Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review | Julie & Julia


julie juliaI FINALLY read Julie & Julia a few years, I must confess, after watching the movie. This is a bit of a cardinal sin for me because, as a rule, I always read the book before watching the movie. I blame this on the infallible Meryl Streep who starred as Julia Child in the movie. Madame Streep is one of my favourite actresses and the bait I couldn’t resist.

In a nutshell, Julie & Julia is a cooking memoir. The book is an account of how Julie Powell who, feeling like she needed more in life to live for, embarked on a ‘cooking expedition’. The goal was to attempt 524 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol I by Julia Child in one year, in a small, cramped apartment in Manhattan.

The book started out promisingly, but by the halfway mark, I had fast-tracked to skim-reading as it became more of the same: more cooking (duh!), how wrong the dish turned out and the subsequent tantrums/lash-outs at her long-suffering husband, Eric; her fans and friends, her deadbeat job as a secretary at a government agency. By the third quarter of the book, I was really speed-reading so that I could reach that climactic moment which, I think, began at the height of the dirtiness of her kitchen (uggh maggots??!!), and which resulted in a perfectly boned duck and Pate de Canard en Croute. It was great reading all the way from there till the end.

So, what were my observations of Julie & Julia?

  • Julie Powell is neurotic and self-absorbed (here’s where I expect her, if she were reading this, to say “Fuck Off”.)
  • Julie Powell’s ranking on the hygiene-o-meter is abysmal — unless the perpetual cat fur-covered apartment and pile of days-old dirty dishes in the sink are an exaggeration.
  • Her husband, Eric, is a saint. Is the guy for real? Amazing that he could stomach her fits of rage and misanthropic outbursts, not to mention eating dinner (whether it turned out well or not) at close to 10pm every other night? I finally understand why the word ‘long-suffering’ and ‘marriage’ go together. It’s about being there for your spouse for better or for worse. In this case, it was mostly for worse.
  • There is waaay too much butter going on for anyone’s waistline and heart ūüôā
  • This was an exercise in sheer determination — one, to Julie Powell’s credit, I could never attempt. A round of applause for Ms. Powell.

Overall, I loved her style of writing. It gave me the feeling that I was really looking into that window of her life — dirty kitchen, maggot-y sink and all. The book was amusing in many parts and I greatly appreciated the creative turns-of-phrase now and then. I also loved how Julie Powell’s mad-capped cooking attempts in the book are interspersed with short glimpses of Julia Child. But, still, I enjoyed the movie more than the book and, just maybe, I have Meryl Streep to thank for that.

I leave you with Julia Child’s recipe for Boned Duck in Pastry, taken from G’Day Souffle’s blog, here. If any of you tried it, let me know how it turned out!


Book Review — Bartimaeus:The Ring of Solomon


IT’S a rare thing for me to be so enchanted by fictional characters — especially in books. The very fact that they’re not real is one reason; also, most are generally not memorable enough.

Of course there are exceptions; for instance, Caroline Graham’s DCI Barnaby, Jo Nesbo’s Detective Harry Hole, Reginald Hill’s Dept. Supt. Andy Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe (seeing a pattern here?) and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus of Uruk.

Who is NOT a detective, by the way. HAH!

Baritmaeus is everyone’s — at least he’s mine — favourite djinni or demon, if you will¬†(fourth level, by the way; he gets insulted if one likens him to a small fry scallywag). He is vainglorious, recalcitrant, rebellious and the typical wisecracking smart mouth that, at best, leaves me in stitches or, at worst, with a smile on my face. With the exception of a witty repertoire, I reckon these ¬†characteristics make a pretty impressive resume for aspiring demons. Credit goes to author Jonathan Stroud, who brings footnotes to a whole new level and so much joy to reading.

In¬†Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon, Bartimaeus travels back in time to the reign of King Solomon circa 950 B.C. (this was written as a prequel to the Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy which was published some years ago) for a new series of adventures while changing masters in rapid time.This time he finds himself under the command of the evil and oppressive magician Khaba the Cruel, who has insidious plans to overthrow King Solomon by threatening to ambush Sheba’s¬†frankincense¬†trade on behalf of the King. Solomon was the most feared ruler in all the kingdoms at the time because of a powerful ring he possesses. The Queen of Sheba, meanwhile, believing the safety and prosperity of her kingdom and frankincense trade at stake, sends Asmira, her personal guard to steal the ring and kill the King. In the midst of it all, Bartimaeus unwittingly finds Asmira his new master and is forced to cooperate in her fatal mission.

I must say that¬†Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon wasn’t as good as the Bartimaeus Trilogy or, to be more precise,¬†The Amulet of Samarkand which is the first instalment of the trilogy. That one really cracked me up and I liked that it was set in more ‘modern’ times. Still, it was a pleasant and amusing read and I would recommend it to those in search of some light entertainment.

One final comment: there was an unspoken message behind the story (for me). The story underscored the issue of slavery, albeit in a light-hearted manner. Aren’t we all slaves to something or other which makes us do things unquestioningly and forget to think logically and rationally? What are we bound to? Food for thought, really.

Book Review: Dork Whore


HERE’S a book for those in need of a very light read. Dork Whore is a light-hearted chronicle of a (then) 20-year-old Jewish girl, newly discharged from the military and with the express mission of getting laid. And how did she do it? By travelling to Asia, namely Thailand, Vietnam and India. It didn’t matter too much who the deflowering, err, instrument would be; she was horny and hankering for a hump to end her half-virginal status (after getting sort of laid by a Moroccan soldier).

The tale begins when Iris Bahr, the pseud0-virgin in question teams up with Boaz, a fellow Jew, at a pickup joint for travel partners. The partnership is shortlived, however, when Boaz ditches her within the first day. Bahr forges ahead, latching on to a whore-loving Englishman and his friend and ends up going through harrowing experiences in Thailand before deciding she has had enough and heading on to Vietnam and onward. In the process, she meets and breaks from groups of travelers, almost has sex with a few blokes, and finds a kindred spirit in another fellow Jewish traveler, also named Iris.

The narrative is down-to-earth, witty and peppered with self-directed digs; it is also, in a deeper sense, more than just a journey through Asia or a desperate attempt to break away from the shackles of virginity: it is a journey of self-discovery. Hers is a path that every girl has taken some time in their lives — dealing with insecurities and some self-loathing here and there — and I saw myself in it on more occasions than one.

Don’t be fooled by the strapline at the top of the book, though. The bit about traveling through Asia is the side dish; her cherry-popping expedition and self-discovery really is the main course. Having said that, it is by no means lewd, crude or ex-rated. This was a very tastefully written account.

I had initially approached the book with high expectations that there would be more talk on her travels. Unfortunately, it was nothing like Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu which a former sweetheart recommended, and which I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed. Like Bahr’s, Iyer’s narrative was captivating; unlike Bahr’s, Iyer’s was laden with pertinent information of the cities he had visited. If you can’t already tell, Video Night in Kathmandu is one of my favourite travel books of all time.

Would I recommend Dork Whore, though? Yes, only if you are planning to read something light and funny. You’re not going to get much info on backpacking through Asia here, despite the often-enough references to the Lonely Planet. But, I did find it refreshing and didn’t put it down till the end.

Oh, of course the raison d’√™tre for the story: did she get laid? You’d have to read it to find out.

By the way, Dork Whore is by no means a piece of fiction; Bahr really does exist and is a writer, director and actor who has appeared on numerous TV sitcoms including Friends, The Drew Carey Show and Kings of Queens. Dork Whore is her first non-fiction work.

Book Review: Working



Page 3 of Working lists the names of the 10 Malaysian artists printed on a background that resembles the surface of metal -- a material favoured by many sculptors.


TITLE: Working
Publisher: RogueArt
Price: RM250.00
Photo credit in this review: Tara Sosrowardoyo, Ahmad Zakii Anwar & RogueArt

HERE’S a very readable book on contempary art. Working, published by art consultancy group RogueArt is one of those rare reads on the making of art — the process of creation, the thinking behind the making and how the artist’s space and tools correspond with the creative process and its outcome.

From a personal standpoint, literature on local contemporary art can sometimes sound a little stuffy-upper-crusty. Sharon Chin says: “Why must curators and critics write in a so-called ‘objective’ or distanced way (often resulting in the use of jargon) in order to seem authoritative?” (Read her full article here). To be fair, though, I believe that the usage of jargon is sometimes unavoidable, particularly where critical art writing is concerned.

But first, to put things into perspective. Yes, the artistic landscape has become a lot livelier in recent years with all the art shows and launches that’s been going on; however, this is not reflected in the art literature and resource material (exhibition catalogues not included) that are available. Sad, but true. There are a number of reasons for this including shortage of specialist writers, limited or inadequate funding, the lack of people to mobilise such literary endeavours, and not enough interest from the general public (but this, IMHO, presents¬†a chicken-and-egg scenario). And because of that, I am glad for the existence of the Arteri site, as well as SentAp! and ArtMalaysia magazines which help keep Malaysians updated with what’s happening in the art world.

Back to the subject: Working makes for another interesting addition to the current stash of art literature out there.

The book is sectioned according to its 10 featured artists: painters Ahmad Fuad Osman, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Chong Siew Ying, Hamir Soib, Kow Leong Kiang, and Jalaini Abu Hassan (Jai); sculptors Raja Shariman Raja Aziddin and Ramlan Abdullah, and Yee I-Lann, who works with photomedia.¬†In terms of selection criteria, the artists are contemporaries in their artistic maturity and standing in the industry; it would be difficult to have a fair ‘comparison’ without a level playing field, says RogueArt director Adeline Ooi.


RogueArt's Beverly Yong (left) and Adeline Ooi (right) interviewing Hamir Soib at his studio in Kuang.


Working is extremely accessible with no use of jargon, so even the uninitiated will find this a breeze. The writers have employed a basic question-and-answer style, giving it a very candid and, for want of a better word, intimate feel. The layout is tasteful and similar to that of high society magazines or coffee table books, with large copy and even larger photographs, many of which are spread across two pages. What also helps to set the mood is the forward, which describes how interviews were conducted as well as some important observations. This gives readers an idea of what to look out for and helps them understand why some questions were asked and how they related to the topic at large.

I was most drawn to the studio and its importance to the artists.¬†Artists often work in solitude and the studio is, after all, the inner sanctum, the Most Holy Place to which they withdraw to¬†do battle within themselves¬†and begin the process of creation. Thus, the presence of cameras and strangers in their studio was a severe invasion of privacy. Asking them questions like how they made art rather than what a particular work is about (which is far more common) also presented a challenge simply because many artists work instinctively, regardless if they created from a preconceived image or from the subconscious. In many cases, the interviewers had to conduct patch interviews to ‘fill in the blanks’.

Another highlight of great importance and interest for me was the artists’ favourite tools/objects. These often hold some kind of ‘special powers’ for the artists — a talisman, if you will — and range from ‘magic’ brushes (in Fuad’s case, it is an old, very keras brush), to a pair of ‘magic’ pants (Zakii paints with his ‘magic’ Calvin Klein khakis) and even the studio walls (Hamir, who paints large-scale works cannot do without huge spaces to prop his canvases).


Artist Jalaini Abu Hassan working in his studio in Bukit Antarabangsa


Brief biographies of the artists have been thoughtfully included at the end of each section for the benefit of those interested.

Of course, pictures say a thousand words and what added to Working‘s¬†allure was the beautiful photography by principal photographer, Indonesian Tara Sosrowardoyo whose portfolio happens to include seven TIMES covers and more. It helped that Tara is interested in and familiar with the local art scene and his photographs gave Working a warm, fuzzy kind of familiarity. Photo credit must also be given to Zakii who took quite a number of shots for the book.

Understandably,¬†Working is not an all-encompassing representation of how Malaysian artists-at-large create art; to try and feature more artists than these 10 would deviate from its actual focus group, not to mention becoming overkill. Too much of a good thing, as they say…

Like every project, there is bound to be a naysayer or two out there. One can criticise on the selection of artists (smacking of cronyism, imbalanced, inaccurate representation), to the purpose of the project (vainglory, indulgence of ego) or even its size (too big, too difficult to read), but then we all know the saying, ‘those who can — do; those who can’t — criticise’. At the end of the day, the point is that these people have done something for art, nevermind their intentions.


Sculptor Raja Shariman Raja Aziddin braves the sparks to create works of art.


It is important to add that Working was entirely self-financed from the proceeds of artworks sold by the featured artists (one artwork per artist) early this year. The book will be donated to local art educational institutions, libraries and galleries and is already available in bookstores. For more information, read my article in the Star here.

Since we’re on the subject of the article, I’d like to say that the interview process was fun. For one thing, it gave me an excuse to meet these personalities without having to rack my brains for a topic of conversation. Those of you whose internal public relations mode occasionally breaks down will agree with me that having a preset conversation topic is a blessing.

In my original copy, I had included some quotes by the project committee members which gave the story a more casual feel, and also allowed the reader a more intimate grasp of what the team had faced in the making of Working. However, space ruled (as it always does in the newsroom), and those quotes were, unfortunately, omitted — not that it in anyway altered the gist of the story.

The committee also mentioned the possibility of making the book or a part of it available online to increase its accessibility once distribution is sorted out. Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping it happens. Also hoping for more literature on Malaysian art. Keep it coming!