that always gets in harms way. He gets help from his best friend Milo, who is a gay policeman. I am always entertained by these books, but about halfway through the series I started accurately predicting who the bad guy was, when there would be a discovery of a dead body, etc. I don't like to be able to figure this stuff out so easy!

Patricia Cornwell - Kay Scarpetta: I considered not mentioning this series because I am so disenchanted with it. She hooked me in early, and I loved every book, but lately I feel has gone to hell in a handbasket. Kay is a forensic pathologist that chases murderers, has a neice in Quantico, and a long-term affair with an FBI dude.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"The Likeness" by Tana French (audio)

Wow. I feel like I just lived this I just got off a very long carnival ride, and I'm a little dizzy. "The Likeness" is a sequel of sorts to "In the Woods", French's earlier work (which I have not read and know that now I must). This story picks up six months later, after homicide detective Cassie Maddox had her world blown wide open by a disturbing case and an imploded relationship with her partner. She has moved to a desk job to recover physically and mentally, but is dragged back into her old role when a grad student is found stabbed to death. The victim just happens to be Cassie's doppleganger and is carrying the ID of Cassie's old undercover name, Lexie Madison. Cassie is convinced by her old undercover boss to become Lexie, pretend to have recovered from her injuries and return to the home that she shared with four other students, and try to determine who stabbed her. Cassie finds her housemates to be a very eccentric, close-knit group that have many secrets...she also determines that Lexie had a few of her own as well.
There are many beautiful things about this novel that raises it above the common crime story. The dialogue is clever and witty, with the little Irish phrases and slang that really got under my skin, in a good way (after listening to 20 discs of the reader's Irish lilt, I find myself saying "morder" and "shite" and "wanker" in my head!). French does a fabulous job of making the relationships between the five friends seem so rich and real, you feel that you actually know these quirky, damaged people. The development of story-line and character goes a mile deep...French spent over four discs alone on Cassie's preparation for going undercover, for example. The premise of assuming the dead girl's identity is a bit far-fetched, but I was ready to go for the ride and found myself as nervous as if I were doing it myself. It is a complicated yarn, with various side developments and agendas, but I feel is nicely wrapped up by the end, leaving me with no unanswered questions. For those of you that like a mystery crime thriller, this one is a must read!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"New Moon" by Stephenie Meyer

The hook has been set in my subconcious, officially. I must see this through to the end! In this second installment of the Twilight series, we find that Edward and his vampire family has left town, primarily to protect Bella from the dangers of hangin' with bloodsuckers. He has explained his departure to Bella, however, as a good, old-fashioned break-up, and tells her "it will be as if I have never existed". OK, we have all been there, and we know the angst and heartbreak that you go through when your one true love denies you. You feel her pain. Bella goes catatonic for awhile, then is brought back to the land of the living (ha) by her childhood friend Jacob, who is in love with Bella, is quite attractive, and who just happens to be a, uh, werewolf and the numero uno enemy of vampires? Puleeeeease. I just shake my head at the idiocy of it all. To make a long story (to the tune of about 560 pages) short, Edward and Bella meet up in Italy in the presence of the vampire grand poo-bahs, and in order to ensure to them that the vampire secret is safe with Bella, promises to turn her into the walking dead in the near future. They are officially reunited, and promise to never leave each other again.
Again, the story is fairly innocent, with teenage hormones boiling below the surface.
The intensity is still there, with Bella riding motorcycles, cliff-diving and talking to strange men in dark alleys to rebel against Edward's abandonment. Edward tries to commit vampire suicide when he thinks Bella has died from a cliff-diving escapade. I feel that the story line also took a fairly ridiculous turn with the werewolf rival, but what do you want from a book geared towards adolescents? I still read it, didn't I? I was quite entertained actually and look forward to the little treat of the third installment...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Twilight" by Stephanie Meyer

OK, I'm going to lay all my cards on the table here. This book is not what one would call "literature". It is a guilty pleasure, mind candy, and every pubescent girl's dream (yes I was one of those once upon a time!). So sue me! I had heard so much hype on this series of books (I think there are four in total) that I simply felt left out of the fray, and I also suspected that my daughter would be asking to read it soon and I needed to put my seal of approval or disapproval on it.
To me, this is basically a Harry Potter meets Anne Rice that is dripping with romance and hormones. A teenage girl, Bella, moves to the Pacific Northwest to live with her father, after her mother remarries and starts to travel with the new hubby. At her new school, she immediately hits it off with the devestatingly handsome, well-muscled, mysterious Edward Cullen. Who just happens to be a vampire. He's a vampire with a conscience, though, who feeds on animals and lives with his vampire family on the outskirts of town. He and Bella fall madly in love, despite his fear of accidently hurting her with his brute strength or giving into his basic instinct and sucking her blood. Edward saves Bella's life several times...he is fiercly protective of her. (OK ladies, is there anyone out there that didn't fantasize about a creature such as this??? Be honest!) There is alot of dialogue about Edward's habits and lifestyle, his history, and whether or not Bella should be "converted" so they can be together forever. Their physical relationship is quite chaste (I hear this is not the case in later books!) but intense.
This book is about 500 pages, but I read it in...two days? Three days? I was completely sucked into it, pardon the pun. It is an incredibly easy read, and I fear I must read the series now. I have no choice. It will be a nice break in between the heavier stuff I have on my short list. Interestingly, the movie premiers on November 21st, and am intrigued with the choice of Robert Pattinson (our beloved and doomed Cedric in Harry Potter) for the role of Edward. Is it a good thing I knew the face assigned to the role before I read the book? I'm not sure. Apparently the teeny boppers were not pleased with that choice, but in my mind's eye, it works. As for my seal of approval for the book? I whole-heartedly approve as long as you're not looking for Shakespeare, but not for my fifth grader!
Update: Lately it seems that this series of books have taken my daughter's class by storm. It has become the "in" thing to read. Because of this, I thought it might better clarify why exactly I don't think this books is appropriate for a fifth grader so all the parents out there can make a well-informed decision without reading the book. I am not worried about the occult and the risk that my daughter might join a vampire clan. My main concern is over the sexuality and intensity of the relationship between Edward and Bella. They continually claim they would die without each other, they are the only thing that matters in each other's lives, and Bella wants to become a member of the undead to be with Edward forever. Edward regularly stays the night in Bella's bed (he doesn't sleep however, he just watches her) because she can't stand to be away from him. Comments are made by Bella "which is tempting you blood or my body?". There are suggestive comments about whether vampires can have sex. So I guess even there is no sex between the characters (yet), this type of relationship is not one I want my daughter to think is healthy. There is plenty of time later for all that to run amuck!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Fathers and Sons" by Ivan Turgenev

First of all, I must say that this book was a significant departure from my modus operandi. However, I have recently vowed to read more quality literature, and I believe "Fathers and Sons" qualifies as such. Turgenev wrote this book in 1861, and at the time, enraged Russians, young and old, for its progressive views. Turgenev is said to have significantly influenced later great writers Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. How could I walk away from such a recommendation? (By the way, thanks John Cole!)
The story follows a young college graduate, Arkady, and his recent acquaintance and hero, Bazarov (who is the central character of the book), who are on their way to visit Arkady's father. Bazarov is a self-proclaimed "nihilist", or one that rejects preconceived ideas and old order. He questions everything, believes in nothing, including the arts and l'amour. Bazarov's appearance in the household is the equivalent of throwing a grenade in the middle of things, flustering the old folks. After visiting Arkady's family, the two friends move on to visit relatives in a nearby town and make the acquaintance of the lovely ice-queen Mme. Anna Odintsov and her sister Katya. Bazarov falls in love with Anna (so much for not believing in love!), but is rejected. The traveling dudes move on to visit Basarov's parents, who are heartsick over the absence of their son in their lives. Basarov is in a foul mood, and he fights with both his friend and his family and they leave to return to Arkady's family. Arkady starts to question what planet Bazarov is from, and they part ways unamiably. There is a tragic and bittersweet ending, of which I will not ruin for you!
The genius in this novel is not the lack of plot (which Turgenev is famous for) but the banter between Bazarov, who I find to be quite the rude, insensitive jerk most of the time, and those he comes in contact with. Turgenev is masterful at letting us know, without overdoing it, what is in each character's soul and what they are thinking. We are the proverbial fly on the wall in these sometimes hilarious, sometimes intimate, sometimes heated exchanges. We see incredible character development and transformation of each person in this novel, primarily due to their interaction with Bazarov. Bazarov himself morphs from the steadfast nihilist to a man, not once, but twice, that falls for a woman. I absolutely loved this book, but would have served myself better to have read it in one or two sittings (I was hopelessly distracted by children and politics here lately). You must not expect what you are probably used to in a fiction read, but just ride the wave of Turgenev's brilliance.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini (audio)

If you are one of the two gazzilion people who read "Kite Runner", this follow-up chart-topper will feel familiar. Hosseini has basically followed his successful recipe for the sweeping, epic tale, and let's face works. The story follows the very different lives of two women in Afghanistan...Miriam and Laila. Miriam is raised by an angry single mother who commits suicide when Miriam is only 15. With no other choices available, she is forced to marry an abusive, chauvanistic ass of a man. Laila, who is about twenty years younger than Miriam, lives down the street. When a Taliban missile kills her parents, she is taken in by Miriam and her husband and eventually becomes a second wife to the evil (and smelly, in my mind's eye) bastard. The two women form an unbreakable bond that endures war, spousal and societal abuses, the birth of children and death. Here in America it is easy to view the middle-eastern people as our enemy. We rarely appreciate, however, what it is like for the common folk, and particularly women, to live in a country such as this. A place where every family has lost a loved one to war, women are beaten and imprisoned for laughing out loud or going somewhere without a male escort, or stray bullets take out children playing in the front yard on a daily basis.
I do have to say that I felt Hosseini was attempting to manipulate my emotions...I felt the same way with Kite Runner. But I still have to give him credit for a great book. A book that drives home messages of love, sacrifice, and the power of sisterhood. It is hard to argue with that!

"Into That Darkness" by Gitta Sereny

This is another book that I read some time ago but wanted to share with you. This was a recommendation by Robert's company's chairman, Dick Shura, who told me this book would change my life. And he was right.
Sereny is a reporter who spent over 70 hours of interview time with Franz Stangl, the Kommandant of Treblinka, the largest death camp in WWII. At the time of the interviews, Stangl was in his 60s and awaiting an appeal to his death sentence in prison. Sereny's agenda was not what you would think. She was not after horror stories. She posed to Stangl a question that has haunted every human being since the does a smart, upstanding citizen, a husband, a father, justify what he has done? How did he rationalize his actions so that he could sleep at night? She digs deep, asking very tough, perceptive questions. But she doesn't take his answers at face value. She follows up and cross-checks nearly every statement Stangl makes (it started to wear me out thinking about the exhaustive research this woman did!). She spoke with Stangl's wife, his friends, survivors of the camp, other officers of the Third Reich. If stories didn't match up, she went after it like a dog with a bone.
There is a point in the book when it all starts to become clear. Even now, my heart is starting to race thinking about it. How the extermination of millions all started so small, with euthanizing invalids, and the rationalization by even priests that is was the humane thing to do. The list expanded to the mentally ill, and with the loose definition of what constituted "mentally ill", the list expanded further to include homosexuals, people with various diseases, and anyone else that just happened to piss off those in charge. Through the justification of each tiny step, and ultimately through the fear of ending up on the list, so many people like you and me stepped aside and let it all happen.
Ultimately, this book is about an examination of conscience...for Stangl, for everyone involved, and even ourselves. Would you and I have reacted any differently, had we witnessed these events? What is the value of a life? Are some worth more than others? These are not pleasant ponderings, and this book is not for the faint of heart. It is not an easy book to read, but I think every person on this earth should be required to read it.