Another interesting mix of things this month: a serious geopolitical title, two books on games and competition and two on food.
Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee–A Look Inside North Korea by Jang Jin-sung (May 13): There are so few books out there that offer a look into what life might be like in North Korea, whenever I come across one I am intrigued.
“As North Korea’s State Poet Laureate, Jang Jin-sung led a charmed life. With food provisions (even as the country suffered through its great famine), a travel pass, access to strictly censored information, and audiences with Kim Jong-il himself, his life in Pyongyang seemed safe and secure. But this privileged existence was about to be shattered. When a strictly forbidden magazine he lent to a friend goes missing, Jang Jin-sung must flee for his life. Never before has a member of the elite described the inner workings of this totalitarian state and its propaganda machine. An astonishing exposé told through the heart-stopping story of Jang Jin-sung’s escape to South Korea, Dear Leader is a rare and unprecedented insight into the world’s most secretive and repressive regime.”
Noble Hustle : Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead (May 6) Whitehead was given an assignment by Grantland magazine to enter the World Series of Poker, see how he did and write about it. I’ve made comparisons between Whitehead’s writing and that of David Foster Wallace before: I’m anticipating this book will be in a similar vein to Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”: ie. a smart and funny insider’s view that is destined to become a classic.
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, And The Battle That Defined A Generation by Blake Harrison (May 13) Modern consumers are not strangers to product wars: VHS vs. Beta, Mac vs. PC, BluRay vs HD DVD and, in this case, Sega vs. Nintendo. “A mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the video game industry. In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the video game industry. Sega, on the other hand, was just a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But that would all change with the arrival of Tom Kalinske, a man who knew nothing about videogames and everything about fighting uphill battles. His unconventional tactics, combined with the blood, sweat and bold ideas of his renegade employees, transformed Sega and eventually led to a ruthless David-and-Goliath showdown with rival Nintendo. The battle was vicious, relentless, and highly profitable, eventually sparking a global corporate war that would be fought on several fronts: from living rooms and schoolyards to boardrooms and Congress. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the US against Japan.”
The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber (May 20). This book caught my eye as a logical next step from a number of other books on food issues I’ve read over the last couple of year’s, including Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s The 100 Mile Diet. “The Third Plate is chef Dan Barber’s extraordinary vision for a new future of American eating. After more than a decade spent investigating farming communities around the world in pursuit of singular flavor, Barber finally concluded that—for the sake of our food, our health, and the future of the land—America’s cuisine required a radical transformation…Traditionally, Americans have dined on the “first plate,” a classic meal centered on meat with few vegetables. Thanks to the burgeoning farm-to-table movement, many people have begun eating from the “second plate,” the new ideal of organic, grass-fed meats and local vegetables. But neither model, Barber shows, supports the long-term productivity of the land. Instead, he calls for a “third plate,” a new pattern of eating rooted in cooking with and celebrating the whole farm—an integrated system of vegetable, grain, and livestock production.The Third Plate is truly a publishing event: a monumental work of personal insight and global analysis that definitively remakes the understanding of nutrition, agriculture, and taste for the twenty-first century. Barber charts a bright path forward for eaters and chefs alike, daring everyone to imagine a future for our national cuisine that is as sustainable as it is delicious.
The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax(May 27). In my job ordering books for the library, I see the impacts of food trends in the publishing industry up close. Quinoa and coconuts are just two of the trends I’ve been seeing in cookbooks lately, David Sax investigates a bunch more and tries to get behind why they have taken hold. Sax’s previous book was a celebration of Jewish Delicatessen’s called Save the Deli.